[Illustration: ANTON P. CHEKHOV, RUSSIA'S GREATEST SHORT-STORY WRITER]
BEST RUSSIAN SHORT STORIES
Compiled and Edited by THOMAS SELTZER
THE QUEEN OF SPADES A.S. Pushkin
THE CLOAK N.V. Gogol
THE DISTRICT DOCTOR I.S. Turgenev
THE CHRISTMAS TREE AND THE WEDDING F.M. Dostoyevsky
GOD SEES THE TRUTH, BUT WAITS L.N. Tolstoy
HOW A MUZHIK FED TWO OFFICIALS M.Y. Saltykov
THE SHADES, A PHANTASY V.G. Korolenko
THE SIGNAL V.N. Garshin
THE DARLING A.P. Chekhov
THE BET A.P. Chekhov
VANKA A.P. Chekhov
HIDE AND SEEK F.K. Sologub
DETHRONED I.N. Potapenko
THE SERVANT S.T. Semyonov
ONE AUTUMN NIGHT M. Gorky
HER LOVER M. Gorky
LAZARUS L.N. Andreyev
THE REVOLUTIONIST M.P. Artzybashev
THE OUTRAGE A.I. Kuprin
Conceive the joy of a lover of nature who, leaving the art galleries,
wanders out among the trees and wild flowers and birds that the
pictures of the galleries have sentimentalised. It is some such joy
that the man who truly loves the noblest in letters feels when tasting
for the first time the simple delights of Russian literature. French
and English and German authors, too, occasionally, offer works of
lofty, simple naturalness; but the very keynote to the whole of
Russian literature is simplicity, naturalness, veraciousness.
Another essentially Russian trait is the quite unaffected conception
that the lowly are on a plane of equality with the so-called upper
classes. When the Englishman Dickens wrote with his profound pity and
understanding of the poor, there was yet a bit; of remoteness,
perhaps, even, a bit of caricature, in his treatment of them. He
showed their sufferings to the rest of the world with a "Behold how
the other half lives!" The Russian writes of the poor, as it were,
from within, as one of them, with no eye to theatrical effect upon the
well-to-do. There is no insistence upon peculiar virtues or vices. The
poor are portrayed just as they are, as human beings like the rest of
us. A democratic spirit is reflected, breathing a broad humanity, a
true universality, an unstudied generosity that proceed not from the
intellectual conviction that to understand all is to forgive all, but
from an instinctive feeling that no man has the right to set himself
up as a judge over another, that one can only observe and record.
In 1834 two short stories appeared, The Queen of Spades, by Pushkin,
and The Cloak, by Gogol. The first was a finishing-off of the old,
outgoing style of romanticism, the other was the beginning of the new,
the characteristically Russian style. We read Pushkin's Queen of
Spades, the first story in the volume, and the likelihood is we shall
enjoy it greatly. "But why is it Russian?" we ask. The answer is, "It
is not Russian." It might have been printed in an American magazine
over the name of John Brown. But, now, take the very next story in the
volume, The Cloak. "Ah," you exclaim, "a genuine Russian story,
Surely. You cannot palm it off on me over the name of Jones or Smith."
Why? Because The Cloak for the first time strikes that truly Russian
note of deep sympathy with the disinherited. It is not yet wholly free
from artificiality, and so is not yet typical of the purely realistic
fiction that reached its perfected development in Turgenev and
Though Pushkin heads the list of those writers who made the literature
of their country world-famous, he was still a romanticist, in the
universal literary fashion of his day. However, he already gave strong
indication of the peculiarly Russian genius for naturalness or
realism, and was a true Russian in his simplicity of style. In no
sense an innovator, but taking the cue for his poetry from Byron and
for his prose from the romanticism current at that period, he was not
in advance of his age. He had a revolutionary streak in his nature, as
his Ode to Liberty and other bits of verse and his intimacy with the
Decembrist rebels show. But his youthful fire soon died down, and he
found it possible to accommodate himself to the life of a Russian high
functionary and courtier under the severe despot Nicholas I, though,
to be sure, he always hated that life. For all his flirting with
revolutionarism, he never displayed great originality or depth of
thought. He was simply an extraordinarily gifted author, a perfect
versifier, a wondrous lyrist, and a delicious raconteur, endowed with
a grace, ease and power of expression that delighted even the exacting
artistic sense of Turgenev. To him aptly applies the dictum of
Socrates: "Not by wisdom do the poets write poetry, but by a sort of
genius and inspiration." I do not mean to convey that as a thinker
Pushkin is to be despised. Nevertheless, it is true that he would
occupy a lower position in literature did his reputation depend upon
his contributions to thought and not upon his value as an artist.
"We are all descended from Gogol's Cloak," said a Russian writer.
And Dostoyevsky's novel, Poor People, which appeared ten years
later, is, in a way, merely an extension of Gogol's shorter tale. In
Dostoyevsky, indeed, the passion for the common people and the
all-embracing, all-penetrating pity for suffering humanity reach their
climax. He was a profound psychologist and delved deeply into the
human soul, especially in its abnormal and diseased aspects. Between
scenes of heart-rending, abject poverty, injustice, and wrong, and the
torments of mental pathology, he managed almost to exhaust the whole
range of human woe. And he analysed this misery with an intensity of
feeling and a painstaking regard for the most harrowing details that
are quite upsetting to normally constituted nerves. Yet all the
horrors must be forgiven him because of the motive inspiring them—an
overpowering love and the desire to induce an equal love in others. It
is not horror for horror's sake, not a literary tour de force, as in
Poe, but horror for a high purpose, for purification through
suffering, which was one of the articles of Dostoyevsky's faith.
Following as a corollary from the love and pity for mankind that make
a leading element in Russian literature, is a passionate search for
the means of improving the lot of humanity, a fervent attachment to
social ideas and ideals. A Russian author is more ardently devoted to
a cause than an American short-story writer to a plot. This, in turn,
is but a reflection of the spirit of the Russian people, especially of
the intellectuals. The Russians take literature perhaps more seriously
than any other nation. To them books are not a mere diversion. They
demand that fiction and poetry be a true mirror of life and be of
service to life. A Russian author, to achieve the highest recognition,
must be a thinker also. He need not necessarily be a finished artist.
Everything is subordinated to two main requirements—humanitarian
ideals and fidelity to life. This is the secret of the marvellous
simplicity of Russian-literary art. Before the supreme function of
literature, the Russian writer stands awed and humbled. He knows he
cannot cover up poverty of thought, poverty of spirit and lack of
sincerity by rhetorical tricks or verbal cleverness. And if he
possesses the two essential requirements, the simplest language will
These qualities are exemplified at their best by Turgenev and Tolstoy.
They both had a strong social consciousness; they both grappled with
the problems of human welfare; they were both artists in the larger
sense, that is, in their truthful representation of life, Turgenev was
an artist also in the narrower sense—in a keen appreciation Of form.
Thoroughly Occidental in his tastes, he sought the regeneration of
Russia in radical progress along the lines of European democracy.
Tolstoy, on the other hand, sought the salvation of mankind in a
return to the primitive life and primitive Christian religion.
The very first work of importance by Turgenev, A Sportsman's
Sketches, dealt with the question of serfdom, and it wielded
tremendous influence in bringing about its abolition. Almost every
succeeding book of his, from Rudin through Fathers and Sons to
Virgin Soil, presented vivid pictures of contemporary Russian
society, with its problems, the clash of ideas between the old and the
new generations, and the struggles, the aspirations and the thoughts
that engrossed the advanced youth of Russia; so that his collected
works form a remarkable literary record of the successive movements of
Russian society in a period of preparation, fraught with epochal
significance, which culminated in the overthrow of Czarism and the
inauguration of a new and true democracy, marking the beginning,
perhaps, of a radical transformation the world over.
"The greatest writer of Russia." That is Turgenev's estimate of
Tolstoy. "A second Shakespeare!" was Flaubert's enthusiastic outburst.
The Frenchman's comparison is not wholly illuminating. The one point
of resemblance between the two authors is simply in the tremendous
magnitude of their genius. Each is a Colossus. Each creates a whole
world of characters, from kings and princes and ladies to servants and
maids and peasants. But how vastly divergent the angle of approach!
Anna Karenina may have all the subtle womanly charm of an Olivia or a
Portia, but how different her trials. Shakespeare could not have
treated Anna's problems at all. Anna could not have appeared in his
pages except as a sinning Gertrude, the mother of Hamlet. Shakespeare
had all the prejudices of his age. He accepted the world as it is with
its absurd moralities, its conventions and institutions and social
classes. A gravedigger is naturally inferior to a lord, and if he is
to be presented at all, he must come on as a clown. The people are
always a mob, the rabble. Tolstoy, is the revolutionist, the
iconoclast. He has the completest independence of mind. He utterly
refuses to accept established opinions just because they are
established. He probes into the right and wrong of things. His is a
broad, generous universal democracy, his is a comprehensive sympathy,
his an absolute incapacity to evaluate human beings according to
station, rank or profession, or any standard but that of spiritual
worth. In all this he was a complete contrast to Shakespeare. Each of
the two men was like a creature of a higher world, possessed of
supernatural endowments. Their omniscience of all things human, their
insight into the hiddenmost springs of men's actions appear
miraculous. But Shakespeare makes the impression of detachment from
his works. The works do not reveal the man; while in Tolstoy the
greatness of the man blends with the greatness of the genius. Tolstoy
was no mere oracle uttering profundities he wot not of. As the social,
religious and moral tracts that he wrote in the latter period of his
life are instinct with a literary beauty of which he never could
divest himself, and which gave an artistic value even to his sermons,
so his earlier novels show a profound concern for the welfare of
society, a broad, humanitarian spirit, a bigness of soul that included
prince and pauper alike.
Is this extravagant praise? Then let me echo William Dean Howells: "I
know very well that I do not speak of Tolstoy's books in measured
terms; I cannot."
The Russian writers so far considered have made valuable contributions
to the short story; but, with the exception of Pushkin, whose
reputation rests chiefly upon his poetry, their best work, generally,
was in the field of the long novel. It was the novel that gave Russian
literature its pre-eminence. It could not have been otherwise, since
Russia is young as a literary nation, and did not come of age until
the period at which the novel was almost the only form of literature
that counted. If, therefore, Russia was to gain distinction in the
world of letters, it could be only through the novel. Of the measure
of her success there is perhaps no better testimony than the words of
Matthew Arnold, a critic certainly not given to overstatement. "The
Russian novel," he wrote in 1887, "has now the vogue, and deserves to
have it… The Russian novelist is master of a spell to which the
secret of human nature—both what is external and internal, gesture
and manner no less than thought and feeling—willingly make themselves
known… In that form of imaginative literature, which in our day is
the most popular and the most possible, the Russians at the present
moment seem to me to hold the field."
With the strict censorship imposed on Russian writers, many of them
who might perhaps have contented themselves with expressing their
opinions in essays, were driven to conceal their meaning under the
guise of satire or allegory; which gave rise to a peculiar genre of
literature, a sort of editorial or essay done into fiction, in which
the satirist Saltykov, a contemporary of Turgenev and Dostoyevsky, who
wrote under the pseudonym of Shchedrin, achieved the greatest success
It was not however, until the concluding quarter of the last century
that writers like Korolenko and Garshin arose, who devoted themselves
chiefly to the cultivation of the short story. With Anton Chekhov the
short story assumed a position of importance alongside the larger
works of the great Russian masters. Gorky and Andreyev made the short
story do the same service for the active revolutionary period in the
last decade of the nineteenth century down to its temporary defeat in
1906 that Turgenev rendered in his series of larger novels for the
period of preparation. But very different was the voice of Gorky, the
man sprung from the people, the embodiment of all the accumulated
wrath and indignation of centuries of social wrong and oppression,
from the gentlemanly tones of the cultured artist Turgenev. Like a
mighty hammer his blows fell upon the decaying fabric of the old
society. His was no longer a feeble, despairing protest. With the
strength and confidence of victory he made onslaught upon onslaught on
the old institutions until they shook and almost tumbled. And when
reaction celebrated its short-lived triumph and gloom settled again
upon his country and most of his co-fighters withdrew from the battle
in despair, some returning to the old-time Russian mood of
hopelessness, passivity and apathy, and some even backsliding into
wild orgies of literary debauchery, Gorky never wavered, never lost
his faith and hope, never for a moment was untrue to his principles.
Now, with the revolution victorious, he has come into his right, one
of the most respected, beloved and picturesque figures in the Russian
Kuprin, the most facile and talented short-story writer next to
Chekhov, has, on the whole, kept well to the best literary traditions
of Russia, though he has frequently wandered off to extravagant sex
themes, for which he seems to display as great a fondness as
Artzybashev. Semyonov is a unique character in Russian literature, a
peasant who had scarcely mastered the most elementary mechanics of
writing when he penned his first story. But that story pleased
Tolstoy, who befriended and encouraged him. His tales deal altogether
with peasant life in country and city, and have a lifelikeness, an
artlessness, a simplicity striking even in a Russian author.
There is a small group of writers detached from the main current of
Russian literature who worship at the shrine of beauty and mysticism.
Of these Sologub has attained the highest reputation.
Rich as Russia has become in the short story, Anton Chekhov still
stands out as the supreme master, one of the greatest short-story
writers of the world. He was born in Taganarok, in the Ukraine, in
1860, the son of a peasant serf who succeeded in buying his freedom.
Anton Chekhov studied medicine, but devoted himself largely to
writing, in which, he acknowledged, his scientific training was of
great service. Though he lived only forty-four years, dying of
tuberculosis in 1904, his collected works consist of sixteen
fair-sized volumes of short stories, and several dramas besides. A few
volumes of his works have already appeared in English translation.
Critics, among them Tolstoy, have often compared Chekhov to
Maupassant. I find it hard to discover the resemblance. Maupassant
holds a supreme position as a short-story writer; so does Chekhov. But
there, it seems to me, the likeness ends.
The chill wind that blows from the atmosphere created by the
Frenchman's objective artistry is by the Russian commingled with the
warm breath of a great human sympathy. Maupassant never tells where
his sympathies lie, and you don't know; you only guess. Chekhov does
not tell you where his sympathies lie, either, but you know all the
same; you don't have to guess. And yet Chekhov is as objective as
Maupassant. In the chronicling of facts, conditions, and situations,
in the reproduction of characters, he is scrupulously true, hard, and
inexorable. But without obtruding his personality, he somehow manages
to let you know that he is always present, always at hand. If you
laugh, he is there to laugh with you; if you cry, he is there to shed
a tear with you; if you are horrified, he is horrified, too. It is a
subtle art by which he contrives to make one feel the nearness of
himself for all his objectiveness, so subtle that it defies analysis.
And yet it constitutes one of the great charms of his tales.
Chekhov's works show an astounding resourcefulness and versatility.
There is no monotony, no repetition. Neither in incident nor in
character are any two stories alike. The range of Chekhov's knowledge
of men and things seems to be unlimited, and he is extravagant in the
use of it. Some great idea which many a writer would consider
sufficient to expand into a whole novel he disposes of in a story of a
few pages. Take, for example, Vanka, apparently but a mere episode
in the childhood of a nine-year-old boy; while it is really the
tragedy of a whole life in its tempting glimpses into a past
environment and ominous forebodings of the future—all contracted into
the space of four or five pages. Chekhov is lavish with his
inventiveness. Apparently, it cost him no effort to invent.
I have used the word inventiveness for lack of a better name. It
expresses but lamely the peculiar faculty that distinguishes Chekhov.
Chekhov does not really invent. He reveals. He reveals things that no
author before him has revealed. It is as though he possessed a special
organ which enabled him to see, hear and feel things of which we other
mortals did not even dream the existence. Yet when he lays them bare
we know that they are not fictitious, not invented, but as real as the
ordinary familiar facts of life. This faculty of his playing on all
conceivable objects, all conceivable emotions, no matter how
microscopic, endows them with life and a soul. By virtue of this power
The Steppe, an uneventful record of peasants travelling day after
day through flat, monotonous fields, becomes instinct with dramatic
interest, and its 125 pages seem all too short. And by virtue of the
same attribute we follow with breathless suspense the minute
description of the declining days of a great scientist, who feels his
physical and mental faculties gradually ebbing away. A Tiresome
Story, Chekhov calls it; and so it would be without the vitality
conjured into it by the magic touch of this strange genius.
Divination is perhaps a better term than invention. Chekhov divines
the most secret impulses of the soul, scents out what is buried in the
subconscious, and brings it up to the surface. Most writers are
specialists. They know certain strata of society, and when they
venture beyond, their step becomes uncertain. Chekhov's material is
only delimited by humanity. He is equally at home everywhere. The
peasant, the labourer, the merchant, the priest, the professional man,
the scholar, the military officer, and the government functionary,
Gentile or Jew, man, woman, or child—Chekhov is intimate with all of
them. His characters are sharply defined individuals, not types. In
almost all his stories, however short, the men and women and children
who play a part in them come out as clear, distinct personalities.
Ariadne is as vivid a character as Lilly, the heroine of Sudermann's
Song of Songs; yet Ariadne is but a single story in a volume of
stories. Who that has read The Darling can ever forget her—the
woman who had no separate existence of her own, but thought the
thoughts, felt the feelings, and spoke the words of the men she loved?
And when there was no man to love any more, she was utterly crushed
until she found a child to take care of and to love; and then she sank
her personality in the boy as she had sunk it before in her husbands
and lover, became a mere reflection of him, and was happy again.
In the compilation of this volume I have been guided by the desire to
give the largest possible representation to the prominent authors of
the Russian short story, and to present specimens characteristic of
each. At the same time the element of interest has been kept in mind;
and in a few instances, as in the case of Korolenko, the selection of
the story was made with a view to its intrinsic merit and striking
qualities rather than as typifying the writer's art. It was, of
course, impossible in the space of one book to exhaust all that is
best. But to my knowledge, the present volume is the most
comprehensive anthology of the Russian short story in the English
language, and gives a fair notion of the achievement in that field.
All who enjoy good reading, I have no reason to doubt, will get
pleasure from it, and if, in addition, it will prove of assistance to
American students of Russian literature, I shall feel that the task
has been doubly worth the while.
Korolenko's Shades and Andreyev's Lazarus first appeared in
Current Opinion, and Artzybashev's The Revolutionist in the
Metropolitan Magazine. I take pleasure in thanking Mr. Edward J.
Wheeler, editor of Current Opinion, and Mr. Carl Hovey, editor of
the Metropolitan Magazine, for permission to reprint them.
[Signature: Thomas Seltzer]
"Everything is subordinated to two main requirements—humanitarian
ideals and fidelity to life. This is the secret of the marvellous
simplicity of Russian literary art."—THOMAS SELTZER.
BEST RUSSIAN SHORT STORIES
THE QUEEN OF SPADES
BY ALEXSANDR S. PUSHKIN
There was a card party at the rooms of Narumov of the Horse Guards.
The long winter night passed away imperceptibly, and it was five
o'clock in the morning before the company sat down to supper. Those
who had won, ate with a good appetite; the others sat staring absently
at their empty plates. When the champagne appeared, however, the
conversation became more animated, and all took a part in it.
"And how did you fare, Surin?" asked the host.
"Oh, I lost, as usual. I must confess that I am unlucky: I play
mirandole, I always keep cool, I never allow anything to put me out,
and yet I always lose!"
"And you did not once allow yourself to be tempted to back the red?…
Your firmness astonishes me."
"But what do you think of Hermann?" said one of the guests, pointing
to a young Engineer: "he has never had a card in his hand in his life,
he has never in, his life laid a wager, and yet he sits here till five
o'clock in the morning watching our play."
"Play interests me very much," said Hermann: "but I am not in the
position to sacrifice the necessary in the hope of winning the
"Hermann is a German: he is economical—that is all!" observed Tomsky.
"But if there is one person that I cannot understand, it is my
grandmother, the Countess Anna Fedotovna."
"How so?" inquired the guests.
"I cannot understand," continued Tomsky, "how it is that my
grandmother does not punt."
"What is there remarkable about an old lady of eighty not punting?"
"Then you do not know the reason why?"
"No, really; haven't the faintest idea."
"Oh! then listen. About sixty years ago, my grandmother went to Paris,
where she created quite a sensation. People used to run after her to
catch a glimpse of the 'Muscovite Venus.' Richelieu made love to her,
and my grandmother maintains that he almost blew out his brains in
consequence of her cruelty. At that time ladies used to play at faro.
On one occasion at the Court, she lost a very considerable sum to the
Duke of Orleans. On returning home, my grandmother removed the patches
from her face, took off her hoops, informed my grandfather of her loss
at the gaming-table, and ordered him to pay the money. My deceased
grandfather, as far as I remember, was a sort of house-steward to my
grandmother. He dreaded her like fire; but, on hearing of such a heavy
loss, he almost went out of his mind; he calculated the various sums
she had lost, and pointed out to her that in six months she had spent
half a million francs, that neither their Moscow nor Saratov estates
were in Paris, and finally refused point blank to pay the debt. My
grandmother gave him a box on the ear and slept by herself as a sign
of her displeasure. The next day she sent for her husband, hoping that
this domestic punishment had produced an effect upon him, but she
found him inflexible. For the first time in her life, she entered into
reasonings and explanations with him, thinking to be able to convince
him by pointing out to him that there are debts and debts, and that
there is a great difference between a Prince and a coachmaker. But it
was all in vain, my grandfather still remained obdurate. But the
matter did not rest there. My grandmother did not know what to do. She
had shortly before become acquainted with a very remarkable man. You
have heard of Count St. Germain, about whom so many marvellous stories
are told. You know that he represented himself as the Wandering Jew,
as the discoverer of the elixir of life, of the philosopher's stone,
and so forth. Some laughed at him as a charlatan; but Casanova, in his
memoirs, says that he was a spy. But be that as it may, St. Germain,
in spite of the mystery surrounding him, was a very fascinating
person, and was much sought after in the best circles of society. Even
to this day my grandmother retains an affectionate recollection of
him, and becomes quite angry if any one speaks disrespectfully of him.
My grandmother knew that St. Germain had large sums of money at his
disposal. She resolved to have recourse to him, and she wrote a letter
to him asking him to come to her without delay. The queer old man
immediately waited upon her and found her overwhelmed with grief. She
described to him in the blackest colours the barbarity of her husband,
and ended by declaring that her whole hope depended upon his
friendship and amiability.
"St. Germain reflected.
"'I could advance you the sum you want,' said he; 'but I know that you
would not rest easy until you had paid me back, and I should not like
to bring fresh troubles upon you. But there is another way of getting
out of your difficulty: you can win back your money.'
"'But, my dear Count,' replied my grandmother, 'I tell you that I
haven't any money left.'
"'Money is not necessary,' replied St. Germain: 'be pleased to listen
"Then he revealed to her a secret, for which each of us would give a
The young officers listened with increased attention. Tomsky lit his
pipe, puffed away for a moment and then continued:
"That same evening my grandmother went to Versailles to the jeu de la
reine. The Duke of Orleans kept the bank; my grandmother excused
herself in an off-hand manner for not having yet paid her debt, by
inventing some little story, and then began to play against him. She
chose three cards and played them one after the other: all three won
sonika, [Said of a card when it wins or loses in the quickest
possible time.] and my grandmother recovered every farthing that she
"Mere chance!" said one of the guests.
"A tale!" observed Hermann.
"Perhaps they were marked cards!" said a third.
"I do not think so," replied Tomsky gravely.
"What!" said Narumov, "you have a grandmother who knows how to hit
upon three lucky cards in succession, and you have never yet succeeded
in getting the secret of it out of her?"
"That's the deuce of it!" replied Tomsky: "she had four sons, one of
whom was my father; all four were determined gamblers, and yet not to
one of them did she ever reveal her secret, although it would not have
been a bad thing either for them or for me. But this is what I heard
from my uncle, Count Ivan Ilyich, and he assured me, on his honour,
that it was true. The late Chaplitzky—the same who died in poverty
after having squandered millions—once lost, in his youth, about three
hundred thousand roubles—to Zorich, if I remember rightly. He was in
despair. My grandmother, who was always very severe upon the
extravagance of young men, took pity, however, upon Chaplitzky. She
gave him three cards, telling him to play them one after the other, at
the same time exacting from him a solemn promise that he would never
play at cards again as long as he lived. Chaplitzky then went to his
victorious opponent, and they began a fresh game. On the first card he
staked fifty thousand rubles and won sonika; he doubled the stake
and won again, till at last, by pursuing the same tactics, he won back
more than he had lost …
"But it is time to go to bed: it is a quarter to six already."
And indeed it was already beginning to dawn: the young men emptied
their glasses and then took leave of each other.
The old Countess A—— was seated in her dressing-room in front of her
looking—glass. Three waiting maids stood around her. One held a small
pot of rouge, another a box of hair-pins, and the third a tall can
with bright red ribbons. The Countess had no longer the slightest
pretensions to beauty, but she still preserved the habits of her
youth, dressed in strict accordance with the fashion of seventy years
before, and made as long and as careful a toilette as she would have
done sixty years previously. Near the window, at an embroidery frame,
sat a young lady, her ward.
"Good morning, grandmamma," said a young officer, entering the room.
"Bonjour, Mademoiselle Lise. Grandmamma, I want to ask you
"What is it, Paul?"
"I want you to let me introduce one of my friends to you, and to allow
me to bring him to the ball on Friday."
"Bring him direct to the ball and introduce him to me there. Were you
at B——'s yesterday?"
"Yes; everything went off very pleasantly, and dancing was kept up
until five o'clock. How charming Yeletzkaya was!"
"But, my dear, what is there charming about her? Isn't she like her
grandmother, the Princess Daria Petrovna? By the way, she must be very
old, the Princess Daria Petrovna."
"How do you mean, old?" cried Tomsky thoughtlessly; "she died seven
The young lady raised her head and made a sign to the young officer.
He then remembered that the old Countess was never to be informed of
the death of any of her contemporaries, and he bit his lips. But the
old Countess heard the news with the greatest indifference.
"Dead!" said she; "and I did not know it. We were appointed maids of
honour at the same time, and when we were presented to the Empress…"
And the Countess for the hundredth time related to her grandson one of
"Come, Paul," said she, when she had finished her story, "help me to
get up. Lizanka, where is my snuff-box?"
And the Countess with her three maids went behind a screen to finish
her toilette. Tomsky was left alone with the young lady.
"Who is the gentleman you wish to introduce to the Countess?" asked
Lizaveta Ivanovna in a whisper.
"Narumov. Do you know him?"
"No. Is he a soldier or a civilian?"
"Is he in the Engineers?"
"No, in the Cavalry. What made you think that he was in the
The young lady smiled, but made no reply.
"Paul," cried the Countess from behind the screen, "send me some new
novel, only pray don't let it be one of the present day style."
"What do you mean, grandmother?"
"That is, a novel, in which the hero strangles neither his father nor
his mother, and in which there are no drowned bodies. I have a great
horror of drowned persons."
"There are no such novels nowadays. Would you like a Russian one?"
"Are there any Russian novels? Send me one, my dear, pray send me
"Good-bye, grandmother: I am in a hurry… Good-bye, Lizaveta
Ivanovna. What made you think that Narumov was in the Engineers?"
And Tomsky left the boudoir.
Lizaveta Ivanovna was left alone: she laid aside her work and began to
look out of the window. A few moments afterwards, at a corner house on
the other side of the street, a young officer appeared. A deep blush
covered her cheeks; she took up her work again and bent her head down
over the frame. At the same moment the Countess returned completely
"Order the carriage, Lizaveta," said she; "we will go out for a
Lizaveta arose from the frame and began to arrange her work.
"What is the matter with you, my child, are you deaf?" cried the
Countess. "Order the carriage to be got ready at once."
"I will do so this moment," replied the young lady, hastening into the
A servant entered and gave the Countess some books from Prince Paul
"Tell him that I am much obliged to him," said the Countess.
"Lizaveta! Lizaveta! Where are you running to?"
"I am going to dress."
"There is plenty of time, my dear. Sit down here. Open the first
volume and read to me aloud."
Her companion took the book and read a few lines.
"Louder," said the Countess. "What is the matter with you, my child?
Have you lost your voice? Wait—give me that footstool—a little
nearer—that will do."
Lizaveta read two more pages. The Countess yawned.
"Put the book down," said she: "what a lot of nonsense! Send it back
to Prince Paul with my thanks… But where is the carriage?"
"The carriage is ready," said Lizaveta, looking out into the street.
"How is it that you are not dressed?" said the Countess: "I must
always wait for you. It is intolerable, my dear!"
Liza hastened to her room. She had not been there two minutes, before
the Countess began to ring with all her might. The three waiting-maids
came running in at one door and the valet at another.
"How is it that you cannot hear me when I ring for you?" said the
Countess. "Tell Lizaveta Ivanovna that I am waiting for her."
Lizaveta returned with her hat and cloak on.
"At last you are here!" said the Countess. "But why such an elaborate
toilette? Whom do you intend to captivate? What sort of weather is it?
It seems rather windy."
"No, your Ladyship, it is very calm," replied the valet.
"You never think of what you are talking about. Open the window. So it
is: windy and bitterly cold. Unharness the horses. Lizaveta, we won't
go out—there was no need for you to deck yourself like that."
"What a life is mine!" thought Lizaveta Ivanovna.
And, in truth, Lizaveta Ivanovna was a very unfortunate creature. "The
bread of the stranger is bitter," says Dante, "and his staircase hard
to climb." But who can know what the bitterness of dependence is so
well as the poor companion of an old lady of quality? The Countess
A—— had by no means a bad heart, bat she was capricious, like a
woman who had been spoilt by the world, as well as being avaricious
and egotistical, like all old people who have seen their best days,
and whose thoughts are with the past and not the present. She
participated in all the vanities of the great world, went to balls,
where she sat in a corner, painted and dressed in old-fashioned style,
like a deformed but indispensable ornament of the ball-room; all the
guests on entering approached her and made a profound bow, as if in
accordance with a set ceremony, but after that nobody took any further
notice of her. She received the whole town at her house, and observed
the strictest etiquette, although she could no longer recognise the
faces of people. Her numerous domestics, growing fat and old in her
ante-chamber and servants' hall, did just as they liked, and vied with
each other in robbing the aged Countess in the most bare-faced manner.
