The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories
by Leo Tolstoy
On comparing with the original Russian some English translations
of Count Tolstoi's works, published both in this country and in
England, I concluded that they were far from being accurate. The
majority of them were retranslations from the French, and I found
that the respective transitions through which they had passed
tended to obliterate many of the beauties of the Russian language
and of the peculiar characteristics of Russian life. A
satisfactory translation can be made only by one who understands
the language and SPIRIT of the Russian people. As Tolstoi's
writings contain so many idioms it is not an easy task to render
them into intelligible English, and the one who successfully
accomplishes this must be a native of Russia, commanding the
English and Russian languages with equal fluency.
The story of "Ivan the Fool" portrays Tolstoi's communistic
ideas, involving the abolition of military forces, middlemen,
despotism, and money. Instead of these he would establish on
earth a kingdom in which each and every person would become a
worker and producer. The author describes the various struggles
through which three brothers passed, beset as they were by devils
large and small, until they reached the ideal state of existence
which he believes to be the only happy one attainable in this
On reading this little story one is surprised that the Russian
censor passed it, as it is devoted to a narration of ideas quite
at variance with the present policy of the government of that
"A Lost Opportunity" is a singularly true picture of peasant
life, which evinces a deep study of the subject on the part of
the writer. Tolstoi has drawn many of the peculiar customs of
the Russian peasant in a masterly manner, and I doubt if he has
given a more comprehensive description of this feature of Russian
life in any of his other works. In this story also he has
presented many traits which are common to human nature throughout
the world, and this gives an added interest to the book. The
language is simple and picturesque, and the characters are drawn
with remarkable fidelity to nature. The moral of this tale
points out how the hero Ivan might have avoided the terrible
consequences of a quarrel with his neighbor (which grew out of
nothing) if he had lived in accordance with the scriptural
injunction to forgive his brother's sins and seek not for
The story of "Polikushka" is a very graphic description of the
life led by a servant of the court household of a certain
nobleman, in which the author portrays the different conditions
and surroundings enjoyed by these servants from those of the
ordinary or common peasants. It is a true and powerful
reproduction of an element in Russian life but little written
about heretofore. Like the other stories of this great writer,
"Polikushka" has a moral to which we all might profitably give
heed. He illustrates the awful consequences of intemperance, and
concludes that only kind treatment can reform the victims of
For much valuable assistance in the work of these translations,
I am deeply indebted to the bright English scholarship of my
THE KREUTZER SONATA.
Travellers left and entered our car at every stopping of the
train. Three persons, however, remained, bound, like myself, for
the farthest station: a lady neither young nor pretty, smoking
cigarettes, with a thin face, a cap on her head, and wearing a
semi-masculine outer garment; then her companion, a very
loquacious gentleman of about forty years, with baggage entirely
new and arranged in an orderly manner; then a gentleman who held
himself entirely aloof, short in stature, very nervous, of
uncertain age, with bright eyes, not pronounced in color, but
extremely attractive,--eyes that darted with rapidity from one
object to another.
This gentleman, during almost all the journey thus far, had
entered into conversation with no fellow-traveller, as if he
carefully avoided all acquaintance. When spoken to, he answered
curtly and decisively, and began to look out of the car window
Yet it seemed to me that the solitude weighed upon him. He
seemed to perceive that I understood this, and when our eyes met,
as happened frequently, since we were sitting almost opposite
each other, he turned away his head, and avoided conversation
with me as much as with the others. At nightfall, during a stop
at a large station, the gentleman with the fine baggage--a
lawyer, as I have since learned--got out with his companion to
drink some tea at the restaurant. During their absence several
new travellers entered the car, among whom was a tall old man,
shaven and wrinkled, evidently a merchant, wearing a large
heavily-lined cloak and a big cap. This merchant sat down
opposite the empty seats of the lawyer and his companion, and
straightway entered into conversation with a young man who seemed
like an employee in some commercial house, and who had likewise
just boarded the train. At first the clerk had remarked that the
seat opposite was occupied, and the old man had answered that he
should get out at the first station. Thus their conversation
I was sitting not far from these two travellers, and, as the
train was not in motion, I could catch bits of their conversation
when others were not talking.
They talked first of the prices of goods and the condition of
business; they referred to a person whom they both knew; then
they plunged into the fair at Nijni Novgorod. The clerk boasted
of knowing people who were leading a gay life there, but the old
man did not allow him to continue, and, interrupting him, began
to describe the festivities of the previous year at Kounavino, in
which he had taken part. He was evidently proud of these
recollections, and, probably thinking that this would detract
nothing from the gravity which his face and manners expressed, he
related with pride how, when drunk, he had fired, at Kounavino,
such a broadside that he could describe it only in the other's
The clerk began to laugh noisily. The old man laughed too,
showing two long yellow teeth. Their conversation not
interesting me, I left the car to stretch my legs. At the door I
met the lawyer and his lady.
"You have no more time," the lawyer said to me. "The second bell
is about to ring."
Indeed I had scarcely reached the rear of the train when the bell
sounded. As I entered the car again, the lawyer was talking with
his companion in an animated fashion. The merchant, sitting
opposite them, was taciturn.
"And then she squarely declared to her husband," said the lawyer
with a smile, as I passed by them, "that she neither could nor
would live with him, because" . . .
And he continued, but I did not hear the rest of the sentence, my
attention being distracted by the passing of the conductor and a
new traveller. When silence was restored, I again heard the
lawyer's voice. The conversation had passed from a special case
to general considerations.
"And afterward comes discord, financial difficulties, disputes
between the two parties, and the couple separate. In the good
old days that seldom happened. Is it not so?" asked the lawyer
of the two merchants, evidently trying to drag them into the
Just then the train started, and the old man, without answering,
took off his cap, and crossed himself three times while muttering
a prayer. When he had finished, he clapped his cap far down on
his head, and said:
"Yes, sir, that happened in former times also, but not as often.
In the present day it is bound to happen more frequently. People
have become too learned."
The lawyer made some reply to the old man, but the train, ever
increasing its speed, made such a clatter upon the rails that I
could no longer hear distinctly. As I was interested in what the
old man was saying, I drew nearer. My neighbor, the nervous
gentleman, was evidently interested also, and, without changing
his seat, he lent an ear.
"But what harm is there in education?" asked the lady, with a
smile that was scarcely perceptible. "Would it be better to
marry as in the old days, when the bride and bridegroom did not
even see each other before marriage?" she continued, answering,
as is the habit of our ladies, not the words that her
interlocutor had spoken, but the words she believed he was going
to speak. "Women did not know whether they would love or would
be loved, and they were married to the first comer, and suffered
all their lives. Then you think it was better so?" she
continued, evidently addressing the lawyer and myself, and not at
all the old man.
"People have become too learned," repeated the last, looking at
the lady with contempt, and leaving her question unanswered.
"I should be curious to know how you explain the correlation
between education and conjugal differences," said the lawyer,
with a slight smile.
The merchant wanted to make some reply, but the lady interrupted
"No, those days are past."
The lawyer cut short her words:--
"Let him express his thought."
"Because there is no more fear," replied the old man.
"But how will you marry people who do not love each other? Only
animals can be coupled at the will of a proprietor. But people
have inclinations, attachments," the lady hastened to say,
casting a glance at the lawyer, at me, and even at the clerk,
who, standing up and leaning his elbow on the back of a seat, was
listening to the conversation with a smile.
"You are wrong to say that, madam," said the old man. "The
animals are beasts, but man has received the law."
"But, nevertheless, how is one to live with a man when there is
no love?" said the lady, evidently excited by the general
sympathy and attention.
"Formerly no such distinctions were made," said the old man,
gravely. "Only now have they become a part of our habits. As
soon as the least thing happens, the wife says: 'I release you.
I am going to leave your house.' Even among the moujiks this
fashion has become acclimated. 'There,' she says, 'here are your
shirts and drawers. I am going off with Vanka. His hair is
curlier than yours.' Just go talk with them. And yet the first
rule for the wife should be fear."
The clerk looked at the lawyer, the lady, and myself, evidently
repressing a smile, and all ready to deride or approve the
merchant's words, according to the attitude of the others.
"What fear?" said the lady.
"This fear,--the wife must fear her husband; that is what fear."
"Oh, that, my little father, that is ended."
"No, madam, that cannot end. As she, Eve, the woman, was taken
from man's ribs, so she will remain unto the end of the world,"
said the old man, shaking his head so triumphantly and so
severely that the clerk, deciding that the victory was on his
side, burst into a loud laugh.
"Yes, you men think so," replied the lady, without surrendering,
and turning toward us. "You have given yourself liberty. As for
woman, you wish to keep her in the seraglio. To you, everything
is permissible. Is it not so?"
"Oh, man,--that's another affair."
"Then, according to you, to man everything is permissible?"
"No one gives him this permission; only, if the man behaves badly
outside, the family is not increased thereby; but the woman, the
wife, is a fragile vessel," continued the merchant, severely.
His tone of authority evidently subjugated his hearers. Even the
lady felt crushed, but she did not surrender.
"Yes, but you will admit, I think, that woman is a human being,
and has feelings like her husband. What should she do if she
does not love her husband?"
"If she does not love him!" repeated the old man, stormily, and
knitting his brows; "why, she will be made to love him."
This unexpected argument pleased the clerk, and he uttered a
murmur of approbation.
"Oh, no, she will not be forced," said the lady. "Where there is
no love, one cannot be obliged to love in spite of herself."
"And if the wife deceives her husband, what is to be done?" said
"That should not happen," said the old man. "He must have his
eyes about him."
"And if it does happen, all the same? You will admit that it
"It happens among the upper classes, not among us," answered the
old man. "And if any husband is found who is such a fool as not
to rule his wife, he will not have robbed her. But no scandal,
nevertheless. Love or not, but do not disturb the household.
Every husband can govern his wife. He has the necessary power.
It is only the imbecile who does not succeed in doing so."
Everybody was silent. The clerk moved, advanced, and, not
wishing to lag behind the others in the conversation, began with
his eternal smile:
"Yes, in the house of our employer, a scandal has arisen, and it
is very difficult to view the matter clearly. The wife loved to
amuse herself, and began to go astray. He is a capable and
serious man. First, it was with the book-keeper. The husband
tried to bring her back to reason through kindness. She did not
change her conduct. She plunged into all sorts of beastliness.
She began to steal his money. He beat her, but she grew worse
and worse. To an unbaptized, to a pagan, to a Jew (saving your
permission), she went in succession for her caresses. What could
the employer do? He has dropped her entirely, and now he lives
as a bachelor. As for her, she is dragging in the depths."
"He is an imbecile," said the old man. "If from the first he had
not allowed her to go in her own fashion, and had kept a firm
hand upon her, she would be living honestly, no danger. Liberty
must be taken away from the beginning. Do not trust yourself to
your horse upon the highway. Do not trust yourself to your wife
At that moment the conductor passed, asking for the tickets for
the next station. The old man gave up his.
"Yes, the feminine sex must be dominated in season, else all will
"And you yourselves, at Kounavino, did you not lead a gay life
with the pretty girls?" asked the lawyer with a smile.
"Oh, that's another matter," said the merchant, severely.
"Good-by," he added, rising. He wrapped himself in his cloak,
lifted his cap, and, taking his bag, left the car.
Scarcely had the old man gone when a general conversation began.
"There's a little Old Testament father for you," said the clerk.
"He is a Domostroy,"* said the lady. "What savage ideas about a
woman and marriage!"
*The Domostroy is a matrimonial code of the days of Ivan the
"Yes, gentlemen," said the lawyer, "we are still a long way from
the European ideas upon marriage. First, the rights of woman,
then free marriage, then divorce, as a question not yet solved."
. . .
"The main thing, and the thing which such people as he do not
understand," rejoined the lady, "is that only love consecrates
marriage, and that the real marriage is that which is consecrated
The clerk listened and smiled, with the air of one accustomed to
store in his memory all intelligent conversation that he hears,
in order to make use of it afterwards.
"But what is this love that consecrates marriage?" said,
suddenly, the voice of the nervous and taciturn gentleman, who,
unnoticed by us, had approached.
He was standing with his hand on the seat, and evidently
agitated. His face was red, a vein in his forehead was swollen,
and the muscles of his cheeks quivered.
"What is this love that consecrates marriage?" he repeated.
"What love?" said the lady. "The ordinary love of husband and
"And how, then, can ordinary love consecrate marriage?" continued
the nervous gentleman, still excited, and with a displeased air.
He seemed to wish to say something disagreeable to the lady. She
felt it, and began to grow agitated.
"How? Why, very simply," said she.
The nervous gentleman seized the word as it left her lips.
"No, not simply."
"Madam says," interceded the lawyer indicating his companion,
"that marriage should be first the result of an attachment, of a
love, if you will, and that, when love exists, and in that case
only, marriage represents something sacred. But every marriage
which is not based on a natural attachment, on love, has in it
nothing that is morally obligatory. Is not that the idea that
you intended to convey?" he asked the lady.
The lady, with a nod of her head, expressed her approval of this
translation of her thoughts.
"Then," resumed the lawyer, continuing his remarks.
But the nervous gentleman, evidently scarcely able to contain
himself, without allowing the lawyer to finish, asked:
"Yes, sir. But what are we to understand by this love that alone
"Everybody knows what love is," said the lady.
"But I don't know, and I should like to know how you define it."
"How? It is very simple," said the lady.
And she seemed thoughtful, and then said:
"Love . . . love . . . is a preference for one man or one woman
to the exclusion of all others. . . ."
"A preference for how long? . . . For a month, two days, or half
an hour?" said the nervous gentleman, with special irritation.
"No, permit me, you evidently are not talking of the same thing."
"Yes, I am talking absolutely of the same thing. Of the
preference for one man or one woman to the exclusion of all
others. But I ask: a preference for how long?"
"For how long? For a long time, for a life-time sometimes."
"But that happens only in novels. In life, never. In life this
preference for one to the exclusion of all others lasts in rare
cases several years, oftener several months, or even weeks, days,
hours. . . ."
"Oh, sir. Oh, no, no, permit me," said all three of us at the
The clerk himself uttered a monosyllable of disapproval.
"Yes, I know," he said, shouting louder than all of us; "you are
talking of what is believed to exist, and I am talking of what
is. Every man feels what you call love toward each pretty woman
he sees, and very little toward his wife. That is the origin of
the proverb,--and it is a true one,--'Another's wife is a white
swan, and ours is bitter wormwood."'
"Ah, but what you say is terrible! There certainly exists among
human beings this feeling which is called love, and which lasts,
not for months and years, but for life."
"No, that does not exist. Even if it should be admitted that
Menelaus had preferred Helen all his life, Helen would have
preferred Paris; and so it has been, is, and will be eternally.
And it cannot be otherwise, just as it cannot happen that, in a
load of chick-peas, two peas marked with a special sign should
fall side by side. Further, this is not only an improbability,
but it is certain that a feeling of satiety will come to Helen or
to Menelaus. The whole difference is that to one it comes
sooner, to the other later. It is only in stupid novels that it
is written that 'they loved each other all their lives.' And
none but children can believe it. To talk of loving a man or
woman for life is like saying that a candle can burn
"But you are talking of physical love. Do you not admit a love
based upon a conformity of ideals, on a spiritual affinity?"
"Why not? But in that case it is not necessary to procreate
together (excuse my brutality). The point is that this
conformity of ideals is not met among old people, but among young
and pretty persons," said he, and he began to laugh disagreeably.
"Yes, I affirm that love, real love, does not consecrate
marriage, as we are in the habit of believing, but that, on the
contrary, it ruins it."
"Permit me," said the lawyer. "The facts contradict your words.
We see that marriage exists, that all humanity--at least the
larger portion--lives conjugally, and that many husbands and
wives honestly end a long life together."
The nervous gentleman smiled ill-naturedly.
"And what then? You say that marriage is based upon love, and
when I give voice to a doubt as to the existence of any other
love than sensual love, you prove to me the existence of love by
marriage. But in our day marriage is only a violence and
"No, pardon me," said the lawyer. "I say only that marriages
have existed and do exist."
"But how and why do they exist? They have existed, and they do
exist, for people who have seen, and do see, in marriage
something sacramental, a sacrament that is binding before God.
For such people marriages exist, but to us they are only
hypocrisy and violence. We feel it, and, to clear ourselves, we
preach free love; but, really, to preach free love is only a call
backward to the promiscuity of the sexes (excuse me, he said to
the lady), the haphazard sin of certain raskolniks. The old
foundation is shattered; we must build a new one, but we must not
He grew so warm that all became silent, looking at him in
"And yet the transition state is terrible. People feel that
haphazard sin is inadmissible. It is necessary in some way or
other to regulate the sexual relations; but there exists no other
foundation than the old one, in which nobody longer believes?
People marry in the old fashion, without believing in what they
do, and the result is falsehood, violence. When it is falsehood
alone, it is easily endured. The husband and wife simply deceive
the world by professing to live monogamically. If they really
are polygamous and polyandrous, it is bad, but acceptable. But
when, as often happens, the husband and the wife have taken upon
themselves the obligation to live together all their lives (they
themselves do not know why), and from the second month have
already a desire to separate, but continue to live together just
the same, then comes that infernal existence in which they resort
to drink, in which they fire revolvers, in which they assassinate
each other, in which they poison each other."
All were silent, but we felt ill at ease.
"Yes, these critical episodes happen in marital life. For
instance, there is the Posdnicheff affair," said the lawyer,
wishing to stop the conversation on this embarrassing and too
exciting ground. "Have you read how he killed his wife through
The lady said that she had not read it. The nervous gentleman
said nothing, and changed color.
"I see that you have divined who I am," said he, suddenly, after
"No, I have not had that pleasure."
"It is no great pleasure. I am Posdnicheff."
New silence. He blushed, then turned pale again.
"What matters it, however?" said he. "Excuse me, I do not wish
to embarrass you."
And he resumed his old seat.
I resumed mine, also. The lawyer and the lady whispered
together. I was sitting beside Posdnicheff, and I maintained
silence. I desired to talk to him, but I did not know how to
begin, and thus an hour passed until we reached the next station.
There the lawyer and the lady went out, as well as the clerk. We
were left alone, Posdnicheff and I.
"They say it, and they lie, or they do not understand," said
"Of what are you talking?"
"Why, still the same thing."
He leaned his elbows upon his knees, and pressed his hands
against his temples.
"Love, marriage, family,--all lies, lies, lies."
He rose, lowered the lamp-shade, lay down with his elbows on the
cushion, and closed his eyes. He remained thus for a minute.
"Is it disagreeable to you to remain with me, now that you know
who I am?"
"You have no desire to sleep?"
"Not at all."
"Then do you want me to tell you the story of my life?"
Just then the conductor passed. He followed him with an
ill-natured look, and did not begin until he had gone again.
Then during all the rest of the story he did not stop once. Even
the new travellers as they entered did not stop him.
His face, while he was talking, changed several times so
completely that it bore positively no resemblance to itself as it
had appeared just before. His eyes, his mouth, his moustache,
and even his beard, all were new. Each time it was a beautiful
and touching physiognomy, and these transformations were produced
suddenly in the penumbra; and for five minutes it was the same
face, that could not be compared to that of five minutes before.
And then, I know not how, it changed again, and became
"Well, I am going then to tell you my life, and my whole
frightful history,--yes, frightful. And the story itself is more
frightful than the outcome."
He became silent for a moment, passed his hands over his eyes,
"To be understood clearly, the whole must be told from the
beginning. It must be told how and why I married, and what I was
before my marriage. First, I will tell you who I am. The son of
a rich gentleman of the steppes, an old marshal of the nobility,
I was a University pupil, a graduate of the law school. I
married in my thirtieth year. But before talking to you of my
marriage, I must tell you how I lived formerly, and what ideas I
had of conjugal life. I led the life of so many other so-called
respectable people,--that is, in debauchery. And like the
majority, while leading the life of a debauche, I was convinced
that I was a man of irreproachable morality.
"The idea that I had of my morality arose from the fact that in
my family there was no knowledge of those special debaucheries,
so common in the surroundings of land-owners, and also from the
fact that my father and my mother did not deceive each other. In
consequence of this, I had built from childhood a dream of high
and poetical conjugal life. My wife was to be perfection itself,
our mutual love was to be incomparable, the purity of our
conjugal life stainless. I thought thus, and all the time I
marvelled at the nobility of my projects.
"At the same time, I passed ten years of my adult life without
hurrying toward marriage, and I led what I called the
well-regulated and reasonable life of a bachelor. I was proud of
it before my friends, and before all men of my age who abandoned
themselves to all sorts of special refinements. I was not a
seducer, I had no unnatural tastes, I did not make debauchery the
principal object of my life; but I found pleasure within the
limits of society's rules, and innocently believed myself a
profoundly moral being. The women with whom I had relations did
not belong to me alone, and I asked of them nothing but the
pleasure of the moment.
"In all this I saw nothing abnormal. On the contrary, from the
fact that I did not engage my heart, but paid in cash, I supposed
that I was honest. I avoided those women who, by attaching
themselves to me, or presenting me with a child, could bind my
future. Moreover, perhaps there may have been children or
attachments; but I so arranged matters that I could not become
aware of them.
"And living thus, I considered myself a perfectly honest man. I
did not understand that debauchery does not consist simply in
physical acts, that no matter what physical ignominy does not yet
constitute debauchery, and that real debauchery consists in
freedom from the moral bonds toward a woman with whom one enters
into carnal relations, and I regarded THIS FREEDOM as a merit. I
remember that I once tortured myself exceedingly for having
forgotten to pay a woman who probably had given herself to me
through love. I only became tranquil again when, having sent her
the money, I had thus shown her that I did not consider myself as
in any way bound to her. Oh, do not shake your head as if you
were in agreement with me (he cried suddenly with vehemence). I
know these tricks. All of you, and you especially, if you are
not a rare exception, have the same ideas that I had then. If
you are in agreement with me, it is now only. Formerly you did
not think so. No more did I; and, if I had been told what I have
just told you, that which has happened would not have happened.
However, it is all the same. Excuse me (he continued): the truth
is that it is frightful, frightful, frightful, this abyss of
errors and debaucheries in which we live face to face with the
real question of the rights of woman." . . .
"What do you mean by the 'real' question of the rights of
"The question of the nature of this special being, organized
otherwise than man, and how this being and man ought to view the
wife. . . .
"Yes: for ten years I lived the most revolting existence, while
dreaming of the noblest love, and even in the name of that love.
Yes, I want to tell you how I killed my wife, and for that I must
tell you how I debauched myself. I killed her before I knew her.
I killed THE wife when I first tasted sensual joys without love,
and then it was that I killed MY wife. Yes, sir: it is only
after having suffered, after having tortured myself, that I have
come to understand the root of things, that I have come to
understand my crimes. Thus you will see where and how began the
drama that has led me to misfortune.
"It is necessary to go back to my sixteenth year, when I was
still at school, and my elder brother a first-year student. I
had not yet known women but, like all the unfortunate children of
our society, I was already no longer innocent. I was tortured,
as you were, I am sure, and as are tortured ninety-nine
one-hundredths of our boys. I lived in a frightful dread, I
prayed to God, and I prostrated myself.
"I was already perverted in imagination, but the last steps
remained to be taken. I could still escape, when a friend of my
brother, a very gay student, one of those who are called good
fellows,--that is, the greatest of scamps,--and who had taught us
to drink and play cards, took advantage of a night of
intoxication to drag us THERE. We started. My brother, as
innocent as I, fell that night, and I, a mere lad of sixteen,
polluted myself and helped to pollute a sister-woman, without
understanding what I did. Never had I heard from my elders that
what I thus did was bad. It is true that there are the ten
commandments of the Bible; but the commandments are made only to
be recited before the priests at examinations, and even then are
not as exacting as the commandments in regard to the use of ut in
"Thus, from my elders, whose opinion I esteemed, I had never
heard that this was reprehensible. On the contrary, I had heard
people whom I respected say that it was good. I had heard that
my struggles and my sufferings would be appeased after this act.
I had heard it and read it. I had heard from my elders that it
was excellent for the health, and my friends have always seemed
to believe that it contained I know not what merit and valor. So
nothing is seen in it but what is praiseworthy. As for the
danger of disease, it is a foreseen danger. Does not the
government guard against it? And even science corrupts us."
"How so, science?" I asked.
"Why, the doctors, the pontiffs of science. Who pervert young
people by laying down such rules of hygiene? Who pervert women
by devising and teaching them ways by which not to have children?
"Yes: if only a hundredth of the efforts spent in curing diseases
were spent in curing debauchery, disease would long ago have
ceased to exist, whereas now all efforts are employed, not in
extirpating debauchery, but in favoring it, by assuring the
harmlessness of the consequences. Besides, it is not a question
of that. It is a question of this frightful thing that has
happened to me, as it happens to nine-tenths, if not more, not
only of the men of our society, but of all societies, even
peasants,--this frightful thing that I had fallen, and not
because I was subjected to the natural seduction of a certain
woman. No, no woman seduced me. I fell because the surroundings
in which I found myself saw in this degrading thing only a
legitimate function, useful to the health; because others saw in
it simply a natural amusement, not only excusable, but even
innocent in a young man. I did not understand that it was a fall,
and I began to give myself to those pleasures (partly from desire
and partly from necessity) which I was led to believe were
characteristic of my age, just as I had begun to drink and smoke.
"And yet there was in this first fall something peculiar and
touching. I remember that straightway I was filled with such a
profound sadness that I had a desire to weep, to weep over the
loss forever of my relations with woman. Yes, my relations with
woman were lost forever. Pure relations with women, from that
time forward, I could no longer have. I had become what is
called a voluptuary; and to be a voluptuary is a physical
condition like the condition of a victim of the morphine habit,
of a drunkard, and of a smoker.
"Just as the victim of the morphine habit, the drunkard, the
smoker, is no longer a normal man, so the man who has known
several women for his pleasure is no longer normal? He is
abnormal forever. He is a voluptuary. Just as the drunkard and
the victim of the morphine habit may be recognized by their face
and manner, so we may recognize a voluptuary. He may repress
himself and struggle, but nevermore will he enjoy simple, pure,
and fraternal relations toward woman. By his way of glancing at
a young woman one may at once recognize a voluptuary; and I
became a voluptuary, and I have remained one.
"Yes, so it is; and that went farther and farther with all sorts
of variations. My God! when I remember all my cowardly acts and
bad deeds, I am frightened. And I remember that 'me' who, during
that period, was still the butt of his comrades' ridicule on
account of his innocence.
"And when I hear people talk of the gilded youth, of the
officers, of the Parisians, and all these gentlemen, and myself,
living wild lives at the age of thirty, and who have on our
consciences hundreds of crimes toward women, terrible and varied,
when we enter a parlor or a ball-room, washed, shaven, and
perfumed, with very white linen, in dress coats or in uniform, as
emblems of purity, oh, the disgust! There will surely come a
time, an epoch, when all these lives and all this cowardice will
"So, nevertheless, I lived, until the age of thirty, without
abandoning for a minute my intention of marrying, and building an
elevated conjugal life; and with this in view I watched all young
girls who might suit me. I was buried in rottenness, and at the
same time I looked for virgins, whose purity was worthy of me!
Many of them were rejected: they did not seem to me pure enough!
"Finally I found one that I considered on a level with myself.
She was one of two daughters of a landed proprietor of Penza,
formerly very rich and since ruined. To tell the truth, without
false modesty, they pursued me and finally captured me. The
mother (the father was away) laid all sorts of traps, and one of
these, a trip in a boat, decided my future.
"I made up my mind at the end of the aforesaid trip one night, by
moonlight, on our way home, while I was sitting beside her. I
admired her slender body, whose charming shape was moulded by a
jersey, and her curling hair, and I suddenly concluded that THIS
WAS SHE. It seemed to me on that beautiful evening that she
understood all that I thought and felt, and I thought and felt
the most elevating things.
"Really, it was only the jersey that was so becoming to her, and
her curly hair, and also the fact that I had spent the day beside
her, and that I desired a more intimate relation.
"I returned home enthusiastic, and I persuaded myself that she
realized the highest perfection, and that for that reason she was
worthy to be my wife, and the next day I made to her a proposal
"No, say what you will, we live in such an abyss of falsehood,
that, unless some event strikes us a blow on the head, as in my
case, we cannot awaken. What confusion! Out of the thousands of
men who marry, not only among us, but also among the people,
scarcely will you find a single one who has not previously
married at least ten times. (It is true that there now exist, at
least so I have heard, pure young people who feel and know that
this is not a joke, but a serious matter. May God come to their
aid! But in my time there was not to be found one such in a
"And all know it, and pretend not to know it. In all the novels
are described down to the smallest details the feelings of the
characters, the lakes and brambles around which they walk; but,
when it comes to describing their GREAT love, not a word is
breathed of what HE, the interesting character, has previously
done, not a word about his frequenting of disreputable houses, or
his association with nursery-maids, cooks, and the wives of
"And if anything is said of these things, such IMPROPER novels
are not allowed in the hands of young girls. All men have the
air of believing, in presence of maidens, that these corrupt
pleasures, in which EVERYBODY takes part, do not exist, or exist
only to a very small extent. They pretend it so carefully that
they succeed in convincing themselves of it. As for the poor
young girls, they believe it quite seriously, just as my poor
wife believed it.
"I remember that, being already engaged, I showed her my
'memoirs,' from which she could learn more or less of my past,
and especially my last liaison which she might perhaps have
discovered through the gossip of some third party. It was for
this last reason, for that matter, that I felt the necessity of
communicating these memoirs to her. I can still see her fright,
her despair, her bewilderment, when she had learned and
understood it. She was on the point of breaking the engagement.
What a lucky thing it would have been for both of us!"
Posdnicheff was silent for a moment, and then resumed:--
"After all, no! It is better that things happened as they did,
better!" he cried. "It was a good thing for me. Besides, it
makes no difference. I was saying that in these cases it is the
poor young girls who are deceived. As for the mothers, the
mothers especially, informed by their husbands, they know all,
and, while pretending to believe in the purity of the young man,
they act as if they did not believe in it.
"They know what bait must be held out to people for themselves
and their daughters. We men sin through ignorance, and a
determination not to learn. As for the women, they know very
well that the noblest and most poetic love, as we call it,
depends, not on moral qualities, but on the physical intimacy,
and also on the manner of doing the hair, and the color and
"Ask an experienced coquette, who has undertaken to seduce a man,
which she would prefer,--to be convicted, in presence of the man
whom she is engaged in conquering, of falsehood, perversity,
cruelty, or to appear before him in an ill-fitting dress, or a
dress of an unbecoming color. She will prefer the first
alternative. She knows very well that we simply lie when we talk
of our elevated sentiments, that we seek only the possession of
her body, and that because of that we will forgive her every sort
of baseness, but will not forgive her a costume of an ugly shade,
without taste or fit.
"And these things she knows by reason, where as the maiden knows
them only by instinct, like the animal. Hence these abominable
jerseys, these artificial humps on the back, these bare
shoulders, arms, and throats.
"Women, especially those who have passed through the school of
marriage, know very well that conversations upon elevated
subjects are only conversations, and that man seeks and desires
the body and all that ornaments the body. Consequently, they act
accordingly? If we reject conventional explanations, and view
the life of our upper and lower classes as it is, with all its
shamelessness, it is only a vast perversity. You do not share
this opinion? Permit me, I am going to prove it to you (said he,
"You say that the women of our society live for a different
interest from that which actuates fallen women. And I say no,
and I am going to prove it to you. If beings differ from one
another according to the purpose of their life, according to
their INNER LIFE, this will necessarily be reflected also in
their OUTER LIFE, and their exterior will be very different.
Well, then, compare the wretched, the despised, with the women of
the highest society: the same dresses, the same fashions, the
same perfumeries, the same passion for jewelry, for brilliant and
very expensive articles, the same amusements, dances, music, and
songs. The former attract by all possible means; so do the
latter. No difference, none whatever!
"Yes, and I, too, was captivated by jerseys, bustles, and curly
"And it was very easy to capture me, since I was brought up
under artificial conditions, like cucumbers in a hothouse. Our
too abundant nourishment, together with complete physical
idleness, is nothing but systematic excitement of the
imagination. The men of our society are fed and kept like
reproductive stallions. It is sufficient to close the
valve,--that is, for a young man to live a quiet life for some
time,--to produce as an immediate result a restlessness, which,
becoming exaggerated by reflection through the prism of our
unnatural life, provokes the illusion of love.
"All our idyls and marriage, all, are the result for the most
part of our eating. Does that astonish you? For my part, I am
astonished that we do not see it. Not far from my estate this
spring some moujiks were working on a railway embankment. You
know what a peasant's food is,--bread, kvass,* onions. With this
frugal nourishment he lives, he is alert, he makes light work in
the fields. But on the railway this bill of fare becomes cacha
and a pound of meat. Only he restores this meat by sixteen hours
of labor pushing loads weighing twelve hundred pounds.
*Kvass, a sort of cider.
"And we, who eat two pounds of meat and game, we who absorb all
sorts of heating drinks and food, how do we expend it? In
sensual excesses. If the valve is open, all goes well; but close
it, as I had closed it temporarily before my marriage, and
immediately there will result an excitement which, deformed by
novels, verses, music, by our idle and luxurious life, will give
a love of the finest water. I, too, fell in love, as everybody
does, and there were transports, emotions, poesy; but really all
this passion was prepared by mamma and the dressmakers. If there
had been no trips in boats, no well-fitted garments, etc., if my
wife had worn some shapeless blouse, and I had seen her thus at
her home, I should not have been seduced.
"And note, also, this falsehood, of which all are guilty; the
way in which marriages are made. What could there be more
natural? The young girl is marriageable, she should marry. What
simpler, provided the young person is not a monster, and men can
be found with a desire to marry? Well, no, here begins a new
"Formerly, when the maiden arrived at a favorable age, her
marriage was arranged by her parents. That was done, that is
done still, throughout humanity, among the Chinese, the Hindoos,
the Mussulmans, and among our common people also. Things are so
managed in at least ninety-nine per cent. of the families of the
entire human race.
"Only we riotous livers have imagined that this way was bad, and
have invented another. And this other,--what is it? It is this.
The young girls are seated, and the gentlemen walk up and down
before them, as in a bazaar, and make their choice. The maidens
wait and think, but do not dare to say: 'Take me, young man, me
and not her. Look at these shoulders and the rest.' We males
walk up and down, and estimate the merchandise, and then we
discourse upon the rights of woman, upon the liberty that she
acquires, I know not how, in the theatrical halls."
"But what is to be done?" said I to him. "Shall the woman make
"I do not know. But, if it is a question of equality, let the
equality be complete. Though it has been found that to contract
marriages through the agency of match-makers is humiliating, it
is nevertheless a thousand times preferable to our system. There
the rights and the chances are equal; here the woman is a slave,
exhibited in the market. But as she cannot bend to her
condition, or make advances herself, there begins that other and
more abominable lie which is sometimes called GOING INTO SOCIETY,
sometimes AMUSING ONE'S SELF, and which is really nothing but the
hunt for a husband.
"But say to a mother or to her daughter that they are engaged
only in a hunt for a husband. God! What an offence! Yet they
can do nothing else, and have nothing else to do; and the
terrible feature of it all is to see sometimes very young, poor,
and innocent maidens haunted solely by such ideas. If only, I
repeat, it were done frankly; but it is always accompanied with
lies and babble of this sort:--
"'Ah, the descent of species! How interesting it is!'
"'Oh, Lily is much interested in painting.'
"'Shall you go to the Exposition? How charming it is!'
"'And the troika, and the plays, and the symphony. Ah, how
"'My Lise is passionately fond of music.'
"'And you, why do you not share these convictions?'
"And through all this verbiage, all have but one single idea:
'Take me, take my Lise. No, me! Only try!"'
"Do you know," suddenly continued Posdnicheff, "that this power
of women from which the world suffers arises solely from what I
have just spoken of?"
"What do you mean by the power of women?" I said. "Everybody, on
the contrary, complains that women have not sufficient rights,
that they are in subjection."
"That's it; that's it exactly," said he, vivaciously. "That is
just what I mean, and that is the explanation of this
extraordinary phenomenon, that on the one hand woman is reduced
to the lowest degree of humiliation and on the other hand she
reigns over everything. See the Jews: with their power of money,
they avenge their subjection, just as the women do. 'Ah! you
wish us to be only merchants? All right; remaining merchants, we
will get possession of you,' say the Jews. 'Ah! you wish us to
be only objects of sensuality? All right; by the aid of
sensuality we will bend you beneath our yoke,' say the women.
"The absence of the rights of woman does not consist in the fact
that she has not the right to vote, or the right to sit on the
bench, but in the fact that in her affectional relations she is
not the equal of man, she has not the right to abstain, to choose
instead of being chosen. You say that that would be abnormal.
Very well! But then do not let man enjoy these rights, while his
companion is deprived of them, and finds herself obliged to make
use of the coquetry by which she governs, so that the result is
that man chooses 'formally,' whereas really it is woman who
chooses. As soon as she is in possession of her means, she
abuses them, and acquires a terrible supremacy."
"But where do you see this exceptional power?"
"Where? Why, everywhere, in everything. Go see the stores in
the large cities. There are millions there, millions. It is
impossible to estimate the enormous quantity of labor that is
expended there. In nine-tenths of these stores is there anything
whatever for the use of men? All the luxury of life is demanded
and sustained by woman. Count the factories; the greater part of
them are engaged in making feminine ornaments. Millions of men,
generations of slaves, die toiling like convicts simply to
satisfy the whims of our companions.
"Women, like queens, keep nine-tenths of the human race as
prisoners of war, or as prisoners at hard labor. And all this
because they have been humiliated, because they have been
deprived of rights equal to those which men enjoy. They take
revenge for our sensuality; they catch us in their nets.
"Yes, the whole thing is there. Women have made of themselves
such a weapon to act upon the senses that a young man, and even
an old man, cannot remain tranquil in their presence. Watch a
popular festival, or our receptions or ball-rooms. Woman well
knows her influence there. You will see it in her triumphant
"As soon as a young man advances toward a woman, directly he
falls under the influence of this opium, and loses his head.
Long ago I felt ill at ease when I saw a woman too well
adorned,--whether a woman of the people with her red neckerchief
and her looped skirt, or a woman of our own society in her
ball-room dress. But now it simply terrifies me. I see in it a
danger to men, something contrary to the laws; and I feel a
desire to call a policeman, to appeal for defence from some
quarter, to demand that this dangerous object be removed.
"And this is not a joke, by any means. I am convinced, I am
sure, that the time will come--and perhaps it is not far
distant--when the world will understand this, and will be
astonished that a society could exist in which actions as harmful
as those which appeal to sensuality by adorning the body as our
companions do were allowed. As well set traps along our public
streets, or worse than that.
"That, then, was the way in which I was captured. I was in
love, as it is called; not only did she appear to me a perfect
being, but I considered myself a white blackbird. It is a
commonplace fact that there is no one so low in the world that he
cannot find some one viler than himself, and consequently puff
with pride and self-contentment. I was in that situation. I did
not marry for money. Interest was foreign to the affair, unlike
the marriages of most of my acquaintances, who married either for
money or for relations. First, I was rich, she was poor.
Second, I was especially proud of the fact that, while others
married with an intention of continuing their polygamic life as
bachelors, it was my firm intention to live monogamically after
my engagement and the wedding, and my pride swelled immeasurably.
"Yes, I was a wretch, convinced that I was an angel. The period
of my engagement did not last long. I cannot remember those days
without shame. What an abomination!
"It is generally agreed that love is a moral sentiment, a
community of thought rather than of sense. If that is the case,
this community of thought ought to find expression in words and
conversation. Nothing of the sort. It was extremely difficult
for us to talk with each other. What a toil of Sisyphus was our
conversation! Scarcely had we thought of something to say, and
said it, when we had to r‚sum‚ our silence and try to discover
new subjects. Literally, we did not know what to say to each
other. All that we could think of concerning the life that was
before us and our home was said.
"And then what? If we had been animals, we should have known
that we had not to talk. But here, on the contrary, it was
necessary to talk, and there were no resources! For that which
occupied our minds was not a thing to be expressed in words.
"And then that silly custom of eating bon-bons, that brutal
gluttony for sweetmeats, those abominable preparations for the
wedding, those discussions with mamma upon the apartments, upon
the sleeping-rooms, upon the bedding, upon the morning-gowns,
upon the wrappers, the linen, the costumes! Understand that if
people married according to the old fashion, as this old man said
just now, then these eiderdown coverlets and this bedding would
all be sacred details; but with us, out of ten married people
there is scarcely to be found one who, I do not say believes in
sacraments (whether he believes or not is a matter of
indifference to us), but believes in what he promises. Out of a
hundred men, there is scarcely one who has not married before,
and out of fifty scarcely one who has not made up his mind to
deceive his wife.
"The great majority look upon this journey to the church as a
condition necessary to the possession of a certain woman. Think
then of the supreme significance which material details must take
on. Is it not a sort of sale, in which a maiden is given over to
a debauche, the sale being surrounded with the most agreeable
"All marry in this way. And I did like the rest. If the young
people who dream of the honeymoon only knew what a disillusion it
is, and always a disillusion! I really do not know why all think
it necessary to conceal it.
"One day I was walking among the shows in Paris, when, attracted
by a sign, I entered an establishment to see a bearded woman and
a water-dog. The woman was a man in disguise, and the dog was an
ordinary dog, covered with a sealskin, and swimming in a bath.
It was not in the least interesting, but the Barnum accompanied
me to the exit very courteously, and, in addressing the people
who were coming in, made an appeal to my testimony. 'Ask the
gentleman if it is not worth seeing! Come in, come in! It only
costs a franc!' And in my confusion I did not dare to answer
that there was nothing curious to be seen, and it was upon my
false shame that the Barnum must have counted.
"It must be the same with the persons who have passed through the
abominations of the honeymoon. They do not dare to undeceive
their neighbor. And I did the same.
"The felicities of the honeymoon do not exist. On the contrary,
it is a period of uneasiness, of shame, of pity, and, above all,
of ennui,--of ferocious ennui. It is something like the
feeling of a youth when he is beginning to smoke. He desires to
vomit; he drivels, and swallows his drivel, pretending to enjoy
this little amusement. The vice of marriage" . . .
"What! Vice?" I said. "But you are talking of one of the most
"Natural!" said he. "Natural! No, I consider on the contrary
that it is against nature, and it is I, a perverted man, who have
reached this conviction. What would it be, then, if I had not
known corruption? To a young girl, to every unperverted young
girl, it is an act extremely unnatural, just as it is to
children. My sister married, when very young, a man twice her
own age, and who was utterly corrupt. I remember how astonished
we were the night of her wedding, when, pale and covered with
tears, she fled from her husband, her whole body trembling,
saying that for nothing in the world would she tell what he
wanted of her.
"You say natural? It is natural to eat; that is a pleasant,
agreeable function, which no one is ashamed to perform from the
time of his birth. No, it is not natural. A pure young girl
wants one thing,--children. Children, yes, not a lover." . . .
"But," said I, with astonishment, "how would the human race
"But what is the use of its continuing?" he rejoined,
"What! What is the use? But then we should not exist."
"And why is it necessary that we should exist?"
"Why, to live, to be sure."
"And why live? The Schopenhauers, the Hartmanns, and all the
Buddhists, say that the greatest happiness is Nirvana, Non-Life;
and they are right in this sense,--that human happiness is
coincident with the annihilation of 'Self.' Only they do not
express themselves well. They say that Humanity should
annihilate itself to avoid its sufferings, that its object should
be to destroy itself. Now the object of Humanity cannot be to
avoid sufferings by annihilation, since suffering is the result
of activity. The object of activity cannot consist in
suppressing its consequences. The object of Man, as of Humanity,
is happiness, and, to attain it, Humanity has a law which it must
carry out. This law consists in the union of beings. This union
is thwarted by the passions. And that is why, if the passions
disappear, the union will be accomplished. Humanity then will
have carried out the law, and will have no further reason to
"And before Humanity carries out the law?"
"In the meantime it will have the sign of the unfulfilled law,
and the existence of physical love. As long as this love shall
exist, and because of it, generations will be born, one of which
will finally fulfil the law. When at last the law shall be
fulfilled, the Human Race will be annihilated. At least it is
impossible for us to conceive of Life in the perfect union of
"Strange theory!" cried I.
"Strange in what? According to all the doctrines of the Church,
the world will have an end. Science teaches the same fatal
conclusions. Why, then, is it strange that the same thing should
result from moral Doctrine? 'Let those who can, contain,' said
Christ. And I take this passage literally, as it is written.
That morality may exist between people in their worldly
relations, they must make complete chastity their object. In
tending toward this end, man humiliates himself. When he shall
reach the last degree of humiliation, we shall have moral
"But if man, as in our society, tends only toward physical love,
though he may clothe it with pretexts and the false forms of
marriage, he will have only permissible debauchery, he will know
only the same immoral life in which I fell and caused my wife to
fall, a life which we call the honest life of the family. Think
what a perversion of ideas must arise when the happiest situation
of man, liberty, chastity, is looked upon as something wretched
and ridiculous. The highest ideal, the best situation of woman,
to be pure, to be a vestal, a virgin, excites fear and laughter
in our society. How many, how many young girls sacrifice their
purity to this Moloch of opinion by marrying rascals that they
may not remain virgins,--that is, superiors! Through fear of
finding themselves in that ideal state, they ruin themselves.
"But I did not understand formerly, I did not understand that the
words of the Gospel, that 'he who looks upon a woman to lust
after her has already committed adultery,' do not apply to the
wives of others, but notably and especially to our own wives. I
did not understand this, and I thought that the honeymoon and all
of my acts during that period were virtuous, and that to satisfy
one's desires with his wife is an eminently chaste thing. Know,
then, that I consider these departures, these isolations, which
young married couples arrange with the permission of their
parents, as nothing else than a license to engage in debauchery.
"I saw, then, in this nothing bad or shameful, and, hoping for
great joys, I began to live the honeymoon. And very certainly
none of these joys followed. But I had faith, and was determined
to have them, cost what they might. But the more I tried to
secure them, the less I succeeded. All this time I felt anxious,
ashamed, and weary. Soon I began to suffer. I believe that on
the third or fourth day I found my wife sad and asked her the
reason. I began to embrace her, which in my opinion was all that
she could desire. She put me away with her hand, and began to
"At what? She could not tell me. She was filled with sorrow,
with anguish. Probably her tortured nerves had suggested to her
the truth about the baseness of our relations, but she found no
words in which to say it. I began to question her; she answered
that she missed her absent mother. It seemed to me that she was
not telling the truth. I sought to console her by maintaining
silence in regard to her parents. I did not imagine that she
felt herself simply overwhelmed, and that her parents had nothing
to do with her sorrow. She did not listen to me, and I accused
her of caprice. I began to laugh at her gently. She dried her
tears, and began to reproach me, in hard and wounding terms, for
my selfishness and cruelty.
"I looked at her. Her whole face expressed hatred, and hatred of
me. I cannot describe to you the fright which this sight gave
me. 'How? What?' thought I, 'love is the unity of souls, and
here she hates me? Me? Why? But it is impossible! It is no
"I tried to calm her. I came in conflict with an immovable and
cold hostility, so that, having no time to reflect, I was seized
with keen irritation. We exchanged disagreeable remarks. The
impression of this first quarrel was terrible. I say quarrel,
but the term is inexact. It was the sudden discovery of the
abyss that had been dug between us. Love was exhausted with the
satisfaction of sensuality. We stood face to face in our true
light, like two egoists trying to procure the greatest possible
enjoyment, like two individuals trying to mutually exploit each
"So what I called our quarrel was our actual situation as it
appeared after the satisfaction of sensual desire. I did not
realize that this cold hostility was our normal state, and that
this first quarrel would soon be drowned under a new flood of the
intensest sensuality. I thought that we had disputed with each
other, and had become reconciled, and that it would not happen
again. But in this same honeymoon there came a period of
satiety, in which we ceased to be necessary to each other, and a
new quarrel broke out.
"It became evident that the first was not a matter of chance.
'It was inevitable,' I thought. This second quarrel stupefied me
the more, because it was based on an extremely unjust cause. It
was something like a question of money,--and never had I haggled
on that score; it was even impossible that I should do so in
relation to her. I only remember that, in answer to some remark
that I made, she insinuated that it was my intention to rule her
by means of money, and that it was upon money that I based my
sole right over her. In short, something extraordinarily stupid
and base, which was neither in my character nor in hers.
"I was beside myself. I accused her of indelicacy. She made the
same accusation against me, and the dispute broke out. In her
words, in the expression of her face, of her eyes, I noticed
again the hatred that had so astonished me before. With a
brother, friends, my father, I had occasionally quarrelled, but
never had there been between us this fierce spite. Some time
passed. Our mutual hatred was again concealed beneath an access
of sensual desire, and I again consoled myself with the
reflection that these scenes were reparable faults.
"But when they were repeated a third and a fourth time, I
understood that they were not simply faults, but a fatality that
must happen again. I was no longer frightened, I was simply
astonished that I should be precisely the one to live so
uncomfortably with my wife, and that the same thing did not
happen in other households. I did not know that in all
households the same sudden changes take place, but that all, like
myself, imagine that it is a misfortune exclusively reserved for
themselves alone, which they carefully conceal as shameful, not
only to others, but to themselves, like a bad disease.
"That was what happened to me. Begun in the early days, it
continued and increased with characteristics of fury that were
ever more pronounced. At the bottom of my soul, from the first
weeks, I felt that I was in a trap, that I had what I did not
expect, and that marriage is not a joy, but a painful trial.
Like everybody else, I refused to confess it (I should not have
confessed it even now but for the outcome). Now I am astonished
to think that I did not see my real situation. It was so easy to
perceive it, in view of those quarrels, begun for reasons so
trivial that afterwards one could not recall them.
"Just as it often happens among gay young people that, in the
absence of jokes, they laugh at their own laughter, so we found
no reasons for our hatred, and we hated each other because hatred
was naturally boiling up in us. More extraordinary still was the
absence of causes for reconciliation.
"Sometimes words, explanations, or even tears, but sometimes, I
remember, after insulting words, there tacitly followed embraces
and declarations. Abomination! Why is it that I did not then
perceive this baseness?
"All of us, men and women, are brought up in these aberrations
of feeling that we call love. I from childhood had prepared
myself for this thing, and I loved, and I loved during all my
youth, and I was joyous in loving. It had been put into my head
that it was the noblest and highest occupation in the world. But
when this expected feeling came at last, and I, a man, abandoned
myself to it, the lie was pierced through and through.
Theoretically a lofty love is conceivable; practically it is an
ignoble and degrading thing, which it is equally disgusting to
talk about and to remember. It is not in vain that nature has
made ceremonies, but people pretend that the ignoble and the
shameful is beautiful and lofty.
"I will tell you brutally and briefly what were the first signs
of my love. I abandoned myself to beastly excesses, not only not
ashamed of them, but proud of them, giving no thought to the
intellectual life of my wife. And not only did I not think of
her intellectual life, I did not even consider her physical life.
I was astonished at the origin of our hostility, and yet how
clear it was! This hostility is nothing but a protest of human
nature against the beast that enslaves it. It could not be
otherwise. This hatred was the hatred of accomplices in a crime.
Was it not a crime that, this poor woman having become pregnant
in the first month, our liaison should have continued just the
"You imagine that I am wandering from my story. Not at all. I
am always giving you an account of the events that led to the
murder of my wife. The imbeciles! They think that I killed my
wife on the 5th of October. It was long before that that I
immolated her, just as they all kill now. Understand well that
in our society there is an idea shared by all that woman procures
man pleasure (and vice versa, probably, but I know nothing of
that, I only know my own case). Wein, Weiber und Gesang. So say
the poets in their verses: Wine, women, and song!
"If it were only that! Take all the poetry, the painting, the
sculpture, beginning with Pouschkine's 'Little Feet,' with 'Venus
and Phryne,' and you will see that woman is only a means of
enjoyment. That is what she is at Trouba,* at Gratchevka, and in
a court ball-room. And think of this diabolical trick: if she
were a thing without moral value, it might be said that woman is
a fine morsel; but, in the first place, these knights assure us
that they adore woman (they adore her and look upon her, however,
as a means of enjoyment), then all assure us that they esteem
woman. Some give up their seats to her, pick up her
handkerchief; others recognize in her a right to fill all
offices, participate in government, etc., but, in spite of all
that, the essential point remains the same. She is, she remains,
an object of sensual desire, and she knows it. It is slavery,
for slavery is nothing else than the utilization of the labor of
some for the enjoyment of others. That slavery may not exist
people must refuse to enjoy the labor of others, and look upon it
as a shameful act and as a sin.
*A suburb of Moscow.
"Actually, this is what happens. They abolish the external
form, they suppress the formal sales of slaves, and then they
imagine and assure others that slavery is abolished. They are
unwilling to see that it still exists, since people, as before,
like to profit by the labor of others, and think it good and
just. This being given, there will always be found beings
stronger or more cunning than others to profit thereby. The same
thing happens in the emancipation of woman. At bottom feminine
servitude consists entirely in her assimilation with a means of
pleasure. They excite woman, they give her all sorts of rights
equal to those of men, but they continue to look upon her as an
object of sensual desire, and thus they bring her up from infancy
and in public opinion.
"She is always the humiliated and corrupt serf, and man remains
always the debauched Master. Yes, to abolish slavery, public
opinion must admit that it is shameful to exploit one's neighbor,
and, to make woman free, public opinion must admit that it is
shameful to consider woman as an instrument of pleasure.
"The emancipation of woman is not to be effected in the public
courts or in the chamber of deputies, but in the sleeping
chamber. Prostitution is to be combated, not in the houses of
ill-fame, but in the family. They free woman in the public
courts and in the chamber of deputies, but she remains an
instrument. Teach her, as she is taught among us, to look upon
herself as such, and she will always remain an inferior being.
Either, with the aid of the rascally doctors, she will try to
prevent conception, and descend, not to the level of an animal,
but to the level of a thing; or she will be what she is in the
great majority of cases,--sick, hysterical, wretched, without
hope of spiritual progress." . . .
"But why that?" I asked.
"Oh! the most astonishing thing is that no one is willing to see
this thing, evident as it is, which the doctors must understand,
but which they take good care not to do. Man does not wish to
know the law of nature,--children. But children are born and
become an embarrassment. Then man devises means of avoiding this
embarrassment. We have not yet reached the low level of Europe,
nor Paris, nor the 'system of two children,' nor Mahomet. We
have discovered nothing, because we have given it no thought. We
feel that there is something bad in the two first means; but we
wish to preserve the family, and our view of woman is still
"With us woman must be at the same time mistress and nurse, and
her strength is not sufficient. That is why we have hysteria,
nervous attacks, and, among the peasants, witchcraft. Note that
among the young girls of the peasantry this state of things does
not exist, but only among the wives, and the wives who live with
their husbands. The reason is clear, and this is the cause of
the intellectual and moral decline of woman, and of her
"If they would only reflect what a grand work for the wife is the
period of gestation! In her is forming the being who continues
us, and this holy work is thwarted and rendered painful . . . by
what? It is frightful to think of it! And after that they talk
of the liberties and the rights of woman! It is like the
cannibals fattening their prisoners in order to devour them, and
assuring these unfortunates at the same time that their rights
and their liberties are guarded!"
All this was new to me, and astonished me very much.
"But if this is so," said I, "it follows that one may love his
wife only once every two years; and as man" . . .
"And as man has need of her, you are going to say. At least, so
the priests of science assure us. I would force these priests to
fulfil the function of these women, who, in their opinion, are
necessary to man. I wonder what song they would sing then.
Assure man that he needs brandy, tobacco, opium, and he will
believe those poisons necessary. It follows that God did not
know how to arrange matters properly, since, without asking the
opinions of the priests, he has combined things as they are. Man
needs, so they have decided, to satisfy his sensual desire, and
here this function is disturbed by the birth and the nursing of
"What, then, is to be done? Why, apply to the priests; they will
arrange everything, and they have really discovered a way. When,
then, will these rascals with their lies be uncrowned! It is
high time. We have had enough of them. People go mad, and shoot
each other with revolvers, and always because of that! And how
could it be otherwise?
"One would say that the animals know that descent continues their
race, and that they follow a certain law in regard thereto. Only
man does not know this, and is unwilling to know it. He cares
only to have as much sensual enjoyment as possible. The king of
nature,--man! In the name of his love he kills half the human
race. Of woman, who ought to be his aid in the movement of
humanity toward liberty, he makes, in the name of his pleasures,
not an aid, but an enemy. Who is it that everywhere puts a check
upon the progressive movement of humanity? Woman. Why is it so?
For the reason that I have given, and for that reason only.
"Yes, much worse than the animal is man when he does not live as
a man. Thus was I. The horrible part is that I believed,
inasmuch as I did not allow myself to be seduced by other women
that I was leading an honest family life, that I was a very
mortal being, and that if we had quarrels, the fault was in my
wife, and in her character.
"But it is evident that the fault was not in her. She was like
everybody else, like the majority. She was brought up according
to the principles exacted by the situation of our society,--that
is, as all the young girls of our wealthy classes, without
exception, are brought up, and as they cannot fail to be brought
up. How many times we hear or read of reflections upon the
abnormal condition of women, and upon what they ought to be. But
these are only vain words. The education of women results from
the real and not imaginary view which the world entertains of
women's vocation. According to this view, the condition of women
consists in procuring pleasure and it is to that end that her
education is directed. From her infancy she is taught only those
things that are calculated to increase her charm. Every young
girl is accustomed to think only of that.
"As the serfs were brought up solely to please their masters, so
woman is brought up to attract men. It cannot be otherwise. But
you will say, perhaps, that that applies only to young girls who
are badly brought up, but that there is another education, an
education that is serious, in the schools, an education in the
dead languages, an education in the institutions of midwifery, an
education in medical courses, and in other courses. It is
"Every sort of feminine education has for its sole object the
attraction of men.
"Some attract by music or curly hair, others by science or by
civic virtue. The object is the same, and cannot be otherwise
(since no other object exists),--to seduce man in order to
possess him. Imagine courses of instruction for women and
feminine science without men,--that is, learned women, and men
not KNOWING them as learned. Oh, no! No education, no
instruction can change woman as long as her highest ideal shall
be marriage and not virginity, freedom from sensuality. Until
that time she will remain a serf. One need only imagine,
forgetting the universality of the case, the conditions in which
our young girls are brought up, to avoid astonishment at the
debauchery of the women of our upper classes. It is the opposite
that would cause astonishment.
"Follow my reasoning. From infancy garments, ornaments,
cleanliness, grace, dances, music, reading of poetry, novels,
singing, the theatre, the concert, for use within and without,
according as women listen, or practice themselves. With that,
complete physical idleness, an excessive care of the body, a vast
consumption of sweetmeats; and God knows how the poor maidens
suffer from their own sensuality, excited by all these things.
Nine out of ten are tortured intolerably during the first period
of maturity, and afterward provided they do not marry at the age
of twenty. That is what we are unwilling to see, but those who
have eyes see it all the same. And even the majority of these
unfortunate creatures are so excited by a hidden sensuality (and
it is lucky if it is hidden) that they are fit for nothing. They
become animated only in the presence of men. Their whole life is
spent in preparations for coquetry, or in coquetry itself. In
the presence of men they become too animated; they begin to live
by sensual energy. But the moment the man goes away, the life
"And that, not in the presence of a certain man, but in the
presence of any man, provided he is not utterly hideous. You
will say that this is an exception. No, it is a rule. Only in
some it is made very evident, in other less so. But no one lives
by her own life; they are all dependent upon man. They cannot be
otherwise, since to them the attraction of the greatest number of
men is the ideal of life (young girls and married women), and it
is for this reason that they have no feeling stronger than that
of the animal need of every female who tries to attract the
largest number of males in order to increase the opportunities
for choice. So it is in the life of young girls, and so it
continues during marriage. In the life of young girls it is
necessary in order to selection, and in marriage it is necessary
in order to rule the husband. Only one thing suppresses or
interrupts these tendencies for a time,--namely, children,--and
then only when the woman is not a monster,--that is, when she
nurses her own children. Here again the doctor interferes.
"With my wife, who desired to nurse her own children, and who did
nurse six of them, it happened that the first child was sickly.
The doctors, who cynically undressed her and felt of her
everywhere, and whom I had to thank and pay for these
acts,--these dear doctors decided that she ought not to nurse her
child, and she was temporarily deprived of the only remedy for
coquetry. A nurse finished the nursing of this first-born,--that
is to say, we profited by the poverty and ignorance of a woman to
steal her from her own little one in favor of ours, and for that
purpose we dressed her in a kakoschnik trimmed with gold lace.
Nevertheless, that is not the question; but there was again
awakened in my wife that coquetry which had been sleeping during
the nursing period. Thanks to that, she reawakened in me the
torments of jealousy which I had formerly known, though in a much
"Yes, jealousy, that is another of the secrets of marriage known
to all and concealed by all. Besides the general cause of the
mutual hatred of husbands and wives resulting from complicity in
the pollution of a human being, and also from other causes, the
inexhaustible source of marital wounds is jealousy. But by tacit
consent it is determined to conceal them from all, and we conceal
them. Knowing them, each one supposes in himself that it is an
unfortunate peculiarity, and not a common destiny. So it was
with me, and it had to be so. There cannot fail to be jealousy
between husbands and wives who live immorally. If they cannot
sacrifice their pleasures for the welfare of their child, they
conclude therefrom, and truly, that they will not sacrifice their
pleasures for, I will not say happiness and tranquillity (since
one may sin in secret), but even for the sake of conscience. Each
one knows very well that neither admits any high moral reasons
for not betraying the other, since in their mutual relations they
fail in the requirements of morality, and from that time distrust
and watch each other.
"Oh, what a frightful feeling of jealousy! I do not speak of
that real jealousy which has foundations (it is tormenting, but
it promises an issue), but of that unconscious jealousy which
inevitably accompanies every immoral marriage, and which, having
no cause, has no end. This jealousy is frightful. Frightful,
that is the word.
"And this is it. A young man speaks to my wife. He looks at her
with a smile, and, as it seems to me, he surveys her body. How
does he dare to think of her, to think of the possibility of a
romance with her? And how can she, seeing this, tolerate him?
Not only does she tolerate him, but she seems pleased. I even
see that she puts herself to trouble on his account. And in my
soul there rises such a hatred for her that each of her words,
each gesture, disgusts me. She notices it, she knows not what to
do, and how assume an air of indifferent animation? Ah! I
suffer! That makes her gay, she is content. And my hatred
increases tenfold, but I do not dare to give it free force,
because at the bottom of my soul I know that there are no real
reasons for it, and I remain in my seat, feigning indifference,
and exaggerating my attention and courtesy to HIM.
"Then I get angry with myself. I desire to leave the room, to
leave them alone, and I do, in fact, go out; but scarcely am I
outside when I am invaded by a fear of what is taking place
within my absence. I go in again, inventing some pretext. Or
sometimes I do not go in; I remain near the door, and listen.
How can she humiliate herself and humiliate me by placing me in
this cowardly situation of suspicion and espionage? Oh,
abomination! Oh, the wicked animal! And he too, what does he
think of you? But he is like all men. He is what I was before
my marriage. It gives him pleasure. He even smiles when he
looks at me, as much as to say: 'What have you to do with this?
It is my turn now.'
"This feeling is horrible. Its burn is unendurable. To
entertain this feeling toward any one, to once suspect a man of
lusting after my wife, was enough to spoil this man forever in my
eyes, as if he had been sprinkled with vitriol. Let me once
become jealous of a being, and nevermore could I re-establish
with him simple human relations, and my eyes flashed when I
looked at him.
"As for my wife, so many times had I enveloped her with this
moral vitriol, with this jealous hatred, that she was degraded
thereby. In the periods of this causeless hatred I gradually
uncrowned her. I covered her with shame in my imagination.
"I invented impossible knaveries. I suspected, I am ashamed to
say, that she, this queen of 'The Thousand and One Nights,'
deceived me with my serf, under my very eyes, and laughing at me.
Thus, with each new access of jealousy (I speak always of
causeless jealousy), I entered into the furrow dug formerly by my
filthy suspicions, and I continually deepened it. She did the
same thing. If I have reasons to be jealous, she who knew my
past had a thousand times more. And she was more ill-natured in
her jealousy than I. And the sufferings that I felt from her
jealousy were different, and likewise very painful.
"The situation may be described thus. We are living more or less
tranquilly. I am even gay and contented. Suddenly we start a
conversation on some most commonplace subject, and directly she
finds herself disagreeing with me upon matters concerning which
we have been generally in accord. And furthermore I see that,
without any necessity therefor, she is becoming irritated. I
think that she has a nervous attack, or else that the subject of
conversation is really disagreeable to her. We talk of something
else, and that begins again. Again she torments me, and becomes
irritated. I am astonished and look for a reason. Why? For
what? She keeps silence, answers me with monosyllables,
evidently making allusions to something. I begin to divine that
the reason of all this is that I have taken a few walks in the
garden with her cousin, to whom I did not give even a thought. I
begin to divine, but I cannot say so. If I say so, I confirm her
suspicions. I interrogate her, I question her. She does not
answer, but she sees that I understand, and that confirms her
"'What is the matter with you?' I ask.
"'Nothing, I am as well as usual,' she answers.
"And at the same time, like a crazy woman, she gives utterance to
the silliest remarks, to the most inexplicable explosions of
"Sometimes I am patient, but at other times I break out with
anger. Then her own irritation is launched forth in a flood of
insults, in charges of imaginary crimes and all carried to the
highest degree by sobs, tears, and retreats through the house to
the most improbable spots. I go to look for her. I am ashamed
before people, before the children, but there is nothing to be
done. She is in a condition where I feel that she is ready for
anything. I run, and finally find her. Nights of torture
follow, in which both of us, with exhausted nerves, appease each
other, after the most cruel words and accusations.
"Yes, jealousy, causeless jealousy, is the condition of our
debauched conjugal life. And throughout my marriage never did I
cease to feel it and to suffer from it. There were two periods
in which I suffered most intensely. The first time was after the
birth of our first child, when the doctors had forbidden my wife
to nurse it. I was particularly jealous, in the first place,
because my wife felt that restlessness peculiar to animal matter
when the regular course of life is interrupted without occasion.
But especially was I jealous because, having seen with what
facility she had thrown off her moral duties as a mother, I
concluded rightly, though unconsciously, that she would throw off
as easily her conjugal duties, feeling all the surer of this
because she was in perfect health, as was shown by the fact that,
in spite of the prohibition of the dear doctors, she nursed her
following children, and even very well."
"I see that you have no love for the doctors," said I, having
noticed Posdnicheff's extraordinarily spiteful expression of face
and tone of voice whenever he spoke of them.
"It is not a question of loving them or of not loving them. They
have ruined my life, as they have ruined the lives of thousands
of beings before me, and I cannot help connecting the consequence
with the cause. I conceive that they desire, like the lawyers
and the rest, to make money. I would willingly have given them
half of my income--and any one would have done it in my place,
understanding what they do--if they had consented not to meddle
in my conjugal life, and to keep themselves at a distance. I
have compiled no statistics, but I know scores of cases--in
reality, they are innumerable--where they have killed, now a
child in its mother's womb, asserting positively that the mother
could not give birth to it (when the mother could give birth to
it very well), now mothers, under the pretext of a so-called
operation. No one has counted these murders, just as no one
counted the murders of the Inquisition, because it was supposed
that they were committed for the benefit of humanity.
Innumerable are the crimes of the doctors! But all these crimes
are nothing compared with the materialistic demoralization which
they introduce into the world through women. I say nothing of
the fact that, if it were to follow their advice,--thanks to the
microbe which they see everywhere,--humanity, instead of tending
to union, would proceed straight to complete disunion.
Everybody, according to their doctrine, should isolate himself,
and never remove from his mouth a syringe filled with phenic acid
(moreover, they have found out now that it does no good). But I
would pass over all these things. The supreme poison is the
perversion of people, especially of women. One can no longer say
now: 'You live badly, live better.' One can no longer say it
either to himself or to others, for, if you live badly (say the
doctors), the cause is in the nervous system or in something
similar, and it is necessary to go to consult them, and they will
prescribe for you thirty-five copecks' worth of remedies to be
bought at the drug-store, and you must swallow them. Your
condition grows worse? Again to the doctors, and more remedies!
An excellent business!
"But to return to our subject. I was saying that my wife nursed
her children well, that the nursing and the gestation of the
children, and the children in general, quieted my tortures of
jealousy, but that, on the other hand, they provoked torments of
a different sort.
"The children came rapidly, one after another, and there
happened what happens in our society with children and doctors.
Yes, children, maternal love, it is a painful thing. Children,
to a woman of our society, are not a joy, a pride, nor a
fulfilment of her vocation, but a cause of fear, anxiety, and
interminable suffering, torture. Women say it, they think it,
and they feel it too. Children to them are really a torture, not
because they do not wish to give birth to them, nurse them, and
care for them (women with a strong maternal instinct--and such
was my wife--are ready to do that), but because the children may
fall sick and die. They do not wish to give birth to them, and
then not love them; and when they love, they do not wish to feel
fear for the child's health and life. That is why they do not
wish to nurse them. 'If I nurse it,' they say, 'I shall become
too fond of it.' One would think that they preferred
india-rubber children, which could neither be sick nor die, and
could always be repaired. What an entanglement in the brains of
these poor women! Why such abominations to avoid pregnancy, and
to avoid the love of the little ones?
"Love, the most joyous condition of the soul, is represented as a
danger. And why? Because, when a man does not live as a man, he
is worse than a beast. A woman cannot look upon a child
otherwise than as a pleasure. It is true that it is painful to
give birth to it, but what little hands! . . . Oh, the little
hands! Oh, the little feet! Oh, its smile! Oh, its little
body! Oh, its prattle! Oh, its hiccough! In a word, it is a
feeling of animal, sensual maternity. But as for any idea as to
the mysterious significance of the appearance of a new human
being to replace us, there is scarcely a sign of it.