Lizaveta Ivanovna was the martyr of the household. She made tea, and
was reproached with using too much sugar; she read novels aloud to the
Countess, and the faults of the author were visited upon her head; she
accompanied the Countess in her walks, and was held answerable for the
weather or the state of the pavement. A salary was attached to the
post, but she very rarely received it, although she was expected to
dress like everybody else, that is to say, like very few indeed. In
society she played the most pitiable role. Everybody knew her, and
nobody paid her any attention. At balls she danced only when a partner
was wanted, and ladies would only take hold of her arm when it was
necessary to lead her out of the room to attend to their dresses. She
was very self-conscious, and felt her position keenly, and she looked
about her with impatience for a deliverer to come to her rescue; but
the young men, calculating in their giddiness, honoured her with but
very little attention, although Lizaveta Ivanovna was a hundred times
prettier than the bare-faced and cold-hearted marriageable girls
around whom they hovered. Many a time did she quietly slink away from
the glittering but wearisome drawing-room, to go and cry in her own
poor little room, in which stood a screen, a chest of drawers, a
looking-glass and a painted bedstead, and where a tallow candle burnt
feebly in a copper candle-stick.
One morning—this was about two days after the evening party described
at the beginning of this story, and a week previous to the scene at
which we have just assisted—Lizaveta Ivanovna was seated near the
window at her embroidery frame, when, happening to look out into the
street, she caught sight of a young Engineer officer, standing
motionless with his eyes fixed upon her window. She lowered her head
and went on again with her work. About five minutes afterwards she
looked out again—the young officer was still standing in the same
place. Not being in the habit of coquetting with passing officers, she
did not continue to gaze out into the street, but went on sewing for a
couple of hours, without raising her head. Dinner was announced. She
rose up and began to put her embroidery away, but glancing casually
out of the window, she perceived the officer again. This seemed to her
very strange. After dinner she went to the window with a certain
feeling of uneasiness, but the officer was no longer there—and she
thought no more about him.
A couple of days afterwards, just as she was stepping into the
carriage with the Countess, she saw him again. He was standing close
behind the door, with his face half-concealed by his fur collar, but
his dark eyes sparkled beneath his cap. Lizaveta felt alarmed, though
she knew not why, and she trembled as she seated herself in the
On returning home, she hastened to the window—the officer was
standing in his accustomed place, with his eyes fixed upon her. She
drew back, a prey to curiosity and agitated by a feeling which was
quite new to her.
From that time forward not a day passed without the young officer
making his appearance under the window at the customary hour, and
between him and her there was established a sort of mute acquaintance.
Sitting in her place at work, she used to feel his approach; and
raising her head, she would look at him longer and longer each day.
The young man seemed to be very grateful to her: she saw with the
sharp eye of youth, how a sudden flush covered his pale cheeks each
time that their glances met. After about a week she commenced to smile
When Tomsky asked permission of his grandmother the Countess to
present one of his friends to her, the young girl's heart beat
violently. But hearing that Narumov was not an Engineer, she regretted
that by her thoughtless question, she had betrayed her secret to the
Hermann was the son of a German who had become a naturalised Russian,
and from whom he had inherited a small capital. Being firmly convinced
of the necessity of preserving his independence, Hermann did not touch
his private income, but lived on his pay, without allowing himself the
slightest luxury. Moreover, he was reserved and ambitious, and his
companions rarely had an opportunity of making merry at the expense of
his extreme parsimony. He had strong passions and an ardent
imagination, but his firmness of disposition preserved him from the
ordinary errors of young men. Thus, though a gamester at heart, he
never touched a card, for he considered his position did not allow
him—as he said—"to risk the necessary in the hope of winning the
superfluous," yet he would sit for nights together at the card table
and follow with feverish anxiety the different turns of the game.
The story of the three cards had produced a powerful impression upon
his imagination, and all night long he could think of nothing else.
"If," he thought to himself the following evening, as he walked along
the streets of St. Petersburg, "if the old Countess would but reveal
her secret to me! if she would only tell me the names of the three
winning cards. Why should I not try my fortune? I must get introduced
to her and win her favour—become her lover… But all that will take
time, and she is eighty-seven years old: she might be dead in a week,
in a couple of days even!… But the story itself: can it really be
true?… No! Economy, temperance and industry: those are my three
winning cards; by means of them I shall be able to double my
capital—increase it sevenfold, and procure for myself ease and
Musing in this manner, he walked on until he found himself in one of
the principal streets of St. Petersburg, in front of a house of
antiquated architecture. The street was blocked with equipages;
carriages one after the other drew up in front of the brilliantly
illuminated doorway. At one moment there stepped out on to the
pavement the well-shaped little foot of some young beauty, at another
the heavy boot of a cavalry officer, and then the silk stockings and
shoes of a member of the diplomatic world. Furs and cloaks passed in
rapid succession before the gigantic porter at the entrance.
Hermann stopped. "Who's house is this?" he asked of the watchman at
"The Countess A——'s," replied the watchman.
Hermann started. The strange story of the three cards again presented
itself to his imagination. He began walking up and down before the
house, thinking of its owner and her strange secret. Returning late to
his modest lodging, he could not go to sleep for a long time, and when
at last he did doze off, he could dream of nothing but cards, green
tables, piles of banknotes and heaps of ducats. He played one card
after the other, winning uninterruptedly, and then he gathered up the
gold and filled his pockets with the notes. When he woke up late the
next morning, be sighed over the loss of his imaginary wealth, and
then sallying out into the town, he found himself once more in front
of the Countess's residence. Some unknown power seemed to have
attracted him thither. He stopped and looked up at the windows. At one
of these he saw a head with luxuriant black hair, which was bent down
probably over some book or an embroidery frame. The head was raised.
Hermann saw a fresh complexion and a pair of dark eyes. That moment
decided his fate.
Lizaveta Ivanovna had scarcely taken off her hat and cloak, when the
Countess sent for her and again ordered her to get the carriage ready.
The vehicle drew up before the door, and they prepared to take their
seats. Just at the moment when two footmen were assisting the old lady
to enter the carriage, Lizaveta saw her Engineer standing close beside
the wheel; he grasped her hand; alarm caused her to lose her presence
of mind, and the young man disappeared—but not before he had left a
letter between her fingers. She concealed it in her glove, and during
the whole of the drive she neither saw nor heard anything. It was the
custom of the Countess, when out for an airing in her carriage, to be
constantly asking such questions as: "Who was that person that met us
just now? What is the name of this bridge? What is written on that
signboard?" On this occasion, however, Lizaveta returned such vague
and absurd answers, that the Countess became angry with her.
"What is the matter with you, my dear?" she exclaimed. "Have you taken
leave of your senses, or what is it? Do you not hear me or understand
what I say?… Heaven be thanked, I am still in my right mind and
speak plainly enough!"
Lizaveta Ivanovna did not hear her. On returning home she ran to her
room, and drew the letter out of her glove: it was not sealed.
Lizaveta read it. The letter contained a declaration of love; it was
tender, respectful, and copied word for word from a German novel. But
Lizaveta did not know anything of the German language, and she was
For all that, the letter caused her to feel exceedingly uneasy. For
the first time in her life she was entering into secret and
confidential relations with a young man. His boldness alarmed her. She
reproached herself for her imprudent behaviour, and knew not what to
do. Should she cease to sit at the window and, by assuming an
appearance of indifference towards him, put a check upon the young
officer's desire for further acquaintance with her? Should she send
his letter back to him, or should she answer him in a cold and decided
manner? There was nobody to whom she could turn in her perplexity, for
she had neither female friend nor adviser… At length she resolved to
reply to him.
She sat down at her little writing-table, took pen and paper, and
began to think. Several times she began her letter, and then tore it
up: the way she had expressed herself seemed to her either too
inviting or too cold and decisive. At last she succeeded in writing a
few lines with which she felt satisfied.
"I am convinced," she wrote, "that your intentions are honourable, and
that you do not wish to offend me by any imprudent behaviour, but our
acquaintance must not begin in such a manner. I return you your
letter, and I hope that I shall never have any cause to complain of
this undeserved slight."
The next day, as soon as Hermann made his appearance, Lizaveta rose
from her embroidery, went into the drawing-room, opened the ventilator
and threw the letter into the street, trusting that the young officer
would have the perception to pick it up.
Hermann hastened forward, picked it up and then repaired to a
confectioner's shop. Breaking the seal of the envelope, he found
inside it his own letter and Lizaveta's reply. He had expected this,
and he returned home, his mind deeply occupied with his intrigue.
Three days afterwards, a bright-eyed young girl from a milliner's
establishment brought Lizaveta a letter. Lizaveta opened it with great
uneasiness, fearing that it was a demand for money, when suddenly she
recognised Hermann's hand-writing.
"You have made a mistake, my dear," said she: "this letter is not for
"Oh, yes, it is for you," replied the girl, smiling very knowingly.
"Have the goodness to read it."
Lizaveta glanced at the letter. Hermann requested an interview.
"It cannot be," she cried, alarmed at the audacious request, and the
manner in which it was made. "This letter is certainly not for me."
And she tore it into fragments.
"If the letter was not for you, why have you torn it up?" said the
girl. "I should have given it back to the person who sent it."
"Be good enough, my dear," said Lizaveta, disconcerted by this remark,
"not to bring me any more letters for the future, and tell the person
who sent you that he ought to be ashamed…"
But Hermann was not the man to be thus put off. Every day Lizaveta
received from him a letter, sent now in this way, now in that. They
were no longer translated from the German. Hermann wrote them under
the inspiration of passion, and spoke in his own language, and they
bore full testimony to the inflexibility of his desire and the
disordered condition of his uncontrollable imagination. Lizaveta no
longer thought of sending them back to him: she became intoxicated
with them and began to reply to them, and little by little her answers
became longer and more affectionate. At last she threw out of the
window to him the following letter:
"This evening there is going to be a ball at the Embassy. The Countess
will be there. We shall remain until two o'clock. You have now an
opportunity of seeing me alone. As soon as the Countess is gone, the
servants will very probably go out, and there will be nobody left but
the Swiss, but he usually goes to sleep in his lodge. Come about
half-past eleven. Walk straight upstairs. If you meet anybody in the
ante-room, ask if the Countess is at home. You will be told 'No,' in
which case there will be nothing left for you to do but to go away
again. But it is most probable that you will meet nobody. The
maidservants will all be together in one room. On leaving the
ante-room, turn to the left, and walk straight on until you reach the
Countess's bedroom. In the bedroom, behind a screen, you will find two
doors: the one on the right leads to a cabinet, which the Countess
never enters; the one on the left leads to a corridor, at the end of
which is a little winding staircase; this leads to my room."
Hermann trembled like a tiger, as he waited for the appointed time to
arrive. At ten o'clock in the evening he was already in front of the
Countess's house. The weather was terrible; the wind blew with great
violence; the sleety snow fell in large flakes; the lamps emitted a
feeble light, the streets were deserted; from time to time a sledge,
drawn by a sorry-looking hack, passed by, on the look-out for a
belated passenger. Hermann was enveloped in a thick overcoat, and felt
neither wind nor snow.
At last the Countess's carriage drew up. Hermann saw two footmen carry
out in their arms the bent form of the old lady, wrapped in sable fur,
and immediately behind her, clad in a warm mantle, and with her head
ornamented with a wreath of fresh flowers, followed Lizaveta. The door
was closed. The carriage rolled away heavily through the yielding
snow. The porter shut the street-door; the windows became dark.
Hermann began walking up and down near the deserted house; at length
he stopped under a lamp, and glanced at his watch: it was twenty
minutes past eleven. He remained standing under the lamp, his eyes
fixed upon the watch, impatiently waiting for the remaining minutes to
pass. At half-past eleven precisely, Hermann ascended the steps of the
house, and made his way into the brightly-illuminated vestibule. The
porter was not there. Hermann hastily ascended the staircase, opened
the door of the ante-room and saw a footman sitting asleep in an
antique chair by the side of a lamp. With a light firm step Hermann
passed by him. The drawing-room and dining-room were in darkness, but
a feeble reflection penetrated thither from the lamp in the ante-room.
Hermann reached the Countess's bedroom. Before a shrine, which was
full of old images, a golden lamp was burning. Faded stuffed chairs
and divans with soft cushions stood in melancholy symmetry around the
room, the walls of which were hung with China silk. On one side of the
room hung two portraits painted in Paris by Madame Lebrun. One of
these represented a stout, red-faced man of about forty years of age
in a bright-green uniform and with a star upon his breast; the
other—a beautiful young woman, with an aquiline nose, forehead curls
and a rose in her powdered hair. In the corners stood porcelain
shepherds and shepherdesses, dining-room clocks from the workshop of
the celebrated Lefroy, bandboxes, roulettes, fans and the various
playthings for the amusement of ladies that were in vogue at the end
of the last century, when Montgolfier's balloons and Mesmer's
magnetism were the rage. Hermann stepped behind the screen. At the
back of it stood a little iron bedstead; on the right was the door
which led to the cabinet; on the left—the other which led to the
corridor. He opened the latter, and saw the little winding staircase
which led to the room of the poor companion… But he retraced his
steps and entered the dark cabinet.
The time passed slowly. All was still. The clock in the drawing-room
struck twelve; the strokes echoed through the room one after the
other, and everything was quiet again. Hermann stood leaning against
the cold stove. He was calm; his heart beat regularly, like that of a
man resolved upon a dangerous but inevitable undertaking. One o'clock
in the morning struck; then two; and he heard the distant noise of
carriage-wheels. An involuntary agitation took possession of him. The
carriage drew near and stopped. He heard the sound of the
carriage-steps being let down. All was bustle within the house. The
servants were running hither and thither, there was a confusion of
voices, and the rooms were lit up. Three antiquated chamber-maids
entered the bedroom, and they were shortly afterwards followed by the
Countess who, more dead than alive, sank into a Voltaire armchair.
Hermann peeped through a chink. Lizaveta Ivanovna passed close by him,
and he heard her hurried steps as she hastened up the little spiral
staircase. For a moment his heart was assailed by something like a
pricking of conscience, but the emotion was only transitory, and his
heart became petrified as before.
The Countess began to undress before her looking-glass. Her
rose-bedecked cap was taken off, and then her powdered wig was removed
from off her white and closely-cut hair. Hairpins fell in showers
around her. Her yellow satin dress, brocaded with silver, fell down at
her swollen feet.
Hermann was a witness of the repugnant mysteries of her toilette; at
last the Countess was in her night-cap and dressing-gown, and in this
costume, more suitable to her age, she appeared less hideous and
Like all old people in general, the Countess suffered from
sleeplessness. Having undressed, she seated herself at the window in a
Voltaire armchair and dismissed her maids. The candles were taken
away, and once more the room was left with only one lamp burning in
it. The Countess sat there looking quite yellow, mumbling with her
flaccid lips and swaying to and fro. Her dull eyes expressed complete
vacancy of mind, and, looking at her, one would have thought that the
rocking of her body was not a voluntary action of her own, but was
produced by the action of some concealed galvanic mechanism.
Suddenly the death-like face assumed an inexplicable expression. The
lips ceased to tremble, the eyes became animated: before the Countess
stood an unknown man.
"Do not be alarmed, for Heaven's sake, do not be alarmed!" said he in
a low but distinct voice. "I have no intention of doing you any harm,
I have only come to ask a favour of you."
The old woman looked at him in silence, as if she had not heard what
he had said. Hermann thought that she was deaf, and bending down
towards her ear, he repeated what he had said. The aged Countess
remained silent as before.
"You can insure the happiness of my life," continued Hermann, "and it
will cost you nothing. I know that you can name three cards in
Hermann stopped. The Countess appeared now to understand what he
wanted; she seemed as if seeking for words to reply.
"It was a joke," she replied at last: "I assure you it was only a
"There is no joking about the matter," replied Hermann angrily.
"Remember Chaplitzky, whom you helped to win."
The Countess became visibly uneasy. Her features expressed strong
emotion, but they quickly resumed their former immobility.
"Can you not name me these three winning cards?" continued Hermann.
The Countess remained silent; Hermann continued:
"For whom are you preserving your secret? For your grandsons? They are
rich enough without it; they do not know the worth of money. Your
cards would be of no use to a spendthrift. He who cannot preserve his
paternal inheritance, will die in want, even though he had a demon at
his service. I am not a man of that sort; I know the value of money.
Your three cards will not be thrown away upon me. Come!"…
He paused and tremblingly awaited her reply. The Countess remained
silent; Hermann fell upon his knees.
"If your heart has ever known the feeling of love," said he, "if you
remember its rapture, if you have ever smiled at the cry of your
new-born child, if any human feeling has ever entered into your
breast, I entreat you by the feelings of a wife, a lover, a mother, by
all that is most sacred in life, not to reject my prayer. Reveal to me
your secret. Of what use is it to you?… May be it is connected with
some terrible sin with the loss of eternal salvation, with some
bargain with the devil… Reflect,—you are old; you have not long to
live—I am ready to take your sins upon my soul. Only reveal to me
your secret. Remember that the happiness of a man is in your hands,
that not only I, but my children, and grandchildren will bless your
memory and reverence you as a saint…"
The old Countess answered not a word.
Hermann rose to his feet.
"You old hag!" he exclaimed, grinding his teeth, "then I will make you
With these words he drew a pistol from his pocket.
At the sight of the pistol, the Countess for the second time exhibited
strong emotion. She shook her head and raised her hands as if to
protect herself from the shot… then she fell backwards and remained
"Come, an end to this childish nonsense!" said Hermann, taking hold of
her hand. "I ask you for the last time: will you tell me the names of
your three cards, or will you not?"
The Countess made no reply. Hermann perceived that she was dead!
Lizaveta Ivanovna was sitting in her room, still in her ball dress,
lost in deep thought. On returning home, she had hastily dismissed the
chambermaid who very reluctantly came forward to assist her, saying
that she would undress herself, and with a trembling heart had gone up
to her own room, expecting to find Hermann there, but yet hoping not
to find him. At the first glance she convinced herself that he was not
there, and she thanked her fate for having prevented him keeping the
appointment. She sat down without undressing, and began to recall to
mind all the circumstances which in so short a time had carried her so
far. It was not three weeks since the time when she first saw the
young officer from the window—and yet she was already in
correspondence with him, and he had succeeded in inducing her to grant
him a nocturnal interview! She knew his name only through his having
written it at the bottom of some of his letters; she had never spoken
to him, had never heard his voice, and had never heard him spoken of
until that evening. But, strange to say, that very evening at the
ball, Tomsky, being piqued with the young Princess Pauline N——, who,
contrary to her usual custom, did not flirt with him, wished to
revenge himself by assuming an air of indifference: he therefore
engaged Lizaveta Ivanovna and danced an endless mazurka with her.
During the whole of the time he kept teasing her about her partiality
for Engineer officers; he assured her that he knew far more than she
imagined, and some of his jests were so happily aimed, that Lizaveta
thought several times that her secret was known to him.
"From whom have you learnt all this?" she asked, smiling.
"From a friend of a person very well known to you," replied Tomsky,
"from a very distinguished man."
"And who is this distinguished man?"
"His name is Hermann."
Lizaveta made no reply; but her hands and feet lost all sense of
"This Hermann," continued Tomsky, "is a man of romantic personality.
He has the profile of a Napoleon, and the soul of a Mephistopheles. I
believe that he has at least three crimes upon his conscience… How
pale you have become!"
"I have a headache… But what did this Hermann—or whatever his name
"Hermann is very much dissatisfied with his friend: he says that in
his place he would act very differently… I even think that Hermann
himself has designs upon you; at least, he listens very attentively to
all that his friend has to say about you."
"And where has he seen me?"
"In church, perhaps; or on the parade—God alone knows where. It may
have been in your room, while you were asleep, for there is nothing
Three ladies approaching him with the question: "oubli ou regret?"
interrupted the conversation, which had become so tantalisingly
interesting to Lizaveta.
The lady chosen by Tomsky was the Princess Pauline herself. She
succeeded in effecting a reconciliation with him during the numerous
turns of the dance, after which he conducted her to her chair. On
returning to his place, Tomsky thought no more either of Hermann or
Lizaveta. She longed to renew the interrupted conversation, but the
mazurka came to an end, and shortly afterwards the old Countess took
Tomsky's words were nothing more than the customary small talk of the
dance, but they sank deep into the soul of the young dreamer. The
portrait, sketched by Tomsky, coincided with the picture she had
formed within her own mind, and thanks to the latest romances, the
ordinary countenance of her admirer became invested with attributes
capable of alarming her and fascinating her imagination at the same
time. She was now sitting with her bare arms crossed and with her
head, still adorned with flowers, sunk upon her uncovered bosom.
Suddenly the door opened and Hermann entered. She shuddered.
"Where were you?" she asked in a terrified whisper.
"In the old Countess's bedroom," replied Hermann: "I have just left
her. The Countess is dead."
"My God! What do you say?"
"And I am afraid," added Hermann, "that I am the cause of her death."
Lizaveta looked at him, and Tomsky's words found an echo in her soul:
"This man has at least three crimes upon his conscience!" Hermann sat
down by the window near her, and related all that had happened.
Lizaveta listened to him in terror. So all those passionate letters,
those ardent desires, this bold obstinate pursuit—all this was not
love! Money—that was what his soul yearned for! She could not satisfy
his desire and make him, happy I The poor girl had been nothing but
the blind tool of a robber, of the murderer of her aged
benefactress!… She wept bitter tears of agonised repentance. Hermann
gazed at her in silence: his heart, too, was a prey to violent
emotion, but neither the tears of the poor girl, nor the wonderful
charm of her beauty, enhanced by her grief, could produce any
impression upon his hardened soul. He felt no pricking of conscience
at the thought of the dead old woman. One thing only grieved him: the
irreparable loss of the secret from which he had expected to obtain
"You are a monster!" said Lizaveta at last.
"I did not wish for her death," replied Hermann: "my pistol was not
Both remained silent.
The day began to dawn. Lizaveta extinguished her candle: a pale light
illumined her room. She wiped her tear-stained eyes and raised them
towards Hermann: he was sitting near the window, with his arms crossed
and with a fierce frown upon his forehead. In this attitude he bore a
striking resemblance to the portrait of Napoleon. This resemblance
struck Lizaveta even.
"How shall I get you out of the house?" said she at last. "I thought
of conducting you down the secret staircase, but in that case it would
be necessary to go through the Countess's bedroom, and I am afraid."
"Tell me how to find this secret staircase—I will go alone."
Lizaveta arose, took from her drawer a key, handed it to Hermann and
gave him the necessary instructions. Hermann pressed her cold, limp
hand, kissed her bowed head, and left the room.
He descended the winding staircase, and once more entered the
Countess's bedroom. The dead old lady sat as if petrified; her face
expressed profound tranquillity. Hermann stopped before her, and gazed
long and earnestly at her, as if he wished to convince himself of the
terrible reality; at last he entered the cabinet, felt behind the
tapestry for the door, and then began to descend the dark staircase,
filled with strange emotions. "Down this very staircase," thought he,
"perhaps coming from the very same room, and at this very same hour
sixty years ago, there may have glided, in an embroidered coat, with
his hair dressed à l'oiseau royal and pressing to his heart his
three-cornered hat, some young gallant, who has long been mouldering
in the grave, but the heart of his aged mistress has only to-day
ceased to beat…"
At the bottom of the staircase Hermann found a door, which he opened
with a key, and then traversed a corridor which conducted him into the
Three days after the fatal night, at nine o'clock in the morning,
Hermann repaired to the Convent of ——, where the last honours were
to be paid to the mortal remains of the old Countess. Although feeling
no remorse, he could not altogether stifle the voice of conscience,
which said to him: "You are the murderer of the old woman!" In spite
of his entertaining very little religious belief, he was exceedingly
superstitious; and believing that the dead Countess might exercise an
evil influence on his life, he resolved to be present at her obsequies
in order to implore her pardon.
The church was full. It was with difficulty that Hermann made his way
through the crowd of people. The coffin was placed upon a rich
catafalque beneath a velvet baldachin. The deceased Countess lay
within it, with her hands crossed upon her breast, with a lace cap
upon her head and dressed in a white satin robe. Around the catafalque
stood the members of her household: the servants in black caftans,
with armorial ribbons upon their shoulders, and candles in their
hands; the relatives—children, grandchildren, and
great-grandchildren—in deep mourning.
Nobody wept; tears would have been une affectation. The Countess was
so old, that her death could have surprised nobody, and her relatives
had long looked upon her as being out of the world. A famous preacher
pronounced the funeral sermon. In simple and touching words he
described the peaceful passing away of the righteous, who had passed
long years in calm preparation for a Christian end. "The angel of
death found her," said the orator, "engaged in pious meditation and
waiting for the midnight bridegroom."
The service concluded amidst profound silence. The relatives went
forward first to take farewell of the corpse. Then followed the
numerous guests, who had come to render the last homage to her who for
so many years had been a participator in their frivolous amusements.
After these followed the members of the Countess's household. The last
of these was an old woman of the same age as the deceased. Two young
women led her forward by the hand. She had not strength enough to bow
down to the ground—she merely shed a few tears and kissed the cold
hand of her mistress.
Hermann now resolved to approach the coffin. He knelt down upon the
cold stones and remained in that position for some minutes; at last he
arose, as pale as the deceased Countess herself; he ascended the steps
of the catafalque and bent over the corpse… At that moment it seemed
to him that the dead woman darted a mocking look at him and winked
with one eye. Hermann started back, took a false step and fell to the
ground. Several persons hurried forward and raised him up. At the same
moment Lizaveta Ivanovna was borne fainting into the porch of the
church. This episode disturbed for some minutes the solemnity of the
gloomy ceremony. Among the congregation arose a deep murmur, and a
tall thin chamberlain, a near relative of the deceased, whispered in
the ear of an Englishman who was standing near him, that the young
officer was a natural son of the Countess, to which the Englishman
coldly replied: "Oh!"
During the whole of that day, Hermann was strangely excited. Repairing
to an out-of-the-way restaurant to dine, he drank a great deal of
wine, contrary to his usual custom, in the hope of deadening his
inward agitation. But the wine only served to excite his imagination
still more. On returning home, he threw himself upon his bed without
undressing, and fell into a deep sleep.
When he woke up it was already night, and the moon was shining into
the room. He looked at his watch: it was a quarter to three. Sleep had
left him; he sat down upon his bed and thought of the funeral of the
At that moment somebody in the street looked in at his window, and
immediately passed on again. Hermann paid no attention to this
incident. A few moments afterwards he heard the door of his ante-room
open. Hermann thought that it was his orderly, drunk as usual,
returning from some nocturnal expedition, but presently he heard
footsteps that were unknown to him: somebody was walking softly over
the floor in slippers. The door opened, and a woman dressed in white,
entered the room. Hermann mistook her for his old nurse, and wondered
what could bring her there at that hour of the night. But the white
woman glided rapidly across the room and stood before him—and Hermann
recognised the Countess!
"I have come to you against my wish," she said in a firm voice: "but I
have been ordered to grant your request. Three, seven, ace, will win
for you if played in succession, but only on these conditions: that
you do not play more than one card in twenty-four hours, and that you
never play again during the rest of your life. I forgive you my death,
on condition that you marry my companion, Lizaveta Ivanovna."
With these words she turned round very quietly, walked with a
shuffling gait towards the door and disappeared. Hermann heard the
street-door open and shut, and again he saw some one look in at him
through the window.
For a long time Hermann could not recover himself. He then rose up and
entered the next room. His orderly was lying asleep upon the floor,
and he had much difficulty in waking him. The orderly was drunk as
usual, and no information could be obtained from him. The street-door
was locked. Hermann returned to his room, lit his candle, and wrote
down all the details of his vision.
Two fixed ideas can no more exist together in the moral world than two
bodies can occupy one and the same place in the physical world.
"Three, seven, ace," soon drove out of Hermann's mind the thought of
the dead Countess. "Three, seven, ace," were perpetually running
through his head and continually being repeated by his lips. If he saw
a young girl, he would say: "How slender she is! quite like the three
of hearts." If anybody asked: "What is the time?" he would reply:
"Five minutes to seven." Every stout man that he saw reminded him of
the ace. "Three, seven, ace" haunted him in his sleep, and assumed all
possible shapes. The threes bloomed before him in the forms of
magnificent flowers, the sevens were represented by Gothic portals,
and the aces became transformed into gigantic spiders. One thought
alone occupied his whole mind—to make a profitable use of the secret
which he had purchased so dearly. He thought of applying for a
furlough so as to travel abroad. He wanted to go to Paris and tempt
fortune in some of the public gambling-houses that abounded there.
Chance spared him all this trouble.
There was in Moscow a society of rich gamesters, presided over by the
celebrated Chekalinsky, who had passed all his life at the card-table
and had amassed millions, accepting bills of exchange for his winnings
and paying his losses in ready money. His long experience secured for
him the confidence of his companions, and his open house, his famous
cook, and his agreeable and fascinating manners gained for him the
respect of the public. He came to St. Petersburg. The young men of the
capital flocked to his rooms, forgetting balls for cards, and
preferring the emotions of faro to the seductions of flirting. Narumov
conducted Hermann to Chekalinsky's residence.
They passed through a suite of magnificent rooms, filled with
attentive domestics. The place was crowded. Generals and Privy
Counsellors were playing at whist; young men were lolling carelessly
upon the velvet-covered sofas, eating ices and smoking pipes. In the
drawing-room, at the head of a long table, around which were assembled
about a score of players, sat the master of the house keeping the
bank. He was a man of about sixty years of age, of a very dignified
appearance; his head was covered with silvery-white hair; his full,
florid countenance expressed good-nature, and his eyes twinkled with a
perpetual smile. Narumov introduced Hermann to him. Chekalinsky shook
him by the hand in a friendly manner, requested him not to stand on
ceremony, and then went on dealing.
The game occupied some time. On the table lay more than thirty cards.