"Nothing of it appears in all that is said and done. No one has
any faith now in a baptism of the child, and yet that was nothing
but a reminder of the human significance of the newborn babe.
"They have rejected all that, but they have not replaced it, and
there remain only the dresses, the laces, the little hands, the
little feet, and whatever exists in the animal. But the animal
has neither imagination, nor foresight, nor reason, nor a doctor.
No! not even a doctor! The chicken droops its head, overwhelmed,
or the calf dies; the hen clucks and the cow lows for a time, and
then these beasts continue to live, forgetting what has happened.
With us, if the child falls sick, what is to be done, how to care
for it, what doctor to call, where to go? If it dies, there will
be no more little hands or little feet, and then what is the use
of the sufferings endured? The cow does not ask all that, and
this is why children are a source of misery. The cow has no
imagination, and for that reason cannot think how it might have
saved the child if it had done this or that, and its grief,
founded in its physical being, lasts but a very short time. It
is only a condition, and not that sorrow which becomes
exaggerated to the point of despair, thanks to idleness and
satiety. The cow has not that reasoning faculty which would
enable it to ask the why. Why endure all these tortures? What
was the use of so much love, if the little ones were to die? The
cow has no logic which tells it to have no more children, and, if
any come accidentally, to neither love nor nurse them, that it
may not suffer. But our wives reason, and reason in this way,
and that is why I said that, when a man does not live as a man,
he is beneath the animal."
"But then, how is it necessary to act, in your opinion, in order
to treat children humanly?" I asked.
"How? Why, love them humanly."
"Well, do not mothers love their children?"
"They do not love them humanly, or very seldom do, and that is
why they do not love them even as dogs. Mark this, a hen, a
goose, a wolf, will always remain to woman inaccessible ideals of
animal love. It is a rare thing for a woman to throw herself, at
the peril of her life, upon an elephant to snatch her child away,
whereas a hen or a sparrow will not fail to fly at a dog and
sacrifice itself utterly for its children. Observe this, also.
Woman has the power to limit her physical love for her children,
which an animal cannot do. Does that mean that, because of this,
woman is inferior to the animal? No. She is superior (and even
to say superior is unjust, she is not superior, she is
different), but she has other duties, human duties. She can
restrain herself in the matter of animal love, and transfer her
love to the soul of the child. That is what woman's role should
be, and that is precisely what we do not see in our society. We
read of the heroic acts of mothers who sacrifice their children
in the name of a superior idea, and these things seem to us like
tales of the ancient world, which do not concern us. And yet I
believe that, if the mother has not some ideal, in the name of
which she can sacrifice the animal feeling, and if this force
finds no employment, she will transfer it to chimerical attempts
to physically preserve her child, aided in this task by the
doctor, and she will suffer as she does suffer.
"So it was with my wife. Whether there was one child or five,
the feeling remained the same. In fact, it was a little better
when there had been five. Life was always poisoned with fear for
the children, not only from their real or imaginary diseases, but
even by their simple presence. For my part, at least, throughout
my conjugal life, all my interests and all my happiness depended
upon the health of my children, their condition, their studies.
Children, it is needless to say, are a serious consideration; but
all ought to live, and in our days parents can no longer live.
Regular life does not exist for them. The whole life of the
family hangs by a hair. What a terrible thing it is to suddenly
receive the news that little Basile is vomiting, or that Lise has
a cramp in the stomach! Immediately you abandon everything, you
forget everything, everything becomes nothing. The essential
thing is the doctor, the enema, the temperature. You cannot
begin a conversation but little Pierre comes running in with an
anxious air to ask if he may eat an apple, or what jacket he
shall put on, or else it is the servant who enters with a
"Regular, steady family life does not exist. Where you live, and
consequently what you do, depends upon the health of the little
ones, the health of the little ones depends upon nobody, and,
thanks to the doctors, who pretend to aid health, your entire
life is disturbed. It is a perpetual peril. Scarcely do we
believe ourselves out of it when a new danger comes: more
attempts to save. Always the situation of sailors on a
foundering vessel. Sometimes it seemed to me that this was done
on purpose, that my wife feigned anxiety in order to conquer me,
since that solved the question so simply for her benefit. It
seemed to me that all that she did at those times was done for
its effect upon me, but now I see that she herself, my wife,
suffered and was tortured on account of the little ones, their
health, and their diseases.
"A torture to both of us, but to her the children were also a
means of forgetting herself, like an intoxication. I often
noticed, when she was very sad, that she was relieved, when a
child fell sick, at being able to take refuge in this
intoxication. It was involuntary intoxication, because as yet
there was nothing else. On every side we heard that Mrs.
So-and-so had lost children, that Dr. So-and-so had saved the
child of Mrs. So-and-so, and that in a certain family all had
moved from the house in which they were living, and thereby saved
the little ones. And the doctors, with a serious air, confirmed
this, sustaining my wife in her opinions. She was not prone to
fear, but the doctor dropped some word, like corruption of the
blood, scarlatina, or else--heaven help us--diphtheria, and off
"It was impossible for it to be otherwise. Women in the old days
had the belief that 'God has given, God has taken away,' that the
soul of the little angel is going to heaven, and that it is
better to die innocent than to die in sin. If the women of
to-day had something like this faith, they could endure more
peacefully the sickness of their children. But of all that there
does not remain even a trace. And yet it is necessary to believe
in something; consequently they stupidly believe in medicine, and
not even in medicine, but in the doctor. One believes in X,
another in Z, and, like all believers, they do not see the idiocy
of their beliefs. They believe quia absurdum, because, in
reality, if they did not believe in a stupid way, they would see
the vanity of all that these brigands prescribe for them.
Scarlatina is a contagious disease; so, when one lives in a large
city, half the family has to move away from its residence (we did
it twice), and yet every man in the city is a centre through
which pass innumerable diameters, carrying threads of all sorts
of contagions. There is no obstacle: the baker, the tailor, the
coachman, the laundresses.
"And I would undertake, for every man who moves on account of
contagion, to find in his new dwelling-place another contagion
similar, if not the same.
"But that is not all. Every one knows rich people who, after a
case of diphtheria, destroy everything in their residences, and
then fall sick in houses newly built and furnished. Every one
knows, likewise, numbers of men who come in contact with sick
people and do not get infected. Our anxieties are due to the
people who circulate tall stories. One woman says that she has
an excellent doctor. 'Pardon me,' answers the other, 'he killed
such a one,' or such a one. And vice versa. Bring her another,
who knows no more, who learned from the same books, who treats
according to the same formulas, but who goes about in a carriage,
and asks a hundred roubles a visit, and she will have faith in
"It all lies in the fact that our women are savages. They have
no belief in God, but some of them believe in the evil eye, and
the others in doctors who charge high fees. If they had faith
they would know that scarlatina, diphtheria, etc., are not so
terrible, since they cannot disturb that which man can and should
love,--the soul. There can result from them only that which none
of us can avoid,--disease and death. Without faith in God, they
love only physically, and all their energy is concentrated upon
the preservation of life, which cannot be preserved, and which
the doctors promise the fools of both sexes to save. And from
that time there is nothing to be done; the doctors must be
"Thus the presence of the children not only did not improve our
relations as husband and wife, but, on the contrary, disunited
us. The children became an additional cause of dispute, and the
larger they grew, the more they became an instrument of struggle.
One would have said that we used them as weapons with which to
combat each other. Each of us had his favorite. I made use of
little Basile (the eldest), she of Lise. Further, when the
children reached an age where their characters began to be
defined, they became allies, which we drew each in his or her own
direction. They suffered horribly from this, the poor things,
but we, in our perpetual hubbub, were not clear-headed enough to
think of them. The little girl was devoted to me, but the eldest
boy, who resembled my wife, his favorite, often inspired me with
"We lived at first in the country, then in the city, and, if the
final misfortune had not happened, I should have lived thus until
my old age and should then have believed that I had had a good
life,--not too good, but, on the other hand, not bad,--an
existence such as other people lead. I should not have
understood the abyss of misfortune and ignoble falsehood in which
I floundered about, feeling that something was not right. I
felt, in the first place, that I, a man, who, according to my
ideas, ought to be the master, wore the petticoats, and that I
could not get rid of them. The principal cause of my subjection
was the children. I should have liked to free myself, but I
could not. Bringing up the children, and resting upon them, my
wife ruled. I did not then realize that she could not help
ruling, especially because, in marrying, she was morally superior
to me, as every young girl is incomparably superior to the man,
since she is incomparably purer. Strange thing! The ordinary
wife in our society is a very commonplace person or worse,
selfish, gossiping, whimsical, whereas the ordinary young girl,
until the age of twenty, is a charming being, ready for
everything that is beautiful and lofty. Why is this so?
Evidently because husbands pervert them, and lower them to their
"In truth, if boys and girls are born equal, the little girls
find themselves in a better situation. In the first place, the
young girl is not subjected to the perverting conditions to which
we are subjected. She has neither cigarettes, nor wine, nor
cards, nor comrades, nor public houses, nor public functions.
And then the chief thing is that she is physically pure, and that
is why, in marrying, she is superior to her husband. She is
superior to man as a young girl, and when she becomes a wife in
our society, where there is no need to work in order to live, she
becomes superior, also, by the gravity of the acts of generation,
birth, and nursing.
"Woman, in bringing a child into the world, and giving it her
bosom, sees clearly that her affair is more serious than the
affair of man, who sits in the Zemstvo, in the court. She knows
that in these functions the main thing is money, and money can be
made in different ways, and for that very reason money is not
inevitably necessary, like nursing a child. Consequently woman
is necessarily superior to man, and must rule. But man, in our
society, not only does not recognize this, but, on the contrary,
always looks upon her from the height of his grandeur, despising
what she does.
"Thus my wife despised me for my work at the Zemstvo, because she
gave birth to children and nursed them. I, in turn, thought that
woman's labor was most contemptible, which one might and should
"Apart from the other motives, we were also separated by a mutual
contempt. Our relations grew ever more hostile, and we arrived
at that period when, not only did dissent provoke hostility, but
hostility provoked dissent. Whatever she might say, I was sure
in advance to hold a contrary opinion; and she the same. Toward
the fourth year of our marriage it was tacitly decided between us
that no intellectual community was possible, and we made no
further attempts at it. As to the simplest objects, we each held
obstinately to our own opinions. With strangers we talked upon
the most varied and most intimate matters, but not with each
other. Sometimes, in listening to my wife talk with others in my
presence, I said to myself: 'What a woman! Everything that she
says is a lie!' And I was astonished that the person with whom
she was conversing did not see that she was lying. When we were
together; we were condemned to silence, or to conversations
which, I am sure, might have been carried on by animals.
"'What time is it? It is bed-time. What is there for dinner
to-day? Where shall we go? What is there in the newspaper? The
doctor must be sent for, Lise has a sore throat.'
"Unless we kept within the extremely narrow limits of such
conversation, irritation was sure to ensue. The presence of a
third person relieved us, for through an intermediary we could
still communicate. She probably believed that she was always
right. As for me, in my own eyes, I was a saint beside her.
"The periods of what we call love arrived as often as formerly.
They were more brutal, without refinement, without ornament; but
they were short, and generally followed by periods of irritation
without cause, irritation fed by the most trivial pretexts. We
had spats about the coffee, the table-cloth, the carriage, games
of cards,--trifles, in short, which could not be of the least
importance to either of us. As for me, a terrible execration was
continually boiling up within me. I watched her pour the tea,
swing her foot, lift her spoon to her mouth, and blow upon hot
liquids or sip them, and I detested her as if these had been so
"I did not notice that these periods of irritation depended very
regularly upon the periods of love. Each of the latter was
followed by one of the former. A period of intense love was
followed by a long period of anger; a period of mild love induced
a mild irritation. We did not understand that this love and this
hatred were two opposite faces of the same animal feeling. To
live thus would be terrible, if one understood the philosophy of
it. But we did not perceive this, we did not analyze it. It is
at once the torture and the relief of man that, when he lives
irregularly, he can cherish illusions as to the miseries of his
situation. So did we. She tried to forget herself in sudden and
absorbing occupations, in household duties, the care of the
furniture, her dress and that of her children, in the education
of the latter, and in looking after their health. These were
occupations that did not arise from any immediate necessity, but
she accomplished them as if her life and that of her children
depended on whether the pastry was allowed to burn, whether a
curtain was hanging properly, whether a dress was a success,
whether a lesson was well learned, or whether a medicine was
"I saw clearly that to her all this was, more than anything else,
a means of forgetting, an intoxication, just as hunting,
card-playing, and my functions at the Zemstvo served the same
purpose for me. It is true that in addition I had an
intoxication literally speaking,--tobacco, which I smoked in
large quantities, and wine, upon which I did not get drunk, but
of which I took too much. Vodka before meals, and during meals
two glasses of wine, so that a perpetual mist concealed the
turmoil of existence.
"These new theories of hypnotism, of mental maladies, of hysteria
are not simple stupidities, but dangerous or evil stupidities.
Charcot, I am sure, would have said that my wife was hysterical,
and of me he would have said that I was an abnormal being, and he
would have wanted to treat me. But in us there was nothing
requiring treatment. All this mental malady was the simple
result of the fact that we were living immorally. Thanks to this
immoral life, we suffered, and, to stifle our sufferings, we
tried abnormal means, which the doctors call the 'symptoms' of a
"There was no occasion in all this to apply for treatment to
Charcot or to anybody else. Neither suggestion nor bromide would
have been effective in working our cure. The needful thing was
an examination of the origin of the evil. It is as when one is
sitting on a nail; if you see the nail, you see that which is
irregular in your life, and you avoid it. Then the pain stops,
without any necessity of stifling it. Our pain arose from the
irregularity of our life, and also my jealousy, my irritability,
and the necessity of keeping myself in a state of perpetual
semi-intoxication by hunting, card-playing, and, above all, the
use of wine and tobacco. It was because of this irregularity
that my wife so passionately pursued her occupations. The sudden
changes of her disposition, from extreme sadness to extreme
gayety, and her babble, arose from the need of forgetting
herself, of forgetting her life, in the continual intoxication of
varied and very brief occupations.
"Thus we lived in a perpetual fog, in which we did not
distinguish our condition. We were like two galley-slaves
fastened to the same ball, cursing each other, poisoning each
other's existence, and trying to shake each other off. I was
still unaware that ninety-nine families out of every hundred live
in the same hell, and that it cannot be otherwise. I had not
learned this fact from others or from myself. The coincidences
that are met in regular, and even in irregular life, are
surprising. At the very period when the life of parents becomes
impossible, it becomes indispensable that they go to the city to
live, in order to educate their children. That is what we did."
Posdnicheff became silent, and twice there escaped him, in the
half-darkness, sighs, which at that moment seemed to me like
suppressed sobs. Then he continued.
"So we lived in the city. In the city the wretched feel less
sad. One can live there a hundred years without being noticed,
and be dead a long time before anybody will notice it. People
have no time to inquire into your life. All are absorbed.
Business, social relations, art, the health of children, their
education. And there are visits that must be received and made;
it is necessary to see this one, it is necessary to hear that one
or the other one. In the city there are always one, two, or
three celebrities that it is indispensable that one should visit.
Now one must care for himself, or care for such or such a little
one, now it is the professor, the private tutor, the governesses,
. . . and life is absolutely empty. In this activity we were
less conscious of the sufferings of our cohabitation. Moreover,
in the first of it, we had a superb occupation,--the arrangement
of the new dwelling, and then, too, the moving from the city to
the country, and from the country to the city.
"Thus we spent a winter. The following winter an incident
happened to us which passed unnoticed, but which was the
fundamental cause of all that happened later. My wife was
suffering, and the rascals (the doctors) would not permit her to
conceive a child, and taught her how to avoid it. I was
profoundly disgusted. I struggled vainly against it, but she
insisted frivolously and obstinately, and I surrendered. The
last justification of our life as wretches was thereby
suppressed, and life became baser than ever.
"The peasant and the workingman need children, and hence their
conjugal relations have a justification. But we, when we have a
few children, have no need of any more. They make a superfluous
confusion of expenses and joint heirs, and are an embarrassment.
Consequently we have no excuses for our existence as wretches,
but we are so deeply degraded that we do not see the necessity of
a justification. The majority of people in contemporary society
give themselves up to this debauchery without the slightest
remorse. We have no conscience left, except, so to speak, the
conscience of public opinion and of the criminal code. But in
this matter neither of these consciences is struck. There is not
a being in society who blushes at it. Each one practices it,--X,
Y, Z, etc. What is the use of multiplying beggars, and depriving
ourselves of the joys of social life? There is no necessity of
having conscience before the criminal code, or of fearing it:
low girls, soldiers' wives who throw their children into ponds or
wells, these certainly must be put in prison. But with us the
suppression is effected opportunely and properly.
"Thus we passed two years more. The method prescribed by the
rascals had evidently succeeded. My wife had grown stouter and
handsomer. It was the beauty of the end of summer. She felt it,
and paid much attention to her person. She had acquired that
provoking beauty that stirs men. She was in all the brilliancy
of the wife of thirty years, who conceives no children, eats
heartily, and is excited. The very sight of her was enough to
frighten one. She was like a spirited carriage-horse that has
long been idle, and suddenly finds itself without a bridle. As
for my wife, she had no bridle, as for that matter, ninety-nine
hundredths of our women have none."
Posdnicheff's face had become transformed; his eyes were
pitiable; their expression seemed strange, like that of another
being than himself; his moustache and beard turned up toward the
top of his face; his nose was diminished, and his mouth enlarged,
"Yes," he resumed "she had grown stouter since ceasing to
conceive, and her anxieties about her children began to
disappear. Not even to disappear. One would have said that she
was waking from a long intoxication, that on coming to herself
she had perceived the entire universe with its joys, a whole
world in which she had not learned to live, and which she did not
"'If only this world shall not vanish! When time is past, when
old age comes, one cannot recover it.' Thus, I believe, she
thought, or rather felt. Moreover, she could neither think nor
feel otherwise. She had been brought up in this idea that there
is in the world but one thing worthy of attention,--love. In
marrying, she had known something of this love, but very far from
everything that she had understood as promised her, everything
that she expected. How many disillusions! How much suffering!
And an unexpected torture,--the children! This torture had told
upon her, and then, thanks to the obliging doctor, she had
learned that it is possible to avoid having children. That had
made her glad. She had tried, and she was now revived for the
only thing that she knew,--for love. But love with a husband
polluted by jealousy and ill-nature was no longer her ideal. She
began to think of some other tenderness; at least, that is what I
thought. She looked about her as if expecting some event or some
being. I noticed it, and I could not help being anxious.
"Always, now, it happened that, in talking with me through a
third party (that is, in talking with others, but with the
intention that I should hear), she boldly expressed,--not
thinking that an hour before she had said the opposite,--half
joking, half seriously, this idea that maternal anxieties are a
delusion; that it is not worth while to sacrifice one's life to
children. When one is young, it is necessary to enjoy life. So
she occupied herself less with the children, not with the same
intensity as formerly, and paid more and more attention to
herself, to her face,--although she concealed it,--to her
pleasures, and even to her perfection from the worldly point of
view. She began to devote herself passionately to the piano,
which had formerly stood forgotten in the corner. There, at the
piano, began the adventure.
"The MAN appeared."
Posdnicheff seemed embarrassed, and twice again there escaped him
that nasal sound of which I spoke above. I thought that it gave
him pain to refer to the MAN, and to remember him. He made an
effort, as if to break down the obstacle that embarrassed him,
and continued with determination.
"He was a bad man in my eyes, and not because he has played such
an important role in my life, but because he was really such.
For the rest, from the fact that he was bad, we must conclude
that he was irresponsible. He was a musician, a violinist. Not
a professional musician, but half man of the world, half artist.
His father, a country proprietor, was a neighbor of my father's.
The father had become ruined, and the children, three boys, were
all sent away. Our man, the youngest, was sent to his godmother
at Paris. There they placed him in the Conservatory, for he
showed a taste for music. He came out a violinist, and played in
On the point of speaking evil of the other, Posdnicheff checked
himself, stopped, and said suddenly:
"In truth, I know not how he lived. I only know that that year
he came to Russia, and came to see me. Moist eyes of almond
shape, smiling red lips, a little moustache well waxed, hair
brushed in the latest fashion, a vulgarly pretty face,--what the
women call 'not bad,'--feebly built physically, but with no
deformity; with hips as broad as a woman's; correct, and
insinuating himself into the familiarity of people as far as
possible, but having that keen sense that quickly detects a false
step and retires in reason,--a man, in short, observant of the
external rules of dignity, with that special Parisianism that is
revealed in buttoned boots, a gaudy cravat, and that something
which foreigners pick up in Paris, and which, in its peculiarity
and novelty, always has an influence on our women. In his
manners an external and artificial gayety, a way, you know, of
referring to everything by hints, by unfinished fragments, as if
everything that one says you knew already, recalled it, and could
supply the omissions. Well, he, with his music, was the cause of
"At the trial the affair was so represented that everything
seemed attributable to jealousy. It is false,--that is, not
quite false, but there was something else. The verdict was
rendered that I was a deceived husband, that I had killed in
defence of my sullied honor (that is the way they put it in their
language), and thus I was acquitted. I tried to explain the
affair from my own point of view, but they concluded that I
simply wanted to rehabilitate the memory of my wife. Her
relations with the musician, whatever they may have been, are now
of no importance to me or to her. The important part is what I
have told you. The whole tragedy was due to the fact that this
man came into our house at a time when an immense abyss had
already been dug between us, that frightful tension of mutual
hatred, in which the slightest motive sufficed to precipitate the
crisis. Our quarrels in the last days were something terrible,
and the more astonishing because they were followed by a brutal
passion extremely strained. If it had not been he, some other
would have come. If the pretext had not been jealousy, I should
have discovered another. I insist upon this point,--that all
husbands who live the married life that I lived must either
resort to outside debauchery, or separate from their wives, or
kill themselves, or kill their wives as I did. If there is any
one in my case to whom this does not happen, he is a very rare
exception, for, before ending as I ended, I was several times on
the point of suicide, and my wife made several attempts to poison
"In order that you may understand me, I must tell you how this
happened. We were living along, and all seemed well. Suddenly
we began to talk of the children's education. I do not remember
what words either of us uttered, but a discussion began,
reproaches, leaps from one subject to another. 'Yes, I know it.
It has been so for a long time.' . . . 'You said that.' . . .
'No, I did not say that.' . . . 'Then I lie?' etc.
"And I felt that the frightful crisis was approaching when I
should desire to kill her or else myself. I knew that it was
approaching; I was afraid of it as of fire; I wanted to restrain
myself. But rage took possession of my whole being. My wife
found herself in the same condition, perhaps worse. She knew
that she intentionally distorted each of my words, and each of
her words was saturated with venom. All that was dear to me she
disparaged and profaned. The farther the quarrel went, the more
furious it became. I cried, 'Be silent,' or something like that.
She bounded out of the room and ran toward the children. I tried
to hold her back to finish my insults. I grasped her by the arm,
and hurt her. She cried: 'Children, your father is beating me.'
I cried: 'Don't lie.' She continued to utter falsehoods for the
simple purpose of irritating me further. 'Ah, it is not the
first time,' or something of that sort. The children rushed
toward her and tried to quiet her. I said: 'Don't sham.' She
said: 'You look upon everything as a sham. You would kill a
person and say he was shamming. Now I understand you. That is
what you want to do.' 'Oh, if you were only dead!' I cried.
"I remember how that terrible phrase frightened me. Never had I
thought that I could utter words so brutal, so frightful, and I
was stupefied at what had just escaped my lips. I fled into my
private apartment. I sat down and began to smoke. I heard her
go into the hall and prepare to go out. I asked her: 'Where are
you going? She did not answer. 'Well, may the devil take you!'
said I to myself, going back into my private room, where I lay
down again and began smoking afresh. Thousands of plans of
vengeance, of ways of getting rid of her, and how to arrange
this, and act as if nothing had happened,--all this passed
through my head. I thought of these things, and I smoked, and
smoked, and smoked. I thought of running away, of making my
escape, of going to America. I went so far as to dream how
beautiful it would be, after getting rid of her, to love another
woman, entirely different from her. I should be rid of her if
she should die or if I should get a divorce, and I tried to think
how that could be managed. I saw that I was getting confused,
but, in order not to see that I was not thinking rightly, I kept
"And the life of the house went on as usual. The children's
teacher came and asked: 'Where is Madame? When will she return?'
The servants asked if they should serve the tea. I entered the
dining-room. The children, Lise, the eldest girl, looked at me
with fright, as if to question me, and she did not come. The
whole evening passed, and still she did not come. Two sentiments
kept succeeding each other in my soul,--hatred of her, since she
tortured myself and the children by her absence, but would
finally return just the same, and fear lest she might return and
make some attempt upon herself. But where should I look for her?
At her sister's? It seemed so stupid to go to ask where one's
wife is. Moreover, may God forbid, I hoped, that she should be
at her sister's! If she wishes to torment any one, let her
torment herself first. And suppose she were not at her sister's.
Suppose she were to do, or had already done, something.
"Eleven o'clock, midnight, one o'clock. . . . I did not sleep. I
did not go to my chamber. It is stupid to lie stretched out all
alone, and to wait. But in my study I did not rest. I tried to
busy myself, to write letters, to read. Impossible! I was
alone, tortured, wicked, and I listened. Toward daylight I went
to sleep. I awoke. She had not returned. Everything in the
house went on as usual, and all looked at me in astonishment,
questioningly. The children's eyes were full of reproach for me.
And always the same feeling of anxiety about her, and of hatred
because of this anxiety.
"Toward eleven o'clock in the morning came her sister, her
ambassadress. Then began the usual phrases: 'She is in a
terrible state. What is the matter?' 'Why, nothing has
happened.' I spoke of her asperity of character, and I added
that I had done nothing, and that I would not take the first
step. If she wants a divorce, so much the better! My
sister-in-law would not listen to this idea, and went away
without having gained anything. I was obstinate, and I said
boldly and determinedly, in talking to her, that I would not take
the first step. Immediately she had gone I went into the other
room, and saw the children in a frightened and pitiful state, and
there I found myself already inclined to take this first step.
But I was bound by my word. Again I walked up and down, always
smoking. At breakfast I drank brandy and wine, and I reached the
point which I unconsciously desired, the point where I no longer
saw the stupidity and baseness of my situation.
"Toward three o'clock she came. I thought that she was appeased,
or admitted her defeat. I began to tell her that I was provoked
by her reproaches. She answered me, with the same severe and
terribly downcast face, that she had not come for explanations,
but to take the children, that we could not live together. I
answered that it was not my fault, that she had put me beside
myself. She looked at me with a severe and solemn air, and said:
'Say no more. You will repent it.' I said that I could not
tolerate comedies. Then she cried out something that I did not
understand, and rushed toward her room. The key turned in the
lock, and she shut herself up. I pushed at the door. There was
no response. Furious, I went away.
"A half hour later Lise came running all in tears. 'What! Has
anything happened? We cannot hear Mamma!' We went toward my
wife's room. I pushed the door with all my might. The bolt was
scarcely drawn, and the door opened. In a skirt, with high
boots, my wife lay awkwardly on the bed. On the table an empty
opium phial. We restored her to life. Tears and then
reconciliation! Not reconciliation; internally each kept the
hatred for the other, but it was absolutely necessary for the
moment to end the scene in some way, and life began again as
before. These scenes, and even worse, came now once a week, now
every month, now every day. And invariably the same incidents.
Once I was absolutely resolved to fly, but through some
inconceivable weakness I remained.
"Such were the circumstances in which we were living when the MAN
came. The man was bad, it is true. But what! No worse than we
"When we moved to Moscow, this gentleman--his name was
Troukhatchevsky--came to my house. It was in the morning. I
received him. In former times we had been very familiar. He
tried, by various advances, to re-establish the familiarity, but
I was determined to keep him at a distance, and soon he gave it
up. He displeased me extremely. At the first glance I saw that
he was a filthy debauche. I was jealous of him, even before he
had seen my wife. But, strange thing! some occult fatal power
kept me from repulsing him and sending him away, and, on the
contrary, induced me to suffer this approach. What could have
been simpler than to talk with him a few minutes, and then
dismiss him coldly without introducing him to my wife? But no, as
if on purpose, I turned the conversation upon his skill as a
violinist, and he answered that, contrary to what I had heard, he
now played the violin more than formerly. He remembered that I
used to play. I answered that I had abandoned music, but that my
wife played very well.
"Singular thing! Why, in the important events of our life, in
those in which a man's fate is decided,--as mine was decided in
that moment,--why in these events is there neither a past nor a
future? My relations with Troukhatchevsky the first day, at the
first hour, were such as they might still have been after all
that has happened. I was conscious that some frightful
misfortune must result from the presence of this man, and, in
spite of that, I could not help being amiable to him. I
introduced him to my wife. She was pleased with him. In the
beginning, I suppose, because of the pleasure of the violin
playing, which she adored. She had even hired for that purpose a
violinist from the theatre. But when she cast a glance at me,
she understood my feelings, and concealed her impression. Then
began the mutual trickery and deceit. I smiled agreeably,
pretending that all this pleased me extremely. He, looking at my
wife, as all debauches look at beautiful women, with an air of
being interested solely in the subject of conversation,--that is,
in that which did not interest him at all.
"She tried to seem indifferent. But my expression, my jealous or
false smile, which she knew so well, and the voluptuous glances
of the musician, evidently excited her. I saw that, after the
first interview, her eyes were already glittering, glittering
strangely, and that, thanks to my jealousy, between him and her
had been immediately established that sort of electric current
which is provoked by an identity of expression in the smile and
in the eyes.
"We talked, at the first interview, of music, of Paris, and of
all sorts of trivialities. He rose to go. Pressing his hat
against his swaying hip, he stood erect, looking now at her and
now at me, as if waiting to see what she would do. I remember
that minute, precisely because it was in my power not to invite
him. I need not have invited him, and then nothing would have
happened. But I cast a glance first at him, then at her. 'Don't
flatter yourself that I can be jealous of you,' I thought,
addressing myself to her mentally, and I invited the other to
bring his violin that very evening, and to play with my wife.
She raised her eyes toward me with astonishment, and her face
turned purple, as if she were seized with a sudden fear. She
began to excuse herself, saying that she did not play well
enough. This refusal only excited me the more. I remember the
strange feeling with which I looked at his neck, his white neck,
in contrast with his black hair, separated by a parting, when,
with his skipping gait, like that of a bird, he left my house. I
could not help confessing to myself that this man's presence
caused me suffering. 'It is in my power,' thought I, 'to so
arrange things that I shall never see him again. But can it be
that I, _I_, fear him? No, I do not fear him. It would be too
"And there in the hall, knowing that my wife heard me, I insisted
that he should come that very evening with his violin. He
promised me, and went away. In the evening he arrived with his
violin, and they played together. But for a long time things did
not go well; we had not the necessary music, and that which we
had my wife could not play at sight. I amused myself with their
difficulties. I aided them, I made proposals, and they finally
executed a few pieces,--songs without words, and a little sonata
by Mozart. He played in a marvellous manner. He had what is
called the energetic and tender tone. As for difficulties, there
were none for him. Scarcely had he begun to play, when his face
changed. He became serious, and much more sympathetic. He was,
it is needless to say, much stronger than my wife. He helped
her, he advised her simply and naturally, and at the same time
played his game with courtesy. My wife seemed interested only in
the music. She was very simple and agreeable. Throughout the
evening I feigned, not only for the others, but for myself, an
interest solely in the music. Really, I was continually tortured
by jealousy. From the first minute that the musician's eyes met
those of my wife, I saw that he did not regard her as a
disagreeable woman, with whom on occasion it would be unpleasant
to enter into intimate relations.
"If I had been pure, I should not have dreamed of what he might
think of her. But I looked at women, and that is why I
understood him and was in torture. I was in torture, especially
because I was sure that toward me she had no other feeling than
of perpetual irritation, sometimes interrupted by the customary
sensuality, and that this man,--thanks to his external elegance
and his novelty, and, above all, thanks to his unquestionably
remarkable talent, thanks to the attraction exercised under the
influence of music, thanks to the impression that music produces
upon nervous natures,--this man would not only please, but would
inevitably, and without difficulty, subjugate and conquer her,
and do with her as he liked.
"I could not help seeing this. I could not help suffering, or
keep from being jealous. And I was jealous, and I suffered, and
in spite of that, and perhaps even because of that, an unknown
force, in spite of my will, impelled me to be not only polite,
but more than polite, amiable. I cannot say whether I did it for
my wife, or to show him that I did not fear HIM, or to deceive
myself; but from my first relations with him I could not be at my
ease. I was obliged, that I might not give way to a desire to
kill him immediately, to 'caress' him. I filled his glass at the
table, I grew enthusiastic over his playing, I talked to him with
an extremely amiable smile, and I invited him to dinner the
following Sunday, and to play again. I told him that I would
invite some of my acquaintances, lovers of his art, to hear him.
"Two or three days later I was entering my house, in conversation
with a friend, when in the hall I suddenly felt something as
heavy as a stone weighing on my heart, and I could not account
for it. And it was this, it was this: in passing through the
hall, I had noticed something which reminded me of HIM. Not
until I reached my study did I realize what it was, and I
returned to the hall to verify my conjecture. Yes, I was not
mistaken. It was his overcoat (everything that belonged to him,
I, without realizing it, had observed with extraordinary
attention). I questioned the servant. That was it. He had come.
I passed near the parlor, through my children's study-room.
Lise, my daughter, was sitting before a book, and the old nurse,
with my youngest child, was beside the table, turning the cover
of something or other. In the parlor I heard a slow arpeggio,
and his voice, deadened, and a denial from her. She said: 'No,
no! There is something else!' And it seemed to me that some one
was purposely deadening the words by the aid of the piano.
"My God! How my heart leaped! What were my imaginations! When
I remember the beast that lived in me at that moment, I am seized
with fright. My heart was first compressed, then stopped, and
then began to beat like a hammer. The principal feeling, as in
every bad feeling, was pity for myself. 'Before the children,
before the old nurse,' thought I, 'she dishonors me. I will go
away. I can endure it no longer. God knows what I should do if.
. . . But I must go in.'
The old nurse raised her eyes to mine, as if she understood, and
advised me to keep a sharp watch. 'I must go in,' I said to
myself, and, without knowing what I did, I opened the door. He
was sitting at the piano and making arpeggios with his long,
white, curved fingers. She was standing in the angle of the
grand piano, before the open score. She saw or heard me first,
and raised her eyes to mine. Was she stunned, was she pretending
not to be frightened, or was she really not frightened at all?
any case, she did not tremble, she did not stir. She blushed, but
only a little later.
"'How glad I am that you have come! We have not decided what we
will play Sunday,' said she, in a tone that she would not have
had if she had been alone with me.
"This tone, and the way in which she said 'we' in speaking of
herself and of him, revolted me. I saluted him silently. He
shook hands with me directly, with a smile that seemed to me full
of mockery. He explained to me that he had brought some scores,
in order to prepare for the Sunday concert, and that they were
not in accord as to the piece to choose,--whether difficult,
classic things, notably a sonata by Beethoven, or lighter pieces.
And as he spoke, he looked at me. It was all so natural, so
simple, that there was absolutely nothing to be said against it.
And at the same time I saw, I was sure, that it was false, that
they were in a conspiracy to deceive me.
"One of the most torturing situations for the jealous (and in our
social life everybody is jealous) are those social conditions
which allow a very great and dangerous intimacy between a man and
a woman under certain pretexts. One must make himself the
laughing stock of everybody, if he desires to prevent
associations in the ball-room, the intimacy of doctors with their
patients, the familiarity of art occupations, and especially of
music. In order that people may occupy themselves together with
the noblest art, music, a certain intimacy is necessary, in which
there is nothing blameworthy. Only a jealous fool of a husband
can have anything to say against it. A husband should not have
such thoughts, and especially should not thrust his nose into
these affairs, or prevent them. And yet, everybody knows that
precisely in these occupations, especially in music, many
adulteries originate in our society.
"I had evidently embarrassed them, because for some time I was
unable to say anything. I was like a bottle suddenly turned
upside down, from which the water does not run because it is too
full. I wanted to insult the man, and to drive him away, but I
could do nothing of the kind. On the contrary, I felt that I was
disturbing them, and that it was my fault. I made a presence of
approving everything, this time also, thanks to that strange
feeling that forced me to treat him the more amiably in
proportion as his presence was more painful to me. I said that I
trusted to his taste, and I advised my wife to do the same. He
remained just as long as it was necessary in order to efface the
unpleasant impression of my abrupt entrance with a frightened
face. He went away with an air of satisfaction at the
conclusions arrived at. As for me, I was perfectly sure that, in
comparison with that which preoccupied them, the question of
music was indifferent to them. I accompanied him with especial
courtesy to the hall (how can one help accompanying a man who has
come to disturb your tranquillity and ruin the happiness of the
entire family?), and I shook his white, soft hand with fervent
"All that day I did not speak to my wife. I could not. Her
proximity excited such hatred that I feared myself. At the table
she asked me, in presence of the children, when I was to start
upon a journey. I was to go the following week to an assembly of
the Zemstvo, in a neighboring locality. I named the date. She
asked me if I would need anything for the journey. I did not
answer. I sat silent at the table, and silently I retired to my
study. In those last days she never entered my study, especially
at that hour. Suddenly I heard her steps, her walk, and then a
terribly base idea entered my head that, like the wife of Uri,
she wished to conceal a fault already committed, and that it was
for this reason that she came to see me at this unseasonable
hour. 'Is it possible,' thought I, 'that she is coming to see
me?' On hearing her step as it approached: 'If it is to see me
that she is coming, then I am right.'
"An inexpressible hatred invaded my soul. The steps drew nearer,
and nearer, and nearer yet. Would she pass by and go on to the
other room? No, the hinges creaked, and at the door her tall,
graceful, languid figure appeared. In her face, in her eyes, a
timidity, an insinuating expression, which she tried to hide, but
which I saw, and of which I understood the meaning. I came near
suffocating, such were my efforts to hold my breath, and,
continuing to look at her, I took my cigarette, and lighted it.
"'What does this mean? One comes to talk with you, and you go to
"And she sat down beside me on the sofa, resting against my
shoulder. I recoiled, that I might not touch her.
"'I see that you are displeased with what I wish to play on
Sunday,' said she.
"'I am not at all displeased,' said I.
"'Can I not see?'
"'Well, I congratulate you on your clairvoyance. Only to you
every baseness is agreeable, and I abhor it.'
"'If you are going to swear like a trooper, I am going away.'
"'Then go away. Only know that, if the honor of the family is
nothing to you, to me it is dear. As for you, the devil take
"'What! What is the matter?'
"'Go away, in the name of God.'
"But she did not go away. Was she pretending not to understand,
or did she really not understand what I meant? But she was
offended and became angry.
"'You have become absolutely impossible,' she began, or some such
phrase as that regarding my character, trying, as usual, to give
me as much pain as possible. 'After what you have done to my
sister (she referred to an incident with her sister, in which,
beside myself, I had uttered brutalities; she knew that that
tortured me, and tried to touch me in that tender spot) nothing
will astonish me.'
"'Yes, offended, humiliated, and dishonored, and after that to
hold me still responsible,' thought I, and suddenly a rage, such
a hatred invaded me as I do not remember to have ever felt
before. For the first time I desired to express this hatred
physically. I leaped upon her, but at the same moment I
understood my condition, and I asked myself whether it would be
well for me to abandon myself to my fury. And I answered myself
that it would be well, that it would frighten her, and, instead
of resisting, I lashed and spurred myself on, and was glad to
feel my anger boiling more and more fiercely.
"'Go away, or I will kill you!' I cried, purposely, with a
frightful voice, and I grasped her by the arm. She did not go
away. Then I twisted her arm, and pushed her away violently.
"'What is the matter with you? Come to your senses!' she
"'Go away,' roared I, louder than ever, rolling my eyes wildly.
'It takes you to put me in such a fury. I do not answer for
myself! Go away!'
"In abandoning myself to my anger, I became steeped in it, and I
wanted to commit some violent act to show the force of my fury.
I felt a terrible desire to beat her, to kill her, but I realized
that that could not be, and I restrained myself. I drew back
from her, rushed to the table, grasped the paper-weight, and
threw it on the floor by her side. I took care to aim a little
to one side, and, before she disappeared (I did it so that she
could see it), I grasped a candlestick, which I also hurled, and
then took down the barometer, continuing to shout:
"'Go away! I do not answer for myself!'
"She disappeared, and I immediately ceased my demonstrations. An
hour later the old servant came to me and said that my wife was
in a fit of hysterics. I went to see her. She sobbed and
laughed, incapable of expressing anything, her whole body in a
tremble. She was not shamming, she was really sick. We sent for
the doctor, and all night long I cared for her. Toward daylight
she grew calmer, and we became reconciled under the influence of
that feeling which we called 'love.' The next morning, when,
after the reconciliation, I confessed to her that I was jealous
of Troukhatchevsky, she was not at all embarrassed, and began to
laugh in the most natural way, so strange did the possibility of
being led astray by such a man appear to her.
"'With such a man can an honest woman entertain any feeling
beyond the pleasure of enjoying music with him? But if you like,
I am ready to never see him again, even on Sunday, although
everybody has been invited. Write him that I am indisposed, and
that will end the matter. Only one thing annoys me,--that any
one could have thought him dangerous. I am too proud not to
detest such thoughts.'
"And she did not lie. She believed what she said. She hoped by
her words to provoke in herself a contempt for him, and thereby
to defend herself. But she did not succeed. Everything was
directed against her, especially that abominable music. So ended
the quarrel, and on Sunday our guests came, and Troukhatchevsky
and my wife again played together.
"I think that it is superfluous to say that I was very vain. If
one has no vanity in this life of ours, there is no sufficient
reason for living. So for that Sunday I had busied myself in
tastefully arranging things for the dinner and the musical
soiree. I had purchased myself numerous things for the dinner,
and had chosen the guests. Toward six o'clock they arrived, and
after them Troukhatchevsky, in his dress-coat, with diamond
shirt-studs, in bad taste. He bore himself with ease. To all
questions he responded promptly, with a smile of contentment and
understanding, and that peculiar expression which was intended to
mean: 'All that you may do and say will be exactly what I
expected.' Everything about him that was not correct I now
noticed with especial pleasure, for it all tended to tranquillize
me, and prove to me that to my wife he stood in such a degree of
inferiority that, as she had told me, she could not stoop to his
level. Less because of my wife's assurances than because of the
atrocious sufferings which I felt in jealousy, I no longer
allowed myself to be jealous.
"In spite of that, I was not at ease with the musician or with
her during dinner-time and the time that elapsed before the
beginning of the music. Involuntarily I followed each of their
gestures and looks. The dinner, like all dinners, was tiresome
and conventional. Not long afterward the music began. He went
to get his violin; my wife advanced to the piano, and rummaged
among the scores. Oh, how well I remember all the details of
that evening! I remember how he brought the violin, how he
opened the box, took off the serge embroidered by a lady's hand,
and began to tune the instrument. I can still see my wife sit
down, with a false air of indifference, under which it was plain
that she hid a great timidity, a timidity that was especially due
to her comparative lack of musical knowledge. She sat down with
that false air in front of the piano, and then began the usual
preliminaries,--the pizzicati of the violin and the arrangement
of the scores. I remember then how they looked at each other,
and cast a glance at their auditors who were taking their seats.
They said a few words to each other, and the music began. They
played Beethoven's 'Kreutzer Sonata.' Do you know the first
presto? Do you know it? Ah!" . . .
Posdnicheff heaved a sigh, and was silent for a long time.
"A terrible thing is that sonata, especially the presto! And a
terrible thing is music in general. What is it ? Why does it do
what it does? They say that music stirs the soul. Stupidity! A
lie! It acts, it acts frightfully (I speak for myself), but not
in an ennobling way. It acts neither in an ennobling nor a
debasing way, but in an irritating way. How shall I say it?
Music makes me forget my real situation. It transports me into a
state which is not my own. Under the influence of music I really
seem to feel what I do not feel, to understand what I do not
understand, to have powers which I cannot have. Music seems to me
to act like yawning or laughter; I have no desire to sleep, but I
yawn when I see others yawn; with no reason to laugh, I laugh
when I hear others laugh. And music transports me immediately
into the condition of soul in which he who wrote the music found
himself at that time. I become confounded with his soul, and
with him I pass from one condition to another. But why that? I
know nothing about it? But he who wrote Beethoven's 'Kreutzer
Sonata' knew well why he found himself in a certain condition.
That condition led him to certain actions, and for that reason to
him had a meaning, but to me none, none whatever. And that is
why music provokes an excitement which it does not bring to a
conclusion. For instance, a military march is played; the
soldier passes to the sound of this march, and the music is
finished. A dance is played; I have finished dancing, and the
music is finished. A mass is sung; I receive the sacrament, and
again the music is finished. But any other music provokes an
excitement, and this excitement is not accompanied by the thing
that needs properly to be done, and that is why music is so
dangerous, and sometimes acts so frightfully.
"In China music is under the control of the State, and that is
the way it ought to be. Is it admissible that the first comer
should hypnotize one or more persons, and then do with them as he
likes? And especially that the hypnotizer should be the first
immoral individual who happens to come along? It is a frightful
power in the hands of any one, no matter whom. For instance,
should they be allowed to play this 'Kreutzer Sonata,' the first
presto,--and there are many like it,--in parlors, among ladies
wearing low necked dresses, or in concerts, then finish the
piece, receive the applause, and then begin another piece? These
things should be played under certain circumstances, only in
cases where it is necessary to incite certain actions
corresponding to the music. But to incite an energy of feeling
which corresponds to neither the time nor the place, and is
expended in nothing, cannot fail to act dangerously. On me in
particular this piece acted in a frightful manner. One would have
said that new sentiments, new virtualities, of which I was
formerly ignorant, had developed in me. 'Ah, yes, that's it!
Not at all as I lived and thought before! This is the right way
"Thus I spoke to my soul as I listened to that music. What was
this new thing that I thus learned? That I did not realize, but
the consciousness of this indefinite state filled me with joy.
In that state there was no room for jealousy. The same faces,
and among them HE and my wife, I saw in a different light. This
music transported me into an unknown world, where there was no
room for jealousy. Jealousy and the feelings that provoke it
seemed to me trivialities, nor worth thinking of.
"After the presto followed the andante, not very new, with
commonplace variations, and the feeble finale. Then they played
more, at the request of the guests,--first an elegy by Ernst, and
then various other pieces. They were all very well, but did not
produce upon me a tenth part of the impression that the opening
piece did. I felt light and gay throughout the evening. As for
my wife, never had I seen her as she was that night. Those
brilliant eyes, that severity and majestic expression while she
was playing, and then that utter languor, that weak, pitiable,
and happy smile after she had finished,--I saw them all and
attached no importance to them, believing that she felt as I did,
that to her, as to me, new sentiments had been revealed, as
through a fog. During almost the whole evening I was not
"Two days later I was to start for the assembly of the Zemstvo,
and for that reason, on taking leave of me and carrying all his
scores with him, Troukhatchevsky asked me when I should return.
I inferred from that that he believed it impossible to come to my
house during my absence, and that was agreeable to me. Now I was
not to return before his departure from the city. So we bade
each other a definite farewell. For the first time I shook his
hand with pleasure, and thanked him for the satisfaction that he
had given me. He likewise took leave of my wife, and their
parting seemed to me very natural and proper. All went
marvellously. My wife and I retired, well satisfied with the
evening. We talked of our impressions in a general way, and we
were nearer together and more friendly than we had been for a
"Two days later I started for the assembly, having bid farewell
to my wife in an excellent and tranquil state of mind. In the
district there was always much to be done. It was a world and a
life apart. During two days I spent ten hours at the sessions.
The evening of the second day, on returning to my district
lodgings, I found a letter from my wife, telling me of the
children, of their uncle, of the servants, and, among other
things, as if it were perfectly natural, that Troukhatchevsky had
been at the house, and had brought her the promised scores. He
had also proposed that they play again, but she had refused.
"For my part, I did not remember at all that he had promised any
score. It had seemed to me on Sunday evening that he took a
definite leave, and for this reason the news gave me a
disagreeable surprise. I read the letter again. There was
something tender and timid about it. It produced an extremely
painful impression upon me. My heart swelled, and the mad beast
of jealousy began to roar in his lair, and seemed to want to leap
upon his prey. But I was afraid of this beast, and I imposed
silence upon it.
"What an abominable sentiment is jealousy! 'What could be more
natural than what she has written?' said I to myself. I went to
bed, thinking myself tranquil again. I thought of the business
that remained to be done, and I went to sleep without thinking of
"During these assemblies of the Zemstvo I always slept badly in
my strange quarters. That night I went to sleep directly, but,
as sometimes happens, a sort of sudden shock awoke me. I thought
immediately of her, of my physical love for her, of
Troukhatchevsky, and that between them everything had happened.
And a feeling of rage compressed my heart, and I tried to quiet
"'How stupid!' said I to myself; 'there is no reason, none at
all. And why humiliate ourselves, herself and myself, and
especially myself, by supposing such horrors? This mercenary
violinist, known as a bad man,--shall I think of him in
connection with a respectable woman, the mother of a family, MY
wife? How silly!' But on the other hand, I said to myself: 'Why
should it not happen?'
"Why? Was it not the same simple and intelligible feeling in the
name of which I married, in the name of which I was living with
her, the only thing I wanted of her, and that which,
consequently, others desired, this musician among the rest? He
was not married, was in good health (I remember how his teeth
ground the gristle of the cutlets, and how eagerly he emptied the
glass of wine with his red lips), was careful of his person, well
fed, and not only without principles, but evidently with the
principle that one should take advantage of the pleasure that
offers itself. There was a bond between them, music,--the most
refined form of sensual voluptuousness. What was there to
restrain them? Nothing. Everything, on the contrary, attracted
them. And she, she had been and had remained a mystery. I did
not know her. I knew her only as an animal, and an animal
nothing can or should restrain. And now I remember their faces
on Sunday evening, when, after the 'Kreutzer Sonata,' they played
a passionate piece, written I know not by whom, but a piece
passionate to the point of obscenity.
"'How could I have gone away?' said I to myself, as I recalled
their faces. 'Was it not clear that between them everything was
done that evening? Was it not clear that between them not only
there were no more obstacles, but that both--especially she--felt
a certain shame after what had happened at the piano? How
weakly, pitiably, happily she smiled, as she wiped the
perspiration from her reddened face! They already avoided each
other's eyes, and only at the supper, when she poured some water
for him, did they look at each other and smile imperceptibly.'
"Now I remember with fright that look and that scarcely
perceptible smile. 'Yes, everything has happened,' a voice said
to me, and directly another said the opposite. 'Are you mad? It
is impossible!' said the second voice.
"It was too painful to me to remain thus stretched in the
darkness. I struck a match, and the little yellow-papered room
frightened me. I lighted a cigarette, and, as always happens,
when one turns in a circle of inextricable contradiction, I began
to smoke. I smoked cigarette after cigarette to dull my senses,
that I might not see my contradictions. All night I did not
sleep, and at five o'clock, when it was not yet light, I decided
that I could stand this strain no longer, and that I would leave
directly. There was a train at eight o'clock. I awakened the
keeper who was acting as my servant, and sent him to look for
horses. To the assembly of Zemstvo I sent a message that I was
called back to Moscow by pressing business, and that I begged
them to substitute for me a member of the Committee. At eight
o'clock I got into a tarantass and started off.
"I had to go twenty-five versts by carriage and eight hours by
train. By carriage it was a very pleasant journey. The coolness
of autumn was accompanied by a brilliant sun. You know the
weather when the wheels imprint themselves upon the dirty road.
The road was level, and the light strong, and the air
strengthening. The tarantass was comfortable. As I looked at
the horses, the fields, and the people whom we passed, I forgot
where I was going. Sometimes it seemed to me that I was
travelling without an object,--simply promenading,--and that I
should go on thus to the end of the world. And I was happy when
I so forgot myself. But when I remembered where I was going, I
said to myself: 'I shall see later. Don't think about it.'
"When half way, an incident happened to distract me still
further. The tarantass, though new, broke down, and had to be
repaired. The delays in looking for a telegue, the repairs, the
payment, the tea in the inn, the conversation with the dvornik,
all served to amuse me. Toward nightfall all was ready, and I
started off again. By night the journey was still pleasanter
than by day. The moon in its first quarter, a slight frost, the
road still in good condition, the horses, the sprightly coachman,
all served to put me in good spirits. I scarcely thought of what
awaited me, and was gay perhaps because of the very thing that
awaited me, and because I was about to say farewell to the joys
"But this tranquil state, the power of conquering my
preoccupation, all ended with the carriage drive. Scarcely had
I entered the cars, when the other thing began. Those eight
hours on the rail were so terrible to me that I shall never
forget them in my life. Was it because on entering the car I had
a vivid imagination of having already arrived, or because the
railway acts upon people in such an exciting fashion? At any
rate, after boarding the train I could no longer control my
imagination, which incessantly, with extraordinary vivacity, drew
pictures before my eyes, each more cynical than its predecessor,
which kindled my jealousy. And always the same things about what
was happening at home during my absence. I burned with
indignation, with rage, and with a peculiar feeling which steeped
me in humiliation, as I contemplated these pictures. And I could
not tear myself out of this condition. I could not help looking
at them, I could not efface them, I could not keep from evoking
"The more I looked at these imaginary pictures, the more I
believed in their reality, forgetting that they had no serious
foundation. The vivacity of these images seemed to prove to me
that my imaginations were a reality. One would have said that a
demon, against my will, was inventing and breathing into me the
most terrible fictions. A conversation which dated a long time
back, with the brother of Troukhatchevsky, I remembered at that
moment, in a sort of ecstasy, and it tore my heart as I connected
it with the musician and my wife. Yes, it was very long ago.
The brother of Troukhatchevsky, answering my questions as to
whether he frequented disreputable houses, said that a
respectable man does not go where he may contract a disease, in a
low and unclean spot, when one can find an honest woman. And
here he, his brother, the musician, had found the honest woman.
'It is true that she is no longer in her early youth. She has
lost a tooth on one side, and her face is slightly bloated,'
thought I for Troukhatchevsky. 'But what is to be done? One
must profit by what one has.'
"'Yes, he is bound to take her for his mistress,' said I to
myself again; 'and besides, she is not dangerous.'
"'No, it is not possible' I rejoined in fright. 'Nothing, nothing
of the kind has happened, and there is no reason to suppose there
has. Did she not tell me that the very idea that I could be
jealous of her because of him was humiliating to her?' 'Yes, but
she lied,' I cried, and all began over again.
"There were only two travellers in my compartment: an old woman
with her husband, neither of them very talkative; and even they
got out at one of the stations, leaving me all alone. I was like
a beast in a cage. Now I jumped up and approached the window,
now I began to walk back and forth, staggering as if I hoped to
make the train go faster by my efforts, and the car with its
seats and its windows trembled continually, as ours does
And Posdnicheff rose abruptly, took a few steps, and sat down
"Oh, I am afraid, I am afraid of railway carriages. Fear seizes
me. I sat down again, and I said to myself: 'I must think of
something else. For instance, of the inn keeper at whose house I
took tea.' And then, in my imagination arose the dvornik, with
his long beard, and his grandson, a little fellow of the same age
as my little Basile. My little Basile! My little Basile! He
will see the musician kiss his mother! What thoughts will pass
through his poor soul! But what does that matter to her! She
"And again it all began, the circle of the same thoughts. I
suffered so much that at last I did not know what to do with
myself, and an idea passed through my head that pleased me much,
--to get out upon the rails, throw myself under the cars, and
thus finish everything. One thing prevented me from doing so.
It was pity! It was pity for myself, evoking at the same time a
hatred for her, for him, but not so much for him. Toward him I
felt a strange sentiment of my humiliation and his victory, but
toward her a terrible hatred.
"'But I cannot kill myself and leave her free. She must suffer,
she must understand at least that I have suffered,' said I to
"At a station I saw people drinking at the lunch counter, and
directly I went to swallow a glass of vodki. Beside me stood a
Jew, drinking also. He began to talk to me, and I, in order not
to be left alone in my compartment, went with him into his
third-class, dirty, full of smoke, and covered with peelings and
sunflower seeds. There I sat down beside the Jew, and, as it
seemed, he told many anecdotes.
"First I listened to him, but I did not understand what he said.
He noticed it, and exacted my attention to his person. Then I
rose and entered my own compartment.
"'I must consider,' said I to myself, 'whether what I think is
true, whether there is any reason to torment myself.' I sat
down, wishing to reflect quietly; but directly, instead of the
peaceful reflections, the same thing began again. Instead of the
reasoning, the pictures.
"'How many times have I tormented myself in this way,' I thought
(I recalled previous and similar fits of jealousy), 'and then
seen it end in nothing at all? It is the same now. Perhaps,
yes, surely, I shall find her quietly sleeping. She will awaken,
she will be glad, and in her words and looks I shall see that
nothing has happened, that all this is vain. Ah, if it would
only so turn out!' 'But no, that has happened too often! Now the
end has come,' a voice said to me.
"And again it all began. Ah, what torture! It is not to a
hospital filled with syphilitic patients that I would take a
young man to deprive him of the desire for women, but into my
soul, to show him the demon which tore it. The frightful part
was that I recognized in myself an indisputable right to the body
of my wife, as if her body were entirely mine. And at the same
time I felt that I could not possess this body, that it was not
mine, that she could do with it as she liked, and that she liked
to do with it as I did not like. And I was powerless against him
and against her. He, like the Vanka of the song, would sing,
before mounting the gallows, how he would kiss her sweet lips,
etc., and he would even have the best of it before death. With
her it was still worse. If she HAD NOT DONE IT, she had the
desire, she wished to do it, and I knew that she did. That was
worse yet. It would be better if she had already done it, to
relieve me of my uncertainty.
"In short, I could not say what I desired. I desired that she
might not want what she MUST want. It was complete madness.
"At the station before the last, when the conductor came to take
the tickets, I took my baggage and went out on the car platform,
and the consciousness that the climax was near at hand only added
to my agitation. I was cold, my jaw trembled so that my teeth
chattered. Mechanically I left the station with the crowd, I
took a tchik, and I started. I looked at the few people passing
in the streets and at the dvorniks. I read the signs, without
thinking of anything. After going half a verst my feet began to
feel cold, and I remembered that in the car I had taken off my
woollen socks, and had put them in my travelling bag. Where had
I put the bag? Was it with me? Yes, and the basket?
"I bethought myself that I had totally forgotten my baggage. I
took out my check, and then decided it was not worth while to
return. I continued on my way. In spite of all my efforts to
remember, I cannot at this moment make out why I was in such a
hurry. I know only that I was conscious that a serious and
menacing event was approaching in my life. It was a case of real
auto-suggestion. Was it so serious because I thought it so? Or
had I a presentiment? I do not know. Perhaps, too, after what
has happened, all previous events have taken on a lugubrious tint
in my memory.
"I arrived at the steps. It was an hour past midnight. A few
isvotchiks were before the door, awaiting customers, attracted by
the lighted windows (the lighted windows were those of our parlor
and reception room). Without trying to account for this late
illumination, I went up the steps, always with the same
expectation of something terrible, and I rang. The servant, a
good, industrious, and very stupid being, named Gregor, opened
the door. The first thing that leaped to my eyes in the hall, on
the hat-stand, among other garments, was an overcoat. I ought to
have been astonished, but I was not astonished. I expected it.
'That's it!' I said to myself.
"When I had asked Gregor who was there, and he had named
Troukhatchevsky, I inquired whether there were other visitors.
He answered: 'Nobody.' I remember the air with which he said
that, with a tone that was intended to give me pleasure, and
dissipate my doubts. 'That's it! that's it!' I had the air of
saying to myself. 'And the children?'
"'Thank God, they are very well. They went to sleep long ago.'
"I scarcely breathed, and I could not keep my jaw from trembling.
Then it was not as I thought. I had often before returned home
with the thought that a misfortune had awaited me, but had been
mistaken, and everything was going on as usual. But now things
were not going on as usual. All that I had imagined, all that I
believed to be chimeras, all really existed. Here was the truth.
"I was on the point of sobbing, but straightway the demon
whispered in my ear: 'Weep and be sentimental, and they will
separate quietly, and there will be no proofs, and all your life
you will doubt and suffer.' And pity for myself vanished, and
there remained only the bestial need of some adroit, cunning, and
energetic action. I became a beast, an intelligent beast.
"'No, no,' said I to Gregor, who was about to announce my
arrival. 'Do this, take a carriage, and go at once for my
baggage. Here is the check. Start.'
"He went along the hall to get his overcoat. Fearing lest he
might frighten them, I accompanied him to his little room, and
waited for him to put on his things. In the dining-room could be
heard the sound of conversation and the rattling of knives and
plates. They were eating. They had not heard the ring. 'Now if
they only do not go out,' I thought.
"Gregor put on his fur-collared coat and went out. I closed the
door after him. I felt anxious when I was alone, thinking that
directly I should have to act. How? I did not yet know. I knew
only that all was ended, that there could be no doubt of his
innocence, and that in an instant my relations with her were
going to be terminated. Before, I had still doubts. I said to
myself: 'Perhaps this is not true. Perhaps I am mistaken.' Now
all doubt had disappeared. All was decided irrevocably.
Secretly, all alone with him, at night! It is a violation of all
duties! Or, worse yet, she may make a show of that audacity, of
that insolence in crime, which, by its excess, tends to prove
innocence. All is clear. No doubt. I feared but one
thing,--that they might run in different directions, that they
might invent some new lie, and thus deprive me of material proof,
and of the sorrowful joy of punishing, yes, of executing them.
"And to surprise them more quickly, I started on tiptoe for the
dining-room, not through the parlor, but through the hall and the
children's rooms. In the first room slept the little boy. In
the second, the old nurse moved in her bed, and seemed on the
point of waking, and I wondered what she would think when she
knew all. And pity for myself gave me such a pang that I could
not keep the tears back. Not to wake the children, I ran lightly
through the hall into my study. I dropped upon the sofa, and
sobbed. 'I, an honest man, I, the son of my parents, who all my
life long have dreamed of family happiness, I who have never
betrayed! . . . And here my five children, and she embracing a
musician because he has red lips! No, she is not a woman! She
is a bitch, a dirty bitch! Beside the chamber of the children,
whom she had pretended to love all her life! And then to think
of what she wrote me! And how do I know? Perhaps it has always
been thus. Perhaps all these children, supposed to be mine, are
the children of my servants. And if I had arrived to-morrow, she
would have come to meet me with her coiffure, with her corsage,
her indolent and graceful movements (and I see her attractive and
ignoble features), and this jealous animal would have remained
forever in my heart, tearing it. What will the old nurse say?
And Gregor? And the poor little Lise? She already understands
things. And this impudence, this falsehood, this bestial
sensuality, that I know so well,' I said to myself.
"I tried to rise. I could not. My heart was beating so
violently that I could not hold myself upon my legs. 'Yes, I
shall die of a rush of blood. She will kill me. That is what
she wants. What is it to her to kill? But that would be too
agreeable to him, and I will not allow him to have this pleasure.
Yes, here I am, and there they are. They are laughing, they. . .
. Yes, in spite of the fact that she is no longer in her early
youth, he has not disdained her. At any rate, she is by no means
ugly, and above all, not dangerous to his dear health, to him.
Why did I not stifle her then?' said I to myself, as I remembered
that other scene of the previous week, when I drove her from my
study, and broke the furniture.
"And I recalled the state in which I was then. Not only did I
recall it, but I again entered into the same bestial state. And
suddenly there came to me a desire to act, and all reasoning,
except such as was necessary to action, vanished from my brain,
and I was in the condition of a beast, and of a man under the
influence of physical excitement pending a danger, who acts
imperturbably, without haste, and yet without losing a minute,
pursuing a definite object.
"The first thing that I did was to take off my boots, and now,
having only stockings on, I advanced toward the wall, over the
sofa, where firearms and daggers were hanging, and I took down a
curved Damascus blade, which I had never used, and which was very
sharp. I took it from its sheath. I remember that the sheath
fell upon the sofa, and that I said to myself: 'I must look for
it later; it must not be lost.'
"Then I took off my overcoat, which I had kept on all the time,
and with wolf-like tread started for THE ROOM. I do not remember
how I proceeded, whether I ran or went slowly, through what
chambers I passed, how I approached the dining-room, how I opened
the door, how I entered. I remember nothing about it.
"I Remember only the expression of their faces when I opened the
door. I remember that, because it awakened in me a feeling of
sorrowful joy. It was an expression of terror, such as I
desired. Never shall I forget that desperate and sudden fright
that appeared on their faces when they saw me. He, I believe,
was at the table, and, when he saw or heard me, he started,
jumped to his feet, and retreated to the sideboard. Fear was the
only sentiment that could be read with certainty in his face. In
hers, too, fear was to be read, but accompanied by other
impressions. And yet, if her face had expressed only fear,
perhaps that which happened would not have happened. But in the
expression of her face there was at the first moment--at least, I
thought I saw it--a feeling of ennui, of discontent, at this
disturbance of her love and happiness. One would have said that
her sole desire was not to be disturbed IN THE MOMENT OF HER
HAPPINESS. But these expressions appeared upon their faces only
for a moment. Terror almost immediately gave place to
interrogation. Would they lie or not? If yes, they must begin.
If not, something else was going to happen. But what?
"He gave her a questioning glance. On her face the expression of
anguish and ennui changed, it seemed to me, when she looked at
him, into an expression of anxiety for HIM. For a moment I stood
in the doorway, holding the dagger hidden behind my back.
Suddenly he smiled, and in a voice that was indifferent almost to
the point of ridicule, he said:
"'We were having some music.'
"'I did not expect--,' she began at the same time, chiming in
with the tone of the other.
"But neither he nor she finished their remarks. The same rage
that I had felt the previous week took possession of me. I felt
the need of giving free course to my violence and 'the joy of
"No, they did not finish. That other thing was going to begin,
of which he was afraid, and was going to annihilate what they
wanted to say. I threw myself upon her, still hiding the dagger,
that he might not prevent me from striking where I desired, in
her bosom, under the breast. At that moment he saw . . . and,
what I did not expect on his part, he quickly seized my hand, and
"'Come to your senses! What are you doing? Help! Help!'
"I tore my hands from his grasp, and leaped upon him. I must
have been very terrible, for he turned as white as a sheet, to
his lips. His eyes scintillated singularly, and--again what I
did not expect of him--he scrambled under the piano, toward the
other room. I tried to follow him, but a very heavy weight fell
upon my left arm. It was she.
"I made an effort to clear myself. She clung more heavily than
ever, refusing to let go. This unexpected obstacle, this burden,
and this repugnant touch only irritated me the more. I perceived
that I was completely mad, that I must be frightful, and I was
glad of it. With a sudden impulse, and with all my strength, I
dealt her, with my left elbow, a blow squarely in the face.
"She uttered a cry and let go my arm. I wanted to follow the
other, but I felt that it would be ridiculous to pursue in my
stockings the lover of my wife, and I did not wish to be
grotesque, I wished to be terrible. In spite of my extreme rage,
I was all the time conscious of the impression that I was making
upon others, and even this impression partially guided me.
"I turned toward her. She had fallen on the long easy chair,
and, covering her face at the spot where I had struck her, she
looked at me. Her features exhibited fear and hatred toward me,
her enemy, such as the rat exhibits when one lifts the rat-trap.
At least, I saw nothing in her but that fear and hatred, the fear
and hatred which love for another had provoked. Perhaps I still
should have restrained myself, and should not have gone to the
last extremity, if she had maintained silence. But suddenly she
began to speak; she grasped my hand that held the dagger.
"'Come to your senses! What are you doing? What is the matter
with you? Nothing has happened, nothing, nothing! I swear it to
"I might have delayed longer, but these last words, from which I
inferred the contrary of what they affirmed,--that is, that
EVERYTHING had happened,--these words called for a reply. And the
reply must correspond to the condition into which I had lashed
myself, and which was increasing and must continue to increase.
Rage has its laws.
"'Do not lie, wretch. Do not lie!' I roared.
"With my left hand I seized her hands. She disengaged herself.
Then, without dropping my dagger, I seized her by the throat,
forced her to the floor, and began to strangle her. With her two
hands she clutched mine, tearing them from her throat, stifling.
Then I struck her a blow with the dagger, in the left side,
between the lower ribs.
"When people say that they do not remember what they do in a fit
of fury, they talk nonsense. It is false. I remember everything.
I did not lose my consciousness for a single moment. The more I
lashed myself to fury, the clearer my mind became, and I could
not help seeing what I did. I cannot say that I knew in advance
what I would do, but at the moment when I acted, and it seems to
me even a little before, I knew what I was doing, as if to make
it possible to repent, and to be able to say later that I could
"I knew that I struck the blow between the ribs, and that the
"At the second when I did it, I knew that I was performing a
horrible act, such as I had never performed,--an act that would
have frightful consequences. My thought was as quick as
lightning, and the deed followed immediately. The act, to my
inner sense, had an extraordinary clearness. I perceived the
resistance of the corset and then something else, and then the
sinking of the knife into a soft substance. She clutched at the
dagger with her hands, and cut herself with it, but could not
restrain the blow.
"Long afterward, in prison when the moral revolution had been
effected within me, I thought of that minute, I remembered it as
far as I could, and I co-ordinated all the sudden changes. I
remembered the terrible consciousness which I felt,--that I was
killing a wife, MY wife.
"I well remember the horror of that consciousness and I know
vaguely that, having plunged in the dagger, I drew it out again
immediately, wishing to repair and arrest my action. She
straightened up and cried:
"'Nurse, he has killed me!'