Chekalinsky paused after each throw, in order to give the players time
to arrange their cards and note down their losses, listened politely
to their requests, and more politely still, put straight the corners
of cards that some player's hand had chanced to bend. At last the game
was finished. Chekalinsky shuffled the cards and prepared to deal
"Will you allow me to take a card?" said Hermann, stretching out his
hand from behind a stout gentleman who was punting.
Chekalinsky smiled and bowed silently, as a sign of acquiescence.
Narumov laughingly congratulated Hermann on his abjuration of that
abstention from cards which he had practised for so long a period, and
wished him a lucky beginning.
"Stake!" said Hermann, writing some figures with chalk on the back of
"How much?" asked the banker, contracting the muscles of his eyes;
"excuse me, I cannot see quite clearly."
"Forty-seven thousand rubles," replied Hermann.
At these words every head in the room turned suddenly round, and all
eyes were fixed upon Hermann.
"He has taken leave of his senses!" thought Narumov.
"Allow me to inform you," said Chekalinsky, with his eternal smile,
"that you are playing very high; nobody here has ever staked more than
two hundred and seventy-five rubles at once."
"Very well," replied Hermann; "but do you accept my card or not?"
Chekalinsky bowed in token of consent.
"I only wish to observe," said he, "that although I have the greatest
confidence in my friends, I can only play against ready money. For my
own part, I am quite convinced that your word is sufficient, but for
the sake of the order of the game, and to facilitate the reckoning up,
I must ask you to put the money on your card."
Hermann drew from his pocket a bank-note and handed it to Chekalinsky,
who, after examining it in a cursory manner, placed it on Hermann's
He began to deal. On the right a nine turned up, and on the left a
"I have won!" said Hermann, showing his card.
A murmur of astonishment arose among the players. Chekalinsky frowned,
but the smile quickly returned to his face.
"Do you wish me to settle with you?" he said to Hermann.
"If you please," replied the latter.
Chekalinsky drew from his pocket a number of banknotes and paid at
once. Hermann took up his money and left the table. Narumov could not
recover from his astonishment. Hermann drank a glass of lemonade and
The next evening he again repaired to Chekalinsky's. The host was
dealing. Hermann walked up to the table; the punters immediately made
room for him. Chekalinsky greeted him with a gracious bow.
Hermann waited for the next deal, took a card and placed upon it his
forty-seven thousand roubles, together with his winnings of the
Chekalinsky began to deal. A knave turned up on the right, a seven on
Hermann showed his seven.
There was a general exclamation. Chekalinsky was evidently ill at
ease, but he counted out the ninety-four thousand rubles and handed
them over to Hermann, who pocketed them in the coolest manner possible
and immediately left the house.
The next evening Hermann appeared again at the table. Every one was
expecting him. The generals and Privy Counsellors left their whist in
order to watch such extraordinary play. The young officers quitted
their sofas, and even the servants crowded into the room. All pressed
round Hermann. The other players left off punting, impatient to see
how it would end. Hermann stood at the table and prepared to play
alone against the pale, but still smiling Chekalinsky. Each opened a
pack of cards. Chekalinsky shuffled. Hermann took a card and covered
it with a pile of bank-notes. It was like a duel. Deep silence reigned
Chekalinsky began to deal; his hands trembled. On the right a queen
turned up, and on the left an ace.
"Ace has won!" cried Hermann, showing his card.
"Your queen has lost," said Chekalinsky, politely.
Hermann started; instead of an ace, there lay before him the queen of
spades! He could not believe his eyes, nor could he understand how he
had made such a mistake.
At that moment it seemed to him that the queen of spades smiled
ironically and winked her eye at him. He was struck by her remarkable
"The old Countess!" he exclaimed, seized with terror.
Chekalinsky gathered up his winnings. For some time, Hermann remained
perfectly motionless. When at last he left the table, there was a
general commotion in the room.
"Splendidly punted!" said the players. Chekalinsky shuffled the cards
afresh, and the game went on as usual.
* * * * *
Hermann went out of his mind, and is now confined in room Number 17 of
the Obukhov Hospital. He never answers any questions, but he
constantly mutters with unusual rapidity: "Three, seven, ace!" "Three,
Lizaveta Ivanovna has married a very amiable young man, a son of the
former steward of the old Countess. He is in the service of the State
somewhere, and is in receipt of a good income. Lizaveta is also
supporting a poor relative.
Tomsky has been promoted to the rank of captain, and has become the
husband of the Princess Pauline.
BY NIKOLAY V. GOGOL
In the department of——, but it is better not to mention the
department. The touchiest things in the world are departments,
regiments, courts of justice, in a word, all branches of public
service. Each individual nowadays thinks all society insulted in his
person. Quite recently, a complaint was received from a district chief
of police in which he plainly demonstrated that all the imperial
institutions were going to the dogs, and that the Czar's sacred name
was being taken in vain; and in proof he appended to the complaint a
romance, in which the district chief of police is made to appear about
once in every ten pages, and sometimes in a downright drunken
condition. Therefore, in order to avoid all unpleasantness, it will be
better to designate the department in question, as a certain
So, in a certain department there was a certain official—not a very
notable one, it must be allowed—short of stature, somewhat
pock-marked, red-haired, and mole-eyed, with a bald forehead, wrinkled
cheeks, and a complexion of the kind known as sanguine. The St.
Petersburg climate was responsible for this. As for his official
rank—with us Russians the rank comes first—he was what is called a
perpetual titular councillor, over which, as is well known, some
writers make merry and crack their jokes, obeying the praiseworthy
custom of attacking those who cannot bite back.
His family name was Bashmachkin. This name is evidently derived from
bashmak (shoe); but, when, at what time, and in what manner, is not
known. His father and grandfather, and all the Bashmachkins, always
wore boots, which were resoled two or three times a year. His name was
Akaky Akakiyevich. It may strike the reader as rather singular and
far-fetched; but he may rest assured that it was by no means
far-fetched, and that the circumstances were such that it would have
been impossible to give him any other.
This was how it came about.
Akaky Akakiyevich was born, if my memory fails me not, in the evening
on the 23rd of March. His mother, the wife of a Government official,
and a very fine woman, made all due arrangements for having the child
baptised. She was lying on the bed opposite the door; on her right
stood the godfather, Ivan Ivanovich Eroshkin, a most estimable man,
who served as the head clerk of the senate; and the godmother, Arina
Semyonovna Bielobrinshkova, the wife of an officer of the quarter, and
a woman of rare virtues. They offered the mother her choice of three
names, Mokiya, Sossiya, or that the child should be called after the
martyr Khozdazat. "No," said the good woman, "all those names are
poor." In order to please her, they opened the calendar at another
place; three more names appeared, Triphily, Dula, and Varakhasy. "This
is awful," said the old woman. "What names! I truly never heard the
like. I might have put up with Varadat or Varukh, but not Triphily and
Varakhasy!" They turned to another page and found Pavsikakhy and
Vakhtisy. "Now I see," said the old woman, "that it is plainly fate.
And since such is the case, it will be better to name him after his
father. His father's name was Akaky, so let his son's name be Akaky
too." In this manner he became Akaky Akakiyevich. They christened the
child, whereat he wept, and made a grimace, as though he foresaw that
he was to be a titular councillor.
In this manner did it all come about. We have mentioned it in order
that the reader might see for himself that it was a case of necessity,
and that it was utterly impossible to give him any other name.
When and how he entered the department, and who appointed him, no one
could remember. However much the directors and chiefs of all kinds
were changed, he was always to be seen in the same place, the same
attitude, the same occupation—always the letter-copying clerk—so
that it was afterwards affirmed that he had been born in uniform with
a bald head. No respect was shown him in the department. The porter
not only did not rise from his seat when he passed, but never even
glanced at him, any more than if a fly had flown through the
reception-room. His superiors treated him in coolly despotic fashion.
Some insignificant assistant to the head clerk would thrust a paper
under his nose without so much as saying, "Copy," or, "Here's an
interesting little case," or anything else agreeable, as is customary
amongst well-bred officials. And he took it, looking only at the
paper, and not observing who handed it to him, or whether he had the
right to do so; simply took it, and set about copying it.
The young officials laughed at and made fun of him, so far as their
official wit permitted; told in his presence various stories concocted
about him, and about his landlady, an old woman of seventy; declared
that she beat him; asked when the wedding was to be; and strewed bits
of paper over his head, calling them snow. But Akaky Akakiyevich
answered not a word, any more than if there had been no one there
besides himself. It even had no effect upon his work. Amid all these
annoyances he never made a single mistake in a letter. But if the
joking became wholly unbearable, as when they jogged his head, and
prevented his attending to his work, he would exclaim:
"Leave me alone! Why do you insult me?"
And there was something strange in the words and the voice in which
they were uttered. There was in it something which moved to pity; so
much so that one young man, a newcomer, who, taking pattern by the
others, had permitted himself to make sport of Akaky, suddenly stopped
short, as though all about him had undergone a transformation, and
presented itself in a different aspect. Some unseen force repelled him
from the comrades whose acquaintance he had made, on the supposition
that they were decent, well-bred men. Long afterwards, in his gayest
moments, there recurred to his mind the little official with the bald
forehead, with his heart-rending words, "Leave me alone! Why do you
insult me?" In these moving words, other words resounded—"I am thy
brother." And the young man covered his face with his hand; and many a
time afterwards, in the course of his life, shuddered at seeing how
much inhumanity there is in man, how much savage coarseness is
concealed beneath refined, cultured, worldly refinement, and even, O
God! in that man whom the world acknowledges as honourable and
It would be difficult to find another man who lived so entirely for
his duties. It is not enough to say that Akaky laboured with zeal; no,
he laboured with love. In his copying, he found a varied and agreeable
employment. Enjoyment was written on his face; some letters were even
favourites with him; and when he encountered these, he smiled, winked,
and worked with his lips, till it seemed as though each letter might
be read in his face, as his pen traced it. If his pay had been in
proportion to his zeal, he would, perhaps, to his great surprise, have
been made even a councillor of state. But he worked, as his
companions, the wits, put it, like a horse in a mill.
However, it would be untrue to say that no attention was paid to him.
One director being a kindly man, and desirous of rewarding him for his
long service, ordered him to be given something more important than
mere copying. So he was ordered to make a report of an already
concluded affair, to another department; the duty consisting simply in
changing the heading and altering a few words from the first to the
third person. This caused him so much toil, that he broke into a
perspiration, rubbed his forehead, and finally said, "No, give me
rather something to copy." After that they let him copy on forever.
Outside this copying, it appeared that nothing existed for him. He
gave no thought to his clothes. His uniform was not green, but a sort
of rusty-meal colour. The collar was low, so that his neck, in spite
of the fact that it was not long, seemed inordinately so as it emerged
from it, like the necks of the plaster cats which pedlars carry about
on their heads. And something was always sticking to his uniform,
either a bit of hay or some trifle. Moreover, he had a peculiar knack,
as he walked along the street, of arriving beneath a window just as
all sorts of rubbish was being flung out of it; hence he always bore
about on his hat scraps of melon rinds, and other such articles. Never
once in his life did he give heed to what was going on every day to
the street; while it is well known that his young brother officials
trained the range of their glances till they could see when any one's
trouser-straps came undone upon the opposite sidewalk, which always
brought a malicious smile to their faces. But Akaky Akakiyevich saw in
all things the clean, even strokes of his written lines; and only when
a horse thrust his nose, from some unknown quarter, over his shoulder,
and sent a whole gust of wind down his neck from his nostrils, did he
observe that he was not in the middle of a line, but in the middle of
On reaching home, he sat down at once at the table, sipped his
cabbage-soup up quickly, and swallowed a bit of beef with onions,
never noticing their taste, and gulping down everything with flies and
anything else which the Lord happened to send at the moment. When he
saw that his stomach was beginning to swell, he rose from the table,
and copied papers which he had brought home. If there happened to be
none, he took copies for himself, for his own gratification,
especially if the document was noteworthy, not on account of its
style, but of its being addressed to some distinguished person.
Even at the hour when the grey St. Petersburg sky had quite
disappeared, and all the official world had eaten or dined, each as he
could, in accordance with the salary he received and his own fancy;
when, all were resting from the department jar of pens, running to and
fro, for their own and other people's indispensable occupations', and
from all the work that an uneasy man makes willingly for himself,
rather than what is necessary; when, officials hasten to dedicate to
pleasure the time which is left to them, one bolder than the rest,
going to the theatre; another; into the street looking under the
bonnets; another, wasting his evening in compliments to some pretty
girl, the star of a small official circle; another—and this is the
common case of all—visiting his comrades on the third or fourth
floor, in two small rooms with an ante-room or kitchen, and some
pretensions to fashion, such as a lamp or some other trifle which has
cost many a sacrifice of dinner or pleasure trip; in a word, at the
hour when all officials disperse among the contracted quarters of
their friends, to play whist, as they sip their tea from glasses with
a kopek's worth of sugar, smoke long pipes, relate at time some bits
of gossip which a Russian man can never, under any circumstances,
refrain from, and when there is nothing else to talk of, repeat
eternal anecdotes about the commandant to whom they had sent word that
the tails of the horses on the Falconet Monument had been cut off;
when all strive to divert themselves, Akaky Akakiyevich indulged in no
kind of diversion. No one could even say that he had seen him at any
kind of evening party. Having written to his heart's content, he lay
down to sleep, smiling at the thought of the coming day—of what God
might send him to copy on the morrow.
Thus flowed on the peaceful life of the man, who, with a salary of
four hundred rubles, understood how to be content with his lot; and
thus it would have continued to flow on, perhaps, to extreme old age,
were it not that there are various ills strewn along the path of life
for titular councillors as well as for private, actual, court, and
every other species of councillor, even to those who never give any
advice or take any themselves.
There exists in St. Petersburg a powerful foe of all who receive a
salary of four hundred rubles a year, or there-abouts. This foe is no
other than the Northern cold, although it is said to be very healthy.
At nine o'clock in the morning, at the very hour when the streets are
filled with men bound for the various official departments, it begins
to bestow such powerful and piercing nips on all noses impartially,
that the poor officials really do not know what to do with them. At an
hour, when the foreheads of even those who occupy exalted positions
ache with the cold, and tears start to their eyes, the poor titular
councillors are sometimes quite unprotected. Their only salvation lies
in traversing as quickly as possible, in their thin little cloaks,
five or six streets, and then warming their feet in the porter's room,
and so thawing all their talents and qualifications for official
service, which had become frozen on the way.
Akaky Akakiyevich had felt for some time that his back and shoulders
were paining with peculiar poignancy, in spite of the fact that he
tried to traverse the distance with all possible speed. He began
finally to wonder whether the fault did not lie in his cloak. He
examined it thoroughly at home, and discovered that in two places,
namely, on the back and shoulders, it had become thin as gauze. The
cloth was worn to such a degree that he could see through it, and the
lining had fallen into pieces. You must know that Akaky Akakiyevich's
cloak served as an object of ridicule to the officials. They even
refused it the noble name of cloak, and called it a cape. In fact, it
was of singular make, its collar diminishing year by year to serve to
patch its other parts. The patching did not exhibit great skill on the
part of the tailor, and was, in fact, baggy and ugly. Seeing how the
matter stood, Akaky Akakiyevich decided that it would be necessary to
take the cloak to Petrovich, the tailor, who lived somewhere on the
fourth floor up a dark staircase, and who, in spite of his having but
one eye and pock-marks all over his face, busied himself with
considerable success in repairing the trousers and coats of officials
and others; that is to say, when he was sober and not nursing some
other scheme in his head.
It is not necessary to say much about this tailor, but as it is the
custom to have the character of each personage in a novel clearly
defined there is no help for it, so here is Petrovich the tailor. At
first he was called only Grigory, and was some gentleman's serf. He
commenced calling himself Petrovich from the time when he received his
free papers, and further began to drink heavily on all holidays, at
first on the great ones, and then on all church festivals without
discrimination, wherever a cross stood in the calendar. On this point
he was faithful to ancestral custom; and when quarrelling with his
wife, he called her a low female and a German. As we have mentioned
his wife, it will be necessary to say a word or two about her.
Unfortunately, little is known of her beyond the fact that Petrovich
had a wife, who wore a cap and a dress, but could not lay claim to
beauty, at least, no one but the soldiers of the guard even looked
under her cap when they met her.
Ascending the staircase which led to Petrovich's room—which staircase
was all soaked with dish-water and reeked with the smell of spirits
which affects the eyes, and is an inevitable adjunct to all dark
stairways in St. Petersburg houses—ascending the stairs, Akaky
Akakiyevich pondered how much Petrovich would ask, and mentally
resolved not to give more than two rubles. The door was open, for the
mistress, in cooking some fish, had raised such a smoke in the kitchen
that not even the beetles were visible. Akaky Akakiyevich passed
through the kitchen unperceived, even by the housewife, and at length
reached a room where he beheld Petrovich seated on a large unpainted
table, with his legs tucked under him like a Turkish pasha. His feet
were bare, after the fashion of tailors as they sit at work; and the
first thing which caught the eye was his thumb, with a deformed nail
thick and strong as a turtle's shell. About Petrovich's neck hung a
skein of silk and thread, and upon his knees lay some old garment. He
had been trying unsuccessfully for three minutes to thread his needle,
and was enraged at the darkness and even at the thread, growling in a
low voice, "It won't go through, the barbarian! you pricked me, you
Akaky Akakiyevich was vexed at arriving at the precise moment when
Petrovich was angry. He liked to order something of Petrovich when he
was a little downhearted, or, as his wife expressed it, "when he had
settled himself with brandy, the one-eyed devil!" Under such
circumstances Petrovich generally came down in his price very readily,
and even bowed and returned thanks. Afterwards, to be sure, his wife
would come, complaining that her husband had been drunk, and so had
fixed the price too low; but, if only a ten-kopek piece were added
then the matter would be settled. But now it appeared that Petrovich
was in a sober condition, and therefore rough, taciturn, and inclined
to demand, Satan only knows what price. Akaky Akakiyevich felt this,
and would gladly have beat a retreat, but he was in for it. Petrovich
screwed up his one eye very intently at him, and Akaky Akakiyevich
involuntarily said, "How do you do, Petrovich?"
"I wish you a good morning, sir," said Petrovich squinting at Akaky
Akakiyevich's hands, to see what sort of booty he had brought.
"Ah! I—to you, Petrovich, this—" It must be known that Akaky
Akakiyevich expressed himself chiefly by prepositions, adverbs, and
scraps of phrases which had no meaning whatever. If the matter was a
very difficult one, he had a habit of never completing his sentences,
so that frequently, having begun a phrase with the words, "This, in
fact, is quite—" he forgot to go on, thinking he had already finished
"What is it?" asked Petrovich, and with his one eye scanned Akaky
Akakiyevich's whole uniform from the collar down to the cuffs, the
back, the tails and the button-holes, all of which were well known to
him, since they were his own handiwork. Such is the habit of tailors;
it is the first thing they do on meeting one.
"But I, here, this—Petrovich—a cloak, cloth—here you see,
everywhere, in different places, it is quite strong—it is a little
dusty and looks old, but it is new, only here in one place it is a
little—on the back, and here on one of the shoulders, it is a little
worn, yes, here on this shoulder it is a little—do you see? That is
all. And a little work—"
Petrovich took the cloak, spread it out, to begin with, on the table,
looked at it hard, shook his head, reached out his hand to the
window-sill for his snuff-box, adorned with the portrait of some
general, though what general is unknown, for the place where the face
should have been had been rubbed through by the finger and a square
bit of paper had been pasted over it. Having taken a pinch of snuff,
Petrovich held up the cloak, and inspected it against the light, and
again shook his head. Then he turned it, lining upwards, and shook his
head once more. After which he again lifted the general-adorned lid
with its bit of pasted paper, and having stuffed his nose with snuff,
dosed and put away the snuff-box, and said finally, "No, it is
impossible to mend it. It is a wretched garment!"
Akaky Akakiyevich's heart sank at these words.
"Why is it impossible, Petrovich?" he said, almost in the pleading
voice of a child. "All that ails it is, that it is worn on the
shoulders. You must have some pieces—"
"Yes, patches could be found, patches are easily found," said
Petrovich, "but there's nothing to sew them to. The thing is
completely rotten. If you put a needle to it—see, it will give way."
"Let it give way, and you can put on another patch at once."
"But there is nothing to put the patches on to. There's no use in
strengthening it. It is too far gone. It's lucky that it's cloth, for,
if the wind were to blow, it would fly away."
"Well, strengthen it again. How this, in fact—"
"No," said Petrovich decisively, "there is nothing to be done with it.
It's a thoroughly bad job. You'd better, when the cold winter weather
comes on, make yourself some gaiters out of it, because stockings are
not warm. The Germans invented them in order to make more money."
Petrovich loved on all occasions to have a fling at the Germans. "But
it is plain you must have a new cloak."
At the word "new" all grew dark before Akaky Akakiyevich's eyes, and
everything in the room began to whirl round. The only thing he saw
clearly was the general with the paper face on the lid of Petrovich's
snuff-box. "A new one?" said he, as if still in a dream. "Why, I have
no money for that."
"Yes, a new one," said Petrovich, with barbarous composure.
"Well, if it came to a new one, how—it—"
"You mean how much would it cost?"
"Well, you would have to lay out a hundred and fifty or more," said
Petrovich, and pursed up his lips significantly. He liked to produce
powerful effects, liked to stun utterly and suddenly, and then to
glance sideways to see what face the stunned person would put on the
"A hundred and fifty rubles for a cloak!" shrieked poor Akaky
Akakiyevich, perhaps for the first time in his life, for his voice had
always been distinguished for softness.
"Yes, sir," said Petrovich, "for any kind of cloak. If you have a
marten fur on the collar, or a silk-lined hood, it will mount up to
"Petrovich, please," said Akaky Akakiyevich in a beseeching tone, not
hearing, and not trying to hear, Petrovich's words, and disregarding
all his "effects," "some repairs, in order that it may wear yet a
"No, it would only be a waste of time and money," said Petrovich. And
Akaky Akakiyevich went away after these words, utterly discouraged.
But Petrovich stood for some time after his departure, with
significantly compressed lips, and without betaking himself to his
work, satisfied that he would not be dropped, and an artistic tailor
Akaky Akakiyevich went out into the street as if in a dream. "Such an
affair!" he said to himself. "I did not think it had come to—" and
then after a pause, he added, "Well, so it is! see what it has come to
at last! and I never imagined that it was so!" Then followed a long
silence, after which he exclaimed, "Well, so it is! see what
already—nothing unexpected that—it would be nothing—what a strange
circumstance!" So saying, instead of going home, he went in exactly
the opposite direction without suspecting it. On the way, a
chimney-sweep bumped up against him, and blackened his shoulder, and a
whole hatful of rubbish landed on him from the top of a house which
was building. He did not notice it, and only when he ran against a
watchman, who, having planted his halberd beside him, was shaking some
snuff from his box into his horny hand, did he recover himself a
little, and that because the watchman said, "Why are you poking
yourself into a man's very face? Haven't you the pavement?" This
caused him to look about him, and turn towards home.
There only, he finally began to collect his thoughts, and to survey
his position in its clear and actual light, and to argue with himself,
sensibly and frankly, as with a reasonable friend, with whom one can
discuss private and personal matters. "No," said Akaky Akakiyevich,
"it is impossible to reason with Petrovich now. He is that—evidently,
his wife has been beating him. I'd better go to him on Sunday morning.
After Saturday night he will be a little cross-eyed and sleepy, for he
will want to get drunk, and his wife won't give him any money, and at
such a time, a ten-kopek piece in his hand will—he will become more
fit to reason with, and then the cloak and that—" Thus argued Akaky
Akakiyevich with himself regained his courage, and waited until the
first Sunday, when, seeing from afar that Petrovich's wife had left
the house, he went straight to him.
Petrovich's eye was indeed very much askew after Saturday. His head
drooped, and he was very sleepy; but for all that, as soon as he knew
what it was a question of, it seemed as though Satan jogged his
memory. "Impossible," said he. "Please to order a new one." Thereupon
Akaky Akakiyevich handed over the ten-kopek piece. "Thank you, sir. I
will drink your good health," said Petrovich. "But as for the cloak,
don't trouble yourself about it; it is good for nothing. I will make
you a capital new one, so let us settle about it now."
Akaky Akakiyevich was still for mending it, but Petrovich would not
hear of it, and said, "I shall certainly have to make you a new one,
and you may depend upon it that I shall do my best. It may even be, as
the fashion goes, that the collar can be fastened by silver hooks
under a flap."
Then Akaky Akakiyevich saw that it was impossible to get along without
a new cloak, and his spirit sank utterly. How, in fact, was it to be
done? Where was the money to come from? He must have some new
trousers, and pay a debt of long standing to the shoemaker for putting
new tops to his old boots, and he must order three shirts from the
seamstress, and a couple of pieces of linen. In short, all his money
must be spent. And even if the director should be so kind as to order
him to receive forty-five or even fifty rubles instead of forty, it
would be a mere nothing, a mere drop in the ocean towards the funds
necessary for a cloak, although he knew that Petrovich was often
wrong-headed enough to blurt out some outrageous price, so that even
his own wife could not refrain from exclaiming, "Have you lost your
senses, you fool?" At one time he would not work at any price, and now
it was quite likely that he had named a higher sum than the cloak
But although he knew that Petrovich would undertake to make a cloak
for eighty rubles, still, where was he to get the eighty rubles from?
He might possibly manage half. Yes, half might be procured, but where
was the other half to come from? But the reader must first be told
where the first half came from.
Akaky Akakiyevich had a habit of putting, for every ruble he spent, a
groschen into a small box, fastened with lock and key, and with a slit
in the top for the reception of money. At the end of every half-year
he counted over the heap of coppers, and changed it for silver. This
he had done for a long time, and in the course of years, the sum had
mounted up to over forty rubles. Thus he had one half on hand. But
where was he to find the other half? Where was he to get another forty
rubles from? Akaky Akakiyevich thought and thought, and decided that
it would be necessary to curtail his ordinary expenses, for the space
of one year at least, to dispense with tea in the evening, to burn no
candles, and, if there was anything which he must do, to go into his
landlady's room, and work by her light. When he went into the street,
he must walk as lightly as he could, and as cautiously, upon the
stones, almost upon tiptoe, in order not to wear his heels down in too
short a time. He must give the laundress as little to wash as
possible; and, in order not to wear out his clothes, he must take them
off as soon as he got home, and wear only his cotton dressing-gown,
which had been long and carefully saved.
To tell the truth, it was a little hard for him at first to accustom
himself to these deprivations. But he got used to them at length,
after a fashion, and all went smoothly. He even got used to being
hungry in the evening, but he made up for it by treating himself, so
to say, in spirit, by bearing ever in mind the idea of his future
cloak. From that time forth, his existence seemed to become, in some;
way, fuller, as if he were married, or as if some other man lived in
him, as if, in fact, he were not alone, and some pleasant friend had
consented to travel along life's path with him, the friend being no
other than the cloak, with thick wadding and a strong lining incapable
of wearing out. He became more lively, and even his character grew
firmer, like that of a man who has made up his mind, and set himself a
goal. From his face and gait, doubt and indecision, all hesitating and
wavering disappeared of themselves. Fire gleamed in his eyes, and
occasionally the boldest and most daring ideas flitted through his
mind. Why not, for instance, have marten fur on the collar? The
thought of this almost made him absent-minded. Once, in copying a
letter, he nearly made a mistake, so that he exclaimed almost aloud,
"Ugh!" and crossed himself. Once, in the course of every month, he had
a conference with Petrovich on the subject of the cloak, where it
would be better to buy the cloth, and the colour, and the price. He
always returned home satisfied, though troubled, reflecting that the
time would come at last when it could all be bought, and then the
The affair progressed more briskly than he had expected. For beyond
all his hopes, the director awarded neither forty nor forty-five
rubles for Akaky Akakiyevich's share, but sixty. Whether he suspected
that Akaky Akakiyevich needed a cloak, or whether it was merely
chance, at all events, twenty extra rubles were by this means
provided. This circumstance hastened matters. Two or three months more
of hunger and Akaky Akakiyevich had accumulated about eighty rubles.
His heart, generally so quiet, began to throb. On the first possible
day, he went shopping in company with Petrovich. They bought some very
good cloth, and at a reasonable rate too, for they had been
considering the matter for six months, and rarely let a month pass
without their visiting the shops to enquire prices. Petrovich himself
said that no better cloth could be had. For lining, they selected a
cotton stuff, but so firm and thick, that Petrovich declared it to be
better than silk, and even prettier and more glossy. They did not buy
the marten fur, because it was, in fact, dear, but in its stead, they
picked out the very best of cat-skin which could be found in the shop,
and which might, indeed, be taken for marten at a distance.
Petrovich worked at the cloak two whole weeks, for there was a great
deal of quilting; otherwise it would have been finished sooner. He
charged twelve rubles for the job, it could not possibly have been
done for less. It was all sewed with silk, in small, double seams, and
Petrovich went over each seam afterwards with his own teeth, stamping
in various patterns.
It was—it is difficult to say precisely on what day, but probably the
most glorious one in Akaky Akakiyevich's life, when Petrovich at
length brought home the cloak. He brought it in the morning, before
the hour when it was necessary to start for the department. Never did
a cloak arrive so exactly in the nick of time, for the severe cold had
set in, and it seemed to threaten to increase. Petrovich brought the
cloak himself as befits a good tailor. On his countenance was a
significant expression, such as Akaky; Akakiyevich had never beheld
there. He seemed fully sensible that he had done no small deed, and
crossed a gulf separating tailors who put in linings, and execute
repairs, from those who make new things. He took the cloak out of the
pocket-handkerchief in which he had brought it. The handkerchief was
fresh from the laundress, and he put it in his pocket for use. Taking
out the cloak, he gazed proudly at it, held it up with both hands, and
flung it skilfully over the shoulders of Akaky Akakiyevich. Then he
pulled it and fitted it down behind with his hand, and he draped it
around Akaky Akakiyevich without buttoning it. Akaky Akakiyevich, like
an experienced man, wished to try the sleeves. Petrovich helped him on
with them, and it turned out that the sleeves were satisfactory also.
In short, the cloak appeared to be perfect, and most seasonable.