"The old nurse, who had heard the noise, was standing in the
doorway. I was still erect, waiting, and not believing myself in
what had happened. But at that moment, from under her corset,
the blood gushed forth. Then only did I understand that all
reparation was impossible, and promptly I decided that it was not
even necessary, that all had happened in accordance with my wish,
and that I had fulfilled my desire. I waited until she fell, and
until the nurse, exclaiming, 'Oh, my God!' ran to her; then only
I threw away the dagger and went out of the room.
"'I must not be agitated. I must be conscious of what I am
doing,' I said to myself, looking neither at her nor at the old
nurse. The latter cried and called the maid. I passed through
the hall, and, after having sent the maid, started for my study.
"'What shall I do now?' I asked myself.
"And immediately I understood what I should do. Directly after
entering the study, I went straight to the wall, took down the
revolver, and examined it attentively. It was loaded. Then I
placed it on the table. Next I picked up the sheath of the
dagger, which had dropped down behind the sofa, and then I sat
down. I remained thus for a long time. I thought of nothing, I
did not try to remember anything. I heard a stifled noise of
steps, a movement of objects and of tapestries, then the arrival
of a person, and then the arrival of another person. Then I saw
Gregor bring into my room the baggage from the railway; as if any
one needed it!
"'Have you heard what has happened?' I asked him. 'Have you told
the dvornik to inform the police?'
"He made no answer, and went out. I rose, closed the door, took
the cigarettes and the matches, and began to smoke. I had not
finished one cigarette, when a drowsy feeling came over me and
sent me into a deep sleep. I surely slept two hours. I remember
having dreamed that I was on good terms with her, that after a
quarrel we were in the act of making up, that something prevented
us, but that we were friends all the same.
"A knock at the door awoke me.
"'It is the police,' thought I, as I opened my eyes. 'I have
killed, I believe. But perhaps it is SHE; perhaps nothing has
"Another knock. I did not answer. I was solving the question:
'Has it happened or not? Yes, it has happened.'
"I remembered the resistance of the corset, and then. . . .
'Yes, it has happened. Yes, it has happened. Yes, now I must
execute myself,' said I to myself.
"I said it, but I knew well that I should not kill myself.
Nevertheless, I rose and took the revolver, but, strange thing, I
remembered that formerly I had very often had suicidal ideas,
that that very night, on the cars, it had seemed to me easy,
especially easy because I thought how it would stupefy her. Now
I not only could not kill myself, but I could not even think of
"'Why do it?' I asked myself, without answering.
"Another knock at the door.
"'Yes, but I must first know who is knocking. I have time
"I put the revolver back on the table, and hid it under my
newspaper. I went to the door and drew back the bolt.
"It was my wife's sister,--a good and stupid widow.
"'Basile, what does this mean?' said she, and her tears, always
ready, began to flow.
"'What do you want?' I asked roughly.
"I saw clearly that there was no necessity of being rough with
her, but I could not speak in any other tone.
"'Basile, she is dying. Ivan Fedorowitch says so.'
"Ivan Fedorowitch was the doctor, HER doctor, her counsellor.
"'Is he here?' I inquired.
"And all my hatred of her arose anew.
"'Basile, go to her! Ah! how terrible it is!' said she.
"'Go to her?' I asked myself; and immediately I made answer to
myself that I ought to go, that probably that was the thing that
is usually done when a husband like myself kills his wife, that
it was absolutely necessary that I should go and see her.
"'If that is the proper thing, I must go,' I repeated to myself.
'Yes, if it is necessary, I shall still have time,' said I to
myself, thinking of my intention of blowing my brains out.
"And I followed my sister-in-law. 'Now there are going to be
phrases and grimaces, but I will not yield,' I declared to
"'Wait,' said I to my sister-in-law, 'it is stupid to be without
boots. Let me at least put on my slippers.'
"Strange thing! Again, when I had left my study, and was passing
through the familiar rooms, again the hope came to me that
nothing had happened. But the odor of the drugs, iodoform and
phenic acid, brought me back to a sense of reality.
"'No, everything has happened.'
"In passing through the hall, beside the children's chamber, I
saw little Lise. She was looking at me, with eyes that were full
of fear. I even thought that all the children were looking at
me. As I approached the door of our sleeping-room, a servant
opened it from within, and came out. The first thing that I
noticed was HER light gray dress upon a chair, all dark with
blood. On our common bed she was stretched, with knees drawn up.
She lay very high, upon pillows, with her chemise half open.
Linen had been placed upon the wound. A heavy smell of iodoform
filled the room. Before, and more than anything else, I was
astonished at her face, which was swollen and bruised under the
eyes and over a part of the nose. This was the result of the
blow that I had struck her with my elbow, when she had tried to
hold me back. Of beauty there was no trace left. I saw
something hideous in her. I stopped upon the threshold.
"'Approach, approach her,' said her sister.
"'Yes, probably she repents,' thought I; 'shall I forgive her?
Yes, she is dying, I must forgive her,' I added, trying to be
"I approached the bedside. With difficulty she raised her eyes,
one of which was swollen, and uttered these words haltingly:
"'You have accomplished what you desired. You have killed me.'
"And in her face, through the physical sufferings, in spite of
the approach of death, was expressed the same old hatred, so
familiar to me.
"'The children . . . I will not give them to you . . . all the
same. . . . She (her sister) shall take them.' . . .
"But of that which I considered essential, of her fault, of her
treason, one would have said that she did not think it necessary
to say even a word.
"'Yes, revel in what you have done.'
"And she sobbed.
"At the door stood her sister with the children.
"'Yes, see what you have done!'
"I cast a glance at the children, and then at her bruised and
swollen face, and for the first time I forgot myself (my rights,
my pride), and for the first time I saw in her a human being, a
"And all that which a moment before had been so offensive to me
now seemed to me so petty,--all this jealousy,--and, on the
contrary, what I had done seemed to me so important that I felt
like bending over, approaching my face to her hand, and saying:
"But I did not dare. She was silent, with eyelids lowered,
evidently having no strength to speak further. Then her deformed
face began to tremble and shrivel, and she feebly pushed me
"'Why has all this happened? Why?'
"'Forgive me,' said I.
"'Yes, if you had not killed me,' she cried suddenly, and her
eyes shone feverishly. 'Forgiveness--that is nothing. . . . If
I only do not die! Ah, you have accomplished what you desired!
I hate you!'
"Then she grew delirious. She was frightened, and cried:
"'Fire, I do not fear . . . but strike them all . . . He has
gone. . . . He has gone.' . . .
"The delirium continued. She no longer recognized the children,
not even little Lise, who had approached. Toward noon she died.
As for me, I was arrested before her death, at eight o'clock in
the morning. They took me to the police station, and then to
prison, and there, during eleven months, awaiting the verdict, I
reflected upon myself, and upon my past, and I understood it.
Yes, I began to understand from the third day. The third day
they took me to the house." . . .
Posdnicheff seemed to wish to add something, but, no longer
having the strength to repress his sobs, he stopped. After a few
minutes, having recovered his calmness, he resumed:
"I began to understand only when I saw her in the coffin." . . .
He uttered a sob, and then immediately continued, with haste:
"Then only, when I saw her dead face, did I understand all that I
had done. I understood that it was I, I, who had killed her. I
understood that I was the cause of the fact that she, who had
been a moving, living, palpitating being, had now become
motionless and cold, and that there was no way of repairing this
thing. He who has not lived through that cannot understand it."
We remained silent a long time. Posdnicheff sobbed and trembled
before me. His face had become delicate and long, and his mouth
had grown larger.
"Yes," said he suddenly, "if I had known what I now know, I
should never have married her, never, not for anything."
Again we remained silent for a long time.
"Yes, that is what I have done, that is my experience, We must
understand the real meaning of the words of the Gospel,--Matthew,
V. 28,--'that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath
committed adultery'; and these words relate to the wife, to the
sister, and not only to the wife of another, but especially to
one's own wife."
If the reading of this book has interested you, do not fail to
get its sequel, entitled "KREUTZER SONATA BEARING FRUIT, by
Pauline Grayson, which is an exceedingly interesting narrative
showing one of the results of the ideas set forth in "Kreutzer
Sonata." It is bound in paper covers and will be sent by mail,
postage paid, upon receipt of 25 cents. Address all orders to J.
S. OGILVIE PUBLISHING COMPANY, 57 Rose Street, New York.
LESSON OF "THE KREUTZER SONATA."
I have received, and still continue to receive, numbers of
letters from persons who are perfect strangers to me, asking me
to state in plain and simple language my own views on the subject
handled in the story entitled "The Kreutzer Sonata." With this
request I shall now endeavor to comply.
My views on the question may be succinctly stated as follows:
Without entering into details, it will be generally admitted that
I am accurate in saying that many people condone in young men a
course of conduct with regard to the other sex which is
incompatible with strict morality, and that this dissoluteness is
pardoned generally. Both parents and the government, in
consequence of this view, may be said to wink at profligacy, and
even in the last resource to encourage its practice. I am of
opinion that this is not right.
It is not possible that the health of one class should
necessitate the ruin of another, and, in consequence, it is our
first duty to turn a deaf ear to such an essential immoral
doctrine, no matter how strongly society may have established or
law protected it. Moreover, it needs to be fully recognized that
men are rightly to be held responsible for the consequences of
their own acts, and that these are no longer to be visited on the
woman alone. It follows from this that it is the duty of men who
do not wish to lead a life of infamy to practice such continence
in respect to all woman as they would were the female society in
which they move made up exclusively of their own mothers and
A more rational mode of life should be adopted which would
include abstinence from all alcoholic drinks, from excess in
eating and from flesh meat, on the one hand, and recourse to
physical labor on the other. I am not speaking of gymnastics, or
of any of those occupations which may be fitly described as
playing at work; I mean the genuine toil that fatigues. No one
need go far in search of proofs that this kind of abstemious
living is not merely possible, but far less hurtful to health
than excess. Hundreds of instances are known to every one. This
is my first contention.
In the second place, I think that of late years, through various
reasons which I need not enter, but among which the
above-mentioned laxity of opinion in society and the frequent
idealization of the subject in current literature and painting
may be mentioned, conjugal infidelity has become more common and
is considered less reprehensible. I am of opinion that this is
not right. The origin of the evil is twofold. It is due, in the
first place, to a natural instinct, and, in the second, to the
elevation of this instinct to a place to which it does not
rightly belong. This being so, the evil can only be remedied by
effecting a change in the views now in vogue about "falling in
love" and all that this term implies, by educating men and women
at home through family influence and example, and abroad by means
of healthy public opinion, to practice that abstinence which
morality and Christianity alike enjoin. This is my second
In the third place I am of opinion that another consequence of
the false light in which "falling in love," and what it leads to,
are viewed in our society, is that the birth of children has lost
its pristine significance, and that modern marriages are
conceived less and less from the point of view of the family. I
am of opinion that this is not right. This is my third
In the fourth place, I am of opinion that the children (who in
our society are considered an obstacle to enjoyment--an unlucky
accident, as it were) are educated not with a view to the problem
which they will be one day called on to face and to solve, but
solely with an eye to the pleasure which they may be made to
yield to their parents. The consequence is, that the children of
human beings are brought up for all the world like the young of
animals, the chief care of their parents being not to train them
to such work as is worthy of men and women, but to increase their
weight, or add a cubit to their stature, to make them spruce,
sleek, well-fed, and comely. They rig them out in all manner of
fantastic costumes, wash them, over-feed them, and refuse to make
them work. If the children of the lower orders differ in this
last respect from those of the well-to-do classes, the difference
is merely formal; they work from sheer necessity, and not because
their parents recognize work as a duty. And in over-fed
children, as in over-fed animals, sensuality is engendered
Fashionable dress to-day, the course of reading, plays, music,
dances, luscious food, all the elements of our modern life, in a
word, from the pictures on the little boxes of sweetmeats up to
the novel, the tale, and the poem, contribute to fan this
sensuality into a strong, consuming flame, with the result that
sexual vices and diseases have come to be the normal conditions
of the period of tender youth, and often continue into the riper
age of full-blown manhood. And I am of opinion that this is not
It is high time it ceased. The children of human beings should
not be brought up as if they were animals; and we should set up
as the object and strive to maintain as the result of our labors
something better and nobler than a well-dressed body. This is my
In the fifth place, I am of opinion that, owing to the
exaggerated and erroneous significance attributed by our society
to love and to the idealized states that accompany and succeed
it, the best energies of our men and women are drawn forth and
exhausted during the most promising period of life; those of the
men in the work of looking for, choosing, and winning the most
desirable objects of love, for which purpose lying and fraud are
held to be quite excusable; those of the women and girls in
alluring men and decoying them into liaisons or marriage by the
most questionable means conceivable, as an instance of which the
present fashions in evening dress may be cited. I am of opinion
that this is not right.
The truth is, that the whole affair has been exalted by poets and
romancers to an undue importance, and that love in its various
developments is not a fitting object to consume the best energies
of men. People set it before them and strive after it, because
their view of life is as vulgar and brutish as is that other
conception frequently met with in the lower stages of
development, which sees in luscious and abundant food an end
worthy of man's best efforts. Now, this is not right and should
not be done. And, in order to avoid doing it, it is only needful
to realize the fact that whatever truly deserves to be held up as
a worthy object of man's striving and working, whether it be the
service of humanity, of one's country, of science, of art, not to
speak of the service of God, is far above and beyond the sphere
of personal enjoyment. Hence, it follows that not only to form a
liaison, but even to contract marriage, is, from a Christian
point of view, not a progress, but a fall. Love, and all the
states that accompany and follow it, however we may try in prose
and verse to prove the contrary, never do and never can
facilitate the attainment of an aim worthy of men, but always
make it more difficult. This is my fifth contention.
How about the human race? If we admit that celibacy is better
and nobler than marriage, evidently the human race will come to
an end. But, if the logical conclusion of the argument is that
the human race will become extinct, the whole reasoning is wrong.
To that I reply that the argument is not mine; I did not invent
it. That it is incumbent on mankind so to strive, and that
celibacy is preferable to marriage, are truths revealed by Christ
1,900 years ago, set forth in our catechisms, and professed by us
as followers of Christ.
Chastity and celibacy, it is urged, cannot constitute the ideal
of humanity, because chastity would annihilate the race which
strove to realize it, and humanity cannot set up as its ideal its
own annihilation. It may be pointed out in reply that only that
is a true ideal, which, being unattainable, admits of infinite
gradation in degrees of proximity. Such is the Christian ideal
of the founding of God's kingdom, the union of all living
creatures by the bonds of love. The conception of its attainment
is incompatible with the conception of the movement of life.
What kind of life could subsist if all living creatures were
joined together by the bonds of love? None. Our conception of
life is inseparably bound up with the conception of a continual
striving after an unattainable ideal.
But even if we suppose the Christian ideal of perfect chastity
realized, what then? We should merely find ourselves face to
face on the one hand with the familiar teaching of religion, one
of whose dogmas is that the world will have an end; and on the
other of so-called science, which informs us that the sun is
gradually losing its heat, the result of which will in time be
the extinction of the human race.
Now there is not and cannot be such an institution as Christian
marriage, just as there cannot be such a thing as a Christian
liturgy (Matt. vi. 5-12; John iv. 21), nor Christian teachers,
nor church fathers (Matt. xxiii. 8-10), nor Christian armies,
Christian law courts, nor Christian States. This is what was
always taught and believed by true Christians of the first and
following centuries. A Christian's ideal is not marriage, but
love for God and for his neighbor. Consequently in the eyes of a
Christian relations in marriage not only do not constitute a
lawful, right, and happy state, as our society and our churches
maintain, but, on the contrary, are always a fall.
Such a thing as Christian marriage never was and never could be.
Christ did not marry, nor did he establish marriage; neither did
his disciples marry. But if Christian marriage cannot exist,
there is such a thing as a Christian view of marriage. And this
is how it may be formulated: A Christian (and by this term I
understand not those who call themselves Christians merely
because they were baptized and still receive the sacrament once a
year, but those whose lives are shaped and regulated by the
teachings of Christ), I say, cannot view the marriage relation
otherwise than as a deviation from the doctrine of Christ,--as a
sin. This is clearly laid down in Matt. v. 28, and the ceremony
called Christian marriage does not alter its character one jot.
A Christian will never, therefore, desire marriage, but will
always avoid it.
If the light of truth dawns upon a Christian when he is already
married, or if, being a Christian, from weakness he enters into
marital relations with the ceremonies of the church, or without
them, he has no other alternative than to abide with his wife
(and the wife with her husband, if it is she who is a Christian)
and to aspire together with her to free themselves of their sin.
This is the Christian view of marriage; and there cannot be any
other for a man who honestly endeavors to shape his life in
accordance with the teachings of Christ.
To very many persons the thoughts I have uttered here and in "The
Kreutzer Sonata" will seem strange, vague, even contradictory.
They certainly do contradict, not each other, but the whole tenor
of our lives, and involuntarily a doubt arises, "on which side is
truth,--on the side of the thoughts which seem true and
well-founded, or on the side of the lives of others and myself?"
I, too, was weighed down by that same doubt when writing "The
Kreutzer Sonata." I had not the faintest presentiment that the
train of thought I had started would lead me whither it did. I
was terrified by my own conclusion, and I was at first disposed
to reject it, but it was impossible not to hearken to the voice
of my reason and my conscience. And so, strange though they may
appear to many, opposed as they undoubtedly are to the trend and
tenor of our lives, and incompatible though they may prove with
what I have heretofore thought and uttered, I have no choice but
to accept them. "But man is weak," people will object. "His
task should be regulated by his strength."
This is tantamount to saying, "My hand is weak. I cannot draw a
straight line,--that is, a line which will be the shortest line
between two given points,--and so, in order to make it more easy
for myself, I, intending to draw a straight, will choose for my
model a crooked line."
The weaker my hand, the greater the need that my model should be
IVAN THE FOOL.
In a certain kingdom there lived a rich peasant, who had three
sons--Simeon (a soldier), Tarras-Briukhan (fat man), and Ivan (a
fool)--and one daughter, Milania, born dumb. Simeon went to
war, to serve the Czar; Tarras went to a city and became a
merchant; and Ivan, with his sister, remained at home to work on
For his valiant service in the army, Simeon received an estate
with high rank, and married a noble's daughter. Besides his
large pay, he was in receipt of a handsome income from his
estate; yet he was unable to make ends meet. What the husband
saved, the wife wasted in extravagance. One day Simeon went to
the estate to collect his income, when the steward informed him
that there was no income, saying:
"We have neither horses, cows, fishing-nets, nor implements; it
is necessary first to buy everything, and then to look for
Simeon thereupon went to his father and said:
"You are rich, batiushka [little father], but you have given
nothing to me. Give me one-third of what you possess as my
share, and I will transfer it to my estate."
The old man replied: "You did not help to bring prosperity to our
household. For what reason, then, should you now demand the
third part of everything? It would be unjust to Ivan and his
"Yes," said Simeon; "but he is a fool, and she was born dumb.
What need have they of anything?"
"See what Ivan will say."
Ivan's reply was: "Well, let him take his share."
Simeon took the portion allotted to him, and went again to serve
in the army.
Tarras also met with success. He became rich and married a
merchant's daughter, but even this failed to satisfy his desires,
and he also went to his father and said, "Give me my share."
The old man, however, refused to comply with his request, saying:
"You had no hand in the accumulation of our property, and what
our household contains is the result of Ivan's hard work. It
would be unjust," he repeated, "to Ivan and his sister."
Tarras replied: "But he does not need it. He is a fool, and
cannot marry, for no one will have him; and sister does not
require anything, for she was born dumb." Turning then to Ivan
he continued: "Give me half the grain you have, and I will not
touch the implements or fishing-nets; and from the cattle I will
take only the dark mare, as she is not fit to plow."
Ivan laughed and said: "Well, I will go and arrange matters so
that Tarras may have his share," whereupon Tarras took the brown
mare with the grain to town, leaving Ivan with one old horse to
work on as before and support his father, mother, and sister.
It was disappointing to the Stary Tchert (Old Devil) that the
brothers did not quarrel over the division of the property, and
that they separated peacefully; and he cried out, calling his
three small devils (Tchertionki).
"See here," said he, "there are living three brothers--Simeon the
soldier, Tarras-Briukhan, and Ivan the Fool. It is necessary
that they should quarrel. Now they live peacefully, and enjoy
each other's hospitality. The Fool spoiled all my plans. Now
you three go and work with them in such a manner that they will
be ready to tear each other's eyes out. Can you do this?"
"We can," they replied.
"How will you accomplish it?"
"In this way: We will first ruin them to such an extent that they
will have nothing to eat, and we will then gather them together
in one place where we are sure that they will fight."
"Very well; I see you understand your business. Go, and do not
return to me until you have created a feud between the three
brothers--or I will skin you alive."
The three small devils went to a swamp to consult as to the best
means of accomplishing their mission. They disputed for a long
time--each one wanting the easiest part of the work--and not
being able to agree, concluded to draw lots; by which it was
decided that the one who was first finished had to come and help
the others. This agreement being entered into, they appointed a
time when they were again to meet in the swamp--to find out who
was through and who needed assistance.
The time having arrived, the young devils met in the swamp as
agreed, when each related his experience. The first, who went to
Simeon, said: "I have succeeded in my undertaking, and to-morrow
Simeon returns to his father."
His comrades, eager for particulars, inquired how he had done
"Well," he began, "the first thing I did was to blow some courage
into his veins, and, on the strength of it, Simeon went to the
Czar and offered to conquer the whole world for him. The Emperor
made him commander-in-chief of the forces, and sent him with an
army to fight the Viceroy of India. Having started on their
mission of conquest, they were unaware that I, following in their
wake, had wet all their powder. I also went to the Indian ruler
and showed him how I could create numberless soldiers from straw.
Simeon's army, seeing that they were surrounded by such a vast
number of Indian warriors of my creation, became frightened, and
Simeon commanded to fire from cannons and rifles, which of course
they were unable to do. The soldiers, discouraged, retreated in
great disorder. Thus Simeon brought upon himself the terrible
disgrace of defeat. His estate was confiscated, and to-morrow he
is to be executed. All that remains for me to do, therefore,"
concluded the young devil, "is to release him to-morrow morning.
Now, then, who wants my assistance?"
The second small devil (from Tarras) then related his story.
"I do not need any help," he began. "My business is also all
right. My work with Tarras will be finished in one week. In the
first place I made him grow thin. He afterward became so
covetous that he wanted to possess everything he saw, and he
spent all the money he had in the purchase of immense quantities
of goods. When his capital was gone he still continued to buy
with borrowed money, and has become involved in such difficulties
that he cannot free himself. At the end of one week the date for
the payment of his notes will have expired, and, his goods being
seized upon, he will become a bankrupt; and he also will return
to his father."
At the conclusion of this narrative they inquired of the third
devil how things had fared between him and Ivan.
"Well," said he, "my report is not so encouraging. The first
thing I did was to spit into his jug of quass [a sour drink made
from rye], which made him sick at his stomach. He afterward went
to plow his summer-fallow, but I made the soil so hard that the
plow could scarcely penetrate it. I thought the Fool would not
succeed, but he started to work nevertheless. Moaning with pain,
he still continued to labor. I broke one plow, but he replaced
it with another, fixing it securely, and resumed work. Going
beneath the surface of the ground I took hold of the plowshares,
but did not succeed in stopping Ivan. He pressed so hard, and
the colter was so sharp, that my hands were cut; and despite my
utmost efforts, he went over all but a small portion of the
He concluded with: "Come, brothers, and help me, for if we do not
conquer him our whole enterprise will be a failure. If the Fool
is permitted successfully to conduct his farming, they will have
no need, for he will support his brothers."
Ivan having succeeded in plowing all but a small portion of his
land, he returned the next day to finish it. The pain in his
stomach continued, but he felt that he must go on with his work.
He tried to start his plow, but it would not move; it seemed to
have struck a hard root. It was the small devil in the ground
who had wound his feet around the plowshares and held them.
"This is strange," thought Ivan. "There were never any roots
here before, and this is surely one."
Ivan put his hand in the ground, and, feeling something soft,
grasped and pulled it out. It was like a root in appearance, but
seemed to possess life. Holding it up he saw that it was a
little devil. Disgusted, he exclaimed, "See the nasty thing,"
and he proceeded to strike it a blow, intending to kill it, when
the young devil cried out:
"Do not kill me, and I will grant your every wish."
"What can you do for me?"
"Tell me what it is you most wish for," the little devil replied.
Ivan, peasant-fashion, scratched the back of his head as he
thought, and finally he said:
"I am dreadfully sick at my stomach. Can you cure me?"
"I can," the little devil said.
"Then do so."
The little devil bent toward the earth and began searching for
roots, and when he found them he gave them to Ivan, saying: "If
you will swallow some of these you will be immediately cured of
whatsoever disease you are afflicted with."
Ivan did as directed, and obtained instant relief.
"I beg of you to let me go now," the little devil pleaded; "I
will pass into the earth, never to return."
"Very well; you may go, and God bless you;" and as Ivan
pronounced the name of God, the small devil disappeared into the
earth like a flash, and only a slight opening in the ground
Ivan placed in his hat what roots he had left, and proceeded to
plow. Soon finishing his work, he turned his plow over and
When he reached the house he found his brother Simeon and his
wife seated at the supper-table. His estate had been
confiscated, and he himself had barely escaped execution by
making his way out of prison, and having nothing to live upon had
come back to his father for support.
Turning to Ivan he said: "I came to ask you to care for us until
I can find something to do."
"Very well," Ivan replied; "you may remain with us."
Just as Ivan was about to sit down to the table Simeon's wife
made a wry face, indicating that she did not like the smell of
Ivan's sheep-skin coat; and turning to her husband she said, "I
shall not sit at the table with a moujik [peasant] who smells
Simeon the soldier turned to his brother and said: "My lady
objects to the smell of your clothes. You may eat in the
Ivan said: "Very well, it is all the same to me. I will soon
have to go and feed my horse any way."
Ivan took some bread in one hand, and his kaftan (coat) in the
other, and left the room.
The small devil finished with Simeon that night, and according to
agreement went to the assistance of his comrade who had charge of
Ivan, that he might help to conquer the Fool. He went to the
field and searched everywhere, but could find nothing but the
hole through which the small devil had disappeared.
"Well, this is strange," he said; "something must have happened
to my companion, and I will have to take his place and continue
the work he began. The Fool is through with his plowing, so I
must look about me for some other means of compassing his
destruction. I must overflow his meadow and prevent him from
cutting the grass."
The little devil accordingly overflowed the meadow with muddy
water, and, when Ivan went at dawn next morning with his scythe
set and sharpened and tried to mow the grass, he found that it
resisted all his efforts and would not yield to the implement as
Many times Ivan tried to cut the grass, but always without
success. At last, becoming weary of the effort, he decided to
return home and have his scythe again sharpened, and also to
procure a quantity of bread, saying: "I will come back here and
will not leave until I have mown all the meadow, even if it
should take a whole week."
Hearing this, the little devil became thoughtful, saying: "That
Ivan is a koolak [hard case], and I must think of some other way
of conquering him."
Ivan soon returned with his sharpened scythe and started to mow.
The small devil hid himself in the grass, and as the point of the
scythe came down he buried it in the earth and made it almost
impossible for Ivan to move the implement. He, however,
succeeded in mowing all but one small spot in the swamp, where
again the small devil hid himself, saying: "Even if he should cut
my hands I will prevent him from accomplishing his work."
When Ivan came to the swamp he found that the grass was not very
thick. Still, the scythe would not work, which made him so angry
that he worked with all his might, and one blow more powerful
than the others cut off a portion of the small devil's tail, who
had hidden himself there.
Despite the little devil's efforts he succeeded in finishing his
work, when he returned home and ordered his sister to gather up
the grass while he went to another field to cut rye. But the
devil preceded him there, and fixed the rye in such a manner that
it was almost impossible for Ivan to cut it; however, after
continuous hard labor he succeeded, and when he was through with
the rye he said to himself: "Now I will start to mow oats."
On hearing this, the little devil thought to himself: "I could
not prevent him from mowing the rye, but I will surely stop him
from mowing the oats when the morning comes."
Early next day, when the devil came to the field, he found that
the oats had been already mowed. Ivan did it during the night,
so as to avoid the loss that might have resulted from the grain
being too ripe and dry. Seeing that Ivan again had escaped him,
the little devil became greatly enraged, saying:
"He cut me all over and made me tired, that fool. I did not meet
such misfortune even on the battle-field. He does not even
sleep;" and the devil began to swear. "I cannot follow him," he
continued. "I will go now to the heaps and make everything
Accordingly he went to a heap of the new-mown grain and began his
fiendish work. After wetting it he built a fire and warmed
himself, and soon was fast asleep.
Ivan harnessed his horse, and, with his sister, went to bring the
rye home from the field.
After lifting a couple of sheaves from the first heap his
pitchfork came into contact with the little devil's back, which
caused the latter to howl with pain and to jump around in every
direction. Ivan exclaimed:
"See here! What nastiness! You again here?"
"I am another one!" said the little devil. "That was my brother.
I am the one who was sent to your brother Simeon."
"Well," said Ivan, "it matters not who you are. I will fix you
all the same."
As Ivan was about to strike the first blow the devil pleaded:
"Let me go and I will do you no more harm. I will do whatever
"What can you do for me?" asked Ivan.
"I can make soldiers from almost anything."
"And what will they be good for?"
"Oh, they will do everything for you!"
"Can they sing?"
"Well, make them."
"Take a bunch of straw and scatter it on the ground, and see if
each straw will not turn into a soldier."
Ivan shook the straws on the ground, and, as he expected, each
straw turned into a soldier, and they began marching with a band
at their head.
"Ishty [look you], that was well done! How it will delight the
village maidens!" he exclaimed.
The small devil now said: "Let me go; you do not need me any
But Ivan said: "No, I will not let you go just yet. You have
converted the straw into soldiers, and now I want you to turn
them again into straw, as I cannot afford to lose it, but I want
it with the grain on."
The devil replied: "Say: 'So many soldiers, so much straw.'"
Ivan did as directed, and got back his rye with the straw.
The small devil again begged for his release.
Ivan, taking him from the pitchfork, said: "With God's blessing
you may depart"; and, as before at the mention of God's name, the
little devil was hurled into the earth like a flash, and nothing
was left but the hole to show where he had gone.
Soon afterward Ivan returned home, to find his brother Tarras and
his wife there. Tarras-Briukhan could not pay his debts, and was
forced to flee from his creditors and seek refuge under his
father's roof. Seeing Ivan, he said: "Well, Ivan, may we remain
here until I start in some new business?"
Ivan replied as he had before to Simeon: "Yes, you are perfectly
welcome to remain here as long as it suits you."
With that announcement he removed his coat and seated himself at
the supper-table with the others. But Tarras-Briukhan's wife
objected to the smell of his clothes, saying: "I cannot eat with
a fool; neither can I stand the smell."
Then Tarras-Briukhan said: "Ivan, from your clothes there comes a
bad smell; go and eat by yourself in the porch."
"Very well," said Ivan; and he took some bread and went out as
ordered, saying, "It is time for me to feed my mare."
The small devil who had charge of Tarras finished with him that
night, and according to agreement proceeded to the assistance of
the other two to help them conquer Ivan. Arriving at the plowed
field he looked around for his comrades, but found only the hole
through which one had disappeared; and on going to the meadow he
discovered the severed tail of the other, and in the rye-field he
found yet another hole.
"Well," he thought, "it is quite clear that my comrades have met
with some great misfortune, and that I will have to take their
places and arrange the feud between the brothers."
The small devil then went in search of Ivan. But he, having
finished with the field, was nowhere to be found. He had gone to
the forest to cut logs to build homes for his brothers, as they
found it inconvenient for so many to live under the same
The small devil at last discovered his whereabouts, and going to
the forest climbed into the branches of the trees and began to
interfere with Ivan's work. Ivan cut down a tree, which failed,
however, to fall to the ground, becoming entangled in the
branches of other trees; yet he succeeded in getting it down
after a hard struggle. In chopping down the next tree he met
with the same difficulties, and also with the third. Ivan had
supposed he could cut down fifty trees in a day, but he succeeded
in chopping but ten before darkness put an end to his labors for
a time. He was now exhausted, and, perspiring profusely, he sat
down alone in the woods to rest. He soon after resumed his work,
cutting down one more tree; but the effort gave him a pain in his
back, and he was obliged to rest again. Seeing this, the small
devil was full of joy.
"Well," he thought, "now he is exhausted and will stop work, and
I will rest also." He then seated himself on some branches and
Ivan again arose, however, and, taking his axe, gave the tree a
terrific blow from the opposite side, which felled it instantly
to the ground, carrying the little devil with it; and Ivan,
proceeding to cut the branches, found the devil alive. Very much
astonished, Ivan exclaimed:
"Look you! Such nastiness! Are you again here?"
"I am another one," replied the devil. "I was with your brother
"Well," said Ivan, "that makes no difference; I will fix you."
And he was about to strike him a blow with the axe when the devil
"Do not kill me, and whatever you wish you shall have."
Ivan asked, "What can you do?"
"I can make for you all the money you wish."
Ivan then told the devil he might proceed, whereupon the latter
began to explain to him how he might become rich.
"Take," said he to Ivan, "the leaves of this oak tree and rub
them in your hands, and the gold will fall to the ground."
Ivan did as he was directed, and immediately the gold began to
drop about his feet; and he remarked:
"This will be a fine trick to amuse the village boys with."
"Can I now take my departure?" asked the devil, to which Ivan
replied, "With God's blessing you may go."
At the mention of the name of God, the devil disappeared into the
The brothers, having finished their houses, moved into them and
lived apart from their father and brother. Ivan, when he had
completed his plowing, made a great feast, to which he invited
his brothers, telling them that he had plenty of beer for them to
drink. The brothers, however, declined Ivan's hospitality,
saying, "We have seen the beer moujiks drink, and want none of
Ivan then gathered around him all the peasants in the village
and with them drank beer until he became intoxicated, when he
joined the Khorovody (a street gathering of the village boys and
girls, who sing songs), and told them they must sing his praises,
saying that in return he would show them such sights as they had
never before seen in their lives. The little girls laughed and
began to sing songs praising Ivan, and when they had finished
they said: "Very well; now give us what you said you would."
Ivan replied, "I will soon show you," and, taking an empty bag in
his hand, he started for the woods. The little girls laughed as
they said, "What a fool he is!" and resuming their play they
forgot all about him.
Some time after Ivan suddenly appeared among them carrying in his
hand the bag, which was now filled.
"Shall I divide this with you?" he said.
"Yes; divide!" they sang in chorus.
So Ivan put his hand into the bag and drew it out full of gold
coins, which he scattered among them.
"Batiushka," they cried as they ran to gather up the precious
The moujiks then appeared on the scene and began to fight among
themselves for the possession of the yellow objects. In the
melee one old woman was nearly crushed to death.
Ivan laughed and was greatly amused at the sight of so many
persons quarrelling over a few pieces of gold.
"Oh! you duratchki" (little fools), he said, "why did you almost
crush the life out of the old grandmother? Be more gentle. I
have plenty more, and I will give them to you;" whereupon he
began throwing about more of the coins.
The people gathered around him, and Ivan continued throwing until
he emptied his bag. They clamored for more, but Ivan replied:
"The gold is all gone. Another time I will give you more. Now
we will r‚sum‚ our singing and dancing."
The little children sang, but Ivan said to them, "Your songs are
The children said, "Then show us how to sing better."
To this Ivan replied, "I will show you people who can sing better
than you." With that remark Ivan went to the barn and, securing
a bundle of straw, did as the little devil had directed him; and
presently a regiment of soldiers appeared in the village street,
and he ordered them to sing and dance.
The people were astonished and could not understand how Ivan had
produced the strangers.
The soldiers sang for some time, to the great delight of the
villagers; and when Ivan commanded them to stop they instantly
Ivan then ordered them off to the barn, telling the astonished
and mystified moujiks that they must not follow him. Reaching
the barn, he turned the soldiers again into straw and went home
to sleep off the effects of his debauch.
The next morning Ivan's exploits were the talk of the village,
and news of the wonderful things he had done reached the ears of
his brother Simeon, who immediately went to Ivan to learn all
"Explain to me," he said; "from whence did you bring the
soldiers, and where did you take them?"
"And what do you wish to know for?" asked Ivan.
"Why, with soldiers we can do almost anything we wish--whole
kingdoms can be conquered," replied Simeon.
This information greatly surprised Ivan, who said: "Well, why did
you not tell me about this before? I can make as many as you
Ivan then took his brother to the barn, but he said: "While I am
willing to create the soldiers, you must take them away from
here; for if it should become necessary to feed them, all the
food in the village would last them only one day."
Simeon promised to do as Ivan wished, whereupon Ivan proceeded to
convert the straw into soldiers. Out of one bundle of straw he
made an entire regiment; in fact, so many soldiers appeared as if
by magic that there was not a vacant spot in the field.
Turning to Simeon Ivan said, "Well, is there a sufficient
Beaming with joy, Simeon replied: "Enough! enough! Thank you,
"Glad you are satisfied," said Ivan, "and if you wish more I will
make them for you. I have plenty of straw now."
Simeon divided his soldiers into battalions and regiments, and
after having drilled them he went forth to fight and to conquer.
Simeon had just gotten safely out of the village with his
soldiers when Tarras, the other brother, appeared before Ivan--he
also having heard of the previous day's performance and wanting
to learn the secret of his power. He sought Ivan, saying: "Tell
me the secret of your supply of gold, for if I had plenty of
money I could with its assistance gather in all the wealth in the
Ivan was greatly surprised on hearing this statement, and said:
"You might have told me this before, for I can obtain for you as
much money as you wish."
Tarras was delighted, and he said, "You might get me about three
"Well," said Ivan, "we will go to the woods, or, better still, we
will harness the horse, as we could not possibly carry so much
The brothers went to the woods and Ivan proceeded to gather the
oak leaves, which he rubbed between his hands, the dust falling
to the ground and turning into gold pieces as quickly as it fell.
When quite a pile had accumulated Ivan turned to Tarras and asked
if he had rubbed enough leaves into money, whereupon Tarras
replied: "Thank you, Ivan; that will be sufficient for this
Ivan then said: "If you wish more, come to me and I will rub as
much as you want, for there are plenty of leaves."
Tarras, with his tarantas (wagon) filled with gold, rode away to
the city to engage in trade and increase his wealth; and thus
both brothers went their way, Simeon to fight and Tarras to
Simeon's soldiers conquered a kingdom for him and Tarras-Briukhan
made plenty of money.
Some time afterward the two brothers met and confessed to each
other the source from whence sprang their prosperity, but they
were not yet satisfied.
Simeon said: "I have conquered a kingdom and enjoy a very
pleasant life, but I have not sufficient money to procure food
for my soldiers;" while Tarras confessed that he was the
possessor of enormous wealth, but the care of it caused him much
"Let us go again to our brother," said Simeon; "I will order him
to make more soldiers and will give them to you, and you may then
tell him that he must make more money so that we can buy food for
They went again to Ivan, and Simeon said: "I have not sufficient
soldiers; I want you to make me at least two divisions more."
But Ivan shook his head as he said: "I will not create soldiers
for nothing; you must pay me for doing it."
"Well, but you promised," said Simeon.
"I know I did," replied Ivan; "but I have changed my mind since
"But, fool, why will you not do as you promised?"
"For the reason that your soldiers kill men, and I will not make
any more for such a cruel purpose." With this reply Ivan
remained stubborn and would not create any more soldiers.
Tarras-Briukhan next approached Ivan and ordered him to make more
money; but, as in the case of Tarras, Ivan only shook his head,
as he said: "I will not make you any money unless you pay me for
doing it. I cannot work without pay."
Tarras then reminded him of his promise.
"I know I promised," replied Ivan; "but still I must refuse to do
as you wish."
"But why, fool, will you not fulfill your promise?" asked Tarras.
"For the reason that your gold was the means of depriving
Mikhailovna of her cow."
"But how did that happen?" inquired Tarras.
"It happened in this way," said Ivan. "Mikhailovna always kept a
cow, and her children had plenty of milk to drink; but some time
ago one of her boys came to me to beg for some milk, and I asked,
'Where is your cow?' when he replied, 'A clerk of Tarras-Briukhan
came to our home and offered three gold pieces for her. Our
mother could not resist the temptation, and now we have no milk
to drink. I gave you the gold pieces for your pleasure, and you
put them to such poor use that I will not give you any more.'"
The brothers, on hearing this, took their departure to discuss as
to the best plan to pursue in regard to a settlement of their
Simeon said: "Let us arrange it in this way: I will give you the
half of my kingdom, and soldiers to keep guard over your wealth;
and you give me money to feed the soldiers in my half of the
To this arrangement Tarras agreed, and both the brothers became
rulers and very happy.
Ivan remained on the farm and worked to support his father,
mother, and dumb sister. Once it happened that the old dog,
which had grown up on the farm, was taken sick, when Ivan thought
he was dying, and, taking pity on the animal, placed some bread
in his hat and carried it to him. It happened that when he
turned out the bread the root which the little devil had given
him fell out also. The old dog swallowed it with the bread and
was almost instantly cured, when he jumped up and began to wag
his tail as an expression of joy. Ivan's father and mother,
seeing the dog cured so quickly, asked by what means he had
performed such a miracle.
Ivan replied: "I had some roots which would cure any disease, and
the dog swallowed one of them."
It happened about that time that the Czar's daughter became ill,
and her father had it announced in every city, town, and village
that whosoever would cure her would be richly rewarded; and if
the lucky person should prove to be a single man he would give
her in marriage to him.
This announcement, of course, appeared in Ivan's village.
Ivan's father and mother called him and said: "If you have any of
those wonderful roots, go and cure the Czar's daughter. You will
be much happier for having performed such a kind act--indeed, you
will be made happy for all your after life."
"Very well," said Ivan; and he immediately made ready for the
journey. As he reached the porch on his way out he saw a poor
woman standing directly in his path and holding a broken arm.
The woman accosted him, saying:
"I was told that you could cure me, and will you not please do
so, as I am powerless to do anything for myself?"
Ivan replied: "Very well, my poor woman; I will relieve you if I
He produced a root which he handed to the poor woman and told her
to swallow it.
She did as Ivan told her and was instantly cured, and went away
rejoicing that she had recovered the use of her arm.
Ivan's father and mother came out to wish him good luck on his
journey, and to them he told the story of the poor woman, saying
that he had given her his last root. On hearing this his parents
were much distressed, as they now believed him to be without the
means of curing the Czar's daughter, and began to scold him.
"You had pity for a beggar and gave no thought to the Czar's
daughter," they said.
"I have pity for the Czar's daughter also," replied Ivan, after
which he harnessed his horse to his wagon and took his seat ready
for his departure; whereupon his parents said: "Where are you
going, you fool--to cure the Czar's daughter, and without
anything to do it with?"
"Very well," replied Ivan, as he drove away.
In due time he arrived at the palace, and the moment he appeared
on the balcony the Czar's daughter was cured. The Czar was
overjoyed and ordered Ivan to be brought into his presence. He
dressed him in the richest robes and addressed him as his
son-in-law. Ivan was married to the Czarevna, and, the Czar
dying soon after, Ivan became ruler. Thus the three brothers
became rulers in different kingdoms.
The brothers lived and reigned. Simeon, the eldest brother, with
his straw soldiers took captive the genuine soldiers and trained
all alike. He was feared by every one.
Tarras-Briukhan, the other brother, did not squander the gold he
obtained from Ivan, but instead greatly increased his wealth, and
at the same time lived well. He kept his money in large trunks,
and, while having more than he knew what to do with, still
continued to collect money from his subjects. The people had to
work for the money to pay the taxes which Tarras levied on them,
and life was made burdensome to them.
Ivan the Fool did not enjoy his wealth and power to the same
extent as did his brothers. As soon as his father-in-law, the
late Czar, was buried, he discarded the Imperial robes which had
fallen to him and told his wife to put them away, as he had no
further use for them. Having cast aside the insignia of his
rank, he once more donned his peasant garb and started to work as
"I felt lonesome," he said, "and began to grow enormously stout,
and yet I had no appetite, and neither could I sleep."
Ivan sent for his father, mother, and dumb sister, and brought
them to live with him, and they worked with him at whatever he
chose to do.
The people soon learned that Ivan was a fool. His wife one day
said to him, "The people say you are a fool, Ivan."
"Well, let them think so if they wish," he replied.
His wife pondered this reply for some time, and at last decided
that if Ivan was a fool she also was one, and that it would be
useless to go contrary to her husband, thinking affectionately of
the old proverb that "where the needle goes there goes the thread
also." She therefore cast aside her magnificent robes, and,
putting them into the trunk with Ivan's, dressed herself in cheap
clothing and joined her dumb sister-in-law, with the intention of
learning to work. She succeeded so well that she soon became a
great help to Ivan.
Seeing that Ivan was a fool, all the wise men left the kingdom
and only the fools remained. They had no money, their wealth
consisting only of the products of their labor. But they lived
peacefully together, supported themselves in comfort, and had
plenty to spare for the needy and afflicted.
The old devil grew tired of waiting for the good news which he
expected the little devils to bring him. He waited in vain to
hear of the ruin of the brothers, so he went in search of the
emissaries which he had sent to perform that work for him. After
looking around for some time, and seeing nothing but the three
holes in the ground, he decided that they had not succeeded in
their work and that he would have to do it himself.
The old devil next went in search of the brothers, but he could
learn nothing of their whereabouts. After some time he found
them in their different kingdoms, contented and happy. This
greatly incensed the old devil, and he said, "I will now have to
accomplish their mission myself."
He first visited Simeon the soldier, and appeared before him as a
voyevoda (general), saying: "You, Simeon, are a great warrior,
and I also have had considerable experience in warfare, and am
desirous of serving you."
Simeon questioned the disguised devil, and seeing that he was an
intelligent man took him into his service.
The new General taught Simeon how to strengthen his army until it
became very powerful. New implements of warfare were introduced.
Cannons capable of throwing one hundred balls a minute were also
constructed, and these, it was expected, would be of deadly
effect in battle.
Simeon, on the advice of his new General, ordered all young men
above a certain age to report for drill. On the same advice
Simeon established gun-shops, where immense numbers of cannons
and rifles were made.
The next move of the new General was to have Simeon declare war
against the neighboring kingdom. This he did, and with his
immense army marched into the adjoining territory, which he
pillaged and burned, destroying more than half the enemy's
soldiers. This so frightened the ruler of that country that he
willingly gave up half of his kingdom to save the other half.
Simeon, overjoyed at his success, declared his intention of
marching into Indian territory and subduing the Viceroy of that
But Simeon's intentions reached the ears of the Indian ruler, who
prepared to do battle with him. In addition to having secured
all the latest implements of warfare, he added still others of
his own invention. He ordered all boys over fourteen and all
single women to be drafted into the army, until its proportions
became much larger than Simeon's. His cannons and rifles were of
the same pattern as Simeon's, and he invented a flying-machine
from which bombs could be thrown into the enemy's camp.
Simeon went forth to conquer the Viceroy with full confidence in
his own powers to succeed. This time luck forsook him, and
instead of being the conqueror he was himself conquered.
The Indian ruler had so arranged his army that Simeon could not
even get within shooting distance, while the bombs from the
flying-machine carried destruction and terror in their path,
completely routing his army, so that Simeon was left alone.
The Viceroy took possession of his kingdom and Simeon had to fly
for his life.
Having finished with Simeon, the old devil next approached
Tarras. He appeared before him disguised as one of the merchants
of his kingdom, and established factories and began to make
money. The "merchant" paid the highest price for everything he
purchased, and the people ran after him to sell their goods.
Through this "merchant" they were enabled to make plenty of
money, paying up all their arrears of taxes as well as the others
when they came due.
Tarras was overjoyed at this condition of affairs and said:
"Thanks to this merchant, now I will have more money than before,
and life will be much pleasanter for me."
He wished to erect new buildings, and advertised for workmen,
offering the highest prices for all kinds of labor. Tarras
thought the people would be as anxious to work as formerly, but
instead he was much surprised to learn that they were working for
the "merchant." Thinking to induce them to leave the "merchant,"
he increased his offers, but the former, equal to the emergency,
also raised the wages of his workmen. Tarras, having plenty of
money, increased the offers still more; but the "merchant" raised
them still higher and got the better of him. Thus, defeated at
every point, Tarras was compelled to abandon the idea of
Tarras next announced that he intended laying out gardens and
erecting fountains, and the work was to be commenced in the fall,
but no one came to offer his services, and again he was obliged
to forego his intentions. Winter set in, and Tarras wanted some
sable fur with which to line his great-coat, and he sent his man
to procure it for him; but the servant returned without it,
saying: "There are no sables to be had. The 'merchant' has
bought them all, paying a very high price for them."
Tarras needed horses and sent a messenger to purchase them, but
he returned with the same story as on former occasions--that none
were to be found, the "merchant" having bought them all to carry
water for an artificial pond he was constructing. Tarras was at
last compelled to suspend business, as he could not find any one
willing to work for him. They had all gone over to the
"merchant's" side. The only dealings the people had with Tarras
were when they went to pay their taxes. His money accumulated so
fast that he could not find a place to put it, and his life
became miserable. He abandoned all idea of entering upon the new
venture, and only thought of how to exist peaceably. This he
found it difficult to do, for, turn which way he would, fresh
obstacles confronted him. Even his cooks, coachmen, and all his
other servants forsook him and joined the "merchant." With all
his wealth he had nothing to eat, and when he went to market he
found the "merchant" had been there before him and had bought up
all the provisions. Still, the people continued to bring him
Tarras at last became so indignant that he ordered the "merchant"
out of his kingdom. He left, but settled just outside the
boundary line, and continued his business with the same result as
before, and Tarras was frequently forced to go without food for
days. It was rumored that the "merchant" wanted to buy even
Tarras himself. On hearing this the latter became very much
alarmed and could not decide as to the best course to pursue.
About this time his brother Simeon arrived in the kingdom, and
said: "Help me, for I have been defeated and ruined by the Indian
Tarras replied: "How can I help you, when I have had no food
myself for two days?"
The old devil, having finished with the second brother, went to
Ivan the Fool. This time he disguised himself as a General, the
same as in the case of Simeon, and, appearing before Ivan, said:
"Get an army together. It is disgraceful for the ruler of a
kingdom to be without an army. You call your people to assemble,
and I will form them into a fine large army."
Ivan took the supposed General's advice, and said: "Well, you may
form my people into an army, but you must also teach them to sing
the songs I like."
The old devil then went through Ivan's kingdom to secure recruits
for the army, saying: "Come, shave your heads [the heads of
recruits are always shaved in Russia] and I will give each of you
a red hat and plenty of vodki" (whiskey).
At this the fools only laughed, and said: "We can have all the
vodki we want, for we distill it ourselves; and of hats, our
little girls make all we want, of any color we please, and with
Thus was the devil foiled in securing recruits for his army; so
he returned to Ivan and said: "Your fools will not volunteer to
be soldiers. It will therefore be necessary to force them."
"Very well," replied Ivan, "you may use force if you want to."
The old devil then announced that all the fools must become
soldiers, and those who refused, Ivan would punish with death.
The fools went to the General; and said: "You tell us that Ivan
will punish with death all those who refuse to become soldiers,
but you have omitted to state what will be done with us soldiers.
We have been told that we are only to be killed."
"Yes, that is true," was the reply.
The fools on hearing this became stubborn and refused to go.
"Better kill us now if we cannot avoid death, but we will not
become soldiers," they declared.
"Oh! you fools," said the old devil, "soldiers may and may not be
killed; but if you disobey Ivan's orders you will find certain
death at his hands."
The fools remained absorbed in thought for some time and finally
went to Ivan to question him in regard to the matter.
On arriving at his house they said: "A General came to us with an
order from you that we were all to become soldiers, and if we
refused you were to punish us with death. Is it true?"
Ivan began to laugh heartily on hearing this, and said: "Well,
how I alone can punish you with death is something I cannot
understand. If I was not a fool myself I would be able to explain
it to you, but as it is I cannot."
"Well, then, we will not go," they said.
"Very well," replied Ivan, "you need not become soldiers unless
you wish to."
The old devil, seeing his schemes about to prove failures, went
to the ruler of Tarakania and became his friend, saying: "Let us
go and conquer Ivan's kingdom. He has no money, but he has
plenty of cattle, provisions, and various other things that would
be useful to us."
The Tarakanian ruler gathered his large army together, and
equipping it with cannons and rifles, crossed the boundary line
into Ivan's kingdom. The people went to Ivan and said: "The
ruler of Tarakania is here with a large army to fight us."
"Let them come," replied Ivan.
The Tarakanian ruler, after crossing the line into Ivan's
kingdom, looked in vain for soldiers to fight against; and
waiting some time and none appearing, he sent his own warriors to
attack the villages.
They soon reached the first village, which they began to plunder.
The fools of both sexes looked calmly on, offering not the least
resistance when their cattle and provisions were being taken from
them. On the contrary, they invited the soldiers to come and
live with them, saying: "If you, dear friends, find it is
difficult to earn a living in your own land, come and live with
us, where everything is plentiful."
The soldiers decided to remain, finding the people happy and
prosperous, with enough surplus food to supply many of their
neighbors. They were surprised at the cordial greetings which
they everywhere received, and, returning to the ruler of
Tarakania, they said: "We cannot fight with these people--take us
to another place. We would much prefer the dangers of actual
warfare to this unsoldierly method of subduing the village."
The Tarakanian ruler, becoming enraged, ordered the soldiers to
destroy the whole kingdom, plunder the villages, burn the houses
and provisions, and slaughter the cattle.
"Should you disobey my orders," said he, "I will have every one
of you executed."
The soldiers, becoming frightened, started to do as they were
ordered, but the fools wept bitterly, offering no resistance,
men, women, and children all joining in the general
"Why do you treat us so cruelly?" they cried to the invading
soldiers. "Why do you wish to destroy everything we have? If
you have more need of these things than we have, why not take
them with you and leave us in peace?"
The soldiers, becoming saddened with remorse, refused further to
pursue their path of destruction--the entire army scattering in
The old devil, failing to ruin Ivan's kingdom with soldiers,
transformed himself into a nobleman, dressed exquisitely, and
became one of Ivan's subjects, with the intention of compassing
the downfall of his kingdom--as he had done with that of Tarras.
The "nobleman" said to Ivan: "I desire to teach you wisdom and to
render you other service. I will build you a palace and
"Very well," said Ivan; "you may live with us."
The next day the "nobleman" appeared on the Square with a sack of
gold in his hand and a plan for building a house, saying to the
people: "You are living like pigs, and I am going to teach you
how to live decently. You are to build a house for me according
to this plan. I will superintend the work myself, and will pay
you for your services in gold," showing them at the same time the
contents of his sack.
The fools were amused. They had never before seen any money.
Their business was conducted entirely by exchange of farm
products or by hiring themselves out to work by the day in return
for whatever they most needed. They therefore glanced at the
gold pieces with amazement, and said, "What nice toys they would
be to play with!" In return for the gold they gave their
services and brought the "nobleman" the produce of their farms.
The old devil was overjoyed as he thought, "Now my enterprise is
on a fair road and I will be able to ruin the Fool--as I did his
The fools obtained sufficient gold to distribute among the entire
community, the women and young girls of the village wearing much
of it as ornaments, while to the children they gave some pieces
to play with on the streets.
When they had secured all they wanted they stopped working and
the "noblemen" did not get his house more than half finished. He
had neither provisions nor cattle for the year, and ordered the
people to bring him both. He directed them also to go on with
the building of the palace and factories. He promised to pay
them liberally in gold for everything they did. No one responded
to his call--only once in awhile a little boy or girl would call
to exchange eggs for his gold.
Thus was the "nobleman" deserted, and, having nothing to eat, he
went to the village to procure some provisions for his dinner.
He went to one house and offered gold in return for a chicken,
but was refused, the owner saying: "We have enough of that
already and do not want any more."
He next went to a fish-woman to buy some herring, when she, too,
refused to accept his gold in return for fish, saying: "I do not
wish it, my dear man; I have no children to whom I can give it to
play with. I have three pieces which I keep as curiosities
He then went to a peasant to buy bread, but he also refused to
accept the gold. "I have no use for it," said he, "unless you
wish to give it for Christ's sake; then it will be a different
matter, and I will tell my baba [old woman] to cut a piece of
bread for you."
The old devil was so angry that he ran away from the peasant,
spitting and cursing as he went.
Not only did the offer to accept in the name of Christ anger him,
but the very mention of the name was like the thrust of a knife
in his throat.
The old devil did not succeed in getting any bread, and in his
efforts to secure other articles of food he met with the same
failure. The people had all the gold they wanted and what pieces
they had they regarded as curiosities. They said to the old
devil: "If you bring us something else in exchange for food, or
come to ask for Christ's sake, we will give you all you want."
But the old devil had nothing but gold, and was too lazy to work;
and being unable to accept anything for Christ's sake, he was
"What else do you want?" he said. "I will give you gold with
which you can buy everything you want, and you need labor no
But the fools would not accept his gold, nor listen to him. Thus
the old devil was obliged to go to sleep hungry.
Tidings of this condition of affairs soon reached the ears of
Ivan. The people went to him and said: "What shell we do? This
nobleman appeared among us; he is well dressed; he wishes to eat
and drink of the best, but is unwilling to work, and does not beg
for food for Christ's sake. He only offers every one gold
pieces. At first we gave him everything he wanted, taking the
gold pieces in exchange just as curiosities; but now we have
enough of them and refuse to accept any more from him. What
shallwe do with him? he may die of hunger!"
Ivan heard all they had to say, and told them to employ him as a
shepherd, taking turns in doing so.
The old devil saw no other way out of the difficulty and was
obliged to submit.
It soon came the old devil's turn to go to Ivan's house. He went
there to dinner and found Ivan's dumb sister preparing the meal.
She was often cheated by the lazy people, who while they did not
work, yet ate up all the gruel. But she learned to know the lazy
people from the condition of their hands. Those with great welts
on their hands she invited first to the table, and those having
smooth white hands had to take what was left.
The old devil took a seat at the table, but the dumb girl, taking
his hands, looked at them, and seeing them white and clean, and
with long nails, swore at him and put him from the table.
Ivan's wife said to the old devil: "You must excuse my
sister-in-law; she will not allow any one to sit at the table
whose hands have not been hardened by toil, so you will have to
wait until the dinner is over and then you can have what is left.
With it you must be satisfied."
The old devil was very much offended that he was made to eat with
"pigs," as he expressed it, and complained to Ivan, saying: "The
foolish law you have in your kingdom, that all persons must work,
is surely the invention of fools. People who work for a living
are not always forced to labor with their hands. Do you think
wise men labor so?"
Ivan replied: "Well, what do fools know about it? We all work
with our hands."
"And for that reason you are fools," replied the devil. "I can
teach you how to use your brains, and you will find such labor
Ivan was surprised at hearing this, and said:
"Well, it is perhaps not without good reason that we are called
"It is not so easy to work with the brain," the old devil said.
"You will not give me anything to eat because my hands have not
the appearance of being toil-hardened, but you must understand
that it is much harder to do brain-work, and sometimes the head
feels like bursting with the effort it is forced to make."
"Then why do you not select some light work that you can perform
with your hands?" Ivan asked.
The devil said: "I torment myself with brain-work because I have
pity for you fools, for, if I did not torture myself, people like
you would remain fools for all eternity. I have exercised my
brain a great deal during my life, and now I am able to teach
Ivan was greatly surprised and said: "Very well; teach us, so
that when our hands are tired we can use our heads to replace
The devil promised to instruct the people, and Ivan announced the
fact throughout his kingdom.
The devil was willing to teach all those who came to him how to
use the head instead of the hands, so as to produce more with the
former than with the latter.
In Ivan's kingdom there was a high tower, which was reached by a
long, narrow ladder leading up to the balcony, and Ivan told the
old devil that from the top of the tower every one could see him.
So the old devil went up to the balcony and addressed the people.
The fools came in great crowds to hear what the old devil had to
say, thinking that he really meant to tell them how to work with
the head. But the old devil only told them in words what to do,
and did not give them any practical instruction. He said that
men working only with their hands could not make a living. The
fools did not understand what he said to them and looked at him
in amazement, and then departed for their daily work.
The old devil addressed them for two days from the balcony, and
at the end of that time, feeling hungry, he asked the people to
bring him some bread. But they only laughed at him and told him
if he could work better with his head than with his hands he
could also find bread for himself. He addressed the people for
yet another day, and they went to hear him from curiosity, but
soon left him to return to their work.
Ivan asked, "Well, did the nobleman work with his head?"
"Not yet," they said; "so far he has only talked."
One day, while the old devil was standing on the balcony, he
became weak, and, falling down, hurt his head against a pole.
Seeing this, one of the fools ran to Ivan's wife and said, "The
gentleman has at last commenced to work with his head."
She ran to the field to tell Ivan, who was much surprised, and
said, "Let us go and see him."
He turned his horses' heads in the direction of the tower, where
the old devil remained weak from hunger and was still suspended
from the pole, with his body swaying back and forth and his head
striking the lower part of the pole each time it came in contact
with it. While Ivan was looking, the old devil started down the
steps head-first--as they supposed, to count them.
"Well," said Ivan, "he told the truth after all--that sometimes
from this kind of work the head bursts. This is far worse than
welts on the hands."
The old devil fell to the ground head-foremost. Ivan approached
him, but at that instant the ground opened and the devil
disappeared, leaving only a hole to show where he had gone.
Ivan scratched his head and said: "See here; such nastiness!
This is yet another devil. He looks like the father of the
Ivan still lives, and people flock to his kingdom. His brothers
come to him and he feeds them.
To every one who comes to him and says, "Give us food," he
replies: "Very well; you are welcome. We have plenty of
There is only one unchangeable custom observed in Ivan's kingdom:
The man with toil-hardened hands is always given a seat at the
table, while the possessor of soft white hands must be contented
with what is left.
A LOST OPPORTUNITY.
"Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother
sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" . . . .
"So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye
from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their
trespasses."--ST. MATTHEW xviii., 21-35.
In a certain village there lived a peasant by the name of Ivan
Scherbakoff. He was prosperous, strong, and vigorous, and was
considered the hardest worker in the whole village. He had three
sons, who supported themselves by their own labor. The eldest
was married, the second about to be married, and the youngest
took care of the horses and occasionally attended to the
The peasant's wife, Ivanovna, was intelligent and industrious,
while her daughter-in-law was a simple, quiet soul, but a hard
There was only one idle person in the household, and that was
Ivan's father, a very old man who for seven years had suffered
from asthma, and who spent the greater part of his time lying on
the brick oven.
Ivan had plenty of everything--three horses, with one colt, a cow
with calf, and fifteen sheep. The women made the men's clothes,
and in addition to performing all the necessary household labor,
also worked in the field; while the men's industry was confined
altogether to the farm.
What was left of the previous year's supply of provisions was
ample for their needs, and they sold a quantity of oats
sufficient to pay their taxes and other expenses.
Thus life went smoothly for Ivan.
The peasant's next-door neighbor was a son of Gordey Ivanoff,
called "Gavryl the Lame." It once happened that Ivan had a
quarrel with him; but while old man Gordey was yet alive, and
Ivan's father was the head of the household, the two peasants
lived as good neighbors should. If the women of one house
required the use of a sieve or pail, they borrowed it from the
inmates of the other house. The same condition of affairs
existed between the men. They lived more like one family, the
one dividing his possessions with the other, and perfect harmony
reigned between the two families.
If a stray calf or cow invaded the garden of one of the farmers,
the other willingly drove it away, saying: "Be careful, neighbor,
that your stock does not again stray into my garden; we should
put a fence up." In the same way they had no secrets from each
other. The doors of their houses and barns had neither bolts nor
locks, so sure were they of each other's honesty. Not a shadow
of suspicion darkened their daily intercourse.
Thus lived the old people.
In time the younger members of the two households started
farming. It soon became apparent that they would not get along
as peacefully as the old people had done, for they began
quarrelling without the slightest provocation.
A hen belonging to Ivan's daughter-in-law commenced laying eggs,
which the young woman collected each morning, intending to keep
them for the Easter holidays. She made daily visits to the barn,
where, under an old wagon, she was sure to find the precious egg.
One day the children frightened the hen and she flew over their
neighbor's fence and laid her egg in their garden.
Ivan's daughter-in-law heard the hen cackling, but said: "I am
very busy just at present, for this is the eve of a holy day, and
I must clean and arrange this room. I will go for the egg later
When evening came, and she had finished her task, she went to the
barn, and as usual looked under the old wagon, expecting to find
an egg. But, alas! no egg was visible in the accustomed place.
Greatly disappointed, she returned to the house and inquired of
her mother-in-law and the other members of the family if they had
taken it. "No," they said, "we know nothing of it."
Taraska, the youngest brother-in-law, coming in soon after, she
also inquired of him if he knew anything about the missing egg.
"Yes," he replied; "your pretty, crested hen laid her egg in our
neighbors' garden, and after she had finished cackling she flew
back again over the fence."
The young woman, greatly surprised on hearing this, turned and
looked long and seriously at the hen, which was sitting with
closed eyes beside the rooster in the chimney-corner. She asked
the hen where it laid the egg. At the sound of her voice it
simply opened and closed its eyes, but could make no answer.
She then went to the neighbors' house, where she was met by an
old woman, who said: "What do you want, young woman?"
Ivan's daughter-in-law replied: "You see, babushka [grandmother],
my hen flew into your yard this morning. Did she not lay an egg
"We did not see any," the old woman replied; "we have our own
hens--God be praised!--and they have been laying for this long
time. We hunt only for the eggs our own hens lay, and have no
use for the eggs other people's hens lay. Another thing I want
to tell you, young woman: we do not go into other people's yards
to look for eggs."
Now this speech greatly angered the young woman, and she replied
in the same spirit in which she had been spoken to, only using
much stronger language and speaking at greater length.
The neighbor replied in the same angry manner, and finally the
women began to abuse each other and call vile names. It happened
that old Ivan's wife, on her way to the well for water, heard the
dispute, and joined the others, taking her daughter-in-law's
Gavryl's housekeeper, hearing the noise, could not resist the
temptation to join the rest and to make her voice heard. As soon
as she appeared on the scene, she, too, began to abuse her
neighbor, reminding her of many disagreeable things which had
happened (and many which had not happened) between them. She
became so infuriated during her denunciations that she lost all
control of herself, and ran around like some mad creature.
Then all the women began to shout at the same time, each trying
to say two words to another's one, and using the vilest language
in the quarreller's vocabulary.
"You are such and such," shouted one of the women. "You are a
thief, a schlukha [a mean, dirty, low creature]; your
father-in-law is even now starving, and you have no shame. You
beggar, you borrowed my sieve and broke it. You made a large
hole in it, and did not buy me another."
"You have our scale-beam," cried another woman, "and must give it
back to me;" whereupon she seized the scale-beam and tried to
remove it from the shoulders of Ivan's wife.
In the melee which followed they upset the pails of water. They
tore the covering from each other's head, and a general fight
Gavryl's wife had by this time joined in the fracas, and he,
crossing the field and seeing the trouble, came to her rescue.
Ivan and his son, seeing that their womenfolk were being badly
used, jumped into the midst of the fray, and a fearful fight
Ivan was the most powerful peasant in all the country round, and
it did not take him long to disperse the crowd, for they flew in
all directions. During the progress of the fight Ivan tore out a
large quantity of Gavryl's beard.
By this time a large crowd of peasants had collected, and it was
with the greatest difficulty that they persuaded the two families
to stop quarrelling.
This was the beginning.
Gavryl took the portion of his beard which Ivan had torn out,
and, wrapping it in a paper, went to the volostnoye (moujiks'
court) and entered a complaint against Ivan.
Holding up the hair, he said, "I did not grow this for that bear
Ivan to tear out!"
Gavryl's wife went round among the neighbors, telling them that
they must not repeat what she told them, but that she and her
husband were going to get the best of Ivan, and that he was to be
sent to Siberia.
And so the quarrelling went on.
The poor old grandfather, sick with asthma and lying on the brick
oven all the time, tried from the first to dissuade them from
quarrelling, and begged of them to live in peace; but they would
not listen to his good advice. He said to them: "You children
are making a great fuss and much trouble about nothing. I beg of
you to stop and think of what a little thing has caused all this
trouble. It has arisen from only one egg. If our neighbors'
children picked it up, it is all right. God bless them! One egg
is of but little value, and without it God will supply sufficient
for all our needs."
Ivan's daughter-in-law here interposed and said, "But they called
us vile names."
The old grandfather again spoke, saying: "Well, even if they did
call you bad names, it would have been better to return good for
evil, and by your example show them how to speak better. Such
conduct on your part would have been best for all concerned." He
continued: "Well, you had a fight, you wicked people. Such
things sometimes happen, but it would be better if you went
afterward and asked forgiveness and buried your grievances out of
sight. Scatter them to the four winds of heaven, for if you do
not do so it will be the worse for you in the end."
The younger members of the family, still obstinate, refused to
profit by the old man's advice, and declared he was not right,
and that he only liked to grumble in his old-fashioned way.
Ivan refused to go to his neighbor, as the grandfather wished,
saying: "I did not tear out Gavryl's beard. He did it himself,
and his son tore my shirt and trousers into shreds."
Ivan entered suit against Gavryl. He first went to the village
justice, and not getting satisfaction from him he carried his
case to the village court.
While the neighbors were wrangling over the affair, each suing
the other, it happened that a perch-bolt from Gavryl's wagon was
lost; and the women of Gavryl's household accused Ivan's son of
They said: "We saw him in the night-time pass by our window, on
his way to where the wagon was standing." "And my kumushka
[sponsor]," said one of them, "told me that Ivan's son had
offered it for sale at the kabak [tavern]."