Petrovich did not neglect to observe that it was only because he lived
in a narrow street, and had no signboard, and had known Akaky
Akakiyevich so long, that he had made it so cheaply; but that if he
had been in business on the Nevsky Prospect, he would have charged
seventy-five rubles for the making alone. Akaky Akakiyevich did not
care to argue this point with Petrovich. He paid him, thanked him, and
set out at once in his new cloak for the department. Petrovich
followed him, and pausing in the street, gazed long at the cloak in
the distance, after which he went to one side expressly to run through
a crooked alley, and emerge again into the street beyond to gaze once
more upon the cloak from another point, namely, directly in front.
Meantime Akaky Akakiyevich went on in holiday mood. He was conscious
every second of the time that he had a new cloak on his shoulders, and
several times he laughed with internal satisfaction. In fact, there
were two advantages, one was its warmth, the other its beauty. He saw
nothing of the road, but suddenly found himself at the department. He
took off his cloak in the ante-room, looked it over carefully, and
confided it to the special care of the attendant. It is impossible to
say precisely how it was that every one in the department knew at once
that Akaky Akakiyevich had a new cloak, and that the "cape" no longer
existed. All rushed at the same moment into the ante-room to inspect
it. They congratulated him, and said pleasant things to him, so that
he began at first to smile, and then to grow ashamed. When all
surrounded him, and said that the new cloak must be "christened," and
that he must at least give them all a party, Akaky Akakiyevich lost
his head completely, and did not know where he stood, what to answer,
or how to get out of it. He stood blushing all over for several
minutes, trying to assure them with great simplicity that it was not a
new cloak, that it was in fact the old "cape."
At length one of the officials, assistant to the head clerk, in order
to show that he was not at all proud, and on good terms with his
"So be it, only I will give the party instead of Akaky Akakiyevich; I
invite you all to tea with me to-night. It just happens to be my
The officials naturally at once offered the assistant clerk their
congratulations, and accepted the invitation with pleasure. Akaky
Akakiyevich would have declined; but all declared that it was
discourteous, that it was simply a sin and a shame, and that he could
not possibly refuse. Besides, the notion became pleasant to him when
he recollected that he should thereby have a chance of wearing his new
cloak in the evening also.
That whole day was truly a most triumphant festival for Akaky
Akakiyevich. He returned home in the most happy frame of mind, took
off his cloak, and hung it carefully on the wall, admiring afresh the
cloth and the lining. Then he brought out his old, worn-out cloak, for
comparison. He looked at it, and laughed, so vast was the difference.
And long after dinner he laughed again when the condition of the
"cape" recurred to his mind. He dined cheerfully, and after dinner
wrote nothing, but took his ease for a while on the bed, until it got
dark. Then he dressed himself leisurely, put on his cloak, and stepped
out into the street.
Where the host lived, unfortunately we cannot say. Our memory begins
to fail us badly. The houses and streets in St. Petersburg have become
so mixed up in our head that it is very difficult to get anything out
of it again in proper form. This much is certain, that the official
lived in the best part of the city; and therefore it must have been
anything but near to Akaky Akakiyevich's residence. Akaky Akakiyevich
was first obliged to traverse a kind of wilderness of deserted,
dimly-lighted streets. But in proportion as he approached the
official's quarter of the city, the streets became more lively, more
populous, and more brilliantly illuminated. Pedestrians began to
appear; handsomely dressed ladies were more frequently encountered;
the men had otter skin collars to their coats; shabby sleigh-men with
their wooden, railed sledges stuck over with brass-headed nails,
became rarer; whilst on the other hand, more and more drivers in red
velvet caps, lacquered sledges and bear-skin coats began to appear,
and carriages with rich hammer-cloths flew swiftly through the
streets, their wheels scrunching the snow.
Akaky Akakiyevich gazed upon all this as upon a novel sight. He had
not been in the streets during the evening for years. He halted out of
curiosity before a shop-window, to look at a picture representing a
handsome woman, who had thrown off her shoe, thereby baring her whole
foot in a very pretty way; whilst behind her the head of a man with
whiskers and a handsome moustache peeped through the doorway of
another room. Akaky Akakiyevich shook his head, and laughed, and then
went on his way. Why did he laugh? Either because he had met with a
thing utterly unknown, but for which every one cherishes,
nevertheless, some sort of feeling, or else he thought, like many
officials, "Well, those French! What is to be said? If they do go in
for anything of that sort, why—" But possibly he did not think at
Akaky Akakiyevich at length reached the house in which the head
clerk's assistant lodged. He lived in fine style. The staircase was
lit by a lamp, his apartment being on the second floor. On entering
the vestibule, Akaky Akakiyevich beheld a whole row of goloshes on the
floor. Among them, in the centre of the room, stood a samovar, humming
and emitting clouds of steam. On the walls hung all sorts of coats and
cloaks, among which there were even some with beaver collars, or
velvet facings. Beyond, the buzz of conversation was audible, and
became clear and loud, when the servant came out with a trayful of
empty glasses, cream-jugs and sugar-bowls. It was evident that the
officials had arrived long before, and had already finished their
first glass of tea.
Akaky Akakiyevich, having hung up his own cloak, entered the inner
room. Before him all at once appeared lights, officials, pipes, and
card-tables, and he was bewildered by a sound of rapid conversation
rising from all the tables, and the noise of moving chairs. He halted
very awkwardly in the middle of the room, wondering what he ought to
do. But they had seen him. They received him with a shout, and all
thronged at once into the ante-room, and there took another look at
his cloak. Akaky Akakiyevich, although somewhat confused, was
frank-hearted, and could not refrain from rejoicing when he saw how
they praised his cloak. Then, of course, they all dropped him and his
cloak, and returned, as was proper, to the tables set out for whist.
All this, the noise, the talk, and the throng of people, was rather
overwhelming to Akaky Akakiyevich. He simply did not know where he
stood, or where to put his hands, his feet, and his whole body.
Finally he sat down by the players, looked at the cards, gazed at the
face of one and another, and after a while began to gape, and to feel
that it was wearisome, the more so, as the hour was already long past
when he usually went to bed. He wanted to take leave of the host, but
they would not let him go, saying that he must not fail to drink a
glass of champagne, in honour of his new garment. In the course of an
hour, supper, consisting of vegetable salad, cold veal, pastry,
confectioner's pies, and champagne, was served. They made Akaky
Akakiyevich drink two glasses of champagne, after which he felt things
Still, he could not forget that it was twelve o'clock, and that he
should have been at home long ago. In order that the host might not
think of some excuse for detaining him, he stole out of the room
quickly, sought out, in the ante-room, his cloak, which, to his
sorrow, he found lying on the floor, brushed it, picked off every
speck upon it, put it on his shoulders, and descended the stairs to
In the street all was still bright. Some petty shops, those permanent
clubs of servants and all sorts of folks, were open. Others were shut,
but, nevertheless, showed a streak of light the whole length of the
door-crack, indicating that they were not yet free of company, and
that probably some domestics, male and female, were finishing their
stories and conversations, whilst leaving their masters in complete
ignorance as to their whereabouts. Akaky Akakiyevich went on in a
happy frame of mind. He even started to run, without knowing why,
after some lady, who flew past like a flash of lightning. But he
stopped short, and went on very quietly as before, wondering why he
had quickened his pace. Soon there spread before him these deserted
streets which are not cheerful in the daytime, to say no thing of the
evening. Now they were even mere dim and lonely. The lanterns began to
grow rarer, oil, evidently, had been less liberally supplied. Then
came wooden houses and fences. Not a soul anywhere; only the snow
sparkled in the streets, and mournfully veiled the low-roofed cabins
with their dosed shutters. He approached the spot where the street
crossed a vast square with houses barely visible on its farther side,
a square which seemed a fearful desert.
Afar, a tiny spark glimmered from some watchman's-box, which seemed to
stand en the edge of the world. Ahaky Akakiyevich's cheerfulness
diminished at this point in a marked degree. He entered the square,
not without an involuntary sensation of fear, as though his heart
warned him of some evil. He glanced back, and on both sides it was
like a sea about him. "No, it is better not to look," he thought, and
went on, closing his eyes. When he opened them, to see whether he was
near the end of the square, he suddenly beheld, standing just before
his very nose, some bearded individuals of precisely what sort, he
could not make out. All grew dark before his eyes, and his heart
"Of course, the cloak is mine!" said one of them in a loud voice,
seizing hold of his collar. Akaky Akakiyevich was about to shout
"Help!" when the second man thrust a fist, about the size of an
official's head, at his very mouth, muttering, "Just you dare to
Akaky Akakiyevich felt them strip off his cloak, and give him a kick.
He fell headlong upon the snow, and felt no more.
In a few minutes he recovered consciousness, and rose to his feet, but
no one was there. He felt that it was cold in the square, and that his
cloak was gone. He began to shout, but his voice did not appear to
reach the outskirts of the square. In despair, but without ceasing to
shout, he started at a run across the square, straight towards the
watch-box, beside which stood the watchman, leaning on his halberd,
and apparently curious to know what kind of a customer was running
towards him shouting. Akaky Akakiyevich ran up to him, and began in a
sobbing voice to shout that he was asleep, and attended to nothing,
and did not see when a man was robbed. The watchman replied that he
had seen two men stop him in the middle of the square, but supposed
that they were friends of his, and that, instead of scolding vainly,
he had better go to the police on the morrow, so that they might make
a search for whoever had stolen the cloak.
Akaky Akakiyevich ran home and arrived in a state of complete
disorder, his hair which grew very thinly upon his temples and the
back of his head all tousled, his body, arms and legs, covered with
snow. The old woman, who was mistress of his lodgings, on hearing a
terrible knocking, sprang hastily from her bed, and, with only one
shoe on, ran to open the door, pressing the sleeve of her chemise to
her bosom out of modesty. But when she had opened it, she fell back on
beholding Akaky Akakiyevich in such a condition. When he told her
about the affair, she clasped her hands, and said that he must go
straight to the district chief of police, for his subordinate would
turn up his nose, promise well, and drop the matter there. The very
best thing to do, therefore, would be to go to the district chief,
whom she knew, because Finnish Anna, her former cook, was now nurse at
his house. She often saw him passing the house, and he was at church
every Sunday, praying, but at the same time gazing cheerfully at
everybody; so that he must be a good man, judging from all
appearances. Having listened to this opinion, Akaky Akakiyevich betook
himself sadly to his room. And how he spent the night there, any one
who can put himself in another's place may readily imagine.
Early in the morning, he presented himself at the district chief's,
but was told the official was asleep. He went again at ten and was
again informed that he was asleep. At eleven, and they said, "The
superintendent is not at home." At dinner time, and the clerks in the
ante-room would not admit him on any terms, and insisted upon knowing
his business. So that at last, for once in his life, Akaky Akakiyevich
felt an inclination to show some spirit, and said curtly that he must
see the chief in person, that they ought not to presume to refuse him
entrance, that he came from the department of justice, and that when
he complained of them, they would see.
The clerks dared make no reply to this, and one of them went to call
the chief, who listened to the strange story of the theft of the coat.
Instead of directing his attention to the principal points of the
matter, he began to question Akaky Akakiyevich. Why was he going home
so late? Was he in the habit of doing so, or had he been to some
disorderly house? So that Akaky Akakiyevich got thoroughly confused,
and left him, without knowing whether the affair of his cloak was in
proper train or not.
All that day, for the first time in his life, he never went near the
department. The next day he made his appearance, very pale, and in his
old cape, which had become even more shabby. The news of the robbery
of the cloak touched many, although there were some officials present
who never lost an opportunity, even such a one as the present, of
ridiculing Akaky Akakiyevich. They decided to make a collection for
him on the spot, but the officials had already spent a great deal in
subscribing for the director's portrait, and for some book, at the
suggestion of the head of that division, who was a friend of the
author; and so the sum was trifling.
One of them, moved by pity, resolved to help Akaky Akakiyevich with
some good advice, at least, and told him that he ought not to go to
the police, for although it might happen that a police-officer,
wishing to win the approval of his superiors, might hunt up the cloak
by some means, still, his cloak would remain in the possession of the
police if he did not offer legal proof that it belonged to him. The
best thing for him, therefore, would be to apply to a certain
prominent personage; since this prominent personage, by entering into
relation with the proper persons, could greatly expedite the matter.
As there was nothing else to be done, Akaky Akakiyevich decided to go
to the prominent personage. What was the exact official position of
the prominent personage, remains unknown to this day. The reader must
know that the prominent personage had but recently become a prominent
personage, having up to that time been only an insignificant person.
Moreover, his present position was not considered prominent in
comparison with others still more so. But there is always a circle of
people to whom what is insignificant in the eyes of others, is
important enough. Moreover, he strove to increase his importance by
sundry devices. For instance, he managed to have the inferior
officials meet him on the staircase when he entered upon his service;
no one was to presume to come directly to him, but the strictest
etiquette must be observed; the collegiate recorder must make a report
to the government secretary, the government secretary to the titular
councillor, or whatever other man was proper, and all business must
come before him in this manner. In Holy Russia, all is thus
contaminated with the love of imitation; every man imitates and copies
his superior. They even say that a certain titular councillor, when
promoted to the head of some small separate office, immediately
partitioned off a private room for himself, called it the audience
chamber, and posted at the door a lackey with red collar and braid,
who grasped the handle of the door, and opened to all comers, though
the audience chamber would hardly hold an ordinary writing table.
The manners and customs of the prominent personage were grand and
imposing, but rather exaggerated. The main foundation of his system
was strictness. "Strictness, strictness, and always strictness!" he
generally said; and at the last word he looked significantly into the
face of the person to whom he spoke. But there was no necessity for
this, for the halfscore of subordinates, who formed the entire force
of the office, were properly afraid. On catching sight of him afar
off, they left their work, and waited, drawn up in line, until he had
passed through the room. His ordinary converse with his inferiors
smacked of sternness, and consisted chiefly of three phrases: "How
dare you?" "Do you know whom you are speaking to?" "Do you realise who
is standing before you?"
Otherwise he was a very kind-hearted man, good to his comrades, and
ready to oblige. But the rank of general threw him completely off his
balance. On receiving any one of that rank, he became confused, lost
his way, as it were, and never knew what to do. If he chanced to be
amongst his equals, he was still a very nice kind of man, a very good
fellow in many respects, and not stupid, but the very moment that he
found himself in the society of people but one rank lower than
himself, he became silent. And his situation aroused sympathy, the
more so, as he felt himself that he might have been making an
incomparably better use of his time. In his eyes, there was sometimes
visible a desire to join some interesting conversation or group, but
he was kept back by the thought, "Would it not be a very great
condescension on his part? Would it not be familiar? And would he not
thereby lose his importance?" And in consequence of such reflections,
he always remained in the same dumb state, uttering from time to time
a few monosyllabic sounds, and thereby earning the name of the most
wearisome of men.
To this prominent personage Akaky Akakiyevich presented himself, and
this at the most unfavourable time for himself, though opportune for
the prominent personage. The prominent personage was in his cabinet,
conversing very gaily with an old acquaintance and companion of his
childhood, whom he had not seen for several years, and who had just
arrived, when it was announced to him that a person named Bashmachkin
had come. He asked abruptly, "Who is he?"—"Some official," he was
informed. "Ah, he can wait! This is no time for him to call," said the
It must be remarked here that the important man lied outrageously. He
had said all he had to say to his friend long before, and the
conversation had been interspersed for some time with very long
pauses, during which they merely slapped each other on the leg, and
said, "You think so, Ivan Abramovich!" "Just so, Stepan Varlamovich!"
Nevertheless, he ordered that the official should be kept waiting, in
order to show his friend, a man who had not been in the service for a
long time, but had lived at home in the country, how long officials
had to wait in his ante-room.
At length, having talked himself completely out, and more than that,
having had his fill of pauses, and smoked a cigar in a very
comfortable arm-chair with reclining back, he suddenly seemed to
recollect, and said to the secretary, who stood by the door with
papers of reports, "So it seems that there is an official waiting to
see me. Tell him that he may come in." On perceiving Akaky
Akakiyevich's modest mien and his worn uniform, he turned abruptly to
him, and said, "What do you want?" in a curt hard voice, which he had
practised in his room in private, and before the looking-glass, for a
whole week before being raised to his present rank.
Akaky Akakiyevich, who was already imbued with a due amount of fear,
became somewhat confused, and as well as his tongue would permit,
explained, with a rather more frequent addition than usual of the word
"that" that his cloak was quite new, and had been stolen in the most
inhuman manner; that he had applied to him, in order that he might, in
some way, by his intermediation—that he might enter into
correspondence with the chief of police, and find the cloak.
For some inexplicable reason, this conduct seemed familiar to the
"What, my dear sir!" he said abruptly, "are you not acquainted with
etiquette? To whom have you come? Don't you know how such matters are
managed? You should first have presented a petition to the office. It
would have gone to the head of the department, then to the chief of
the division, then it would have been handed over to the secretary,
and the secretary would have given it to me."
"But, your excellency," said Akaky Akakiyevich, trying to collect his
small handful of wits, and conscious at the same time that he was
perspiring terribly, "I, your excellency, presumed to trouble you
because secretaries—are an untrustworthy race."
"What, what, what!" said the important personage. "Where did you get
such courage? Where did you get such ideas? What impudence towards
their chiefs and superiors has spread among the young generation!" The
prominent personage apparently had not observed that Akaky Akakiyevich
was already in the neighbourhood of fifty. If he could be called a
young man, it must have been in comparison with some one who was
seventy. "Do you know to whom you are speaking? Do you realise who is
standing before you? Do you realise it? Do you realise it, I ask you!"
Then he stamped his foot, and raised his voice to such a pitch that it
would have frightened even a different man from Akaky Akakiyevich.
Akaky Akakiyevich's senses failed him. He staggered, trembled in every
limb, and, if the porters had not run in to support him, would have
fallen to the floor. They carried him out insensible. But the
prominent personage, gratified that the effect should have surpassed
his expectations, and quite intoxicated with the thought that his word
could even deprive a man of his senses, glanced sideways at his friend
in order to see how he looked upon this, and perceived, not without
satisfaction, that his friend was in a most uneasy frame of mind, and
even beginning on his part, to feel a trifle frightened.
Akaky Akakiyevich could not remember how he descended the stairs, and
got into the street. He felt neither his hands nor feet. Never in his
life had he been so rated by any high official, let alone a strange
one. He went staggering on through the snow-storm, which was blowing
in the streets, with his mouth wide open. The wind, in St. Petersburg
fashion, darted upon him from all quarters, and down every
cross-street. In a twinkling it had blown a quinsy into his throat,
and he reached home unable to utter a word. His throat was swollen,
and he lay down on his bed. So powerful is sometimes a good scolding!
The next day a violent fever developed. Thanks to the generous
assistance of the St. Petersburg climate, the malady progressed more
rapidly than could have been expected, and when the doctor arrived, he
found, on feeling the sick man's pulse, that there was nothing to be
done, except to prescribe a poultice, so that the patient might not be
left entirely without the beneficent aid of medicine. But at the same
time, he predicted his end in thirty-six hours. After this he turned
to the landlady, and said, "And as for you, don't waste your time on
him. Order his pine coffin now, for an oak one will be too expensive
Did Akaky Akakiyevich hear these fatal words? And if he heard them,
did they produce any overwhelming effect upon him? Did he lament the
bitterness of his life?—We know not, for he continued in a delirious
condition. Visions incessantly appeared to him, each stranger than the
other. Now he saw Petrovich, and ordered him to make a cloak, with
some traps for robbers, who seemed to him to be always under the bed;
and he cried every moment to the landlady to pull one of them from
under his coverlet. Then he inquired why his old mantle hung before
him when he had a new cloak. Next he fancied that he was standing
before the prominent person, listening to a thorough setting-down and
saying, "Forgive me, your excellency!" but at last he began to curse,
uttering the most horrible words, so that his aged landlady crossed
herself, never in her life having heard anything of the kind from him,
and more so as these words followed directly after the words "your
excellency." Later on he talked utter nonsense, of which nothing could
be made, all that was evident being that these incoherent words and
thoughts hovered ever about one thing, his cloak.
At length poor Akaky Akakiyevich breathed his last. They sealed up
neither his room nor his effects, because, in the first place, there
were no heirs, and, in the second, there was very little to inherit
beyond a bundle of goose-quills, a quire of white official paper,
three pairs of socks, two or three buttons which had burst off his
trousers, and the mantle already known to the reader. To whom all this
fell, God knows. I confess that the person who told me this tale took
no interest in the matter. They carried Akaky Akakiyevich out, and
And St. Petersburg was left without Akaky Akakiyevich, as though he
had never lived there. A being disappeared, who was protected by none,
dear to none, interesting to none, and who never even attracted to
himself the attention of those students of human nature who omit no
opportunity of thrusting a pin through a common fly and examining it
under the microscope. A being who bore meekly the jibes of the
department, and went to his grave without having done one unusual
deed, but to whom, nevertheless, at the close of his life, appeared a
bright visitant in the form of a cloak, which momentarily cheered his
poor life, and upon him, thereafter, an intolerable misfortune
descended, just as it descends upon the heads of the mighty of this
Several days after his death, the porter was sent from the department
to his lodgings, with an order for him to present himself there
immediately, the chief commanding it. But the porter had to return
unsuccessful, with the answer that he could not come; and to the
question, "Why?" replied, "Well, because he is dead! he was buried
four days ago." In this manner did they hear of Akaky Akakiyevich's
death at the department. And the next day a new official sat in his
place, with a handwriting by no means so upright, but more inclined
But who could have imagined that this was not really the end of Akaky
Akakiyevich, that he was destined to raise a commotion after death, as
if in compensation for his utterly insignificant life? But so it
happened, and our poor story unexpectedly gains a fantastic ending.
A rumour suddenly spread through St. Petersburg, that a dead man had
taken to appearing on the Kalinkin Bridge, and its vicinity, at night
in the form of an official seeking a stolen cloak, and that, under the
pretext of its being the stolen cloak, he dragged, without regard to
rank or calling, every one's cloak from his shoulders, be it cat-skin,
beaver, fox, bear, sable, in a word, every sort of fur and skin which
men adopted for their covering. One of the department officials saw
the dead man with his own eyes, and immediately recognised in him
Akaky Akakiyevich. This, however, inspired him with such terror, that
he ran off with all his might, and therefore did not scan the dead man
closely, but only saw how the latter threatened him from afar with his
finger. Constant complaints poured in from all quarters, that the
backs and shoulders, not only of titular but even of court
councillors, were exposed to the danger of a cold, on account of the
frequent dragging off of their cloaks.
Arrangements were made by the police to catch the corpse, alive or
dead, at any cost, and punish him as an example to others, in the most
severe manner. In this they nearly succeeded, for a watchman, on guard
in Kirinshkin Lane, caught the corpse by the collar on the very scene
of his evil deeds, when attempting to pull off the frieze cloak of a
retired musician. Having seized him by the collar, he summoned, with a
shout, two of his comrades, whom he enjoined to hold him fast, while
he himself felt for a moment in his boot, in order to draw out his
snuff-box, and refresh his frozen nose. But the snuff was of a sort
which even a corpse could not endure. The watchman having closed his
right nostril with his finger, had no sooner succeeded in holding half
a handful up to the left, than the corpse sneezed so violently that he
completely filled the eyes of all three. While they raised their hands
to wipe them, the dead man vanished completely, so that they
positively did not know whether they had actually had him in their
grip at all. Thereafter the watchmen conceived such a terror of dead
men that they were afraid even to seize the living, and only screamed
from a distance. "Hey, there! go your way!" So the dead official began
to appear even beyond the Kalinkin Bridge, causing no little terror to
all timid people.
But we have totally neglected that certain prominent personage who may
really be considered as the cause of the fantastic turn taken by this
true history. First of all, justice compels us to say, that after the
departure of poor, annihilated Akaky Akakiyevich, he felt something
like remorse. Suffering was unpleasant to him, for his heart was
accessible to many good impulses, in spite of the fact that his rank
often prevented his showing his true self. As soon as his friend had
left his cabinet, he began to think about poor Akaky Akakiyevich. And
from that day forth, poor Akaky Akakiyevich, who could not bear up
under an official reprimand, recurred to his mind almost every day.
The thought troubled him to such an extent, that a week later he even
resolved to send an official to him, to learn whether he really could
assist him. And when it was reported to him that Akaky Akakiyevich had
died suddenly of fever, he was startled, hearkened to the reproaches
of his conscience, and was out of sorts for the whole day.
Wishing to divert his mind in some way and drive away the disagreeable
impression, he set out that evening for one of his friends' houses,
where he found quite a large party assembled. What was better, nearly
every one was of the same rank as himself, so that he need not feel in
the least constrained. This had a marvellous effect upon his mental
state. He grew expansive, made himself agreeable in conversation, in
short, he passed a delightful evening After supper he drank a couple
of glasses of champagne—not a bad recipe for cheerfulness, as every
one knows. The champagne inclined him to various adventures, and he
determined not to return home, but to go and see a certain well-known
lady, of German extraction, Karolina Ivanovna, a lady, it appears,
with whom he was on a very friendly footing.
It must be mentioned that the prominent personage was no longer a
young man, but a good husband and respected father of a family. Two
sons, one of whom was already in the service, and a good-looking,
sixteen-year-old daughter, with a slightly arched but pretty little
nose, came every morning to kiss his hand and say, "Bon jour, papa."
His wife, a still fresh and good-looking woman, first gave him her
hand to kiss, and then, reversing the procedure, kissed his. But the
prominent personage, though perfectly satisfied in his domestic
relations, considered it stylish to have a friend in another quarter
of the city. This friend was scarcely prettier or younger than his
wife; but there are such puzzles in the world, and it is not our place
to judge them. So the important personage descended the stairs,
stepped into his sledge, said to the coachman, "To Karolina
Ivanovna's," and, wrapping himself luxuriously in his warm cloak,
found himself in that delightful frame of mind than which a Russian
can conceive nothing better, namely, when you think of nothing
yourself, yet when the thoughts creep into your mind of their own
accord, each more agreeable than the other, giving you no trouble
either to drive them away, or seek them. Fully satisfied, he recalled
all the gay features of the evening just passed and all the mots which
had made the little circle laugh. Many of them he repeated in a low
voice, and found them quite as funny as before; so it is not
surprising that he should laugh heartily at them. Occasionally,
however, he was interrupted by gusts of wind, which, coming suddenly,
God knows whence or why, cut his face, drove masses of snow into it,
filled out his cloak-collar like a sail, or suddenly blew it over his
head with supernatural force, and thus caused him constant trouble to
Suddenly the important personage felt some one clutch him firmly by
the collar. Turning round, he perceived a man of short stature, in an
old, worn uniform, and recognised, not without terror, Akaky
Akakiyevich. The official's face was white as snow, and looked just
like a corpse's. But the horror of the important personage transcended
all bounds when he saw the dead man's mouth open, and heard it utter
the following remarks, while it breathed upon him the terrible odour
of the grave: "Ah, here you are at last! I have you, that—by the
collar! I need your cloak. You took no trouble about mine, but
reprimanded me. So now give up your own."
The pallid prominent personage almost died of fright. Brave as he was
in the office and in the presence of inferiors generally, and
although, at the sight of his manly form and appearance, every one
said, "Ugh! how much character he has!" at this crisis, he, like many
possessed of an heroic exterior, experienced such terror, that, not
without cause, he began to fear an attack of illness. He flung his
cloak hastily from his shoulders and shouted to his coachman in an
unnatural voice, "Home at full speed!" The coachman, hearing the tone
which is generally employed at critical moments, and even accompanied
by something much more tangible, drew his head down between his
shoulders in case of an emergency, flourished his whip, and flew on
like an arrow. In a little more than six minutes the prominent
personage was at the entrance of his own house. Pale, thoroughly
scared, and cloakless, he went home instead of to Karolina Ivanovna's,
reached his room somehow or other, and passed the night in the direst
distress; so that the next morning over their tea, his daughter said,
"You are very pale to-day, papa." But papa remained silent, and said
not a word to any one of what had happened to him, where he had been,
or where he had intended to go.
This occurrence made a deep impression upon him. He even began to say,
"How dare you? Do you realise who is standing before you?" less
frequently to the under-officials, and, if he did utter the words, it
was only after first having learned the bearings of the matter. But
the most noteworthy point was, that from that day forward the
apparition of the dead official ceased to be seen. Evidently the
prominent personage's cloak just fitted his shoulders. At all events,
no more instances of his dragging cloaks from people's shoulders were
heard of. But many active and solicitous persons could by no means
reassure themselves, and asserted that the dead official still showed
himself in distant parts of the city.
In fact, one watchman in Kolomen saw with his own eyes the apparition
come from behind a house. But the watchman was not a strong man, so he
was afraid to arrest him, and followed him in the dark, until, at
length, the apparition looked round, paused, and inquired, "What do
you want?" at the same time showing such a fist as is never seen on
living men. The watchman said, "Nothing," and turned back instantly.
But the apparition was much too tall, wore huge moustaches, and,
directing its steps apparently towards the Obukhov Bridge, disappeared
in the darkness of the night.
THE DISTRICT DOCTOR
BY IVAN S. TURGENEV
One day in autumn on my way back from a remote part of the country I
caught cold and fell ill. Fortunately the fever attacked me in the
district town at the inn; I sent for the doctor. In half-an-hour the
district doctor appeared, a thin, dark-haired man of middle height. He
prescribed me the usual sudorific, ordered a mustard-plaster to be put
on, very deftly slid a five-ruble note up his sleeve, coughing drily
and looking away as he did so, and then was getting up to go home, but
somehow fell into talk and remained. I was exhausted with
feverishness; I foresaw a sleepless night, and was glad of a little
chat with a pleasant companion. Tea was served. My doctor began to
converse freely. He was a sensible fellow, and expressed himself with
vigour and some humour. Queer things happen in the world: you may live
a long while with some people, and be on friendly terms with them, and
never once speak openly with them from your soul; with others you have
scarcely time to get acquainted, and all at once you are pouring out
to him—or he to you—all your secrets, as though you were at
confession. I don't know how I gained the confidence of my new
friend—anyway, with nothing to lead up to it, he told me a rather
curious incident; and here I will report his tale for the information
of the indulgent reader. I will try to tell it in the doctor's own
"You don't happen to know," he began in a weak and quavering voice
(the common result of the use of unmixed Berezov snuff); "you don't
happen to know the judge here, Mylov, Pavel Lukich?… You don't know
him?… Well, it's all the same." (He cleared his throat and rubbed
his eyes.) "Well, you see, the thing happened, to tell you exactly
without mistake, in Lent, at the very time of the thaws. I was sitting
at his house—our judge's, you know—playing preference. Our judge is
a good fellow, and fond of playing preference. Suddenly" (the doctor
made frequent use of this word, suddenly) "they tell me, 'There's a
servant asking for you.' I say, 'What does he want?' They say, He has
brought a note—it must be from a patient.' 'Give me the note,' I say.