This accusation caused them again to go into court for a
settlement of their grievances.
While the heads of the families were trying to have their
troubles settled in court, their home quarrels were constant, and
frequently resulted in hand-to-hand encounters. Even the little
children followed the example of their elders and quarrelled
The women, when they met on the riverbank to do the family
washing, instead of attending to their work passed the time in
abusing each other, and not infrequently they came to blows.
At first the male members of the families were content with
accusing each other of various crimes, such as stealing and like
meannesses. But the trouble in this mild form did not last long.
They soon resorted to other measures. They began to appropriate
one another's things without asking permission, while various
articles disappeared from both houses and could not be found.
This was done out of revenge.
This example being set by the men, the women and children also
followed, and life soon became a burden to all who took part in
Ivan Scherbakoff and "Gavryl the Lame" at last laid their trouble
before the mir (village meeting), in addition to having been in
court and calling on the justice of the peace. Both of the
latter had grown tired of them and their incessant wrangling.
One time Gavryl would succeed in having Ivan fined, and if he was
not able to pay it he would be locked up in the cold dreary
prison for days. Then it would be Ivan's turn to get Gavryl
punished in like manner, and the greater the injury the one could
do the other the more delight he took in it.
The success of either in having the other punished only served to
increase their rage against each other, until they were like mad
dogs in their warfare.
If anything went wrong with one of them he immediately accused
his adversary of conspiring to ruin him, and sought revenge
without stopping to inquire into the rights of the case.
When the peasants went into court, and had each other fined and
imprisoned, it did not soften their hearts in the least. They
would only taunt one another on such occasions, saying: "Never
mind; I will repay you for all this."
This state of affairs lasted for six years.
Ivan's father, the sick old man, constantly repeated his good
advice. He would try to arouse their conscience by saying: "What
are you doing, my children? Can you not throw off all these
troubles, pay more attention to your business, and suppress your
anger against your neighbors? There is no use in your continuing
to live in this way, for the more enraged you become against each
other the worse it is for you."
Again was the wise advice of the old man rejected.
At the beginning of the seventh year of the existence of the feud
it happened that a daughter-in-law of Ivan's was present at a
marriage. At the wedding feast she openly accused Gavryl of
stealing a horse. Gavryl was intoxicated at the time and was in
no mood to stand the insult, so in retaliation he struck the
woman a terrific blow, which confined her to her bed for more
than a week. The woman being in delicate health, the worst
results were feared.
Ivan, glad of a fresh opportunity to harass his neighbor, lodged
a formal complaint before the district-attorney, hoping to rid
himself forever of Gavryl by having him sent to Siberia.
On examining the complaint the district-attorney would not
consider it, as by that time the injured woman was walking about
and as well as ever.
Thus again Ivan was disappointed in obtaining his revenge, and,
not being satisfied with the district-attorney's decision, had
the case transferred to the court, where he used all possible
means to push his suit. To secure the favor of the starshina
(village mayor) he made him a present of half a gallon of sweet
vodki; and to the mayor's pisar (secretary) also he gave
presents. By this means he succeeded in securing a verdict
against Gavryl. The sentence was that Gavryl was to receive
twenty lashes on his bare back, and the punishment was to be
administered in the yard which surrounded the court-house.
When Ivan heard the sentence read he looked triumphantly at
Gavryl to see what effect it would produce on him. Gavryl turned
very white on hearing that he was to be treated with such
indignity, and turning his back on the assembly left the room
without uttering a word.
Ivan followed him out, and as he reached his horse he heard
Gavryl saying: "Very well; my spine will burn from the lashes,
but something will burn with greater fierceness in Ivan's
household before long."
Ivan, on hearing these words, instantly returned to the court,
and going up to the judges said: "Oh! just judges, he threatens
to burn my house and all it contains."
A messenger was immediately sent in search of Gavryl, who was
soon found and again brought into the presence of the judges.
"Is it true," they asked, "that you said you would burn Ivan's
house and all it contained?"
Gavryl replied: "I did not say anything of the kind. You may
give me as many lashes as you please--that is, if you have the
power to do so. It seems to me that I alone have to suffer for
the truth, while he," pointing to Ivan, "is allowed to do and say
what he pleases." Gavryl wished to say something more, but his
lips trembled, and the words refused to come; so in silence he
turned his face toward the wall.
The sight of so much suffering moved even the judges to pity,
and, becoming alarmed at Gavryl's continued silence, they said,
"He may do both his neighbor and himself some frightful injury."
"See here, my brothers," said one feeble old judge, looking at
Ivan and Gavryl as he spoke, "I think you had better try to
arrange this matter peaceably. You, brother Gavryl, did wrong to
strike a woman who was in delicate health. It was a lucky thing
for you that God had mercy on you and that the woman did not die,
for if she had I know not what dire misfortune might have
overtaken you! It will not do either of you any good to go on
living as you are at present. Go, Gavryl, and make friends with
Ivan; I am sure he will forgive you, and we will set aside the
verdict just given."
The secretary on hearing this said: "It is impossible to do this
on the present case. According to Article 117 this matter has
gone too far to be settled peaceably now, as the verdict has been
rendered and must be enforced."
But the judges would not listen to the secretary, saying to him:
"You talk altogether too much. You must remember that the first
thing is to fulfill God's command to 'Love thy neighbor as
thyself,' and all will be well with you."
Thus with kind words the judges tried to reconcile the two
peasants. Their words fell on stony ground, however, for Gavryl
would not listen to them.
"I am fifty years old," said Gavryl, "and have a son married, and
never from my birth has the lash been applied to my back; but now
this bear Ivan has secured a verdict against me which condemns me
to receive twenty lashes, and I am forced to bow to this decision
and suffer the shame of a public beating. Well, he will have
cause to remember this."
At this Gavryl's voice trembled and he stopped speaking, and
turning his back on the judges took his departure.
It was about ten versts' distance from the court to the homes of
the neighbors, and this Ivan travelled late. The women had
already gone out for the cattle. He unharnessed his horse and
put everything in its place, and then went into the izba (room),
but found no one there.
The men had not yet returned from their work in the field and the
women had gone to look for the cattle, so that all about the
place was quiet. Going into the room, Ivan seated himself on a
wooden bench and soon became lost in thought. He remembered how,
when Gavryl first heard the sentence which had been passed upon
him, he grew very pale, and turned his face to the wall, all the
while remaining silent.
Ivan's heart ached when he thought of the disgrace which he had
been the means of bring- ing upon Gavryl, and he wondered how he
would feel if the same sentence had been passed upon him. His
thoughts were interrupted by the coughing of his father, who was
lying on the oven.
The old man, on seeing Ivan, came down off the oven, and slowly
approaching his son seated himself on the bench beside him,
looking at him as though ashamed. He continued to cough as he
leaned on the table and said, "Well, did they sentence him?"
"Yes, they sentenced him to receive twenty lashes," replied Ivan.
On hearing this the old man sorrowfully shook his head, and said:
"This is very bad, Ivan, and what is the meaning of it all? It
is indeed very bad, but not so bad for Gavryl as for yourself.
Well, suppose his sentence IS carried out, and he gets the twenty
lashes, what will it benefit you?"
"He will not again strike a woman," Ivan replied.
"What is it he will not do? He does not do anything worse than
what you are constantly doing!"
This conversation enraged Ivan, and he shouted: "Well, what did
he do? He beat a woman nearly to death, and even now he
threatens to burn my house! Must I bow to him for all this?"
The old man sighed deeply as he said: "You, Ivan, are strong and
free to go wherever you please, while I have been lying for years
on the oven. You think that you know everything and that I do
not know anything. No! you are still a child, and as such you
cannot see that a kind of madness controls your actions and
blinds your sight. The sins of others are ever before you, while
you resolutely keep your own behind your back. I know that what
Gavryl did was wrong, but if he alone should do wrong there would
be no evil in the world. Do you think that all the evil in the
world is the work of one man alone? No! it requires two persons
to work much evil in the world. You see only the bad in Gavryl's
character, but you are blind to the evil that is in your own
nature. If he alone were bad and you good, then there would be
The old man, after a pause, continued: "Who tore Gavryl's beard?
Who destroyed his heaps of rye? Who dragged him into court?--and
yet you try to put all the blame on his shoulders. You are
behaving very badly yourself, and for that reason you are wrong.
I did not act in such a manner, and certainly I never taught you
to do so. I lived in peace with Gavryl's father all the time we
were neighbors. We were always the best of friends. If he was
without flour his wife would come to me and say, 'Diadia Frol
[Grandfather], we need flour.' I would then say: 'My good woman,
go to the warehouse and take as much as you want.' If he had no
one to care for his horses I would say, 'Go, Ivanushka
[diminutive of Ivan], and help him to care for them.' If I
required anything I would go to him and say, 'Grandfather Gordey,
I need this or that,' and he would always reply, 'Take just
whatever you want.' By this means we passed an easy and peaceful
life. But what is your life compared with it? As the soldiers
fought at Plevna, so are you and Gavryl fighting all the time,
only that your battles are far more disgraceful than that fought
The old man went on: "And you call this living! and what a sin it
all is! You are a peasant, and the head of the house; therefore,
the responsibility of the trouble rests with you. What an
example you set your wife and children by constantly quarrelling
with your neighbor! Only a short time since your little boy,
Taraska, was cursing his aunt Arina, and his mother only laughed
at it, saying, 'What a bright child he is!' Is that right? You
are to blame for all this. You should think of the salvation of
your soul. Is that the way to do it? You say one unkind word to
me and I will reply with two. You will give me one slap in the
face, and I will retaliate with two slaps. No, my son; Christ
did not teach us foolish people to act in such a way. If any one
should say an unkind word to you it is better not to answer at
all; but if you do reply do it kindly, and his conscience will
accuse him, and he will regret his unkindness to you. This is
the way Christ taught us to live. He tells us that if a person
smite us on the one cheek we should offer unto him the other.
That is Christ's command to us, and we should follow it. You
should therefore subdue your pride. Am I not right?"
Ivan remained silent, but his father's words had sunk deep into
The old man coughed and continued: "Do you think Christ thought
us wicked? Did he not die that we might be saved? Now you think
only of this earthly life. Are you better or worse for thinking
alone of it? Are you better or worse for having begun that
Plevna battle? Think of your expense at court and the time lost
in going back and forth, and what have you gained? Your sons
have reached manhood, and are able now to work for you. You are
therefore at liberty to enjoy life and be happy. With the
assistance of your children you could reach a high state of
prosperity. But now your property instead of increasing is
gradually growing less, and why? It is the result of your pride.
When it becomes necessary for you and your boys to go to the
field to work, your enemy instead summons you to appear at court
or before some kind of judicial person. If you do not plow at the
proper time and sow at the proper time mother earth will not
yield up her products, and you and your children will be left
destitute. Why did your oats fail this year? When did you sow
them? Were you not quarrelling with your neighbor instead of
attending to your work? You have just now returned from the
town, where you have been the means of having your neighbor
humiliated. You have succeeded in getting him sentenced, but in
the end the punishment will fall on your own shoulders. Oh! my
child, it would be better for you to attend to your work on the
farm and train your boys to become good farmers and honest men.
If any one offend you forgive him for Christ's sake, and then
prosperity will smile on your work and a light and happy feeling
will fill your heart."
Ivan still remained silent.
The old father in a pleading voice continued: "Take an old man's
advice. Go and harness your horse, drive back to the court, and
withdraw all these complaints against your neighbor. To-morrow
go to him, offer to make peace in Christ's name, and invite him
to your house. It will be a holy day (the birth of the Virgin
Mary). Get out the samovar and have some vodki, and over both
forgive and forget each other's sins, promising not to transgress
in the future, and advise your women and children to do the
Ivan heaved a deep sigh but felt easier in his heart, as he
thought: "The old man speaks the truth;" yet he was in doubt as
to how he would put his father's advice into practice.
The old man, surmising his uncertainty, said to Ivan: "Go,
Ivanushka; do not delay. Extinguish the fire in the beginning,
before it grows large, for then it may be impossible."
Ivan's father wished to say more to him, but was prevented by the
arrival of the women, who came into the room chattering like so
many magpies. They had already heard of Gavryl's sentence, and
of how he threatened to set fire to Ivan's house. They found out
all about it, and in telling it to their neighbors added their
own versions of the story, with the usual exaggeration. Meeting
in the pasture-ground, they proceeded to quarrel with Gavryl's
women. They related how the latter's daughter-in-law had
threatened to secure the influence of the manager of a certain
noble's estate in behalf of his friend Gavryl; also that the
school-teacher was writing a petition to the Czar himself against
Ivan, explaining in detail his theft of the perchbolt and partial
destruction of Gavryl's garden--declaring that half of Ivan's
land was to be given to them.
Ivan listened calmly to their stories, but his anger was soon
aroused once more, when he abandoned his intention of making
peace with Gavryl.
As Ivan was always busy about the household, he did not stop to
speak to the wrangling women, but immediately left the room,
directing his steps toward the barn. Before getting through with
his work the sun had set and the boys had returned from their
plowing. Ivan met them and asked about their work, helping them
to put things in order and leaving the broken horse-collar aside
to be repaired. He intended to perform some other duties, but it
became too dark and he was obliged to leave them till the next
day. He fed the cattle, however, and opened the gate that
Taraska might take his horses to pasture for the night, after
which he closed it again and went into the house for his supper.
By this time he had forgotten all about Gavryl and what his
father had said to him. Yet, just as he touched the door-knob,
he heard sounds of quarrelling proceeding from his neighbor's
"What do I want with that devil?" shouted Gavryl to some one.
"He deserves to be killed!"
Ivan stopped and listened for a moment, when he shook his head
threateningly and entered the room. When he came in, the
apartment was already lighted. His daughter-in-law was working
with her loom, while the old woman was preparing the supper. The
eldest son was twining strings for his lapti (peasant's shoes
made of strips of bark from the linden-tree). The other son was
sitting by the table reading a book. The room presented a
pleasant appearance, everything being in order and the inmates
apparently gay and happy--the only dark shadow being that cast
over the household by Ivan's trouble with his neighbor.
Ivan came in very cross, and, angrily throwing aside a cat which
lay sleeping on the bench, cursed the women for having misplaced
a pail. He looked very sad and serious, and, seating himself in
a corner of the room, proceeded to repair the horse-collar. He
could not forget Gavryl, however--the threatening words he had
used in the court-room and those which Ivan had just heard.
Presently Taraska came in, and after having his supper, put on
his sheepskin coat, and, taking some bread with him, returned to
watch over his horses for the night. His eldest brother wished
to accompany him, but Ivan himself arose and went with him as far
as the porch. The night was dark and cloudy and a strong wind
was blowing, which produced a peculiar whistling sound that was
most unpleasant to the ear. Ivan helped his son to mount his
horse, which, followed by a colt, started off on a gallop.
Ivan stood for a few moments looking around him and listening to
the clatter of the horse's hoofs as Taraska rode down the village
street. He heard him meet other boys on horseback, who rode quite
as well as Taraska, and soon all were lost in the darkness.
Ivan remained standing by the gate in a gloomy mood, as he was
unable to banish from his mind the harassing thoughts of Gavryl,
which the latter's menacing words had inspired: "Something will
burn with greater fierceness in Ivan's household before long."
"He is so desperate," thought Ivan, "that he may set fire to my
house regardless of the danger to his own. At present everything
is dry, and as the wind is so high he may sneak from the back of
his own building, start a fire, and get away unseen by any of us.
He may burn and steal without being found out, and thus go
unpunished. I wish I could catch him."
This thought so worried Ivan that he decided not to return to his
house, but went out and stood on the street-corner.
"I guess," thought Ivan to himself, "I will take a walk around
the premises and examine everything carefully, for who knows what
he may be tempted to do?"
Ivan moved very cautiously round to the back of his buildings,
not making the slightest noise, and scarcely daring to breathe.
Just as he reached a corner of the house he looked toward the
fence, and it seemed to him that he saw something moving, and
that it was slowly creeping toward the corner of the house
opposite to where he was standing. He stepped back quickly and
hid himself in the shadow of the building. Ivan stood and
listened, but all was quiet. Not a sound could be heard but the
moaning of the wind through the branches of the trees, and the
rustling of the leaves as it caught them up and whirled them in
all directions. So dense was the darkness that it was at first
impossible for Ivan to see more than a few feet beyond where he
After a time, however, his sight becoming accustomed to the
gloom, he was enabled to see for a considerable distance. The
plow and his other farming implements stood just where he had
placed them. He could see also the opposite corner of the house.
He looked in every direction, but no one was in sight, and he
thought to himself that his imagination must have played him some
trick, leading him to believe that some one was moving when there
really was no one there.
Still, Ivan was not satisfied, and decided to make a further
examination of the premises. As on the previous occasion, he
moved so very cautiously that he could not hear even the sound of
his own footsteps. He had taken the precaution to remove his
shoes, that he might step the more noiselessly. When he reached
the corner of the barn it again seemed to him that he saw
something moving, this time near the plow; but it quickly
disappeared. By this time Ivan's heart was beating very fast,
and he was standing in a listening attitude when a sudden flash
of light illumined the spot, and he could distinctly see the
figure of a man seated on his haunches with his back turned
toward him, and in the act of lighting a bunch of straw which he
held in his hand! Ivan's heart began to beat yet faster, and he
became terribly excited, walking up and down with rapid strides,
but without making a noise.
Ivan said: "Well, now, he cannot get away, for he will be caught
in the very act."
Ivan had taken a few more steps when suddenly a bright light
flamed up, but not in the same spot in which he had seen the
figure of the man sitting. Gavryl had lighted the straw, and
running to the barn held it under the edge of the roof, which
began to burn fiercely; and by the light of the fire he could
distinctly see his neighbor standing.
As an eagle springs at a skylark, so sprang Ivan at Gavryl,
saying: "I will tear you into pieces! You shall not get away
from me this time!"
But "Gavryl the Lame," hearing footsteps, wrenched himself free
from Ivan's grasp and ran like a hare past the buildings.
Ivan, now terribly excited, shouted, "You shall not escape me!"
and started in pursuit; but just as he reached him and was about
to grasp the collar of his coat, Gavryl succeeded in jumping to
one side, and Ivan's coat became entangled in something and he
was thrown violently to the ground. Jumping quickly to his feet
he shouted, "Karaool! derji!"(watch! catch!)
While Ivan was regaining his feet Gavryl succeeded in reaching
his house, but Ivan followed so quickly that he caught up with
him before he could enter. Just as he was about to grasp him he
was struck on the head with some hard substance. He had been hit
on the temple as with a stone. The blow was struck by Gavryl,
who had picked up an oaken stave, and with it gave Ivan a
terrible blow on the head.
Ivan was stunned, and bright sparks danced before his eyes, while
he swayed from side to side like a drunken man, until finally all
became dark and he sank to the ground unconscious.
When he recovered his senses, Gavryl was nowhere to be seen, but
all around him was as light as day. Strange sounds proceeded
from the direction of his house, and turning his face that way he
saw that his barns were on fire. The rear parts of both were
already destroyed, and the flames were leaping toward the front.
Fire, smoke, and bits of burning straw were being rapidly whirled
by the high wind over to where his house stood, and he expected
every moment to see it burst into flames.
"What is this, brother?" Ivan cried out, as he beat his thighs
with his hands. "I should have stopped to snatch the bunch of
burning straw, and, throwing it on the ground, should have
extinguished it with my feet!"
Ivan tried to cry out and arouse his people, but his lips refused
to utter a word. He next tried to run, but he could not move his
feet, and his legs seemed to twist themselves around each other.
After several attempts he succeeded in taking one or two steps,
when he again began to stagger and gasp for breath. It was some
moments before he made another attempt to move, but after
considerable exertion he finally reached the barn, the rear of
which was by this time entirely consumed; and the corner of his
house had already caught fire. Dense volumes of smoke began to
pour out of the room, which made it difficult to approach.
A crowd of peasants had by this time gathered, but they found it
impossible to save their homes, so they carried everything which
they could to a place of safety. The cattle they drove into
neighboring pastures and left some one to care for them.
The wind carried the sparks from Ivan's house to Gavryl's, and
it, too, took fire and was consumed. The wind continued to
increase with great fury, and the flames spread to both sides of
the street, until in a very short time more than half the village
The members of Ivan's household had great difficulty in getting
out of the burning building, but the neighbors rescued the old
man and carried him to a place of safety, while the women escaped
in only their night-clothes. Everything was burned, including
the cattle and all the farm implements. The women lost their
trunks, which were filled with quantities of clothing, the
accumulation of years. The storehouse and all the provisions
perished in the flames, not even the chickens being saved.
Gavryl, however, more fortunate than Ivan, saved his cattle and a
few other things.
The village was burning all night.
Ivan stood near his home, gazing sadly at the burning building,
and he kept constantly repeating to himself: "I should have taken
away the bunch of burning straw, and have stamped out the fire
with my feet."
But when he saw his home fall in a smouldering heap, in spite of
the terrible heat he sprang into the midst of it and carried out
a charred log. The women seeing him, and fearing that he would
lose his life, called to him to come back, but he would not pay
any attention to them and went a second time to get a log. Still
weak from the terrible blow which Gavryl had given him, he was
overcome by the heat, and fell into the midst of the burning
mass. Fortunately, his eldest son saw him fall, and rushing into
the fire succeeded in getting hold of him and carrying him out of
it. Ivan's hair, beard, and clothing were burned entirely off.
His hands were also frightfully injured, but he seemed
indifferent to pain.
"Grief drove him crazy," the people said.
The fire was growing less, but Ivan still stood where he could
see it, and kept repeating to himself, "I should have taken,"
The morning after the fire the starosta (village elder) sent his
son to Ivan to tell him that the old man, his father, was dying,
and wanted to see him to bid him good-bye.
In his grief Ivan had forgotten all about his father, and could
not understand what was being said to him. In a dazed way he
asked: "What father? Whom does he want?"
The elder's son again repeated his father's message to Ivan.
"Your aged parent is at our house dying, and he wants to see you
and bid you good-bye. Won't you go now, uncle Ivan?" the boy
Finally Ivan understood, and followed the elder's son.
When Ivan's father was carried from the oven, he was slightly
injured by a big bunch of burning straw falling on him just as he
reached the street. To insure his safety he was removed to the
elder's house, which stood a considerable distance from his late
home, and where it was not likely that the fire would reach it.
When Ivan arrived at the elder's home he found only the latter's
wife and children, who were all seated on the brick oven. The
old man was lying on a bench holding a lighted candle in his hand
(a Russian custom when a person is dying). Hearing a noise, he
turned his face toward the door, and when he saw it was his son
he tried to move. He motioned for Ivan to come nearer, and when
he did so he whispered in a trembling voice: "Well, Ivanushka,
did I not tell you before what would be the result of this sad
affair? Who set the village on fire?"
"He, he, batiushka [little father]; he did it. I caught him. He
placed the bunch of burning straw to the barn in my presence.
Instead of running after him, I should have snatched the bunch of
burning straw and throwing it on the ground have stamped it out
with my feet; and then there would have been no fire."
"Ivan," said the old man, "death is fast approaching me, and
remember that you also will have to die. Who did this dreadful
thing? Whose is the sin?"
Ivan gazed at the noble face of his dying father and was silent.
His heart was too full for utterance.
"In the presence of God," the old man continued, "whose is the
It was only now that the truth began to dawn upon Ivan's mind,
and that he realized how foolish he had acted. He sobbed
bitterly, and fell on his knees before his father, and, crying
like a child, said:
"My dear father, forgive me, for Christ's sake, for I am guilty
before God and before you!"
The old man transferred the lighted candle from his right hand to
the left, and, raising the former to his forehead, tried to make
the sign of the cross, but owing to weakness was unable to do so.
"Glory to Thee, O Lord! Glory to Thee!" he exclaimed; and
turning his dim eyes toward his son, he said: "See here,
Ivanushka! Ivanushka, my dear son!"
"What, my dear father?" Ivan asked.
"What are you going to do," replied the old man, "now that you
have no home?"
Ivan cried and said: "I do not know how we shall live now."
The old man closed his eyes and made a movement with his lips, as
if gathering his feeble strength for a final effort. Slowly
opening his eyes, he whispered:
"Should you live according to God's commands you will be happy
and prosperous again."
The old man was now silent for awhile and then, smiling sadly, he
"See here, Ivanushka, keep silent concerning this trouble, and do
not tell who set the village on fire. Forgive one sin of your
neighbor's, and God will forgive two of yours."
Grasping the candle with both hands, Ivan's father heaved a deep
sigh, and, stretching himself out on his back, yielded up the
* * * * * * *
Ivan for once accepted his father's advice. He did not betray
Gavryl, and no one ever learned the origin of the fire.
Ivan's heart became more kindly disposed toward his old enemy,
feeling that much of the fault in connection with this sad affair
rested with himself.
Gavryl was greatly surprised that Ivan did not denounce him
before all the villagers, and at first he stood in much fear of
him, but he soon afterward overcame this feeling.
The two peasants ceased to quarrel, and their families followed
their example. While they were building new houses, both
families lived beneath the same roof, and when they moved into
their respective homes, Ivan and Gavryl lived on as good terms as
their fathers had done before them.
Ivan remembered his dying father's command, and took deeply to
heart the evident warning of God that A FIRE SHOULD BE
EXTINGUISHED IN THE BEGINNING. If any one wronged him he did not
seek revenge, but instead made every effort to settle the matter
peaceably. If any one spoke to him unkindly, he did not answer
in the same way, but replied softly, and tried to persuade the
person not to speak evil. He taught the women and children of
his household to do the same.
Ivan Scherbakoff was now a reformed man.
He lived well and peacefully, and again became prosperous.
Let us, therefore, have peace, live in brotherly love and
kindness, and we will be happy.
"POLIKUSHKA;" OR, The Lot of a Wicked Court Servant.
Polikey was a court man--one of the staff of servants belonging
to the court household of a boyarinia (lady of the nobility).
He held a very insignificant position on the estate, and lived in
a rather poor, small house with his wife and children.
The house was built by the deceased nobleman whose widow he still
continued to serve, and may be described as follows: The four
walls surrounding the one izba (room) were built of stone, and
the interior was ten yards square. A Russian stove stood in the
centre, around which was a free passage. Each corner was fenced
off as a separate inclosure to the extent of several feet, and
the one nearest to the door (the smallest of all) was known as
"Polikey's corner." Elsewhere in the room stood the bed (with
quilt, sheet, and cotton pillows), the cradle (with a baby lying
therein), and the three-legged table, on which the meals were
prepared and the family washing was done. At the latter also
Polikey was at work on the preparation of some materials for use
in his profession--that of an amateur veterinary surgeon. A
calf, some hens, the family clothes and household utensils,
together with seven persons, filled the little home to the utmost
of its capacity. It would indeed have been almost impossible for
them to move around had it not been for the convenience of the
stove, on which some of them slept at night, and which served as
a table in the day-time.
It seemed hard to realize how so many persons managed to live in
such close quarters.
Polikey's wife, Akulina, did the washing, spun and wove, bleached
her linen, cooked and baked, and found time also to quarrel and
gossip with her neighbors.
The monthly allowance of food which they received from the
noblewoman's house was amply sufficient for the whole family, and
there was always enough meal left to make mash for the cow.
Their fuel they got free, and likewise the food for the cattle.
In addition they were given a small piece of land on which to
raise vegetables. They had a cow, a calf, and a number of
chickens to care for.
Polikey was employed in the stables to take care of two
stallions, and, when necessary, to bleed the horses and cattle
and clean their hoofs.
In his treatment of the animals he used syringes, plasters, and
various other remedies and appliances of his own invention. For
these services he received whatever provisions were required by
his family, and a certain sum of money--all of which would have
been sufficient to enable them to live comfortably and even
happily, if their hearts had not been filled with the shadow of a
This shadow darkened the lives of the entire family.
Polikey, while young, was employed in a horse-breeding
establishment in a neighboring village. The head stableman was a
notorious horse-thief, known far and wide as a great rogue, who,
for his many misdeeds, was finally exiled to Siberia. Under his
instruction Polikey underwent a course of training, and, being
but a boy, was easily induced to perform many evil deeds. He
became so expert in the various kinds of wickedness practiced by
his teacher that, though he many times would gladly have
abandoned his evil ways, he could not, owing to the great hold
these early-formed habits had upon him. His father and mother
died when he was but a child, and he had no one to point out to
him the paths of virtue.
In addition to his other numerous shortcomings, Polikey was fond
of strong drink. He also had a habit of appropriating other
people's property, when the opportunity offered of his doing so
without being seen. Collar-straps, padlocks, perch-bolts, and
things even of greater value belonging to others found their way
with remarkable rapidity and in great quantities to Polikey's
home. He did not, however, keep such things for his own use, but
sold them whenever he could find a purchaser. His payment
consisted chiefly of whiskey, though sometimes he received cash.
This sort of employment, as his neighbors said, was both light
and profitable; it required neither education nor labor. It had
one drawback, however, which was calculated to reconcile his
victims to their losses: Though he could for a time have all his
needs supplied without expending either labor or money, there was
always the possibility of his methods being discovered; and this
result was sure to be followed by a long term of imprisonment.
This impending danger made life a burden for Polikey and his
Such a setback indeed very nearly happened to Polikey early in
his career. He married while still young, and God gave him much
happiness. His wife, who was a shepherd's daughter, was a
strong, intelligent, hard-working woman. She bore him many
children, each of whom was said to be better than the preceding
Polikey still continued to steal, but once was caught with some
small articles belonging to others in his possession. Among them
was a pair of leather reins, the property of another peasant, who
beat him severely and reported him to his mistress.
From that time on Polikey was an object of suspicion, and he was
twice again detected in similar escapades. By this time the
people began to abuse him, and the clerk of the court threatened
to recruit him into the army as a soldier (which is regarded by
the peasants as a great punishment and disgrace). His noble
mistress severely reprimanded him; his wife wept from grief for
his downfall, and everything went from bad to worse.
Polikey, notwithstanding his weakness, was a good-natured sort of
man, but his love of strong drink had so overcome every moral
instinct that at times he was scarcely responsible for his
actions. This habit he vainly endeavored to overcome. It often
happened that when he returned home intoxicated, his wife, losing
all patience, roundly cursed him and cruelly beat him. At times
he would cry like a child, and bemoan his fate, saying:
"Unfortunate man that I am, what shall I do? LET MY EYES BURST
INTO PIECES if I do not forever give up the vile habit! I will
not again touch vodki."
In spite of all his promises of reform, but a short period
(perhaps a month) would elapse when Polikey would again
mysteriously disappear from his home and be lost for several days
on a spree.
"From what source does he get the money he spends so freely?" the
neighbors inquired of each other, as they sadly shook their
One of his most unfortunate exploits in the matter of stealing
was in connection with a clock which belonged to the estate of
his mistress. The clock stood in the private office of the
noblewoman, and was so old as to have outlived its usefulness,
and was simply kept as an heirloom. It so happened that Polikey
went into the office one day when no one was present but himself,
and, seeing the old clock, it seemed to possess a peculiar
fascination for him, and he speedily transferred it to his
person. He carried it to a town not far from the village, where
he very readily found a purchaser.
As if purposely to secure his punishment, it happened that the
storekeeper to whom he sold it proved to be a relative of one of
the court servants, and who, when he visited his friend on the
next holiday, related all about his purchase of the clock.
An investigation was immediately instituted, and all the details
of Polikey's transaction were brought to light and reported to
his noble mistress. He was called into her presence, and, when
confronted with the story of the theft, broke down and confessed
all. He fell on his knees before the noblewoman and plead with
her for mercy. The kind-hearted lady lectured him about God, the
salvation of his soul, and his future life. She talked to him
also about the misery and disgrace he brought upon his family,
and altogether so worked upon his feelings that he cried like a
child. In conclusion his kind mistress said: "I will forgive you
this time on the condition that you promise faithfully to reform,
and never again to take what does not belong to you."
Polikey, still weeping, replied: "I will never steal again in all
my life, and if I break my promise may the earth open and swallow
me up, and let my body be burned with red-hot irons!"
Polikey returned to his home, and throwing himself on the oven
spent the entire day weeping and repeating the promise made to
From that time on he was not again caught stealing, but his life
became extremely sad, for he was regarded with suspicion by every
one and pointed to as a thief.
When the time came round for securing recruits for the army, all
the peasants singled out Polikey as the first to be taken. The
superintendent was especially anxious to get rid of him, and went
to his mistress to induce her to have him sent away. The
kind-hearted and merciful woman, remembering the peasant's
repentance, refused to grant the superintendent's request, and
told him he must take some other man in his stead.
One evening Polikey was sitting on his bed beside the table,
preparing some medicine for the cattle, when suddenly the door
was thrown wide open, and Aksiutka, a young girl from the court,
rushed in. Almost out of breath, she said: "My mistress has
ordered you, Polikey Illitch [son of Ilia], to come up to the
court at once!"
The girl was standing and still breathing heavily from her late
exertion as she continued: "Egor Mikhailovitch, the
superintendent, has been to see our lady about having you drafted
into the army, and, Polikey Illitch, your name was mentioned
among others. Our lady has sent me to tell you to come up to the
As soon as Aksiutka had delivered her message she left the room
in the same abrupt manner in which she had entered.
Akulina, without saying a word, got up and brought her husband's
boots to him. They were poor, worn-out things which some soldier
had given him, and his wife did not glance at him as she handed
them to him.
"Are you going to change your shirt, Illitch?" she asked, at
"No," replied Polikey.
Akulina did not once look at him all the time he was putting on
his boots and preparing to go to the court. Perhaps, after all,
it was better that she did not do so. His face was very pale and
his lips trembled. He slowly combed his hair and was about to
depart without saying a word, when his wife stopped him to
arrange the ribbon on his shirt, and, after toying a little with
his coat, she put his hat on for him and he left the little home.
Polikey's next-door neighbors were a joiner and his wife. A thin
partition only separated the two families, and each could hear
what the other said and did. Soon after Polikey's departure a
woman was heard to say: "Well, Polikey Illitch, so your mistress
has sent for you!"
The voice was that of the joiner's wife on the other side of the
partition. Akulina and the woman had quarrelled that morning
about some trifling thing done by one of Polikey's children, and
it afforded her the greatest pleasure to learn that her neighbor
had been summoned into the presence of his noble mistress. She
looked upon such a circumstance as a bad omen. She continued
talking to herself and said: "Perhaps she wants to send him to
the town to make some purchases for her household. I did not
suppose she would select such a faithful man as you are to
perform such a service for her. If it should prove that she DOES
want to send you to the next town, just buy me a quarter-pound of
tea. Will you, Polikey Illitch?"
Poor Akulina, on hearing the joiner's wife talking so unkindly of
her husband, could hardly suppress the tears, and, the tirade
continuing, she at last became angry, and wished she could in
some way punish her.