So it is from a patient—well and good—you understand—it's our bread
and butter… But this is how it was: a lady, a widow, writes to me;
she says, 'My daughter is dying. Come, for God's sake!' she says, 'and
the horses have been sent for you.'… Well, that's all right. But she
was twenty miles from the town, and it was midnight out of doors, and
the roads in such a state, my word! And as she was poor herself, one
could not expect more than two silver rubles, and even that
problematic; and perhaps it might only be a matter of a roll of linen
and a sack of oatmeal in payment. However, duty, you know, before
everything: a fellow-creature may be dying. I hand over my cards at
once to Kalliopin, the member of the provincial commission, and return
home. I look; a wretched little trap was standing at the steps, with
peasant's horses, fat—too fat—and their coat as shaggy as felt; and
the coachman sitting with his cap off out of respect. Well, I think to
myself, 'It's clear, my friend, these patients aren't rolling in
riches.'… You smile; but I tell you, a poor man like me has to take
everything into consideration… If the coachman sits like a prince,
and doesn't touch his cap, and even sneers at you behind his beard,
and flicks his whip—then you may bet on six rubles. But this case, I
saw, had a very different air. However, I think there's no help for
it; duty before everything. I snatch up the most necessary drugs, and
set off. Will you believe it? I only just managed to get there at all.
The road was infernal: streams, snow, watercourses, and the dyke had
suddenly burst there—that was the worst of it! However, I arrived at
last. It was a little thatched house. There was a light in the
windows; that meant they expected me. I was met by an old lady, very
venerable, in a cap. 'Save her!' she says; 'she is dying.' I say,
'Pray don't distress yourself—Where is the invalid?' 'Come this way.'
I see a clean little room, a lamp in the corner; on the bed a girl of
twenty, unconscious. She was in a burning heat, and breathing
heavily—it was fever. There were two other girls, her sisters, scared
and in tears. 'Yesterday,' they tell me, 'she was perfectly well and
had a good appetite; this morning she complained of her head, and this
evening, suddenly, you see, like this.' I say again: 'Pray don't be
uneasy.' It's a doctor's duty, you know—and I went up to her and bled
her, told them to put on a mustard-plaster, and prescribed a mixture.
Meantime I looked at her; I looked at her, you know—there, by God! I
had never seen such a face!—she was a beauty, in a word! I felt quite
shaken with pity. Such lovely features; such eyes!… But, thank God!
she became easier; she fell into a perspiration, seemed to come to her
senses, looked round, smiled, and passed her hand over her face… Her
sisters bent over her. They ask, 'How are you?' 'All right,' she says,
and turns away. I looked at her; she had fallen asleep. 'Well,' I say,
'now the patient should be left alone.' So we all went out on tiptoe;
only a maid remained, in case she was wanted. In the parlour there was
a samovar standing on the table, and a bottle of rum; in our
profession one can't get on without it. They gave me tea; asked me to
stop the night… I consented: where could I go, indeed, at that time
of night? The old lady kept groaning. 'What is it?' I say; 'she will
live; don't worry yourself; you had better take a little rest
yourself; it is about two o'clock.' 'But will you send to wake me if
anything happens?' 'Yes, yes.' The old lady went away, and the girls
too went to their own room; they made up a bed for me in the parlour.
Well, I went to bed—but I could not get to sleep, for a wonder! for
in reality I was very tired. I could not get my patient out of my
head. At last I could not put up with it any longer; I got up
suddenly; I think to myself, 'I will go and see how the patient is
getting on.' Her bedroom was next to the parlour. Well, I got up, and
gently opened the door—how my heart beat! I looked in: the servant
was asleep, her mouth wide open, and even snoring, the wretch! but the
patient lay with her face towards me and her arms flung wide apart,
poor girl! I went up to her … when suddenly she opened her eyes and
stared at me! 'Who is it? who is it?' I was in confusion. 'Don't be
alarmed, madam,' I say; 'I am the doctor; I have come to see how you
feel.' 'You the doctor?' 'Yes, the doctor; your mother sent for me
from the town; we have bled you, madam; now pray go to sleep, and in a
day or two, please God! we will set you on your feet again.' 'Ah, yes,
yes, doctor, don't let me die… please, please.' 'Why do you talk
like that? God bless you!' She is in a fever again, I think to myself;
I felt her pulse; yes, she was feverish. She looked at me, and then
took me by the hand. 'I will tell you why I don't want to die: I will
tell you… Now we are alone; and only, please don't you … not to
any one … Listen…' I bent down; she moved her lips quite to my
ear; she touched my cheek with her hair—I confess my head went
round—and began to whisper… I could make out nothing of it… Ah,
she was delirious! … She whispered and whispered, but so quickly,
and as if it were not in Russian; at last she finished, and shivering
dropped her head on the pillow, and threatened me with her finger:
'Remember, doctor, to no one.' I calmed her somehow, gave her
something to drink, waked the servant, and went away."
At this point the doctor again took snuff with exasperated energy, and
for a moment seemed stupefied by its effects.
"However," he continued, "the next day, contrary to my expectations,
the patient was no better. I thought and thought, and suddenly decided
to remain there, even though my other patients were expecting me…
And you know one can't afford to disregard that; one's practice
suffers if one does. But, in the first place, the patient was really
in danger; and secondly, to tell the truth, I felt strongly drawn to
her. Besides, I liked the whole family. Though they were really badly
off, they were singularly, I may say, cultivated people… Their
father had been a learned man, an author; he died, of course, in
poverty, but he had managed before he died to give his children an
excellent education; he left a lot of books too. Either because I
looked after the invalid very carefully, or for some other reason;
anyway, I can venture to say all the household loved me as if I were
one of the family… Meantime the roads were in a worse state than
ever; all communications, so to say, were cut off completely; even
medicine could with difficulty be got from the town… The sick girl
was not getting better… Day after day, and day after day … but …
here…" (The doctor made a brief pause.) "I declare I don't know how
to tell you."… (He again took snuff, coughed, and swallowed a little
tea.) "I will tell you without beating about the bush. My patient …
how should I say?… Well she had fallen in love with me … or, no,
it was not that she was in love … however … really, how should one
say?" (The doctor looked down and grew red.) "No," he went on quickly,
"in love, indeed! A man should not over-estimate himself. She was an
educated girl, clever and well-read, and I had even forgotten my
Latin, one may say, completely. As to appearance" (the doctor looked
himself over with a smile) "I am nothing to boast of there either. But
God Almighty did not make me a fool; I don't take black for white; I
know a thing or two; I could see very clearly, for instance that
Aleksandra Andreyevna—that was her name—did not feel love for me,
but had a friendly, so to say, inclination—a respect or something for
me. Though she herself perhaps mistook this sentiment, anyway this was
her attitude; you may form your own judgment of it. But," added the
doctor, who had brought out all these disconnected sentences without
taking breath, and with obvious embarrassment, "I seem to be wandering
rather—you won't understand anything like this … There, with your
leave, I will relate it all in order."
He drank off a glass of tea, and began in a calmer voice.
"Well, then. My patient kept getting worse and worse. You are not a
doctor, my good sir; you cannot understand what passes in a poor
fellow's heart, especially at first, when he begins to suspect that
the disease is getting the upper hand of him. What becomes of his
belief in himself? You suddenly grow so timid; it's indescribable. You
fancy then that you have forgotten everything you knew, and that the
patient has no faith in you, and that other people begin to notice how
distracted you are, and tell you the symptoms with reluctance; that
they are looking at you suspiciously, whispering… Ah! it's horrid!
There must be a remedy, you think, for this disease, if one could find
it. Isn't this it? You try—no, that's not it! You don't allow the
medicine the necessary time to do good… You clutch at one thing,
then at another. Sometimes you take up a book of medical
prescriptions—here it is, you think! Sometimes, by Jove, you pick one
out by chance, thinking to leave it to fate… But meantime a
fellow-creature's dying, and another doctor would have saved him. 'We
must have a consultation,' you say; 'I will not take the
responsibility on myself.' And what a fool you look at such times!
Well, in time you learn to bear it; it's nothing to you. A man has
died—but it's not your fault; you treated him by the rules. But
what's still more torture to you is to see blind faith in you, and to
feel yourself that you are not able to be of use. Well, it was just
this blind faith that the whole of Aleksandra Andreyevna's family had
in me; they had forgotten to think that their daughter was in danger.
I, too, on my side assure them that it's nothing, but meantime my
heart sinks into my boots. To add to our troubles, the roads were in
such a state that the coachman was gone for whole days together to get
medicine. And I never left the patient's room; I could not tear myself
away; I tell her amusing stories, you know, and play cards with her. I
watch by her side at night. The old mother thanks me with tears in her
eyes; but I think to myself, 'I don't deserve your gratitude.' I
frankly confess to you—there is no object in concealing it now—I was
in love with my patient. And Aleksandra Andreyevna had grown fond of
me; she would not sometimes let any one be in her room but me. She
began to talk to me, to ask me questions; where I had studied, how I
lived, who are my people, whom I go to see. I feel that she ought not
to talk; but to forbid her to—to forbid her resolutely, you know—I
could not. Sometimes I held my head in my hands, and asked myself,
"What are you doing, villain?"… And she would take my hand and hold
it, give me a long, long look, and turn away, sigh, and say, 'How good
you are!' Her hands were so feverish, her eyes so large and languid…
'Yes,' she says, 'you are a good, kind man; you are not like our
neighbours… No, you are not like that… Why did I not know you till
now!' 'Aleksandra Andreyevna, calm yourself,' I say… 'I feel,
believe me, I don't know how I have gained … but there, calm
yourself… All will be right; you will be well again.' And meanwhile
I must tell you," continued the doctor, bending forward and raising
his eyebrows, "that they associated very little with the neighbours,
because the smaller people were not on their level, and pride hindered
them from being friendly with the rich. I tell you, they were an
exceptionally cultivated family; so you know it was gratifying for me.
She would only take her medicine from my hands … she would lift
herself up, poor girl, with my aid, take it, and gaze at me… My
heart felt as if it were bursting. And meanwhile she was growing worse
and worse, worse and worse, all the time; she will die, I think to
myself; she must die. Believe me, I would sooner have gone to the
grave myself; and here were her mother and sisters watching me,
looking into my eyes … and their faith in me was wearing away.
'Well? how is she?' 'Oh, all right, all right!' All right, indeed! My
mind was failing me. Well, I was sitting one night alone again by my
patient. The maid was sitting there too, and snoring away in full
swing; I can't find fault with the poor girl, though; she was worn out
too. Aleksandra Andreyevna had felt very unwell all the evening; she
was very feverish. Until midnight she kept tossing about; at last she
seemed to fall asleep; at least, she lay still without stirring. The
lamp was burning in the corner before the holy image. I sat there, you
know, with my head bent; I even dozed a little. Suddenly it seemed as
though some one touched me in the side; I turned round… Good God!
Aleksandra Andreyevna was gazing with intent eyes at me … her lips
parted, her cheeks seemed burning. 'What is it?' 'Doctor, shall I
die?' 'Merciful Heavens!' 'No, doctor, no; please don't tell me I
shall live … don't say so… If you knew… Listen! for God's sake
don't conceal my real position,' and her breath came so fast. 'If I
can know for certain that I must die … then I will tell you all—
all!' 'Aleksandra Andreyevna, I beg!' 'Listen; I have not been asleep
at all … I have been looking at you a long while… For God's
sake!… I believe in you; you are a good man, an honest man; I
entreat you by all that is sacred in the world—tell me the truth! If
you knew how important it is for me… Doctor, for God's sake tell
me… Am I in danger?' 'What can I tell you, Aleksandra Andreyevna,
pray?' 'For God's sake, I beseech you!' 'I can't disguise from you,' I
say, 'Aleksandra Andreyevna; you are certainly in danger; but God is
merciful.' 'I shall die, I shall die.' And it seemed as though she
were pleased; her face grew so bright; I was alarmed. 'Don't be
afraid, don't be afraid! I am not frightened of death at all.' She
suddenly sat up and leaned on her elbow. 'Now … yes, now I can tell
you that I thank you with my whole heart … that you are kind and
good—that I love you!' I stare at her, like one possessed; it was
terrible for me, you know. 'Do you hear, I love you!' 'Aleksandra
Andreyevna, how have I deserved—' 'No, no, you don't—you don't
understand me.'… And suddenly she stretched out her arms, and taking
my head in her hands, she kissed it… Believe me, I almost screamed
aloud… I threw myself on my knees, and buried my head in the pillow.
She did not speak; her fingers trembled in my hair; I listen; she is
weeping. I began to soothe her, to assure her… I really don't know
what I did say to her. 'You will wake up the girl,' I say to her;
'Aleksandra Andreyevna, I thank you … believe me … calm yourself.'
'Enough, enough!' she persisted; 'never mind all of them; let them
wake, then; let them come in—it does not matter; I am dying, you
see… And what do you fear? why are you afraid? Lift up your head…
Or, perhaps, you don't love me; perhaps I am wrong… In that case,
forgive me.' 'Aleksandra Andreyevna, what are you saying!… I love
you, Aleksandra Andreyevna.' She looked straight into my eyes, and
opened her arms wide. 'Then take me in your arms.' I tell you frankly,
I don't know how it was I did not go mad that night. I feel that my
patient is killing herself; I see that she is not fully herself; I
understand, too, that if she did not consider herself on the point of
death, she would never have thought of me; and, indeed, say what you
will, it's hard to die at twenty without having known love; this was
what was torturing her; this was why, in, despair, she caught at
me—do you understand now? But she held me in her arms, and would not
let me go. 'Have pity on me, Aleksandra Andreyevna, and have pity on
yourself,' I say. 'Why,' she says; 'what is there to think of? You
know I must die.' … This she repeated incessantly … 'If I knew
that I should return to life, and be a proper young lady again, I
should be ashamed … of course, ashamed … but why now?' 'But who
has said you will die?' 'Oh, no, leave off! you will not deceive me;
you don't know how to lie—look at your face.' … 'You shall live,
Aleksandra Andreyevna; I will cure you; we will ask your mother's
blessing … we will be united—we will be happy.' 'No, no, I have
your word; I must die … you have promised me … you have told me.'
… It was cruel for me—cruel for many reasons. And see what trifling
things can do sometimes; it seems nothing at all, but it's painful. It
occurred to her to ask me, what is my name; not my surname, but my
first name. I must needs be so unlucky as to be called Trifon. Yes,
indeed; Trifon Ivanich. Every one in the house called me doctor.
However, there's no help for it. I say, 'Trifon, madam.' She frowned,
shook her head, and muttered something in French—ah, something
unpleasant, of course!—and then she laughed—disagreeably too. Well,
I spent the whole night with her in this way. Before morning I went
away, feeling as though I were mad. When I went again into her room it
was daytime, after morning tea. Good God! I could scarcely recognise
her; people are laid in their grave looking better than that. I swear
to you, on my honour, I don't understand—I absolutely don't
understand—now, how I lived through that experience. Three days and
nights my patient still lingered on. And what nights! What things she
said to me! And on the last night—only imagine to yourself—I was
sitting near her, and kept praying to God for one thing only: 'Take
her,' I said, 'quickly, and me with her.' Suddenly the old mother
comes unexpectedly into the room. I had already the evening before
told her—-the mother—there was little hope, and it would be well to
send for a priest. When the sick girl saw her mother she said: 'It's
very well you have come; look at us, we love one another—we have
given each other our word.' 'What does she say, doctor? what does she
say?' I turned livid. 'She is wandering,' I say; 'the fever.' But
she: 'Hush, hush; you told me something quite different just now, and
have taken my ring. Why do you pretend? My mother is good—she will
forgive—she will understand—and I am dying. … I have no need to
tell lies; give me your hand.' I jumped up and ran out of the room.
The old lady, of course, guessed how it was.
"I will not, however, weary you any longer, and to me too, of course,
it's painful to recall all this. My patient passed away the next day.
God rest her soul!" the doctor added, speaking quickly and with a
sigh. "Before her death she asked her family to go out and leave me
alone with her."
"'Forgive me,' she said; 'I am perhaps to blame towards you … my
illness … but believe me, I have loved no one more than you … do
not forget me … keep my ring.'"
The doctor turned away; I took his hand.
"Ah!" he said, "let us talk of something else, or would you care to
play preference for a small stake? It is not for people like me to
give way to exalted emotions. There's only one thing for me to think
of; how to keep the children from crying and the wife from scolding.
Since then, you know, I have had time to enter into lawful wedlock, as
they say… Oh … I took a merchant's daughter—seven thousand for
her dowry. Her name's Akulina; it goes well with Trifon. She is an
ill-tempered woman, I must tell you, but luckily she's asleep all
day… Well, shall it be preference?"
We sat down to preference for halfpenny points. Trifon Ivanich won two
rubles and a half from me, and went home late, well pleased with his
THE CHRISTMAS TREE AND THE WEDDING
BY FIODOR M. DOSTOYEVSKY
The other day I saw a wedding… But no! I would rather tell you about
a Christmas tree. The wedding was superb. I liked it immensely. But
the other incident was still finer. I don't know why it is that the
sight of the wedding reminded me of the Christmas tree. This is the
way it happened:
Exactly five years ago, on New Year's Eve, I was invited to a
children's ball by a man high up in the business world, who had his
connections, his circle of acquaintances, and his intrigues. So it
seemed as though the children's ball was merely a pretext for the
parents to come together and discuss matters of interest to
themselves, quite innocently and casually.
I was an outsider, and, as I had no special matters to air, I was able
to spend the evening independently of the others. There was another
gentleman present who like myself had just stumbled upon this affair
of domestic bliss. He was the first to attract my attention. His
appearance was not that of a man of birth or high family. He was tall,
rather thin, very serious, and well dressed. Apparently he had no
heart for the family festivities. The instant he went off into a
corner by himself the smile disappeared from his face, and his thick
dark brows knitted into a frown. He knew no one except the host and
showed every sign of being bored to death, though bravely sustaining
the role of thorough enjoyment to the end. Later I learned that he was
a provincial, had come to the capital on some important, brain-racking
business, had brought a letter of recommendation to our host, and our
host had taken him under his protection, not at all con amore. It
was merely out of politeness that he had invited him to the children's
They did not play cards with him, they did not offer him cigars. No
one entered into conversation with him. Possibly they recognised the
bird by its feathers from a distance. Thus, my gentleman, not knowing
what to do with his hands, was compelled to spend the evening stroking
his whiskers. His whiskers were really fine, but he stroked them so
assiduously that one got the feeling that the whiskers had come into
the world first and afterwards the man in order to stroke them.
There was another guest who interested me. But he was of quite a
different order. He was a personage. They called him Julian
Mastakovich. At first glance one could tell he was an honoured guest
and stood in the same relation to the host as the host to the
gentleman of the whiskers. The host and hostess said no end of amiable
things to him, were most attentive, wining him, hovering over him,
bringing guests up to be introduced, but never leading him to any one
else. I noticed tears glisten in our host's eyes when Julian
Mastakovich remarked that he had rarely spent such a pleasant evening.
Somehow I began to feel uncomfortable in this personage's presence.
So, after amusing myself with the children, five of whom, remarkably
well-fed young persons, were our host's, I went into a little
sitting-room, entirely unoccupied, and seated myself at the end that
was a conservatory and took up almost half the room.
The children were charming. They absolutely refused to resemble their
elders, notwithstanding the efforts of mothers and governesses. In a
jiffy they had denuded the Christmas tree down to the very last sweet
and had already succeeded in breaking half of their playthings before
they even found out which belonged to whom.
One of them was a particularly handsome little lad, dark-eyed,
curly-haired, who stubbornly persisted in aiming at me with his wooden
gun. But the child that attracted the greatest attention was his
sister, a girl of about eleven, lovely as a Cupid. She was quiet and
thoughtful, with large, full, dreamy eyes. The children had somehow
offended her, and she left them and walked into the same room that I
had withdrawn into. There she seated herself with her doll in a
"Her father is an immensely wealthy business man," the guests informed
each other in tones of awe. "Three hundred thousand rubles set aside
for her dowry already."
As I turned to look at the group from which I heard this news item
issuing, my glance met Julian Mastakovich's. He stood listening to the
insipid chatter in an attitude of concentrated attention, with his
hands behind his back and his head inclined to one side.
All the while I was quite lost in admiration of the shrewdness our
host displayed in the dispensing of the gifts. The little maid of the
many-rubied dowry received the handsomest doll, and the rest of the
gifts were graded in value according to the diminishing scale of the
parents' stations in life. The last child, a tiny chap of ten, thin,
red-haired, freckled, came into possession of a small book of nature
stories without illustrations or even head and tail pieces. He was the
governess's child. She was a poor widow, and her little boy, clad in a
sorry-looking little nankeen jacket, looked thoroughly crushed and
intimidated. He took the book of nature stories and circled slowly
about the children's toys. He would have given anything to play with
them. But he did not dare to. You could tell he already knew his
I like to observe children. It is fascinating to watch the
individuality in them struggling for self-assertion. I could see that
the other children's things had tremendous charm for the red-haired
boy, especially a toy theatre, in which he was so anxious to take a
part that he resolved to fawn upon the other children. He smiled and
began to play with them. His one and only apple he handed over to a
puffy urchin whose pockets were already crammed with sweets, and he
even carried another youngster pickaback—all simply that he might be
allowed to stay with the theatre.
But in a few moments an impudent young person fell on him and gave him
a pummelling. He did not dare even to cry. The governess came and told
him to leave off interfering with the other children's games, and he
crept away to the same room the little girl and I were in. She let him
sit down beside her, and the two set themselves busily dressing the
Almost half an hour passed, and I was nearly dozing off, as I sat
there in the conservatory half listening to the chatter of the
red-haired boy and the dowered beauty, when Julian Mastakovich entered
suddenly. He had slipped out of the drawing-room under cover of a
noisy scene among the children. From my secluded corner it had not
escaped my notice that a few moments before he had been eagerly
conversing with the rich girl's father, to whom he had only just been
He stood still for a while reflecting and mumbling to himself, as if
counting something on his fingers.
"Three hundred—three hundred—eleven—twelve—thirteen—sixteen—in
five years! Let's say four per cent—five times twelve—sixty, and on
these sixty——. Let us assume that in five years it will amount
to—well, four hundred. Hm—hm! But the shrewd old fox isn't likely to
be satisfied with four per cent. He gets eight or even ten, perhaps.
Let's suppose five hundred, five hundred thousand, at least, that's
sure. Anything above that for pocket money—hm—"
He blew his nose and was about to leave the room when he spied the
girl and stood still. I, behind the plants, escaped his notice. He
seemed to me to be quivering with excitement. It must have been his
calculations that upset him so. He rubbed his hands and danced from
place to place, and kept getting more and more excited. Finally,
however, he conquered his emotions and came to a standstill. He cast a
determined look at the future bride and wanted to move toward her, but
glanced about first. Then, as if with a guilty conscience, he stepped
over to the child on tip-toe, smiling, and bent down and kissed her
His coming was so unexpected that she uttered a shriek of alarm.
"What are you doing here, dear child?" he whispered, looking around
and pinching her cheek.
"What, with him?" said Julian Mastakovich with a look askance at the
governess's child. "You should go into the drawing-room, my lad," he
said to him.
The boy remained silent and looked up at the man with wide-open eyes.
Julian Mastakovich glanced round again cautiously and bent down over
"What have you got, a doll, my dear?"
"Yes, sir." The child quailed a little, and her brow wrinkled.
"A doll? And do you know, my dear, what dolls are made of?"
"No, sir," she said weakly, and lowered her head.
"Out of rags, my dear. You, boy, you go back to the drawing-room, to
the children," said Julian Mastakovich looking at the boy sternly.
The two children frowned. They caught hold of each other and would not
"And do you know why they gave you the doll?" asked Julian
Mastakovich, dropping his voice lower and lower.
"Because you were a good, very good little girl the whole week."
Saying which, Julian Mastakovich was seized with a paroxysm of
agitation. He looked round and said in a tone faint, almost inaudible
with excitement and impatience:
"If I come to visit your parents will you love me, my dear?"
He tried to kiss the sweet little creature, but the red-haired boy saw
that she was on the verge of tears, and he caught her hand and sobbed
out loud in sympathy. That enraged the man.
"Go away! Go away! Go back to the other room, to your playmates."
"I don't want him to. I don't want him to! You go away!" cried the
girl. "Let him alone! Let him alone!" She was almost weeping.
There was a sound of footsteps in the doorway. Julian Mastakovich
started and straightened up his respectable body. The red-haired boy
was even more alarmed. He let go the girl's hand, sidled along the
wall, and escaped through the drawing-room into the dining-room.
Not to attract attention, Julian Mastakovich also made for the
dining-room. He was red as a lobster. The sight of himself in a mirror
seemed to embarrass him. Presumably he was annoyed at his own ardour
and impatience. Without due respect to his importance and dignity, his
calculations had lured and pricked him to the greedy eagerness of a
boy, who makes straight for his object—though this was not as yet an
object; it only would be so in five years' time. I followed the worthy
man into the dining-room, where I witnessed a remarkable play.
Julian Mastakovich, all flushed with vexation, venom in his look,
began to threaten the red-haired boy. The red-haired boy retreated
farther and farther until there was no place left for him to retreat
to, and he did not know where to turn in his fright.
"Get out of here! What are you doing here? Get out, I say, you
good-for-nothing! Stealing fruit, are you? Oh, so, stealing fruit! Get
out, you freckle face, go to your likes!"
The frightened child, as a last desperate resort, crawled quickly
under the table. His persecutor, completely infuriated, pulled out his
large linen handkerchief and used it as a lash to drive the boy out of
Here I must remark that Julian Mastakovich was a somewhat corpulent
man, heavy, well-fed, puffy-cheeked, with a paunch and ankles as round
as nuts. He perspired and puffed and panted. So strong was his dislike
(or was it jealousy?) of the child that he actually began to carry on
like a madman.
I laughed heartily. Julian Mastakovich turned. He was utterly confused
and for a moment, apparently, quite oblivious of his immense
importance. At that moment our host appeared in the doorway opposite.
The boy crawled out from under the table and wiped his knees and
elbows. Julian Mastakovich hastened to carry his handkerchief, which
he had been dangling by the corner, to his nose. Our host looked at
the three of us rather suspiciously. But, like a man who knows the
world and can readily adjust himself, he seized upon the opportunity
to lay hold of his very valuable guest and get what he wanted out of
"Here's the boy I was talking to you about," he said, indicating the
red-haired child. "I took the liberty of presuming on your goodness in
"Oh," replied Julian Mastakovich, still not quite master of himself.
"He's my governess's son," our host continued in a beseeching tone.
"She's a poor creature, the widow of an honest official. That's why,
if it were possible for you—"
"Impossible, impossible!" Julian Mastakovich cried hastily. "You must
excuse me, Philip Alexeyevich, I really cannot. I've made inquiries.
There are no vacancies, and there is a waiting list of ten who have a
greater right—I'm sorry."
"Too bad," said our host. "He's a quiet, unobtrusive child."
"A very naughty little rascal, I should say," said Julian Mastakovich,
wryly. "Go away, boy. Why are you here still? Be off with you to the
Unable to control himself, he gave me a sidelong glance. Nor could I
control myself. I laughed straight in his face. He turned away and
asked our host, in tones quite audible to me, who that odd young
fellow was. They whispered to each other and left the room,
I shook with laughter. Then I, too, went to the drawing-room. There
the great man, already surrounded by the fathers and mothers and the
host and the hostess, had begun to talk eagerly with a lady to whom he
had just been introduced. The lady held the rich little girl's hand.
Julian Mastakovich went into fulsome praise of her. He waxed ecstatic
over the dear child's beauty, her talents, her grace, her excellent
breeding, plainly laying himself out to flatter the mother, who
listened scarcely able to restrain tears of joy, while the father
showed his delight by a gratified smile.
The joy was contagious. Everybody shared in it. Even the children were
obliged to stop playing so as not to disturb the conversation. The
atmosphere was surcharged with awe. I heard the mother of the
important little girl, touched to her profoundest depths, ask Julian
Mastakovich in the choicest language of courtesy, whether he would
honour them by coming to see them. I heard Julian Mastakovich accept
the invitation with unfeigned enthusiasm. Then the guests scattered
decorously to different parts of the room, and I heard them, with
veneration in their tones, extol the business man, the business man's
wife, the business man's daughter, and, especially, Julian
"Is he married?" I asked out loud of an acquaintance of mine standing
beside Julian Mastakovich.
Julian Mastakovich gave me a venomous look.
"No," answered my acquaintance, profoundly shocked by
* * * * *
Not long ago I passed the Church of——. I was struck by the concourse
of people gathered there to witness a wedding. It was a dreary day. A
drizzling rain was beginning to come down. I made my way through the
throng into the church. The bridegroom was a round, well-fed,
pot-bellied little man, very much dressed up. He ran and fussed about
and gave orders and arranged things. Finally word was passed that the
bride was coming. I pushed through the crowd, and I beheld a
marvellous beauty whose first spring was scarcely commencing. But the
beauty was pale and sad. She looked distracted. It seemed to me even
that her eyes were red from recent weeping. The classic severity of
every line of her face imparted a peculiar significance and solemnity
to her beauty. But through that severity and solemnity, through the
sadness, shone the innocence of a child. There was something
inexpressibly naïve, unsettled and young in her features, which,
without words, seemed to plead for mercy.
They said she was just sixteen years old. I looked at the bridegroom
carefully. Suddenly I recognised Julian Mastakovich, whom I had not
seen again in all those five years. Then I looked at the bride
again.—Good God! I made my way, as quickly as I could, out of the
church. I heard gossiping in the crowd about the bride's wealth—about
her dowry of five hundred thousand rubles—so and so much for pocket
"Then his calculations were correct," I thought, as I pressed out into
GOD SEES THE TRUTH, BUT WAITS
BY LEO N. TOLSTOY
In the town of Vladimir lived a young merchant named Ivan Dmitrich
Aksionov. He had two shops and a house of his own.
Aksionov was a handsome, fair-haired, curly-headed fellow, full of
fun, and very fond of singing. When quite a young man he had been
given to drink, and was riotous when he had had too much; but after he
married he gave up drinking, except now and then.
One summer Aksionov was going to the Nizhny Fair, and as he bade
good-bye to his family, his wife said to him, "Ivan Dmitrich, do not
start to-day; I have had a bad dream about you."
Aksionov laughed, and said, "You are afraid that when I get to the
fair I shall go on a spree."
His wife replied: "I do not know what I am afraid of; all I know is
that I had a bad dream. I dreamt you returned from the town, and when
you took off your cap I saw that your hair was quite grey."
Aksionov laughed. "That's a lucky sign," said he. "See if I don't sell
out all my goods, and bring you some presents from the fair."
So he said good-bye to his family, and drove away.
When he had travelled half-way, he met a merchant whom he knew, and
they put up at the same inn for the night. They had some tea together,
and then went to bed in adjoining rooms.
It was not Aksionov's habit to sleep late, and, wishing to travel
while it was still cool, he aroused his driver before dawn, and told
him to put in the horses.
Then he made his way across to the landlord of the inn (who lived in a
cottage at the back), paid his bill, and continued his journey.
When he had gone about twenty-five miles, he stopped for the horses to
be fed. Aksionov rested awhile in the passage of the inn, then he
stepped out into the porch, and, ordering a samovar to be heated, got
out his guitar and began to play.
Suddenly a troika drove up with tinkling bells and an official
alighted, followed by two soldiers. He came to Aksionov and began to
question him, asking him who he was and whence he came. Aksionov
answered him fully, and said, "Won't you have some tea with me?" But
the official went on cross-questioning him and asking him. "Where did
you spend last night? Were you alone, or with a fellow-merchant? Did
you see the other merchant this morning? Why did you leave the inn
Aksionov wondered why he was asked all these questions, but he
described all that had happened, and then added, "Why do you
cross-question me as if I were a thief or a robber? I am travelling on
business of my own, and there is no need to question me."
Then the official, calling the soldiers, said, "I am the
police-officer of this district, and I question you because the
merchant with whom you spent last night has been found with his throat
cut. We must search your things."
They entered the house. The soldiers and the police-officer unstrapped
Aksionov's luggage and searched it. Suddenly the officer drew a knife
out of a bag, crying, "Whose knife is this?"
Aksionov looked, and seeing a blood-stained knife taken from his bag,
he was frightened.
"How is it there is blood on this knife?"
Aksionov tried to answer, but could hardly utter a word, and only
stammered: "I—don't know—not mine." Then the police-officer said:
"This morning the merchant was found in bed with his throat cut. You
are the only person who could have done it. The house was locked from
inside, and no one else was there. Here is this blood-stained knife in
your bag and your face and manner betray you! Tell me how you killed
him, and how much money you stole?"
Aksionov swore he had not done it; that he had not seen the merchant
after they had had tea together; that he had no money except eight
thousand rubles of his own, and that the knife was not his. But his
voice was broken, his face pale, and he trembled with fear as though
he went guilty.
The police-officer ordered the soldiers to bind Aksionov and to put
him in the cart. As they tied his feet together and flung him into the
cart, Aksionov crossed himself and wept. His money and goods were
taken from him, and he was sent to the nearest town and imprisoned
there. Enquiries as to his character were made in Vladimir. The
merchants and other inhabitants of that town said that in former days
he used to drink and waste his time, but that he was a good man. Then
the trial came on: he was charged with murdering a merchant from
Ryazan, and robbing him of twenty thousand rubles.
His wife was in despair, and did not know what to believe. Her
children were all quite small; one was a baby at her breast. Taking
them all with her, she went to the town where her husband was in jail.
At first she was not allowed to see him; but after much begging, she
obtained permission from the officials, and was taken to him. When she
saw her husband in prison-dress and in chains, shut up with thieves
and criminals, she fell down, and did not come to her senses for a
long time. Then she drew her children to her, and sat down near him.
She told him of things at home, and asked about what had happened to
him. He told her all, and she asked, "What can we do now?"
"We must petition the Czar not to let an innocent man perish."
His wife told him that she had sent a petition to the Czar, but it had
not been accepted.
Aksionov did not reply, but only looked downcast.
Then his wife said, "It was not for nothing I dreamt your hair had
turned grey. You remember? You should not have started that day." And
passing her fingers through his hair, she said: "Vanya dearest, tell
your wife the truth; was it not you who did it?"
"So you, too, suspect me!" said Aksionov, and, hiding his face in his
hands, he began to weep. Then a soldier came to say that the wife and
children must go away; and Aksionov said good-bye to his family for
the last time.
When they were gone, Aksionov recalled what had been said, and when he
remembered that his wife also had suspected him, he said to himself,
"It seems that only God can know the truth; it is to Him alone we must
appeal, and from Him alone expect mercy."
And Aksionov wrote no more petitions; gave up all hope, and only
prayed to God.
Aksionov was condemned to be flogged and sent to the mines. So he was
flogged with a knot, and when the wounds made by the knot were healed,
he was driven to Siberia with other convicts.
For twenty-six years Aksionov lived as a convict in Siberia. His hair
turned white as snow, and his beard grew long, thin, and grey. All his
mirth went; he stooped; he walked slowly, spoke little, and never
laughed, but he often prayed.
In prison Aksionov learnt to make boots, and earned a little money,
with which he bought The Lives of the Saints. He read this book when
there was light enough in the prison; and on Sundays in the
prison-church he read the lessons and sang in the choir; for his voice
was still good.
The prison authorities liked Aksionov for his meekness, and his
fellow-prisoners respected him: they called him "Grandfather," and
"The Saint." When they wanted to petition the prison authorities about
anything, they always made Aksionov their spokesman, and when there
were quarrels among the prisoners they came to him to put things
right, and to judge the matter.
No news reached Aksionov from his home, and he did not even know if
his wife and children were still alive.
One day a fresh gang of convicts came to the prison. In the evening
the old prisoners collected round the new ones and asked them what
towns or villages they came from, and what they were sentenced for.
Among the rest Aksionov sat down near the newcomers, and listened with
downcast air to what was said.
One of the new convicts, a tall, strong man of sixty, with a
closely-cropped grey beard, was telling the others what be had been
"Well, friends," he said, "I only took a horse that was tied to a
sledge, and I was arrested and accused of stealing. I said I had only
taken it to get home quicker, and had then let it go; besides, the
driver was a personal friend of mine. So I said, 'It's all right.'
'No,' said they, 'you stole it.' But how or where I stole it they
could not say. I once really did something wrong, and ought by rights
to have come here long ago, but that time I was not found out. Now I
have been sent here for nothing at all… Eh, but it's lies I'm
telling you; I've been to Siberia before, but I did not stay long."
"Where are you from?" asked some one.
"From Vladimir. My family are of that town. My name is Makar, and they
also call me Semyonich."
Aksionov raised his head and said: "Tell me, Semyonich, do you know
anything of the merchants Aksionov of Vladimir? Are they still alive?"
"Know them? Of course I do. The Aksionovs are rich, though their
father is in Siberia: a sinner like ourselves, it seems! As for you,
Gran'dad, how did you come here?"
Aksionov did not like to speak of his misfortune. He only sighed, and
said, "For my sins I have been in prison these twenty-six years."
"What sins?" asked Makar Semyonich.
But Aksionov only said, "Well, well—I must have deserved it!" He
would have said no more, but his companions told the newcomers how
Aksionov came to be in Siberia; how some one had killed a merchant,
and had put the knife among Aksionov's things, and Aksionov had been
When Makar Semyonich heard this, he looked at Aksionov, slapped his
own knee, and exclaimed, "Well, this is wonderful! Really wonderful!
But how old you've grown, Gran'dad!"
The others asked him why he was so surprised, and where he had seen
Aksionov before; but Makar Semyonich did not reply. He only said:
"It's wonderful that we should meet here, lads!"
These words made Aksionov wonder whether this man knew who had killed
the merchant; so he said, "Perhaps, Semyonich, you have heard of that
affair, or maybe you've seen me before?"
"How could I help hearing? The world's full of rumours. But it's a
long time ago, and I've forgotten what I heard."
"Perhaps you heard who killed the merchant?" asked Aksionov.
Makar Semyonich laughed, and replied: "It must have been him in whose
bag the knife was found! If some one else hid the knife there, 'He's
not a thief till he's caught,' as the saying is. How could any one put
a knife into your bag while it was under your head? It would surely
have woke you up."
When Aksionov heard these words, he felt sure this was the man who had
killed the merchant. He rose and went away. All that night Aksionov
lay awake. He felt terribly unhappy, and all sorts of images rose in
his mind. There was the image of his wife as she was when he parted
from her to go to the fair. He saw her as if she were present; her
face and her eyes rose before him; he heard her speak and laugh. Then
he saw his children, quite little, as they: were at that time: one
with a little cloak on, another at his mother's breast. And then he
remembered himself as he used to be-young and merry. He remembered how
he sat playing the guitar in the porch of the inn where he was
arrested, and how free from care he had been. He saw, in his mind, the
place where he was flogged, the executioner, and the people standing
around; the chains, the convicts, all the twenty-six years of his
prison life, and his premature old age. The thought of it all made him
so wretched that he was ready to kill himself.
"And it's all that villain's doing!" thought Aksionov. And his anger
was so great against Makar Semyonich that he longed for vengeance,
even if he himself should perish for it. He kept repeating prayers all
night, but could get no peace. During the day he did not go near Makar
Semyonich, nor even look at him.
A fortnight passed in this way. Aksionov could not sleep at night, and
was so miserable that he did not know what to do.
One night as he was walking about the prison he noticed some earth
that came rolling out from under one of the shelves on which the
prisoners slept. He stopped to see what it was. Suddenly Makar
Semyonich crept out from under the shelf, and looked up at Aksionov
with frightened face. Aksionov tried to pass without looking at him,
but Makar seized his hand and told him that he had dug a hole under
the wall, getting rid of the earth by putting it into his high-boots,
and emptying it out every day on the road when the prisoners were
driven to their work.
"Just you keep quiet, old man, and you shall get out too. If you blab,
they'll flog the life out of me, but I will kill you first."
Aksionov trembled with anger as he looked at his enemy. He drew his
hand away, saying, "I have no wish to escape, and you have no need to
kill me; you killed me long ago! As to telling of you—I may do so or
not, as God shall direct."
Next day, when the convicts were led out to work, the convoy soldiers
noticed that one or other of the prisoners emptied some earth out of
his boots. The prison was searched and the tunnel found. The Governor
came and questioned all the prisoners to find out who had dug the
hole. They all denied any knowledge of it. Those who knew would not
betray Makar Semyonich, knowing he would be flogged almost to death.
At last the Governor turned to Aksionov whom he knew to be a just man,
"You are a truthful old man; tell me, before God, who dug the hole?"
Makar Semyonich stood as if he were quite unconcerned, looking at the
Governor and not so much as glancing at Aksionov. Aksionov's lips and
hands trembled, and for a long time he could not utter a word. He
thought, "Why should I screen him who ruined my life? Let him pay for
what I have suffered. But if I tell, they will probably flog the life
out of him, and maybe I suspect him wrongly. And, after all, what good
would it be to me?"
"Well, old man," repeated the Governor, "tell me the truth: who has
been digging under the wall?"
Aksionov glanced at Makar Semyonich, and said, "I cannot say, your
honour. It is not God's will that I should tell! Do what you like with
me; I am your hands."
However much the Governor! tried, Aksionov would say no more, and so
the matter had to be left.
That night, when Aksionov was lying on his bed and just beginning to
doze, some one came quietly and sat down on his bed. He peered through
the darkness and recognised Makar.
"What more do you want of me?" asked Aksionov. "Why have you come
Makar Semyonich was silent. So Aksionov sat up and said, "What do you
want? Go away, or I will call the guard!"
Makar Semyonich bent close over Aksionov, and whispered, "Ivan
Dmitrich, forgive me!"
"What for?" asked Aksionov.
"It was I who killed the merchant and hid the knife among your things.
I meant to kill you too, but I heard a noise outside, so I hid the
knife in your bag and escaped out of the window."
Aksionov was silent, and did not know what to say. Makar Semyonich
slid off the bed-shelf and knelt upon the ground. "Ivan Dmitrich,"
said he, "forgive me! For the love of God, forgive me! I will confess
that it was I who killed the merchant, and you will be released and
can go to your home."
"It is easy for you to talk," said Aksionov, "but I have suffered for
you these twenty-six years. Where could I go to now?… My wife is
dead, and my children have forgotten me. I have nowhere to go…"
Makar Semyonich did not rise, but beat his head on the floor. "Ivan
Dmitrich, forgive me!" he cried. "When they flogged me with the knot
it was not so hard to bear as it is to see you now … yet you had
pity on me, and did not tell. For Christ's sake forgive me, wretch
that I am!" And he began to sob.
When Aksionov heard him sobbing he, too, began to weep. "God will
forgive you!" said he. "Maybe I am a hundred times worse than you."
And at these words his heart grew light, and the longing for home left
him. He no longer had any desire to leave the prison, but only hoped
for his last hour to come.
In spite of what Aksionov had said, Makar Semyonich confessed, his
guilt. But when the order for his release came, Aksionov was already
HOW A MUZHIK FED TWO OFFICIALS
BY M.Y. SALTYKOV [N.Shchedrin]
Once upon a time there were two Officials. They were both
empty-headed, and so they found themselves one day suddenly
transported to an uninhabited isle, as if on a magic carpet.
They had passed their whole life in a Government Department, where
records were kept; had been born there, bred there, grown old there,
and consequently hadn't the least understanding for anything outside
of the Department; and the only words they knew were: "With assurances
of the highest esteem, I am your humble servant."
But the Department was abolished, and as the services of the two
Officials were no longer needed, they were given their freedom. So the
retired Officials migrated to Podyacheskaya Street in St. Petersburg.
Each had his own home, his own cook and his pension.
Waking up on the uninhabited isle, they found themselves lying under
the same cover. At first, of course, they couldn't understand what had
happened to them, and they spoke as if nothing extraordinary had taken
"What a peculiar dream I had last night, your Excellency," said the
one Official. "It seemed to me as if I were on an uninhabited isle."
Scarcely had he uttered the words, when he jumped to his feet. The
other Official also jumped up.
"Good Lord, what does this mean! Where are we?" they cried out in
They felt each other to make sure that they were no longer dreaming,
and finally convinced themselves of the sad reality.
Before them stretched the ocean, and behind them was a little spot of
earth, beyond which the ocean stretched again. They began to cry—the
first time since their Department had been shut down.
They looked at each other, and each noticed that the other was clad in
nothing but his night shirt with his order hanging about his neck.
"We really should be having our coffee now," observed the one
Official. Then he bethought himself again of the strange situation he
was in and a second time fell to weeping.
"What are we going to do now?" he sobbed. "Even supposing we were to
draw up a report, what good would that do?"
"You know what, your Excellency," replied the other Official, "you go
to the east and I will go to the west. Toward evening we will come
back here again and, perhaps, we shall have found something."
They started to ascertain which was the east and which was the west.
They recalled that the head of their Department had once said to them,
"If you want to know where the east is, then turn your face to the
north, and the east will be on your right." But when they tried to
find out which was the north, they turned to the right and to the left
and looked around on all sides. Having spent their whole life in the
Department of Records, their efforts were all in vain.
"To my mind, your Excellency, the best thing to do would be for you to
go to the right and me to go to the left," said one Official, who had
served not only in the Department of Records, but had also been
teacher of handwriting in the School for Reserves, and so was a little
So said, so done. The one Official went to the right. He came upon
trees, bearing all sorts of fruits. Gladly would he have plucked an
apple, but they all hung so high that he would have been obliged to
climb up. He tried to climb up in vain. All he succeeded in doing was
tearing his night shirt. Then he struck upon a brook. It was swarming
"Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had all this fish in Podyacheskaya
Street!" he thought, and his mouth watered. Then he entered woods and
found partridges, grouse and hares.
"Good Lord, what an abundance of food!" he cried. His hunger was going
But he had to return to the appointed spot with empty hands. He found
the other Official waiting for him.
"Well, Your Excellency, how went it? Did you find anything?"
"Nothing but an old number of the Moscow Gazette, not another
The Officials lay down to sleep again, but their empty stomachs gave
them no rest They were partly robbed of their sleep by the thought of
who was now enjoying their pension, and partly by the recollection of
the fruit, fishes, partridges, grouse and hares that they had seen
during the day.
"The human pabulum in its original form flies, swims and grows on
trees. Who would have thought it your Excellency?" said the one
"To be sure," rejoined the other Official. "I, too, must admit that I
had imagined that our breakfast rolls, came into the world just as
they appear on the table."
"From which it is to be deduced that if we want to eat a pheasant, we
must catch it first, kill it, pull its feathers and roast it. But
how's that to be done?"
"Yes, how's that to be done?" repeated the other Official.
They turned silent and tried again to fall asleep, but their hunger
scared sleep away. Before their eyes swarmed flocks of pheasants and
ducks, herds of porklings, and they were all so juicy, done so
tenderly and garnished so deliciously with olives, capers and pickles.
"I believe I could devour my own boots now," said the one Official.
"Gloves, are not bad either, especially if they have been born quite
mellow," said the other Official.
The two Officials stared at each other fixedly. In their glances
gleamed an evil-boding fire, their teeth chattered and a dull groaning
issued from their breasts. Slowly they crept upon each other and
suddenly they burst into a fearful frenzy. There was a yelling and
groaning, the rags flew about, and the Official who had been teacher
of handwriting bit off his colleague's order and swallowed it.
However, the sight of blood brought them both back to their senses.
"God help us!" they cried at the same time. "We certainly don't mean
to eat each other up. How could we have come to such a pass as this?
What evil genius is making sport of us?"
"We must, by all means, entertain each other to pass the time away,
otherwise there will be murder and death," said the, one Official.
"You begin," said the other.
"Can you explain why it is that the sun first rises and then sets? Why
isn't it the reverse?"
"Aren't you a funny, man, your Excellency? You get up first, then you
go to your office and work there, and at night you lie down to sleep."
"But why can't one assume the opposite, that is, that one goes to,
bed, sees all sorts of dream figures, and then gets up?"
"Well, yes, certainly. But when I was still an Official, I always
thought this way: 'Now it is; dawn, then it will be day, then will
come supper, and finally will come the time to go to bed.'"
The word "supper" recalled that incident in the day's doings, and the
thought of it made both Officials melancholy, so that the conversation
came to a halt.
"A doctor once told me that human beings can sustain themselves for a
long time on their own juices," the one Official began again.
"What does that mean?"
"It is quite simple. You see, one's own juices generate other juices,
and these in their turn still other juices, and so it goes on until
finally all the juices are consumed."
"And then what happens?"
"Then food has to be taken into the system again."
No matter what topic the Officials chose, the conversation invariably
reverted to the subject of eating; which only increased their appetite
more and more. So they decided to give up talking altogether, and,
recollecting the Moscow Gazette that the one of them had found, they
picked it up and began to read eagerly.
BANQUET GIVEN BY THE MAYOR
"The table was set for one hundred persons. The magnificence of it
exceeded all expectations. The remotest provinces were represented at
this feast of the gods by the costliest gifts. The golden sturgeon
from Sheksna and the silver pheasant from the Caucasian woods held a
rendezvous with strawberries so seldom to be had in our latitude in
"The devil! For God's sake, stop reading, your Excellency. Couldn't
you find something else to read about?" cried the other Official in
sheer desperation. He snatched the paper from his colleague's hands,
and started to read something else.
"Our correspondent in Tula informs us that yesterday a sturgeon was
found in the Upa (an event which even the oldest inhabitants cannot
recall, and all the more remarkable since they recognised the former
police captain in this sturgeon). This was made the occasion for
giving a banquet in the club. The prime cause of the banquet was
served in a large wooden platter garnished with vinegar pickles. A
bunch of parsley stuck out of its mouth. Doctor P—— who acted as
toast-master saw to it that everybody present got a piece of the
sturgeon. The sauces to go with it were unusually varied and
"Permit me, your Excellency, it seems to me you are not so careful
either in the selection of reading matter," interrupted the first
Official, who secured the Gazette again and started to read:
"One of the oldest inhabitants of Viatka has discovered a new and
highly original recipe for fish soup; A live codfish (lota vulgaris)
is taken and beaten with a rod until its liver swells up with
The Officials' heads drooped. Whatever their eyes fell upon had
something to do with eating. Even their own thoughts were fatal. No
matter how much they tried to keep their minds off beefsteak and the
like, it was all in vain; their fancy returned invariably, with
irresistible force, back to that for which they were so painfully
Suddenly an inspiration came to the Official who had once taught
"I have it!" he cried delightedly. "What do you say to this, your
Excellency? What do you say to our finding a muzhik?"
"A muzhik, your Excellency? What sort of a muzhik?"
"Why a plain ordinary muzhik. A muzhik like all other muzhiks. He
would get the breakfast rolls for us right away, and he could also
catch partridges and fish for us."
"Hm, a muzhik. But where are we to fetch one from, if there is no
"Why shouldn't there be a muzhik here? There are muzhiks everywhere.
All one has to do is hunt for them. There certainly must be a muzhik
hiding here somewhere so as to get out of working."
This thought so cheered the Officials that they instantly jumped up to
go in search of a muzhik.
For a long while they wandered about on the island without the desired
result, until finally a concentrated smell of black bread and old
sheep skin assailed their nostrils and guided them in the right
direction. There under a tree was a colossal muzhik lying fast asleep
with his hands under his head. It was clear that to escape his duty to
work he had impudently withdrawn to this island. The indignation of
the Officials knew no bounds.
"What, lying asleep here you lazy-bones you!" they raged at him, "It
is nothing to you that there are two Officials here who are fairly
perishing of hunger. Up, forward, march, work."
The Muzhik rose and looked at the two severe gentlemen standing in
front of him. His first thought was to make his escape, but the
Officials held him fast.
He had to submit to his fate. He had to work.
First he climbed up on a tree and plucked several dozen of the finest
apples for the Officials. He kept a rotten one for himself. Then he
turned up the earth and dug out some potatoes. Next he started a fire
with two bits of wood that he rubbed against each other. Out of his
own hair he made a snare and caught partridges. Over the fire, by this
time burning brightly, he cooked so many kinds of food that the
question arose in the Officials' minds whether they shouldn't give
some to this idler.
Beholding the efforts of the Muzhik, they rejoiced in their hearts.
They had already forgotten how the day before they had nearly been
perishing of hunger, and all they thought of now was: "What a good
thing it is to be an Official. Nothing bad can ever happen to an
"Are you satisfied, gentlemen?" the lazy Muzhik asked.
"Yes, we appreciate your industry," replied the Officials.
"Then you will permit me to rest a little?"
"Go take a little rest, but first make a good strong cord."
The Muzhik gathered wild hemp stalks, laid them in water, beat them
and broke them, and toward evening a good stout cord was ready. The
Officials took the cord and bound the Muzhik to a tree, so that he
should not run away. Then they laid themselves to sleep.
Thus day after day passed, and the Muzhik became so skilful that he
could actually cook soup for the Officials in his bare hands. The
Officials had become round and well-fed and happy. It rejoiced them
that here they needn't spend any money and that in the meanwhile their
pensions were accumulating in St. Petersburg.
"What is your opinion, your Excellency," one said to the other after
breakfast one day, "is the Story of the Tower of Babel true? Don't you
think it is simply an allegory?"
"By no means, your Excellency, I think it was something that really
happened. What other explanation is there for the existence of so many
different languages on earth?"
"Then the Flood must really have taken place, too?"
"Certainly, else; how would you explain the existence of Antediluvian
animals? Besides, the Moscow Gazette says——"
They made search for the old number of the Moscow Gazette, seated
themselves in the shade, and read the whole sheet from beginning to
end. They read of festivities in Moscow, Tula, Penza and Riazan, and
strangely enough felt no discomfort at the description of the
There is no saying how long this life might have lasted. Finally,
however, it began to bore the Officials. They often thought of their
cooks in St. Petersburg, and even shed a few tears in secret.
"I wonder how it looks in Podyacheskaya Street now, your Excellency,"
one of them said to the other.
"Oh, don't remind me of it, your Excellency. I am pining away with
"It is very nice here. There is really no fault to be found with this
place, but the lamb longs for its mother sheep. And it is a pity, too,
for the beautiful uniforms."
"Yes, indeed, a uniform of the fourth class is no joke. The gold
embroidery alone is enough to make one dizzy."
Now they began to importune the Muzhik to find some way of getting
them back to Podyacheskaya Street, and strange to say, the Muzhik even
knew where Podyacheskaya Street was. He had once drunk beer and mead
there, and as the saying goes, everything had run down his beard,
alas, but nothing into his mouth. The Officials rejoiced and said: "We
are Officials from Podyacheskaya Street."
"And I am one of those men—do you remember?—who sit on a scaffolding
hung by ropes from the roofs and paint the outside walls. I am one of
those who crawl about on the roofs like flies. That is what I am,"
replied the Muzhik.
The Muzhik now pondered long and heavily on how to give great pleasure
to his Officials, who had been so gracious to him, the lazy-bones, and
had not scorned his work. And he actually succeeded in constructing a
ship. It was not really a ship, but still it was a vessel, that would
carry them across the ocean close to Podyacheskaya Street.
"Now, take care, you dog, that you don't drown us," said the
Officials, when they saw the raft rising and falling on the waves.
"Don't be afraid. We muzhiks are used to this," said the Muzhik,
making all the preparations for the journey. He gathered swan's-down
and made a couch for his two Officials, then he crossed himself and
rowed off from shore.
How frightened the Officials were on the way, how seasick they were
during the storms, how they scolded the coarse Muzhik for his
idleness, can neither be told nor described. The Muzhik, however, just
kept rowing on and fed his Officials on herring. At last, they caught
sight of dear old Mother Neva. Soon they were in the glorious
Catherine Canal, and then, oh joy! they struck the grand Podyacheskaya
Street. When the cooks saw their Officials so well-fed, round and so
happy, they rejoiced immensely. The Officials drank coffee and rolls,
then put on their uniforms and drove to the Pension Bureau. How much
money they collected there is another thing that can neither be told
nor described. Nor was the Muzhik forgotten. The Officials sent a
glass of whiskey out to him and five kopeks. Now, Muzhik, rejoice.
THE SHADES, A PHANTASY
BY VLADIMIR G. KORLENKO
A month and two days had elapsed since the judges, amid the loud
acclaim of the Athenian people, had pronounced the death sentence
against the philosopher Socrates because he had sought to destroy
faith in the gods. What the gadfly is to the horse Socrates was to
Athens. The gadfly stings the horse in order to prevent it from dozing
off and to keep it moving briskly on its course. The philosopher said
to the people of Athens:
"I am your gadfly. My sting pricks your conscience and arouses you
when you are caught napping. Sleep not, sleep not, people of Athens;
awake and seek the truth!"
The people arose in their exasperation and cruelly demanded to be rid
of their gadfly.
"Perchance both of his accusers, Meletus and Anytus, are wrong," said
the citizens, on leaving the court after sentence had been pronounced.
"But after all whither do his doctrines tend? What would he do? He has
wrought confusion, he overthrows, beliefs that have existed since the
beginning, he speaks of new virtues which must be recognised and
sought for, he speaks of a Divinity hitherto unknown to us. The
blasphemer, he deems himself wiser than the gods! No, 'twere better we
remain true to the old gods whom we know. They may not always be just,
sometimes they may flare up in unjust wrath, and they may also be
seized with a wanton lust for the wives of mortals; but did not our
ancestors live with them in the peace of their souls, did not our
forefathers accomplish their heroic deeds with the help of these very
gods? And now the faces of the Olympians have paled and the old virtue
is out of joint. What does it all lead to? Should not an end be put to
this impious wisdom once for all?"
Thus the citizens of Athens spoke to one another as they left the
place, and the blue twilight was falling. They had determined to kill
the restless gadfly in the hope that the countenances of the gods
would shine again. And yet—before their souls arose the mild figure
of the singular philosopher. There were some citizens who recalled how
courageously he had shared their troubles and dangers at Potidæa; how
he alone had prevented them from committing the sin of unjustly
executing the generals after the victory over the Arginusæe; how he
alone had dared to raise his voice against the tyrants who had had
fifteen hundred people put to death, speaking to the people on the
market-place concerning shepherds and their sheep.
"Is not he a good shepherd," he asked, "who guards his flock and
watches over its increase? Or is it the work of the good shepherd to
reduce the number of his sheep and disperse them, and of the good
ruler to do the same with his people? Men of Athens, let us
investigate this question!"
And at this question of the solitary, undefended philosopher, the
faces of the tyrants paled, while the eyes of the youths kindled with
the fire of just wrath and indignation.
Thus, when on dispersing after the sentence the Athenians recalled all
these things of Socrates, their hearts were oppressed with heavy
"Have we not done a cruel wrong to the son of Sophroniscus?"