Forgetting her neighbor's unkindness, her thoughts soon turned in
another direction, and glancing at her sleeping children she said
to herself that they might soon be orphans and she herself a
soldier's widow. This thought greatly distressed her, and
burying her face in her hands she seated herself on the bed,
where several of her progeny were fast asleep. Presently a
little voice interrupted her meditations by crying out, "Mamushka
[little mother], you are crushing me," and the child pulled her
nightdress from under her mother's arms.
Akulina, with her head still resting on her hands, said: "Perhaps
it would be better if we all should die. I only seem to have
brought you into the world to suffer sorrow and misery."
Unable longer to control her grief, she burst into violent
weeping, which served to increase the amusement of the joiner's
wife, who had not forgotten the morning's squabble, and she
laughed loudly at her neighbor's woe.
About half an hour had passed when the youngest child began to
cry and Akulina arose to feed it. She had by this time ceased to
weep, and after feeding the infant she again fell into her old
position, with her face buried in her hands. She was very pale,
but this only increased her beauty. After a time she raised her
head, and staring at the burning candle she began to question
herself as to why she had married, and as to the reason that the
Czar required so many soldiers.
Presently she heard steps outside, and knew that her husband was
returning. She hurriedly wiped away the last traces of her tears
as she arose to let him pass into the centre of the room.
Polikey made his appearance with a look of triumph on his face,
threw his hat on the bed, and hastily removed his coat; but not a
word did he utter.
Akulina, unable to restrain her impatience, asked, "Well, what
did she want with you?"
"Pshaw!" he replied, "it is very well known that Polikushka is
considered the worst man in the village; but when it comes to
business of importance, who is selected then? Why, Polikushka,
"What kind of business?" Akulina timidly inquired.
But Polikey was in no hurry to answer her question. He lighted
his pipe with a very imposing air, and spit several times on the
floor before he replied.
Still retaining his pompous manner, he said, "She has ordered me
to go to a certain merchant in the town and collect a
considerable sum of money."
"You to collect money?" questioned Akulina.
Polikey only shook his head and smiled significantly, saying:
"'You,' the mistress said to me, 'are a man resting under a grave
suspicion--a man who is considered unsafe to trust in any
capacity; but I have faith in you, and will intrust you with this
important business of mine in preference to any one else.'"
Polikey related all this in a loud voice, so that his neighbor
might hear what he had to say.
"'You promised me to reform,' my noble mistress said to me, 'and
I will be the first to show you how much faith I have in your
promise. I want you to ride into town, and, going to the
principal merchant there, collect a sum of money from him and
bring it to me.' I said to my mistress: 'Everything you order
shall be done. I will only too gladly obey your slightest wish.'
Then my mistress said: 'Do you understand, Polikey, that your
future lot depends upon the faithful performance of this duty I
impose upon you?' I replied: 'Yes, I understand everything, and
feel that I will suceed in performing acceptably any task which
you may impose upon me. I have been accused of every kind of
evil deed that it is possible to charge a man with, but I have
never done anything seriously wrong against you, your honor.' In
this way I talked to our mistress until I succeeded in convincing
her that my repentance was sincere, and she became greatly
softened toward me, saying, 'If you are successful I will give
you the first place at the court.'"
"And how much money are you to collect?" inquired Akulina.
"Fifteen hundred rubles," carelessly answered Polikey.
Akulina sadly shook her head as she asked, "When are you to
"She ordered me to leave here to-morrow," Polikey replied. 'Take
any horse you please,' she said. 'Come to the office, and I will
see you there and wish you God-speed on your journey.'"
"Glory to Thee, O Lord!" said Akulina, as she arose and made the
sign of the cross. "God, I am sure, will bless you, Illitch,"
she added, in a whisper, so that the people on the other side of
the partition could not hear what she said, all the while holding
on to his sleeve. "Illitch," she cried at last, excitedly, "for
God's sake promise me that you will not touch a drop of vodki.
Take an oath before God, and kiss the cross, so that I may be
sure that you will not break your promise!"
Polikey replied in most contemptuous tones: "Do you think I will
dare to touch vodki when I shall have such a large sum of money
in my care?"
"Akulina, have a clean shirt ready for the morning," were his
parting words for the night.
So Polikey and his wife went to sleep in a happy frame of mind
and full of bright dreams for the future.
Very early the next morning, almost before the stars had hidden
themselves from view, there was seen standing before Polikey's
home a low wagon, the same in which the superintendent himself
used to ride; and harnessed to it was a large-boned, dark-brown
mare, called for some unknown reason by the name of Baraban
(drum). Aniutka, Polikey's eldest daughter, in spite of the
heavy rain and the cold wind which was blowing, stood outside
barefooted and held (not without some fear) the reins in ore
hand, while with the other she endeavored to keep her green and
yellow overcoat wound around her body, and also to hold Polikey's
In the house there were the greatest noise and confusion. The
morning was still so dark that the little daylight there was
failed to penetrate through the broken panes of glass, the window
being stuffed in many places with rags and paper to exclude the
Akulina ceased from her cooking for a while and helped to get
Polikey ready for the journey. Most of the children were still in
bed, very likely as a protection against the cold, for Akulina
had taken away the big overcoat which usually covered them and
had substituted a shawl of her own. Polikey's shirt was all
ready, nice and clean, but his shoes badly needed repairing, and
this fact caused his devoted wife much anxiety. She took from
her own feet the thick woollen stockings she was wearing, and
gave them to Polikey. She then began to repair his shoes,
patching up the holes so as to protect his feet from dampness.
While this was going on he was sitting on the side of the bed
with his feet dangling over the edge, and trying to turn the sash
which confined his coat at the waist. He was anxious to look as
clean as possible, and he declared his sash looked like a dirty
One of his daughters, enveloped in a sheepskin coat, was sent to
a neighbor's house to borrow a hat.
Within Polikey's home the greatest confusion reigned, for the
court servants were constantly arriving with innumerable small
orders which they wished Polikey to execute for them in town.
One wanted needles, another tea, another tobacco, and last came
the joiner's wife, who by this time had prepared her samovar,
and, anxious to make up the quarrel of the previous day, brought
the traveller a cup of tea.
Neighbor Nikita refused the loan of the hat, so the old one had
to be patched up for the occasion. This occupied some time, as
there were many holes in it.
Finally Polikey was all ready, and jumping on the wagon started
on his journey, after first making the sign of the cross.
At the last moment his little boy, Mishka, ran to the door,
begging to be given a short ride; and then his little daughter,
Mashka, appeared on the scene and pleaded that she, too, might
have a ride, declaring that she would be quite warm enough
Polikey stopped the horse on hearing the children, and Akulina
placed them in the wagon, together with two others belonging to a
neighbor--all anxious to have a short ride.
As Akulina helped the little ones into the wagon she took
occasion to remind Polikey of the solemn promise he had made her
not to touch a drop of vodki during the journey.
Polikey drove the children as far as the blacksmith's place,
where he let them out of the wagon, telling them they must return
home. He then arranged his clothing, and, setting his hat firmly
on his head, started his horse on a trot.
The two children, Mishka and Mashka, both barefooted, started
running at such a rapid pace that a strange dog from another
village, seeing them flying over the road, dropped his tail
between his legs and ran home squealing.
The weather was very cold, a sharp cutting wind blowing
continuously; but this did not disturb Polikey, whose mind was
engrossed with pleasant thoughts. As he rode through the wintry
blasts he kept repeating to himself: "So I am the man they wanted
to send to Siberia, and whom they threatened to enroll as a
soldier--the same man whom every one abused, and said he was
lazy, and who was pointed out as a thief and given the meanest
work on the estate to do! Now I am going to receive a large sum
of money, for which my mistress is sending me because she trusts
me. I am also riding in the same wagon that the superintendent
himself uses when he is riding as a representative of the court.
I have the same harness, leather horse-collar, reins, and all the
Polikey, filled with pride at thought of the mission with which
he had been intrusted, drew himself up with an air of pride, and,
fixing his old hat more firmly on his head, buttoned his coat
tightly about him and urged his horse to greater speed.
"Just to think," he continued; "I shall have in my possession
three thousand half-rubles [the peasant manner of speaking of
money so as to make it appear a larger sum than it really is],
and will carry them in my bosom. If I wished to I might run away
to Odessa instead of taking the money to my mistress. But no; I
will not do that. I will surely carry the money straight to the
one who has been kind enough to trust me."
When Polikey reached the first kabak (tavern) he found that from
long habit the mare was naturally turning her head toward it; but
he would not allow her to stop, though money had been given him
to purchase both food and drink. Striking the animal a sharp
blow with the whip, he passed by the tavern. The performance was
repeated when he reached the next kabak, which looked very
inviting; but he resolutely set his face against entering, and
About noon he arrived at his destination, and getting down from
the wagon approached the gate of the merchant's house where the
servants of the court always stopped. Opening it he led the mare
through, and (after unharnessing her) fed her. This done, he
next entered the house and had dinner with the merchant's
workingman, and to them he related what an important mission he
had been sent on, making himself very amusing by the pompous air
which he assumed. Dinner over, he carried a letter to the
merchant which the noblewoman had given him to deliver.
The merchant, knowing thoroughly the reputation which Polikey
bore, felt doubtful of trusting him with so much money, and
somewhat anxiously inquired if he really had received orders to
carry so many rubles.
Polikey tried to appear offended at this question, but did not
succeed, and he only smiled.
The merchant, after reading the letter a second time and being
convinced that all was right, gave Polikey the money, which he
put in his bosom for safe-keeping.
On his way to the house he did not once stop at any of the shops
he passed. The clothing establishments possessed no attractions
for him, and after he had safely passed them all he stood for a
moment, feeling very pleased that he had been able to withstand
temptation, and then went on his way.
"I have money enough to buy up everything," he said; "but I will
not do so."
The numerous commissions which he had received compelled him to
go to the bazaar. There he bought only what had been ordered,
but he could not resist the temptation to ask the price of a very
handsome sheep-skin coat which attracted his attention. The
merchant to whom he spoke looked at Polikey and smiled, not
believing that he had sufficient money to purchase such an
expensive coat. But Polikey, pointing to his breast, said that
he could buy out the whole shop if he wished to. He thereupon
ordered the shop-keeper to take his measure. He tried the coat
on and looked himself over carefully, testing the quality and
blowing upon the hair to see that none of it came out. Finally,
heaving a deep sigh, he took it off.
"The price is too high," he said. "If you could let me have it
for fifteen rubles--"
But the merchant cut him short by snatching the coat from him and
throwing it angrily to one side.
Polikey left the bazaar and returned to the merchant's house in
After supper he went out and fed the mare, and prepared
everything for the night. Returning to the house he got up on
the stove to rest, and while there he took out the envelope which
contained the money and looked long and earnestly at it. He
could not read, but asked one of those present to tell him what
the writing on the envelope meant. It was simply the address and
the announcement that it contained fifteen hundred rubles.
The envelope was made of common paper and was sealed with
dark-brown sealing wax. There was one large seal in the centre
and four smaller ones at the corners. Polikey continued to
examine it carefully, even inserting his finger till he touched
the crisp notes. He appeared to take a childish delight in
having so much money in his possession.
Having finished his examination, he put the envelope inside the
lining of his old battered hat, and placing both under his head
he went to sleep; but during the night he frequently awoke and
always felt to know if the money was safe. Each time that he
found that it was safe he rejoiced at the thought that he,
Polikey, abused and regarded by every one as a thief, was
intrusted with the care of such a large sum of money, and also
that he was about to return with it quite as safely as the
superintendent himself could have done.
Before dawn the next morning Polikey was up, and after harnessing
the mare and looking in his hat to see that the money was all
right, he started on his return journey.
Many times on the way Polikey took off his hat to see that the
money was safe. Once he said to himself, "I think that perhaps
it would be better if I should put it in my bosom." This would
necessitate the untying of his sash, so he decided to keep it
still in his hat, or until he should have made half the journey,
when he would be compelled to stop to feed his horse and to rest.
He said to himself: "The lining is not sewn in very strongly and
the envelope might fall out, so I think I had better not take off
my hat until I reach home."
The money was safe--at least, so it seemed to him--and he began
to think how grateful his mistress would be to him, and in his
excited imagination he saw the five rubles he was so sure of
Once more he examined the hat to see that the money was safe, and
finding everything all right he put on his hat and pulled it well
down over his ears, smiling all the while at his own thoughts.
Akulina had carefully sewed all the holes in the hat, but it
burst out in other places owing to Polikey's removing it so
In the darkness he did not notice the new rents, and tried to
push the envelope further under the lining, and in doing so
pushed one corner of it through the plush.
The sun was getting high in the heavens, and Polikey having slept
but little the previous night and feeling its warm rays fell fast
asleep, after first pressing his hat more firmly on his head. By
this action he forced the envelope still further through the
plush, and as he rode along his head bobbed up and down.
Polikey did not awake till he arrived near his own house, and his
first act was to put his hand to his head to learn if his hat was
all right. Finding that it was in its place, he did not think it
necessary to examine it and see that the money was safe.
Touching the mare gently with the whip she started into a trot,
and as he rode along he arranged in his own mind how much he was
to receive. With the air of a man already holding a high
position at the court, he looked around him with an expression of
lofty scorn on his face.
As he neared his house he could see before him the one room which
constituted their humble home, and the joiner's wife next door
carry- ing her rolls of linen. He saw also the office of the
court and his mistress's house, where he hoped he would be able
presently to prove that he was an honest, trustworthy man.
He reasoned with himself that any person can be abused by lying
tongues, but when his mistress would see him she would say: "Well
done, Polikey; you have shown that you can be honest. Here are
three--it may be five--perhaps ten--rubles for you;" and also she
would order tea for him, and might treat him to vodki--who knows?
The latter thought gave him great pleasure, as he was feeling
Speaking aloud he said: "What a happy holy-day we can have with
ten rubles! Having so much money, I could pay Nikita the four
rubles fifty kopecks which I owe him, and yet have some left to
buy shoes for the children."
When near the house Polikey began to arrange his clothes,
smoothing down his fur collar, re-tying his sash, and stroking
his hair. To do the latter he had to take off his hat, and when
doing so felt in the lining for the envelope. Quicker and
quicker he ran his hand around the lining, and not finding the
money used both hands, first one and then the other. But the
envelope was not to be found.
Polikey was by this time greatly distressed, and his face was
white with fear as he passed his hand through the crown of his
old hat. Polikey stopped the mare and began a diligent search
through the wagon and its contents. Not finding the precious
envelope, he felt in all his pockets--BUT THE MONEY COULD NOT BE
Wildly clutching at his hair, he exclaimed: "Batiushka! What
will I do now? What will become of me?" At the same time he
realized that he was near his neighbors' house and could be seen
by them; so he turned the mare around, and, pulling his hat down
securely upon his head, he rode quickly back in search of his
The whole day passed without any one in the village of Pokrovski
having seen anything of Polikey. During the afternoon his
mistress inquired many times as to his whereabouts, and sent
Aksiutka frequently to Akulina, who each time sent back word that
Polikey had not yet returned, saying also that perhaps the
merchant had kept him, or that something had happened to the
His poor wife felt a heavy load upon her heart, and was scarcely
able to do her housework and put everything in order for the next
day (which was to be a holy-day). The children also anxiously
awaited their father's appearance, and, though for different
reasons, could hardly restrain their impatience. The noblewoman
and Akulina were concerned only in regard to Polikey himself,
while the children were interested most in what he would bring
them from the town.
The only news received by the villagers during the day concerning
Polikey was to the effect that neighboring peasants had seen him
running up and down the road and asking every one he met if he or
she had found an envelope.
One of them had seen him also walking by the side of his
tired-out horse. "I thought," said he, "that the man was drunk,
and had not fed his horse for two days--the animal looked so
Unable to sleep, and with her heart palpitating at every sound,
Akulina lay awake all night vainly awaiting Polikey's return.
When the cock crowed the third time she was obliged to get up to
attend to the fire. Day was just dawning and the church-bells
had begun to ring. Soon all the children were also up, but there
was still no tidings of the missing husband and father.
In the morning the chill blasts of winter entered their humble
home, and on looking out they saw that the houses, fields, and
roads were thickly covered with snow. The day was clear and
cold, as if befitting the holy-day they were about to celebrate.
They were able to see a long distance from the house, but no one
was in sight.
Akulina was busy baking cakes, and had it not been for the joyous
shouts of the children she would not have known that Polikey was
coming up the road, for a few minutes later he came in with a
bundle in his hand and walked quietly to his corner. Akulina
noticed that he was very pale and that his face bore an
expression of suffering--as if he would like to have cried but
could not do so. But she did not stop to study it, but excitedly
inquired: "What! Illitch, is everything all right with you?"
He slowly muttered something, but his wife could not understand
what he said.
"What!" she cried out, "have you been to see our mistress?"
Polikey still sat on the bed in his corner, glaring wildly about
him, and smiling bitterly. He did not reply for a long time, and
Akulina again cried:
"Eh? Illitch! Why don't you answer me? Why don't you speak?"
Finally he said: "Akulina, I delivered the money to our mistress;
and oh, how she thanked me!" Then he suddenly looked about him,
with an anxious, startled air, and with a sad smile on his lips.
Two things in the room seemed to engross the most of his
attention: the baby in the cradle, and the rope which was
attached to the ladder. Approaching the cradle, he began with
his thin fingers quickly to untie the knot in the rope by which
the two were connected. After untying it he stood for a few
moments looking silently at the baby.
Akulina did not notice this proceeding, and with her cakes on the
board went to place them in a corner.
Polikey quickly hid the rope beneath his coat, and again seated
himself on the bed.
"What is it that troubles you, Illitch?" inquired Akulina. "You
are not yourself."
"I have not slept," he answered.
Suddenly a dark shadow crossed the window, and a minute later the
girl Aksiutka quickly entered the room, exclaiming:
"The boyarinia commands you, Polikey Illitch, to come to her this
Polikey looked first at Akulina and then at the girl.
"This moment!" he cried. "What more is wanted?"
He spoke the last sentence so softly that Akulina became quieted
in her mind, thinking that perhaps their mistress intended to
reward her husband.
"Say that I will come immediately," he said.
But Polikey failed to follow the girl, and went instead to
From the porch of his house there was a ladder reaching to the
attic. Arriving at the foot of the ladder Polikey looked around
him, and seeing no one about, he quickly ascended to the
* * * * * * *
Meanwhile the girl had reached her mistress's house.
"What does it mean that Polikey does not come?" said the
noblewoman impatiently. "Where can he be? Why does he not come
Aksiutka flew again to his house and demanded to see Polikey.
"He went a long time ago," answered Akulina, and looking around
with an expression of fear on her face, she added, "He may have
fallen asleep somewhere on the way."
About this time the joiner's wife, with hair unkempt and clothes
bedraggled, went up to the loft to gather the linen which she had
previously put there to dry. Suddenly a cry of horror was
heard, and the woman, with her eyes closed, and crazed by fear,
ran down the ladder like a cat.
"Illitch," she cried, "has hanged himself!"
Poor Akulina ran up the ladder before any of the people, who had
gathered from the surrounding houses, could prevent her. With a
loud shriek she fell back as if dead, and would surely have been
killed had not one of the spectators succeeded in catching her in
Before dark the same day a peasant of the village, while
returning from the town, found the envelope containing Polikey's
money on the roadside, and soon after delivered it to the
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye and a
tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not
evil."--ST. MATTHEW V. 38, 39.
It was in the time of serfdom--many years before Alexander II.'s
liberation of the sixty million serfs in 1862. In those days the
people were ruled by different kinds of lords. There were not a
few who, remembering God, treated their slaves in a humane
manner, and not as beasts of burden, while there were others who
were seldom known to perform a kind or generous action; but the
most barbarous and tyrannical of all were those former serfs who
arose from the dirt and became princes.
It was this latter class who made life literally a burden to
those who were unfortunate enough to come under their rule. Many
of them had arisen from the ranks of the peasantry to become
superintendents of noblemen's estates.
The peasants were obliged to work for their master a certain
number of days each week. There was plenty of land and water and
the soil was rich and fertile, while the meadows and forests were
sufficient to supply the needs of both the peasants and their
There was a certain nobleman who had chosen a superintendent from
the peasantry on one of his other estates. No sooner had the
power to govern been vested in this newly-made official than he
began to practice the most outrageous cruelties upon the poor
serfs who had been placed under his control. Although this man
had a wife and two married daughters, and was making so much
money that he could have lived happily without transgressing in
any way against either God or man, yet he was filled with envy
and jealousy and deeply sunk in sin.
Michael Simeonovitch began his persecutions by compelling the
peasants to perform more days of service on the estate every week
than the laws obliged them to work. He established a brick-yard,
in which he forced the men and women to do excessive labor,
selling the bricks for his own profit.
On one occasion the overworked serfs sent a delegation to Moscow
to complain of their treatment to their lord, but they obtained
no satisfaction. When the poor peasants returned disconsolate
from the nobleman their superintendent determined to have revenge
for their boldness in going above him for redress, and their life
and that of their fellow-victims became worse than before.
It happened that among the serfs there were some very treacherous
people who would falsely accuse their fellows of wrong-doing and
sow seeds of discord among the peasantry, whereupon Michael would
become greatly enraged, while his poor subjects began to live in
fear of their lives. When the superintendent passed through the
village the people would run and hide themselves as from a wild
beast. Seeing thus the terror which he had struck to the hearts
of the moujiks, Michael's treatment of them became still more
vindictive, so that from over-work and ill-usage the lot of the
poor serfs was indeed a hard one.
There was a time when it was possible for the peasants, when
driven to despair, to devise means whereby they could rid
themselves of an inhuman monster such as Simeonovitch, and so
these unfortunate people began to consider whether something
could not be done to relieve THEM of their intolerable yoke.
They would hold little meetings in secret places to bewail their
misery and to confer with one another as to which would be the
best way to act. Now and then the boldest of the gathering
would rise and address his companions in this strain: "How much
longer can we tolerate such a villain to rule over us? Let us
make an end of it at once, for it were better for us to perish
than to suffer. It is surely not a sin to kill such a devil in
It happened once, before the Easter holidays, that one of these
meetings was held in the woods, where Michael had sent the serfs
to make a clearance for their master. At noon they assembled to
eat their dinner and to hold a consultation. "Why can't we leave
now?" said one. "Very soon we shall be reduced to nothing.
Already we are almost worked to death--there being no rest, night
or day, either for us or our poor women. If anything should be
done in a way not exactly to please him he will find fault and
perhaps flog some of us to death--as was the case with poor
Simeon, whom he killed not long ago. Only recently Anisim was
tortured in irons till he died. We certainly cannot stand this
much longer." "Yes," said another, "what is the use of waiting?
Let us act at once. Michael will be here this evening, and will
be certain to abuse us shamefully. Let us, then, thrust him from
his horse and with one blow of an axe give him what he deserves,
and thus end our misery. We can then dig a big hole and bury him
like a dog, and no one will know what became of him. Now let us
come to an agreement--to stand together as one man and not to
betray one another."
The last speaker was Vasili Minayeff, who, if possible, had more
cause to complain of Michael's cruelty than any of his
fellow-serfs. The superintendent was in the habit of flogging
him severely every week, and he took also Vasili's wife to serve
him as cook.
Accordingly, during the evening that followed this meeting in the
woods Michael arrived on the scene on horseback. He began at
once to find fault with the manner in which the work had been
done, and to complain because some lime-trees had been cut down.
"I told you not to cut down any lime-trees!" shouted the enraged
superintendent. "Who did this thing? Tell me at once, or I
shall flog every one of you!"
On investigation, a peasant named Sidor was pointed out as the
guilty one, and his face was roundly slapped. Michael also
severely punished Vasili, because he had not done sufficient
work, after which the master rode safely home.
In the evening the serfs again assembled, and poor Vasili said:
"Oh, what kind of people ARE we, anyway? We are only sparrows,
and not men at all! We agree to stand by each other, but as soon
as the time for action comes we all run and hide. Once a lot of
sparrows conspired against a hawk, but no sooner did the bird of
prey appear than they sneaked off in the grass. Selecting one of
the choicest sparrows, the hawk took it away to eat, after which
the others came out crying, 'Twee-twee!' and found that one was
missing. 'Who is killed?' they asked. 'Vanka! Well, he
deserved it.' You, my friends, are acting in just the same
manner. When Michael attacked Sidor you should have stood by
your promise. Why didn't you arise, and with one stroke put an
end to him and to our misery?"
The effect of this speech was to make the peasants more firm in
their determination to kill their superintendent. The latter had
already given orders that they should be ready to plough during
the Easter holidays, and to sow the field with oats, whereupon
the serfs became stricken with grief, and gathered in Vasili's
house to hold another indignation meeting. "If he has really
forgotten God," they said, "and shall continue to commit such
crimes against us, it is truly necessary that we should kill him.
If not, let us perish, for it can make no difference to us now."
This despairing programme, however, met with considerable
opposition from a peaceably-inclined man named Peter Mikhayeff.
"Brethren," said he, "you are contemplating a grievous sin. The
taking of human life is a very serious matter. Of course it is
easy to end the mortal existence of a man, but what will become
of the souls of those who commit the deed? If Michael continues
to act toward us unjustly God will surely punish him. But, my
friends, we must have patience."
This pacific utterance only served to intensify the anger of
Vasili. Said he: "Peter is forever repeating the same old story,
'It is a sin to kill any one.' Certainly it is sinful to murder;
but we should consider the kind of man we are dealing with. We
all know it is wrong to kill a good man, but even God would take
away the life of such a dog as he is. It is our duty, if we have
any love for mankind, to shoot a dog that is mad. It is a sin to
let him live. If, therefore, we are to suffer at all, let it be
in the interests of the people--and they will thank us for it.
If we remain quiet any longer a flogging will be our only reward.
You are talking nonsense, Mikhayeff. Why don't you think of the
sin we shall be committing if we work during the Easter
holidays--for you will refuse to work then yourself?"
"Well, then," replied Peter, "if they shall send me to plough, I
will go. But I shall not be going of my own free will, and God
will know whose sin it is, and shall punish the offender
accordingly. Yet we must not forget him. Brethren, I am not
giving you my own views only. The law of God is not to return
evil for evil; indeed, if you try in this way to stamp out
wickedness it will come upon you all the stronger. It is not
difficult for you to kill the man, but his blood will surely
stain your own soul. You may think you have killed a bad
man--that you have gotten rid of evil--but you will soon find out
that the seeds of still greater wickedness have been planted
within you. If you yield to misfortune it will surely come to
As Peter was not without sympathizers among the peasants, the
poor serfs were consequently divided into two groups: the
followers of Vasili and those who held the views of Mikhayeff.
On Easter Sunday no work was done. Toward the evening an elder
came to the peasants from the nobleman's court and said: "Our
superintendent, Michael Simeonovitch, orders you to go to-morrow
to plough the field for the oats." Thus the official went through
the village and directed the men to prepare for work the next
day--some by the river and others by the roadway. The poor
people were almost overcome with grief, many of them shedding
tears, but none dared to disobey the orders of their master.
On the morning of Easter Monday, while the church bells were
calling the inhabitants to religious services, and while every
one else was about to enjoy a holiday, the unfortunate serfs
started for the field to plough. Michael arose rather late and
took a walk about the farm. The domestic servants were through
with their work and had dressed themselves for the day, while
Michael's wife and their widowed daughter (who was visiting them,
as was her custom on holidays) had been to church and returned.
A steaming samovar awaited them, and they began to drink tea
with Michael, who, after lighting his pipe, called the elder to
"Well," said the superintendent, "have you ordered the moujiks to
"Yes, sir, I did," was the reply.
"Have they all gone to the field?"
"Yes, sir; all of them. I directed them myself where to begin."
"That is all very well. You gave the orders, but are they
ploughing? Go at once and see, and you may tell them that I
shall be there after dinner. I shall expect to find one and a
half acres done for every two ploughs, and the work must be well
done; otherwise they shall be severely punished, notwithstanding
"I hear, sir, and obey."
The elder started to go, but Michael called him back. After
hesitating for some time, as if he felt very uneasy, he said:
"By the way, listen to what those scoundrels say about me.
Doubtless some of them will curse me, and I want you to report
the exact words. I know what villains they are. They don't find
work at all pleasant. They would rather lie down all day and do
nothing. They would like to eat and drink and make merry on
holidays, but they forget that if the ploughing is not done it
will soon be too late. So you go and listen to what is said, and
tell it to me in detail. Go at once."
"I hear, sir, and obey."
Turning his back and mounting his horse, the elder was soon at
the field where the serfs were hard at work.
It happened that Michael's wife, a very good-hearted woman,
overheard the conversation which her husband had just been
holding with the elder. Approaching him, she said:
"My good friend, Mishinka [diminutive of Michael], I beg of you
to consider the importance and solemnity of this holy-day. Do
not sin, for Christ's sake. Let the poor moujiks go home."
Michael laughed, but made no reply to his wife's humane request.
Finally he said to her:
"You've not been whipped for a very long time, and now you have
become bold enough to interfere in affairs that are not your
"Mishinka," she persisted, "I have had a frightful dream
concerning you. You had better let the moujiks go."
"Yes," said he; "I perceive that you have gained so much flesh of
late that you think you would not feel the whip. Lookout!"
Rudely thrusting his hot pipe against her cheek, Michael chased
his wife from the room, after which he ordered his dinner. After
eating a hearty meal consisting of cabbage-soup, roast pig,
meat-cake, pastry with milk, jelly, sweet cakes, and vodki, he
called his woman cook to him and ordered her to be seated and
sing songs, Simeonovitch accompanying her on the guitar.
While the superintendent was thus enjoying himself to the fullest
satisfaction in the musical society of his cook the elder
returned, and, making a low bow to his superior, proceeded to
give the desired information concerning the serfs.
"Well," asked Michael, "did they plough?"
"Yes," replied the elder; "they have accomplished about half the
"Is there no fault to be found?"
"Not that I could discover. The work seems to be well done.
They are evidently afraid of you."
"How is the soil?"
"Very good. It appears to be quite soft."
"Well," said Simeonovitch, after a pause, "what did they say
about me? Cursed me, I suppose?"
As the elder hesitated somewhat, Michael commanded him to speak
and tell him the whole truth. "Tell me all," said he; "I want to
know their exact words. If you tell me the truth I shall reward
you; but if you conceal anything from me you will be punished.
See here, Catherine, pour out a glass of vodki to give him
After drinking to the health of his superior, the elder said to
himself: "It is not my fault if they do not praise him. I shall
tell him the truth." Then turning suddenly to the superintendent
"They complain, Michael Simeonovitch! They complain bitterly."
"But what did they say?" demanded Michael. "Tell me!"
"Well, one thing they said was, 'He does not believe in God.'"
Michael laughed. "Who said that?" he asked.
"It seemed to be their unanimous opinion. 'He has been overcome
by the Evil One,' they said."
"Very good," laughed the superintendent; "but tell me what each
of them said. What did Vasili say?"
The elder did not wish to betray his people, but he had a certain
grudge against Vasili, and he said:
"He cursed you more than did any of the others."
"But what did he say?"
"It is awful to repeat it, sir. Vasili said, 'He shall die like
a dog, having no chance to repent!'"
"Oh, the villain!" exclaimed Michael. "He would kill me if he
were not afraid. All right, Vasili; we shall have an accounting
with you. And Tishka--he called me a dog, I suppose?"
"Well," said the elder, "they all spoke of you in anything but
complimentary terms; but it is mean in me to repeat what they
"Mean or not you must tell me, I say!"
"Some of them declared that your back should be
Simeonovitch appeared to enjoy this immensely, for he laughed
outright. "We shall see whose back will be the first to be
broken," said he. "Was that Tishka's opinion? While I did not
suppose they would say anything good about me, I did not expect
such curses and threats. And Peter Mikhayeff--was that fool
cursing me too?"
"No; he did not curse you at all. He appeared to be the only
silent one among them. Mikhayeff is a very wise moujik, and he
surprises me very much. At his actions all the other peasants
"What did he do?"
"He did something remarkable. He was diligently ploughing, and
as I approached him I heard some one singing very sweetly.
Looking between the ploughshares, I observed a bright object
"Well, what was it? Hurry up!"
"It was a small, five-kopeck wax candle, burning brightly, and
the wind was unable to blow it out. Peter, wearing a new shirt,
sang beautiful hymns as he ploughed, and no matter how he handled
the implement the candle continued to burn. In my presence he
fixed the plough, shaking it violently, but the bright little
object between the colters remained undisturbed."
"And what did Mikhayeff say?"
"He said nothing--except when, on seeing me, he gave me the
holy-day salutation, after which he went on his way singing and
ploughing as before. I did not say anything to him, but, on
approaching the other moujiks, I found that they were laughing
and making sport of their silent companion. 'It is a great sin
to plough on Easter Monday,' they said. 'You could not get
absolution from your sin if you were to pray all your life.'"
"And did Mikhayeff make no reply?"
"He stood long enough to say: 'There should be peace on earth and
good-will to men,' after which he resumed his ploughing and
singing, the candle burning even more brightly than
Simeonovitch had now ceased to ridicule, and, putting aside his
guitar, his head dropped on his breast and he became lost in
thought. Presently he ordered the elder and cook to depart,
after which Michael went behind a screen and threw himself upon
the bed. He was sighing and moaning, as if in great distress,
when his wife came in and spoke kindly to him. He refused to
listen to her, exclaiming:
"He has conquered me, and my end is near!"
"Mishinka," said the woman, "arise and go to the moujiks in the
field. Let them go home, and everything will be all right.
Heretofore you have run far greater risks without any fear, but
now you appear to be very much alarmed."
"He has conquered me!" he repeated. "I am lost!"
"What do you mean?" demanded his wife, angrily. "If you will go
and do as I tell you there will be no danger. Come, Mishinka,"
she added, tenderly; "I shall have the saddle-horse brought for
you at once."
When the horse arrived the woman persuaded her husband to mount
the animal, and to fulfil her request concerning the serfs. When
he reached the village a woman opened the gate for him to enter,
and as he did so the inhabitants, seeing the brutal
superintendent whom everybody feared, ran to hide themselves in
their houses, gardens, and other secluded places.
At length Michael reached the other gate, which he found closed
also, and, being unable to open it himself while seated on his
horse, he called loudly for assistance. As no one responded to
his shouts he dismounted and opened the gate, but as he was about
to remount, and had one foot in the stirrup, the horse became
frightened at some pigs and sprang suddenly to one side. The
superintendent fell across the fence and a very sharp picket
pierced his stomach, when Michael fell unconscious to the ground.
Toward the evening, when the serfs arrived at the village gate,
their horses refused to enter. On looking around, the peasants
discovered the dead body of their superintendent lying face
downward in a pool of blood, where he had fallen from the fence.
Peter Mikhayeff alone had sufficient courage to dismount and
approach the prostrate form, his companions riding around the
village and entering by way of the back yards. Peter closed the
dead man's eyes, after which he put the body in a wagon and took
When the nobleman learned of the fatal accident which had
befallen his superintendent, and of the brutal treatment which he
had meted out to those under him, he freed the serfs, exacting a
small rent for the use of his land and the other agricultural
And thus the peasants clearly understood that the power of God is
manifested not in evil, but in goodness.