But then the good Athenians looked upon the harbour and the sea, and
in the red glow of the dying day they saw the purple sails of the
sharp-keeled ship, sent to the Delian festival, shimmering in the
distance on the blue Pontus. The ship would not return until the
expiration of a month, and the Athenians recollected that during this
time no blood might be shed in Athens, whether the blood of the
innocent or the guilty. A month, moreover, has many days and still
more hours. Supposing the son of Sophroniscus had been unjustly
condemned, who would hinder his escaping from the prison, especially
since he had numerous friends to help him? Was it so difficult for the
rich Plato, for Æschines and others to bribe the guards? Then the
restless gadfly would flee from Athens to the barbarians in Thessaly,
or to the Peloponnesus, or, still farther, to Egypt; Athens would no
longer hear his blasphemous speeches; his death would not weigh upon
the conscience of the worthy citizens, and so everything would end for
the best of all.
Thus said many to themselves that evening, while aloud they praised
the wisdom of the demos and the heliasts. In secret, however, they
cherished the hope that the restless philosopher would leave Athens,
fly from the hemlock to the barbarians, and so free the Athenians of
his troublesome presence and of the pangs of consciences that smote
them for inflicting death upon an innocent man.
Two and thirty times since that evening had the sun risen from the
ocean and dipped down into it again. The ship had returned from Delos
and lay in the harbour with sadly drooping sails, as if ashamed of its
native city. The moon did not shine in the heavens, the sea heaved
under a heavy fog, and, on the, hills lights peered through the
obscurity like the eyes of men gripped by a sense of guilt.
The stubborn Socrates did, not spare the conscience of the good
"We part! You go home and I go to death," he said, to the judges after
the sentence had been pronounced. "I know not, my friends, which of us
chooses the better lot!"
As the time had approached for the return of the ship, many of the
citizens had begun to feel uneasy. Must that obstinate fellow really
die? And they began to appeal to the consciences of Æschines, Phædo,
and other pupils of Socrates, trying to urge them on to further
efforts for their master.
"Will you permit your teacher to die?" they asked reproachfully in
biting tones. "Or do you grudge the few coins it would take to bribe
In vain Crito besought Socrates to take to flight, and complained that
the public, was upbraiding his disciples with lack of friendship and
with avarice. The self-willed philosopher refused to gratify his
pupils or the good people of Athens.
"Let us investigate." he said. "If it turns out that I must flee, I
will flee; but if I must die, I will die. Let us remember what we once
said—the wise man need not fear death, he need fear nothing but
falsehood. Is it right to abide by the laws we ourselves have made so
long as they are agreeable to us, and refuse to obey those which are
disagreeable? If my memory does not deceive me I believe we once spoke
of these things, did we not?"
"Yes, we did," answered his pupil.
"And I think all were agreed as to the answer?"
"But perhaps what is true for others is not true for us?"
"No, truth is alike for all, including ourselves."
"But perhaps when we must die and not some one else, truth becomes
"No, Socrates, truth remains the truth under all circumstances."
After his pupil had thus agreed to each premise of Socrates in turn,
he smiled and drew his conclusion.
"If that is so, my friend, mustn't I die? Or has my head already
become so weak that I am no longer in a condition to draw a logical
conclusion? Then correct me, my friend and show my erring brain the
His pupil covered, his face with his mantle and turned aside.
"Yes," he said, "now I see you must die."
And on that evening when the sea tossed hither, and thither and roared
dully under the load of fog, and the whimsical wind in mournful
astonishment gently stirred the sails of the ships; when the citizens
meeting on the streets asked, one another: "Is, he dead?" and their
voices timidly betrayed the hope that he was not dead; when the first
breath of awakened conscience, touched the hearts of the Athenians
like the first messenger of the storm; and when, it seemed the very
faces of the gods were darkened with shame—on that evening at the
sinking of the sun the self-willed man drank the cup of death!
The wind increased in violence and shrouded the city more closely in
the veil of mist, angrily tugging at the sails of the vessels delayed
in the harbour. And the Erinyes sang their gloomy songs to the hearts
of the citizens and whipped up in their breasts that tempest which was
later, to overwhelm the denouncers of Socrates.
But in that hour the first stirrings of regret were still uncertain
and confused. The citizens found more fault with Socrates than ever
because he had not given them the satisfaction of fleeing to Thessaly;
they were annoyed with his pupils because in the last days they had
walked about in sombre mourning attire, a living reproach to the
Athenians; they were vexed with the judges because they had not had
the sense and the courage to resist the blind rage of the excited
people; they bore even the gods resentment.
"To you, ye gods, have we brought this sacrifice," spoke many.
"Rejoice, ye unsatiable!"
"I know not which of us chooses the better lot!"
Those words of Socrates came back to their memory, those his last
words to the judges and to the people gathered in the court. Now he
lay in the prison quiet and motionless under his cloak, while over the
city hovered mourning, horror, and shame.
Again he became the tormentor of the city, he who was himself no
longer accessible to torment. The gadfly had been killed, but it stung
the people more sharply than ever—sleep not, sleep not this night, O
men of Athens! Sleep not! You have committed an injustice, a cruel
injustice, which can never be erased!
During those sad days Xenophon, the general, a pupil of Socrates, was
marching with his Ten Thousand in a distant land, amid dangers,
seeking a way of return to his beloved fatherland.
Æschines, Crito, Critobulus, Phædo, and Apollodorus were now occupied
with the preparations for the modest funeral.
Plato was burning his lamp and bending over a parchment; the best
disciple of the philosopher was busy inscribing the deeds, words, and
teachings that marked the end of the sage's life. A thought is never
lost, and the truth discovered by a great intellect illumines the way
for future generations like a torch in the dark.
There was one other disciple of Socrates. Not long before, the
impetuous Ctesippus had been one of the most frivolous and
pleasure-seeking of the Athenian youths. He had set up beauty as his
sole god, and had bowed before Clinias as its highest exemplar. But
since he had become acquainted with Socrates, all desire for pleasure
and all light-mindedness had gone from him. He looked on indifferently
while others took his place with Clinias. The grace of thought and the
harmony of spirit that he found in Socrates seemed a hundred times
more attractive than the graceful form and the harmonious features of
Clinias. With all the intensity of his stormy temperament he hung on
the man who had disturbed the serenity of his virginal soul, which for
the first time opened to doubts as the bud of a young oak opens to the
fresh winds of spring.
Now that the master was dead, he could find peace neither at his own
hearth nor in the oppressive stillness of the streets nor among his
friends and fellow-disciples. The gods of hearth and home and the gods
of the people inspired him with repugnance.
"I know not," he said, "whether ye are the best of all the gods to
whom numerous generations have burned incense and brought offerings;
all I know is that for your sake the blind mob extinguished the clear
torch of truth, and for your sake sacrificed the greatest and best of
It almost seemed to Ctesippus as though the streets and market-places
still echoed with the shrieking of that unjust sentence. And he
remembered how it was here that the people clamoured for the execution
of the generals who had led them to victory against the Argunisæ, and
how Socrates alone had opposed the savage sentence of the judges and
the blind rage of the mob. But when Socrates himself needed a
champion, no one had been found to defend him with equal strength.
Ctesippus blamed himself and his friends, and for that reason he
wanted to avoid everybody—even himself, if possible.
That evening he went to the sea. But his grief grew only the more
violent. It seemed to him that the mourning daughters of Nereus were
tossing hither and thither on the shore bewailing the death of the
best of the Athenians and the folly of the frenzied city. The waves
broke on the rocky coast with a growl of lament. Their booming sounded
like a funeral dirge.
He turned away, left, the shore, and went on further without looking
before him. He forgot time and space and his own ego, filled only with
the afflicting thought of Socrates!
"Yesterday he still was, yesterday his mild words still could be
heard. How is it possible that to-day he no longer is? O night, O
giant mountain shrouded in mist, O heaving sea moved by your own life,
O restless winds that carry the breath of an immeasurable world on
your wings, O starry vault flecked with flying clouds—take me to you,
disclose to me the mystery of this death, if it is revealed to you!
And if ye know not, then grant my ignorant soul your own lofty
indifference. Remove from me these torturing questions. I no longer
have strength to carry them in my bosom without an answer, without
even the hope of an answer. For who shall answer them, now that the
lips of Socrates are sealed in eternal silence, and eternal darkness
is laid upon his lids?"
Thus Ctesippus cried out to the sea and the mountains, and to the dark
night, which followed its invariable course, ceaselessly, invisibly,
over the slumbering world. Many hours passed before Ctesippus glanced
up and saw whither his steps had unconsciously led him. A dark horror
seized his soul as he looked about him.
It seemed as if the unknown gods of eternal night had heard his
impious prayer. Ctesippus looked about, without being able to
recognise the place where he was. The lights of the city had long been
extinguished by the darkness. The roaring of the sea had died away in
the distance; his anxious soul had even lost the recollection of
having heard it. No single sound—no mournful cry of nocturnal bird,
nor whirr of wings, nor rustling of trees, nor murmur of a merry
stream—broke the deep silence. Only the blind will-o'-the-wisps
flickered here and there over rocks, and sheet-lightning,
unaccompanied by any sound, flared up and died down against
crag-peaks. This brief illumination merely emphasised the darkness;
and the dead light disclosed the outlines of dead deserts crossed by
gorges like crawling serpents, and rising into rocky heights in a wild
All the joyous gods that haunt green groves, purling brooks, and
mountain valleys seemed to have fled forever from these deserts. Pan
alone, the great and mysterious Pan, was hiding somewhere nearby in
the chaos of nature, and with mocking glance seemed to be pursuing the
tiny ant that a short time before had blasphemously asked to know the
secret of the world and of death. Dark, senseless horror overwhelmed
the soul of Ctesippus. It is thus that the sea in stormy floodtide
overwhelms a rock on the shore.
Was it a dream, was it reality, or was it the revelation of the
unknown divinity? Ctesippus felt that in an instant he would step
across the threshold of life, and that his soul would melt into an
ocean of unending, inconceivable horror like a drop of rain in the
waves of the grey sea on a dark and stormy night. But at this moment
he suddenly heard voices that seemed familiar to him, and in the glare
of the sheet-lightning his eyes recognised human figures.
On a rocky slope sat a man in deep despair. He had thrown a cloak over
his head and was bowed to the ground. Another figure approached him
softly, cautiously climbing upward and carefully feeling every step.
The first man uncovered his face and exclaimed:
"Is that you I just now saw, my good Socrates? Is that you passing by
me in this cheerless place? I have already spent many hours here
without knowing when day will relieve the night. I have been waiting
in vain for the dawn."
"Yes, I am Socrates, my friend, and you, are you not Elpidias who died
three days before me?"
"Yes, I am Elpidias, formerly the richest tanner in Athens, now the
most miserable of slaves. For the first time I understand the words of
the poet: 'Better to be a slave in this world than a ruler in gloomy
"My friend, if it is disagreeable for you where you are, why don't you
move to another spot?"
"O Socrates, I marvel at you—how dare you wander about in this
cheerless gloom? I—I sit here overcome with grief and bemoan the joys
of a fleeting life."
"Friend Elpidias, like you, I, too, was plunged in this gloom when the
light of earthly life was removed from my eyes. But an inner voice
told me: 'Tread this new path without hesitation, and I went."
"But whither do you go, O son of Sophroniscus? Here there is no way,
no path, not even a ray of light; nothing but a chaos of rocks, mist,
"True. But, my Elpidias, since you are aware of this sad truth, have
you not asked yourself what is the most distressing thing in your
"Undoubtedly the dismal darkness."
"Then one should seek for light. Perchance you will find here the
great law—that mortals must in darkness seek the source of life. Do
you not think it is better so to seek than to remain sitting in one
spot? I think it is, therefore I keep walking. Farewell!"
"Oh, good Socrates, abandon me not! You go with sure steps through the
pathless chaos in Hades. Hold out to me but a fold of your mantle—"
"If you think it is better for you, too, then follow me, friend
And the two shades walked on, while the soul of Ctesippus, released by
sleep from its mortal envelop, flew after them, greedily absorbing the
tones of the clear Socratic speech.
"Are you here, good Socrates?" the voice of the Athenian again was
heard. "Why are you silent? Converse shortens the way, and I swear, by
Hercules, never did I have to traverse such a horrid way."
"Put questions, friend Elpidias! The question of one who seeks
knowledge brings forth answers and produces conversation."
Elpidias maintained silence for a moment, and then, after he had
collected his thoughts, asked:
"Yes, this is what I wanted to say—tell me, my poor Socrates, did
they at least give you a good burial?"
"I must confess, friend Elpidias, I cannot satisfy your curiosity."
"I understand, my poor Socrates, it doesn't help you cut a figure. Now
with me it was so different! Oh, how they buried me, how magnificently
they buried me, my poor fellow-Wanderer! I still think with great
pleasure of those lovely moments after my death. First they washed me
and sprinkled me with well-smelling balsam. Then my faithful Larissa
dressed me in garments of the finest weave. The best mourning-women of
the city tore their hair from their heads because they had been
promised good pay, and in the family vault they placed an amphora—a
crater with beautiful, decorated handles of bronze, and, besides, a
"Stay, friend Elpidias. I am convinced that: the faithful Larissa
converted her love into several minas. Yet—"
"Exactly ten minas and four drachmas, not counting the drinks for the
guests. I hardly think that the richest tanner can come before the
souls of his ancestors and boast of such respect on the part of the
"Friend Elpidias, don't you think that money would have been of more
use to the poor people who are still alive in Athens than to you at
"Admit, Socrates, you are speaking in envy," responded Elpidias,
pained. "I am sorry for you, unfortunate Socrates, although, between
ourselves, you really deserved your fate. I myself in the family
circle said more than once that an end ought to be put to your impious
"Stay, friend, I thought you wanted to draw a conclusion, and I fear
you are straying from the straight path. Tell me, my good friend,
whither does your wavering thought tend?"
"I wanted to say that in my goodness I am sorry for you. A month ago I
myself spoke against you in the assembly, but truly none of us who
shouted so loud wanted such a great ill to befall you. Believe me, now
I am all the sorrier for you, unhappy philosopher!"
"I thank you. But tell me, my friend, do you perceive a brightness
before your eyes?"
"No, on the contrary such darkness lies before me that I must ask
myself whether this is not the misty region of Orcus."
"This way, therefore, is just as dark for you as for me?"
"If I am not mistaken, you are even holding on to the folds of my
"Then we are in the same position? You see your ancestors are not
hastening to rejoice in the tale of your pompous burial. Where is the
difference between us, my good friend?"
"But, Socrates, have the gods enveloped your reason in such obscurity
that the difference is not clear to you?"
"Friend, if your situation is clearer to you, then give me your hand
and lead me, for I swear, by the dog, you let me go ahead in this
"Cease your scoffing, Socrates! Do not make sport, and do not compare
yourself, your godless self, with a man who died in his own bed——".
"Ah, I believe I am beginning to understand you. But tell me,
Elpidias, do you hope ever again to rejoice in your bed?"
"Oh, I think not."
"And was there ever a time when you did not sleep in it?"
"Yes. That was before I bought goods from Agesilaus at half their
value. You see, that Agesilaus is really a deep-dyed rogue——"
"Ah, never mind about Agesilaus! Perhaps he is getting them back, from
your widow at a quarter their value. Then wasn't I right when I said
that you were in possession of your bed only part of the time?"
"Yes, you were right."
"Well, and I, too, was in possession of the bed in which I died part
of the time. Proteus, the good guard of the prison, lent it to me for
"Oh, if I had known what you were aiming at with your talk, I wouldn't
have answered your wily questions. By Hercules, such profanation is
unheard of—he compares himself with me! Why, I could put an end to
you with two words, if it came to it——"
"Say them, Elpidias, without fear. Words can scarcely be more
destructive to me than the hemlock."
"Well, then, that is just what I wanted to say. You unfortunate man,
you died by the sentence of the court and had to drink hemlock!"
"But I have known that since the day of my death, even long before.
And you, unfortunate Elpidias, tell me what caused your death?"
"Oh, with me, it was different, entirely different! You see I got the
dropsy in my abdomen. An expensive physician from Corinth was called
who promised to cure me for two minas, and he was given half that
amount in advance. I am afraid that Larissa in her lack of experience
in such things gave him the other half, too——"
"Then the physician did not keep his promise?"
"And you died from dropsy?"
"Ah, Socrates, believe me, three times it wanted to, vanquish me, and
finally it quenched the flame of my life!"
"Then tell me—did death by dropsy give you great pleasure?"
"Oh, wicked Socrates, don't make sport of me. I told you it wanted to
vanquish me three times. I bellowed like a steer under the knife of
the slaughterer, and begged the Parcæ to cut the thread of my life as
quickly as possible."
"That doesn't surprise me. But from what do you conclude that the
dropsy was pleasanter to you than the hemlock to me? The hemlock made
an end of me in a moment."
"I see, I fell into your snare again, you crafty sinner! I won't
enrage the gods still more by speaking with you, you destroyer of
Both were silent, and quiet reigned. But in a short while Elpidias was
again the first to begin a conversation.
"Why are you silent, good Socrates?"
"My friend; didn't you yourself ask for silence?"
"I am not proud, and I can treat men who are worse than I am
considerately. Don't let us quarrel."
"I did not quarrel with you, friend Elpidias, and did not wish to say
anything to insult you. I am merely accustomed to get at the truth of
things by comparisons. My situation is not clear to me. You consider
your situation better, and I should be glad to learn why. On the other
hand, it would not hurt you to learn the truth, whatever shape it may
"Well, no more of this."
"Tell me, are you afraid? I don't think that the feeling I now have
can be called fear."
"I am afraid, although I have less cause than you to be at odds with
the gods. But don't you think that the gods, in abandoning us to
ourselves here in this chaos, have cheated us of our hopes?"
"That depends upon what sort of hopes they were. What did you expect
from the gods, Elpidias?"
"Well, well, what did I expect from the gods! What curious questions
you ask, Socrates! If a man throughout life brings offerings, and at
his death passes away with a pious heart and with all that custom
demands, the gods might at least send some one to meet him, at least
one of the inferior gods, to show a man the way. … But that reminds
me. Many a time when I begged for good luck in traffic in hides, I
promised Hermes calves——"
"And you didn't have luck?"
"Oh, yes, I had luck, good Socrates, but——".
"I understand, you had no calf."
"Bah! Socrates, a rich tanner and not have calves?"
"Now I understand. You had luck, had calves, but you kept them for
yourself, and Hermes received nothing."
"You're a clever man. I've often said so. I kept only three of my ten
oaths, and I didn't deal differently with the other gods. If the same
is the case with you, isn't that the reason, possibly, why we are now
abandoned by the gods? To be sure, I ordered Larissa to sacrifice a
whole hecatomb after my death."
"But that is Larissa's affair, whereas it was you, friend Elpidias,
who made the promises."
"That's true, that's true. But you, good Socrates, could you, godless
as you are, deal better with the gods than I who was a god-fearing
"My friend, I know not whether I dealt better or worse. At first I
brought offerings without having made vows. Later I offered neither
calves nor vows."
"What, not a single calf, you unfortunate man?"
"Yes, friend, if Hermes had had to live by my gifts, I am afraid he
would have grown very thin."
"I understand. You did not traffic in cattle, so you offered articles
of some other trade—probably a mina or so of what the pupils paid
"You know, my friend, I didn't ask pay of my pupils, and my trade
scarcely sufficed to support me. If the gods reckoned on the sorry
remnants of my meals they miscalculated."
"Oh, blasphemer, in comparison with you I can be proud of my piety. Ye
gods, look upon this man! I did deceive you at times, but now and then
I shared with you the surplus of some fortunate deal. He who gives at
all gives much in comparison with a blasphemer who gives nothing.
Socrates, I think you had better go on alone! I fear that your
company, godless one, damages me in the eyes of the gods."
"As you will, good Elpidias. I swear by the dog no one shall force his
company on another. Unhand the fold of my mantle, and farewell. I will
go on alone."
And Socrates walked forward with a sure tread, feeling the ground,
however, at every step.
But Elpidias behind him instantly cried out:
"Wait, wait, my good fellow-citizen, do not leave an Athenian alone in
this horrible place! I was only making fun. Take what I said as a
joke, and don't go so quickly. I marvel how you can see a thing in
this hellish darkness."
"Friend, I have accustomed my eyes to it."
"That's good. Still I, can't approve of your not having brought
sacrifices to the gods. No, I can't, poor Socrates, I can't. The
honourable Sophroniscus certainly taught you better in your youth, and
you yourself used to take part in the prayers. I saw you.
"Yes. But I am accustomed to examine all our motives and to accept
only those that after investigation prove to be reasonable. And so a
day came on which I said to myself: 'Socrates, here you are praying to
the Olympians. Why are you praying to them?'"
"Really you philosophers sometimes don't know how to answer the
simplest questions. I'm a plain tanner who never in my life studied
sophistry, yet I know why I must honour the Olympians."
"Tell me quickly, so that I. too, may know why."
"Why? Ha! Ha! It's too simple, you wise Socrates."
"So much the better if it's simple. But don't keep your wisdom from,
me. Tell me—why must one honour the gods?"
"Why. Because everybody does it."
"Friend, you know very well that not every one honours the gods.
Wouldn't it be more correct to say 'many'?"
"Very well, many."
"But tell me, don't more men deal wickedly than righteously?"
"I think so. You find more wicked people than good people."
"Therefore, if you follow the majority, you ought to deal wickedly and
"What are you saying?"
"I'm not saying it, you are. But I think the reason that men
reverence the Olympians is not because the majority worship them. We
must find another, more rational ground. Perhaps you mean they deserve
"Yes, very right."
"Good. But then arises a new question: Why do they deserve reverence?"
"Because of their greatness."
"Ah, that's more like it. Perhaps I will soon be agreeing with you. It
only remains for you to tell me wherein their greatness consists.
That's a difficult question, isn't it? Let us seek the answer
together. Homer says that the impetuous Ares, when stretched flat on
the ground by a stone thrown by Pallas Athene, covered with his body
the space that can be travelled in seven mornings. You see what an
"Is that wherein greatness consists?"
"There you have me, my friend. That raises another question. Do you
remember the athlete Theophantes? He towered over the people a whole
head's length, whereas Pericles was no larger than you. But whom do we
call great, Pericles or Theophantes?"
"I see that greatness does not consist in size of body. In that you're
right. I am glad we agree. Perhaps greatness consists in virtue?"
"I think so, too."
"Well, then, who must bow to whom? The small before the large, or
those who are great in virtues before the wicked?"
"The answer is clear."
"I think so, too. Now we will look further into this matter. Tell me
truly, did you ever kill other people's children with arrows?"
"It goes without saying, never! Do you think so ill of me?"
"Nor have you, I trust, ever seduced the wives of other men?"
"I was an upright tanner and a good husband. Don't forget that,
Socrates, I beg of you!"
"You never became a brute, nor by your lustfulness gave your faithful
Larissa occasion to revenge herself on women whom you had ruined and
on their innocent children?"
"You anger me, really, Socrates."
"But perhaps you snatched your inheritance from your father and threw
him into prison?"
"Never! Why these insulting questions?"
"Wait, my friend. Perhaps we will both reach a conclusion. Tell me,
would you have considered a man great who had done all these things of
which I have spoken?"
"No, no, no! I should have called such a man a scoundrel, and lodged
public complaint against him with the judges in the market-place."
"Well, Elpidias, why did you not complain in the market-place against
Zeus and the Olympians? The son of Cronos carried on war with his own
father, and was seized with brutal lust for the daughters of men,
while Hera took vengeance upon innocent virgins. Did not both of them
convert the unhappy daughter of Inachos into a common cow? Did not
Apollo kill all the children of Niobe with his arrows? Did not
Callenius steal bulls? Well, then, Elpidias, if it is true that he who
has less virtue must do honour to him who has more, then you should
not build altars to the Olympians, but they to you."
"Blaspheme not, impious Socrates! Keep quiet! How dare you judge the
acts of the gods?"
"Friend, a higher power has judged them. Let us investigate the
question. What is the mark of divinity? I think you said, Greatness,
which consists in virtue. Now is not this greatness the one divine
spark in man? But if we test the greatness of the gods by our small
human virtues, and it turns out that that which measures is greater
than that which is measured, then it follows that the divine principle
itself condemns the Olympians. But, then—"
"Then, friend Elpidias, they; are no gods, but deceptive phantoms,
creations of a dream. Is it not so?"
"Ah, that's whither your talk leads, you bare-footed philosopher! Now
I see what they said of you is true. You are like that fish that takes
men captive with its look. So you took me captive in order to confound
my believing soul and awaken doubt in it. It was already beginning to
waver in its reverence for Zeus. Speak alone. I won't answer any
"Be not wrathful, Elpidias! I don't wish to inflict any evil upon you.
But if you are tired of following my arguments to their logical
conclusions, permit me to relate to you an allegory of a Milesian
youth. Allegories rest the mind, and the relaxation is not
"Speak, if your story is not too long and its purpose is good."
"Its purpose is truth, friend Elpidias, and I will be brief. Once, you
know, in ancient times, Miletus was exposed to the attacks of the
barbarians. Among the youth who were seized was a son of the wisest
and best of all the citizens in the land. His precious child was
overtaken by a severe illness and became unconscious. He was abandoned
and allowed to lie like worthless booty. In the dead of night he came
to his senses. High above him glimmered the stars. Round about
stretched the desert; and in the distance he heard the howl of beasts
of prey. He was alone.
"He was entirely alone, and, besides that, the gods had taken from him
the recollection of his former life. In vain he racked his brain—it
was as dark and empty as the inhospitable desert in which he found
himself. But somewhere, far away, behind the misty and obscure figures
conjured up by his reason, loomed the thought of his lost home, and a
vague realisation of the figure of the best of all men; and in his
heart resounded the word 'father.' Doesn't it seem to you that the
fate of this youth resembles the fate of all humanity?"
"Do we not all awake to life on earth with a hazy recollection of
another home? And does not the figure of the great unknown hover
before our souls?"
"Continue, Socrates, I am listening."
"The youth revived, arose, and walked cautiously, seeking to avoid all
dangers. When after long wanderings his strength was nearly gone, he
discerned a fire in the misty distance which illumined the darkness
and banished the cold. A faint hope crept into his weary soul, and the
recollections of his father's house again awoke within him. The youth
walked toward the light, and cried: 'It is you, my father, it is you!'
"And was it his father's house?"
"No, it was merely a night lodging of wild nomads. So for many years
he led the miserable life of a captive slave, and only in his dreams
saw the distant home and rested on his father's bosom. Sometimes with
weak hand he endeavoured to lure from dead clay or wood or stone the
face and form that ever hovered before him. There even came moments
when he grew weary and embraced his own handiwork and prayed to it and
wet it with his tears. But the stone remained cold stone. And as he
waxed in years the youth destroyed his creations, which already seemed
to him a vile defamation of his ever-present dreams. At last fate
brought him to a good barbarian, who asked him for the cause of his
constant mourning. When the youth, confided to him the hopes and
longings of his soul, the barbarian, a wise man, said:
"'The world would be better did such a man and such a country exist as
that of which you speak. But by what mark would you recognise your
"'In my country,' answered the youth, 'they reverenced wisdom and
virtue and looked up to my father as to the master.'
"'Well and good,' answered the barbarian. 'I must assume that a kernel
of your father's teaching resides in you. Therefore take up the
wanderer's staff, and proceed on your way. Seek perfect wisdom and
truth, and when you have found them, cast aside your staff—there will
be your home and your father.'
"And the youth went on his way at break of day—"
"Did he find the one whom he sought?"
"He is still seeking. Many countries, cities and men has he seen. He
has come to know all the ways by land; he has traversed the stormy
seas; he has searched the courses of the stars in heaven by which a
pilgrim can direct his course in the limitless deserts. And each time
that on his wearisome way an inviting fire lighted up the darkness
before his eyes, his heart beat faster and hope crept into his soul.
'That is my father's hospitable house,' he thought.
"And when a hospitable host would greet the tired traveller and offer
him the peace and blessing of his hearth, the youth would fall at his
feet and say with emotion: 'I thank you, my father! Do you not
recognise your son?'
"And many were prepared to take him as their son, for at that time
children were frequently kidnapped. But after the first glow of
enthusiasm, the youth would detect traces of imperfection, sometimes
even of wickedness. Then he would begin to investigate and to test his
host with questions concerning justice and injustice. And soon he
would be driven forth again upon the cold wearisome way. More than
once he said to himself: 'I will remain at this last hearth, I will
preserve my last belief. It shall be the home of my father.'"
"Do you know, Socrates, perhaps that would have been the most sensible
thing to do."
"So he thought sometimes. But the habit of investigating, the confused
dream of a father, gave him no peace. Again and again he shook the
dust from his feet; again and again he grasped his staff. Not a few
stormy nights found him shelterless. Doesn't it seem to you that the
fate of this youth resembles the fate of mankind?"
"Does not the race of man make trial of its childish belief and doubt
it while seeking the unknown? Doesn't it fashion the form of its
father in wood, stone, custom, and tradition? And then man finds the
form imperfect, destroys it, and again goes on his wanderings in the
desert of doubt. Always for the purpose of seeking something better—"
"Oh, you cunning sage, now I understand the purpose of your allegory!
And I will tell you to your face that if only a ray of light were to
penetrate this gloom, I would not put the Lord on trial with
"Friend, the light is already shining," answered Socrates.
It seemed as if the words of the philosopher had taken effect. High up
in the distance a beam of light penetrated a vapoury envelop and
disappeared in the mountains. It was followed by a second and a third.
There beyond the darkness luminous genii seemed to be hovering, and a
great mystery seemed about to be revealed, as if the breath of life
were blowing, as if some great ceremony were in process. But it was
still very remote. The shades descended thicker and thicker; foggy
clouds rolled into masses, separated, and chased one another
A blue light from a distant peak fell upon a deep ravine; the clouds
rose and covered the heavens to the zenith.
The rays disappeared and withdrew to a greater and greater distance,
as if fleeing from this vale of shades and horrors. Socrates stood and
looked after them sadly. Elpidias peered up at the peak full of dread.
"Look, Socrates! What do you see there on the mountain?"
"Friend," answered; the philosopher, "let us investigate our
situation. Since we are in motion, we must arrive somewhere, and since
earthly existence must have a limit, I believe that this limit is to
be found at the parting of two beginnings. In the struggle of light
with darkness we attain the crown of our endeavours. Since the ability
to think has not been taken from us, I believe that it is the will of
the divine being who called our power of thinking into existence that
we should investigate the goal of our endeavours ourselves. Therefore,
Elpidias, let us in dignified manner go to meet the dawn that lies
beyond those clouds.
"Oh, my friend! If that is the dawn, I would rather the long cheerless
night: had endured forever, for it was quiet and peaceful. Don't you
think our time passed tolerably well in instructive converse? And now
my soul trembles before the tempest drawing nigh. Say what you will,
but there before us are no ordinary shades of the dead night."
Zeus hurled a bolt into the bottomless gulf.
Ctesippus looked up to the peak, and his soul was frozen with horror.
Huge sombre figures of the Olympian gods crowded on the mountain in a
circle. A last ray shot through the region of clouds and mists, and
died away like a faint memory. A storm was approaching now, and the
powers of night were once more in the ascendant. Dark figures covered
the heavens. In the centre Ctesippus could discern the all-powerful
son of Cronos surrounded by a halo. The sombre figures of the older
gods encircled him in wrathful excitement. Like flocks of birds
winging their way in the twilight, like eddies of dust driven by a
hurricane, like autumn leaves lashed by Boreas, numerous minor gods
hovered in long clouds and occupied the spaces.
When the clouds gradually lifted from the peak and sent down dismal
horror to embrace the earth, Ctesippus fell upon his knees. Later, he
admitted that in this dreadful moment he forgot all his master's
deductions and conclusions. His courage failed him; and terror took
possession of his soul.
He merely listened.
Two voices resounded there where before had been silence, the one the
mighty and threatening voice of the Godhead, the other the weak voice
of a mortal which the wind carried from the mountain slope to the spot
where Ctesippus had left Socrates.
"Are you," thus spake the voice from the clouds, "are you the
blasphemous Socrates who strives with the gods of heaven and earth?
Once there were none so joyous, so immortal, as we. Now, for long we
have passed our days in darkness because of the unbelief and doubt
that have come upon earth. Never has the mist closed in on us so
heavily as since the time your voice resounded in Athens, the city we
once so dearly loved. Why did you not follow the commands of your
father, Sophroniscus? The good man permitted himself a few little
sins, especially in his youth, yet by way of recompense, we frequently
enjoyed the smell of his offerings—"
"Stay, son of Cronos, and solve my doubts! Do I understand that you
prefer cowardly hypocrisy to searchings for the truth?"
At this question the crags trembled with the shock of a thundering
peal. The first breath of the tempest scattered in the distant gorges.
But the mountains still trembled, for he who was enthroned upon them
still trembled. And in the anxious quiet of the night only distant
sighs could be heard.
In the very bowels of the earth the chained Titans seemed to be
groaning under the blow of the son of Cronos.
"Where are you now, you impious questioner?" suddenly came the mocking
voice of the Olympian.
"I am here, son of Cronos, on the same spot. Nothing but your answer
can move me from it. I am waiting."
Thunder bellowed in the clouds like a wild animal amazed at the daring
of a Lybian tamer's fearless approach. At the end of a few moments the
Voice again rolled over the spaces:
"Son of Sophroniscus! Is it not enough that you bred so much
scepticism on earth that the clouds of your doubt reached even to
Olympus? Indeed, many a time when you were carrying on your discourse
m the market-places or in the academies or on the promenades, it
seemed to me as if you had already destroyed all the altars on earth,
and the dust were rising from them up to us here on the mountain. Even
that is not enough! Here before my very face you will not recognise
the power of the immortals—"
"Zeus, thou art wrathful. Tell me, who gave me the 'Daemon' which
spoke to my soul throughout my life and forced me to seek the truth
Mysterious silence reigned in the clouds.
"Was it not you? You are silent? Then I will investigate the matter.
Either this divine beginning emanates from you or from some one else.
If from you, I bring it to you as an offering. I offer you the ripe
fruit of my life, the flame of the spark of your own kindling! See,
son of Cronos, I preserved, my gift; in my deepest heart grew the seed
that you sowed. It is the very fire of my soul. It burned in those
crises when with my own hand I tore the thread of life. Why will you
not accept it? Would you have me regard you as a poor master whose age
prevents him from seeing that his own pupil obediently follows out his
commands? Who are you that would command me to stifle the flame that
has illuminated my whole life, ever since it was penetrated by the
first ray of sacred thought? The sun says not to the stars: 'Be
extinguished that I may rise.' The sun rises and the weak glimmer of
the stars is quenched by its far, far stronger light. The day says not
to the torch: 'Be extinguished; you interfere with me.' The day
breaks, and the torch smokes, but no longer shines. The divinity that
I am questing is not you who are afraid of doubt. That divinity is
like the day, like the sun, and shines without extinguishing other
lights. The god I seek is the god who would say to me: 'Wanderer, give
me your torch, you no longer need it, for I am the source of all
light. Searcher for truth, set upon my altar the little gift of your
doubt, because in me is its solution.' If you are that god, harken to
my questions. No one kills his own child, and my doubts are a branch
of the eternal spirit whose name is truth."
Round about, the fires of heaven tore the dark clouds, and out of the
howling storm again resounded the powerful voice:
"Whither did your doubts tend, you arrogant sage, who renounce
humility, the most beautiful adornment of earthly virtues? You
abandoned the friendly shelter of credulous simplicity to wander in
the desert of doubt. You have seen this dead space from which the
living gods have departed. Will you traverse it, you insignificant
worm, who crawl in the dust of your pitiful profanation of the gods?
Will you vivify the world? Will you conceive the unknown divinity to
whom you do not dare to pray? You miserable digger of dung, soiled by
the smut of ruined altars, are you perchance the architect who shall
build the new temple? Upon what do you base your hopes, you who
disavow the old gods and have no new gods to take their place? The
eternal night of doubts unsolved, the dead desert, deprived of the
living spirit—this is your world, you pitiful worm, who gnawed at
the living belief which was a refuge for simple hearts, who converted
the world into a dead chaos. Now, then, where are you, you
insignificant, blasphemous sage?"
Nothing was heard but the mighty storm roaring through the spaces.
Then the thunder died away, the wind folded its pinions, and torrents
of rain streamed through the darkness, like incessant floods of tears
which threatened to devour the earth and drown it in a deluge of
It seemed to Ctesippus that the master was overcome, and that the
fearless, restless, questioning voice had been silenced forever. But a
few moments later it issued again from the same spot.
"Your words, son of Cronos, hit the mark better than your
thunderbolts. The thoughts you have cast into my terrified soul have
haunted me often, and it has sometimes seemed as if my heart would
break under the burden of their unendurable anguish. Yes, I abandoned
the friendly shelter of credulous simplicity. Yes, I have seen the
spaces from which the living gods have departed enveloped in the night
of eternal doubt. But I walked without fear, for my 'Daemon' lighted
the way, the divine beginning of all life. Let us investigate the
question. Are not offerings of incense burnt on your altars in the
name of Him who gives life? You are stealing what belongs to another!
Not you, but that other, is served by credulous simplicity. Yes, you
are right, I am no architect. I am not the builder of a new temple.
Not to me was it given to raise from the earth to the heavens the
glorious structure of the coming faith. I am one who digs dung, soiled
by the smut of destruction. But my conscience tells me, son of Cronos,
that the work of one who digs dung is also necessary for the future
temple. When the time comes for the proud and stately edifice to stand
on the purified place, and for the living divinity of the new belief
to erect his throne upon it, I, the modest digger of dung, will go to
him and say: 'Here am I who restlessly crawled in the dust of
disavowal. When surrounded by fog and soot, I had no time to raise my
eyes from the ground; my head had only a vague conception of the
future building. Will you reject me, you just one, Just, and True, and
Silence and astonishment reigned in the spaces. Then Socrates raised
his voice, and continued:
"The sunbeam falls upon the filthy puddle, and light vapour, leaving
heavy mud behind, rises to the sun, melts, and dissolves in the ether.
With your sunbeam you touched my dust-laden soul and it aspired to
you, Unknown One, whose name is mystery! I sought for you, because you
are Truth; I strove to attain to you, because you are Justice; I loved
you, because you are Love; I died for you, because you are the Source
of Life. Will you reject me, O Unknown? My torturing doubts, my
passionate search for truth, my difficult life, my voluntary
death—accept them as a bloodless offering, as a prayer, as a sigh!
Absorb them as the immeasurable ether absorbs the evaporating mists!
Take them, you whose name I do not know, let not the ghosts of the
night I have traversed bar the way to you, to eternal light! Give way,
you shades who dim the light of the dawn! I tell you, gods of my
people, you are unjust, and where there is no justice there can be no
truth, but only phantoms, creations of a dream. To this conclusion
have I come, I, Socrates, who sought to fathom all things. Rise, dead
mists, I go my way to Him whom I have sought all my life long!"
The thunder burst again—a short, abrupt peal, as if the egis had
fallen from the weakened hand of the thunderer. Storm-voices trembled
from the mountains, sounding dully in the gorges, and died away in the
clefts. In their place resounded other, marvellous tones.
When Ctesippus looked up in astonishment, a spectacle presented itself
such as no mortal eyes had ever seen.
The night vanished. The clouds lifted, and godly figures floated in
the azure like golden ornaments on the hem of a festive robe. Heroic
forms glimmered over the remote crags and ravines, and Elpidias, whose
little figure was seen standing at the edge of a cleft in the rocks,
stretched his hands toward them, as if beseeching the vanishing gods
for a solution of his fate.
A mountain-peak now stood out clearly above the mysterious mist,
gleaming like a torch over dark blue valleys. The son of Cronos, the
thunderer, was no longer enthroned upon it, and the other Olympians
too were gone.
Socrates stood alone in the light of the sun under the high heavens.
Ctesippus was distinctly conscious of the pulse-beat of a mysterious
life quivering throughout nature, stirring even the tiniest blade of
A breath seemed to be stirring the balmy air, a voice to be sounding
in wonderful harmony, an invisible tread to be heard—the tread of the
And on the illumined peak a man still stood, stretching out his arms
in mute ecstasy, moved by a mighty impulse.
A moment, and all disappeared, and the light of an ordinary day shone
upon the awakened soul of Ctesippus. It was like dismal twilight after
the revelation of nature that had blown upon him the breath of an
* * * * *
In deep silence the pupils of the philosopher listened to the
marvellous recital of Ctesippus. Plato broke the silence.
"Let us investigate the dream and its significance," he said.
"Let us investigate it," responded the others.
BY VSEVOLOD M. GARSHIN.
Semyon Ivanonv was a track-walker. His hut was ten versts away from a
railroad station in one direction and twelve versts away in the other.
About four versts away there was a cotton mill that had opened the
year before, and its tall chimney rose up darkly from behind the
forest. The only dwellings around were the distant huts of the other
Semyon Ivanov's health had been completely shattered. Nine years
before he had served right through the war as servant to an officer.
The sun had roasted him, the cold frozen him, and hunger famished him
on the forced marches of forty and fifty versts a day in the heat and
the cold and the rain and the shine. The bullets had whizzed about
him, but, thank God! none had struck him.
Semyon's regiment had once been on the firing line. For a whole week
there had been skirmishing with the Turks, only a deep ravine
separating the two hostile armies; and from morn till eve there had
been a steady cross-fire. Thrice daily Semyon carried a steaming
samovar and his officer's meals from the camp kitchen to the ravine.
The bullets hummed about him and rattled viciously against the rocks.
Semyon was terrified and cried sometimes, but still he kept right on.
The officers were pleased with him, because he always had hot tea
ready for them.
He returned from the campaign with limbs unbroken but crippled with
rheumatism. He had experienced no little sorrow since then. He arrived
home to find that his father, an old man, and his little four-year-old
son had died. Semyon remained alone with his wife. They could not do
much. It was difficult to plough with rheumatic arms and legs. They
could no longer stay in their village, so they started off to seek
their fortune in new places. They stayed for a short time on the line,
in Kherson and Donshchina, but nowhere found luck. Then the wife went
out to service, and Semyon continued to travel about. Once he happened
to ride on an engine, and at one of the stations the face of the
station-master seemed familiar to him. Semyon looked at the
station-master and the station-master looked at Semyon, and they
recognised each other. He had been an officer in Semyon's regiment.
"You are Ivanov?" he said.
"Yes, your Excellency."
"How do you come to be here?"
Semyon told him all.
"Where are you off to?"
"I cannot tell you, sir."
"Idiot! What do you mean by 'cannot tell you?'"
"I mean what I say, your Excellency. There is nowhere for me to go to.
I must hunt for work, sir."
The station-master looked at him, thought a bit, and said: "See here,
friend, stay here a while at the station. You are married, I think.
Where is your wife?"
"Yes, your Excellency, I am married. My wife is at Kursk, in service
with a merchant."
"Well, write to your wife to come here. I will give you a free pass
for her. There is a position as track-walker open. I will speak to the
Chief on your behalf."
"I shall be very grateful to you, your Excellency," replied Semyon.
He stayed at the station, helped in the kitchen, cut firewood, kept
the yard clean, and swept the platform. In a fortnight's time his wife
arrived, and Semyon went on a hand-trolley to his hut. The hut was a
new one and warm, with as much wood as he wanted. There was a little
vegetable garden, the legacy of former track-walkers, and there was
about half a dessiatin of ploughed land on either side of the railway
embankment. Semyon was rejoiced. He began to think of doing some
farming, of purchasing a cow and a horse.
He was given all necessary stores—a green flag, a red flag, lanterns,
a horn, hammer, screw-wrench for the nuts, a crow-bar, spade, broom,
bolts, and nails; they gave him two books of regulations and a
time-table of the train. At first Semyon could not sleep at night, and
learnt the whole time-table by heart. Two hours before a train was due
he would go over his section, sit on the bench at his hut, and look
and listen whether the rails were trembling or the rumble of the train
could be heard. He even learned the regulations by heart, although he
could only read by spelling out each word.
It was summer; the work was not heavy; there was no snow to clear
away, and the trains on that line were infrequent. Semyon used to go
over his verst twice a day, examine and screw up nuts here and there,
keep the bed level, look at the water-pipes, and then go home to his
own affairs. There was only one drawback—he always had to get the
inspector's permission for the least little thing he wanted to do.
Semyon and his wife were even beginning to be bored.
Two months passed, and Semyon commenced to make the acquaintance of
his neighbours, the track-walkers on either side of him. One was a
very old man, whom the authorities were always meaning to relieve. He
scarcely moved out of his hut. His wife used to do all his work. The
other track-walker, nearer the station, was a young man, thin, but
muscular. He and Semyon met for the first time on the line midway
between the huts. Semyon took off his hat and bowed. "Good health to
you, neighbour," he said.
The neighbour glanced askance at him. "How do you do?" he replied;
then turned around and made off.
Later the wives met. Semyon's wife passed the time of day with her
neighbour, but neither did she say much.
On one occasion Semyon said to her: "Young woman, your husband is not
The woman said nothing at first, then replied: "But what is there for
him to talk about? Every one has his own business. Go your way, and
God be with you."
However, after another month or so they became acquainted. Semyon
would go with Vasily along the line, sit on the edge of a pipe, smoke,
and talk of life. Vasily, for the most part, kept silent, but Semyon
talked of his village, and of the campaign through which he had
"I have had no little sorrow in my day," he would say; "and goodness
knows I have not lived long. God has not given me happiness, but what
He may give, so will it be. That's so, friend Vasily Stepanych."
Vasily Stepanych knocked the ashes out of his pipe against a rail,
stood up, and said: "It is not luck which follows us in life, but
human beings. There is no crueller beast on this earth than man. Wolf
does not eat wolf, but man will readily devour man."
"Come, friend, don't say that; a wolf eats wolf."
"The words came into my mind and I said it. All the same, there is
nothing crueller than man. If it were not for his wickedness and
greed, it would be possible to live. Everybody tries to sting you to
the quick, to bite and eat you up."
Semyon pondered a bit. "I don't know, brother," he said; "perhaps it
is as you say, and perhaps it is God's will."
"And perhaps," said Vasily, "it is waste of time for me to talk to
you. To put everything unpleasant on God, and sit and suffer, means,
brother, being not a man but an animal. That's what I have to say."
And he turned and went off without saying good-bye.
Semyon also got up. "Neighbour," he called, "why do you lose your
temper?" But his neighbour did not look round, and kept on his way.
Semyon gazed after him until he was lost to sight in the cutting at
the turn. He went home and said to his wife: "Arina, our neighbour is
a wicked person, not a man."
However, they did not quarrel. They met again and discussed the same
"All, mend, if it were not for men we should not be poking in these
huts," said Vasily, on one occasion.
"And what if we are poking in these huts? It's not so bad. You can
live in them."
"Live in them, indeed! Bah, you!… You have lived long and learned
little, looked at much and seen little. What sort of life is there for
a poor man in a hut here or there? The cannibals are devouring you.
They are sucking up all your life-blood, and when you become old, they
will throw you out just as they do husks to feed the pigs on. What pay
do you get?"
"Not much, Vasily Stepanych—twelve rubles."
"And I, thirteen and a half rubles. Why? By the regulations the
company should give us fifteen rubles a month with firing and
lighting. Who decides that you should have twelve rubles, or I
thirteen and a half? Ask yourself! And you say a man can live on that?
You understand it is not a question of one and a half rubles or three
rubles—even if they paid us each the whole fifteen rubles. I was at
the station last month. The director passed through. I saw him. I had
that honour. He had a separate coach. He came out and stood on the
platform… I shall not stay here long; I shall go somewhere,
anywhere, follow my nose."
"But where will you go, Stepanych? Leave well enough alone. Here you
have a house, warmth, a little piece of land. Your wife is a worker."
"Land! You should look at my piece of land. Not a twig on it—nothing.
I planted some cabbages in the spring, just when the inspector came
along. He said: 'What is this? Why have you not reported this? Why
have you done this without permission? Dig them up, roots and all.' He
was drunk. Another time he would not have said a word, but this time
it struck him. Three rubles fine!…"
Vasily kept silent for a while, pulling at his pipe, then added
quietly: "A little more and I should have done for him."
"You are hot-tempered."
"No, I am not hot-tempered, but I tell the truth and think. Yes, he
will still get a bloody nose from me. I will complain to the Chief. We
will see then!" And Vasily did complain to the Chief.
Once the Chief came to inspect the line. Three days later important
personages were coming from St. Petersburg and would pass over the
line. They were conducting an inquiry, so that previous to their
journey it was necessary to put everything in order. Ballast was laid
down, the bed was levelled, the sleepers carefully examined, spikes
driven in a bit, nuts screwed up, posts painted, and orders given for
yellow sand to be sprinkled at the level crossings. The woman at the
neighbouring hut turned her old man out to weed. Semyon worked for a
whole week. He put everything in order, mended his kaftan, cleaned and
polished his brass plate until it fairly shone. Vasily also worked
hard. The Chief arrived on a trolley, four men working the handles and
the levers making the six wheels hum. The trolley travelled at twenty
versts an hour, but the wheels squeaked. It reached Semyon's hut, and
he ran out and reported in soldierly fashion. All appeared to be in
"Have you been here long?" inquired the Chief.
"Since the second of May, your Excellency."
"All right. Thank you. And who is at hut No. 164?"
The traffic inspector (he was travelling with the Chief on the
trolley) replied: "Vasily Spiridov."
"Spiridov, Spiridov… Ah! is he the man against whom you made a note
"Well, we will see Vasily Spiridov. Go on!" The workmen laid to the
handles, and the trolley got under way. Semyon watched it, and
thought, "There will be trouble between them and my neighbour."
About two hours later he started on his round. He saw some one coming
along the line from the cutting. Something white showed on his head.
Semyon began to look more attentively. It was Vasily. He had a stick
in his hand, a small bundle on his shoulder, and his cheek was bound
up in a handkerchief.
"Where are you off to?" cried Semyon.
Vasily came quite close. He was very pale, white as chalk, and his
eyes had a wild look. Almost choking, he muttered: "To town—to
Moscow—to the head office."
"Head office? Ah, you are going to complain, I suppose. Give it up!
Vasily Stepanych, forget it."
"No, mate, I will not forget. It is too late. See! He struck me in the
face, drew blood. So long as I live I will not forget. I will not
leave it like this!"
Semyon took his hand. "Give it up, Stepanych. I am giving you good
advice. You will not better things…"
"Better things! I know myself I shan't better things. You were right
about Fate. It would be better for me not to do it, but one must stand
up for the right." "But tell me, how did it happen?"
"How? He examined everything, got down from the trolley, looked into
the hut. I knew beforehand that he would be strict, and so I had put
everything into proper order. He was just going when I made my
complaint. He immediately cried out: 'Here is a Government inquiry
coming, and you make a complaint about a vegetable garden. Here are
privy councillors coming, and you annoy me with cabbages!' I lost
patience and said something—not very much, but it offended him, and
he struck me in the face. I stood still; I did nothing, just as if
what he did was perfectly all right. They went off; I came to myself,
washed my face, and left."
"And what about the hut?"
"My wife is staying there. She will look after things. Never mind
about their roads."
Vasily got up and collected himself. "Good-bye, Ivanov. I do not know
whether I shall get any one at the office to listen to me."
"Surely you are not going to walk?"
"At the station I will try to get on a freight train, and to-morrow I
shall be in Moscow."
The neighbours bade each other farewell. Vasily was absent for some
time. His wife worked for him night and day. She never slept, and wore
herself out waiting for her husband. On the third day the commission
arrived. An engine, luggage-van, and two first-class saloons; but
Vasily was still away. Semyon saw his wife on the fourth day. Her face
was swollen from crying and her eyes were red.
"Has your husband returned?" he asked. But the woman only made a
gesture with her hands, and without saying a word went her way.
Semyon had learnt when still a lad to make flutes out of a kind of
reed. He used to burn out the heart of the stalk, make holes where
necessary, drill them, fix a mouthpiece at one end, and tune them so
well that it was possible to play almost any air on them. He made a
number of them in his spare time, and sent them by his friends amongst
the freight brakemen to the bazaar in the town. He got two kopeks
apiece for them. On the day following the visit of the commission he
left his wife at home to meet the six o'clock train, and started off
to the forest to cut some sticks. He went to the end of his
section—at this point the line made a sharp turn—descended the
embankment, and struck into the wood at the foot of the mountain.
About half a verst away there was a big marsh, around which splendid
reeds for his flutes grew. He cut a whole bundle of stalks and started
back home. The sun was already dropping low, and in the dead stillness
only the twittering of the birds was audible, and the crackle of the
dead wood under his feet. As he walked along rapidly, he fancied he
heard the clang of iron striking iron, and he redoubled his pace.
There was no repair going on in his section. What did it mean? He
emerged from the woods, the railway embankment stood high before him;
on the top a man was squatting on the bed of the line busily engaged
in something. Semyon commenced quietly to crawl up towards him. He
thought it was some one after the nuts which secure the rails. He
watched, and the man got up, holding a crow-bar in his hand. He had
loosened a rail, so that it would move to one side. A mist swam before
Semyon's eyes; he wanted to cry out, but could not. It was Vasily!
Semyon scrambled up the bank, as Vasily with crow-bar and wrench slid
headlong down the other side.
"Vasily Stepanych! My dear friend, come back! Give me the crow-bar. We
will put the rail back; no one will know. Come back! Save your soul
Vasily did not look back, but disappeared into the woods.
Semyon stood before the rail which had been torn up. He threw down his
bundle of sticks. A train was due; not a freight, but a
passenger-train. And he had nothing with which to stop it, no flag. He
could not replace the rail and could not drive in the spikes with his
bare hands. It was necessary to run, absolutely necessary to run to
the hut for some tools. "God help me!" he murmured.
Semyon started running towards his hut. He was out of breath, but
still ran, falling every now and then. He had cleared the forest; he
was only a few hundred feet from his hut, not more, when he heard the
distant hooter of the factory sound—six o'clock! In two minutes' time
No. 7 train was due. "Oh, Lord! Have pity on innocent souls!" In his
mind Semyon saw the engine strike against the loosened rail with its
left wheel, shiver, careen, tear up and splinter the sleepers—and
just there, there was a curve and the embankment seventy feet high,
down which the engine would topple—and the third-class carriages
would be packed … little children… All sitting in the train now,
never dreaming of danger. "Oh, Lord! Tell me what to do!… No, it is
impossible to run to the hut and get back in time."
Semyon did not run on to the hut, but turned back and ran faster than
before. He was running almost mechanically, blindly; he did not know
himself what was to happen. He ran as far as the rail which had been
pulled up; his sticks were lying in a heap. He bent down, seized one
without knowing why, and ran on farther. It seemed to him the train
was already coming. He heard the distant whistle; he heard the quiet,
even tremor of the rails; but his strength was exhausted, he could run
no farther, and came to a halt about six hundred feet from the awful
spot. Then an idea came into his head, literally like a ray of light.
Pulling off his cap, he took out of it a cotton scarf, drew his knife
out of the upper part of his boot, and crossed himself, muttering,
"God bless me!"
He buried the knife in his left arm above the elbow; the blood spurted
out, flowing in a hot stream. In this he soaked his scarf, smoothed it
out, tied it to the stick and hung out his red flag.
He stood waving his flag. The train was already in sight. The driver
would not see him—would come close up, and a heavy train cannot be
pulled up in six hundred feet.
And the blood kept on flowing. Semyon pressed the sides of the wound
together so as to close it, but the blood did not diminish. Evidently
he had cut his arm very deep. His head commenced to swim, black spots
began to dance before his eyes, and then it became dark. There was a
ringing in his ears. He could not see the train or hear the noise.
Only one thought possessed him. "I shall not be able to keep standing
up. I shall fall and drop the flag; the train will pass over me. Help
me, oh Lord!"
All turned black before him, his mind became a blank, and he dropped
the flag; but the blood-stained banner did not fall to the ground. A
hand seized it and held it high to meet the approaching train. The
engineer saw it, shut the regulator, and reversed steam. The train
came to a standstill.
People jumped out of the carriages and collected in a crowd. They saw
a man lying senseless on the footway, drenched in blood, and another
man standing beside him with a blood-stained rag on a stick.
Vasily looked around at all. Then, lowering his head, he said: "Bind
me. I tore up a rail!"
BY ANTON P. CHEKOV
Olenka, the daughter of the retired collegiate assessor Plemyanikov,
was sitting on the back-door steps of her house doing nothing. It was
hot, the flies were nagging and teasing, and it was pleasant to think
that it would soon be evening. Dark rain clouds were gathering from
the east, wafting a breath of moisture every now and then.
Kukin, who roomed in the wing of the same house, was standing in the
yard looking up at the sky. He was the manager of the Tivoli, an
"Again," he said despairingly. "Rain again. Rain, rain, rain! Every
day rain! As though to spite me. I might as well stick my head into a
noose and be done with it. It's ruining me. Heavy losses every day!"
He wrung his hands, and continued, addressing Olenka: "What a life,
Olga Semyonovna! It's enough to make a man weep. He works, he does his
best, his very best, he tortures himself, he passes sleepless nights,
he thinks and thinks and thinks how to do everything just right. And
what's the result? He gives the public the best operetta, the very
best pantomime, excellent artists. But do they want it? Have they the
least appreciation of it? The public is rude. The public is a great
boor. The public wants a circus, a lot of nonsense, a lot of stuff.
And there's the weather. Look! Rain almost every evening. It began to
rain on the tenth of May, and it's kept it up through the whole of
June. It's simply awful. I can't get any audiences, and don't I have
to pay rent? Don't I have to pay the actors?"
The next day towards evening the clouds gathered again, and Kukin said
with an hysterical laugh:
"Oh, I don't care. Let it do its worst. Let it drown the whole
theatre, and me, too. All right, no luck for me in this world or the
next. Let the actors bring suit against me and drag me to court.
What's the court? Why not Siberia at hard labour, or even the
scaffold? Ha, ha, ha!"
It was the same on the third day.
Olenka listened to Kukin seriously, in silence. Sometimes tears would
rise to her eyes. At last Kukin's misfortune touched her. She fell in
love with him. He was short, gaunt, with a yellow face, and curly hair
combed back from his forehead, and a thin tenor voice. His features
puckered all up when he spoke. Despair was ever inscribed on his face.
And yet he awakened in Olenka a sincere, deep feeling.
She was always loving somebody. She couldn't get on without loving
somebody. She had loved her sick father, who sat the whole time in his
armchair in a darkened room, breathing heavily. She had loved her
aunt, who came from Brianska once or twice a year to visit them. And
before that, when a pupil at the progymnasium, she had loved her
French teacher. She was a quiet, kind-hearted, compassionate girl,
with a soft gentle way about her. And she made a very healthy,
wholesome impression. Looking at her full, rosy cheeks, at her soft
white neck with the black mole, and at the good naïve smile that
always played on her face when something pleasant was said, the men
would think, "Not so bad," and would smile too; and the lady visitors,
in the middle of the conversation, would suddenly grasp her hand and
exclaim, "You darling!" in a burst of delight.
The house, hers by inheritance, in which she had lived from birth, was
located at the outskirts of the city on the Gypsy Road, not far from
the Tivoli. From early evening till late at night she could hear the
music in the theatre and the bursting of the rockets; and it seemed to
her that Kukin was roaring and battling with his fate and taking his
chief enemy, the indifferent public, by assault. Her heart melted
softly, she felt no desire to sleep, and when Kukin returned home
towards morning, she tapped on her window-pane, and through the
curtains he saw her face and one shoulder and the kind smile she gave
He proposed to her, and they were married. And when he had a good look
of her neck and her full vigorous shoulders, he clapped his hands and
He was happy. But it rained on their wedding-day, and the expression
of despair never left his face.
They got along well together. She sat in the cashier's box, kept the
theatre in order, wrote down the expenses, and paid out the salaries.
Her rosy cheeks, her kind naïve smile, like a halo around her face,
could be seen at the cashier's window, behind the scenes, and in the
café. She began to tell her friends that the theatre was the greatest,
the most important, the most essential thing in the world, that it was
the only place to obtain true enjoyment in and become humanised and
"But do you suppose the public appreciates it?" she asked. "What the
public wants is the circus. Yesterday Vanichka and I gave Faust
Burlesqued, and almost all the boxes were empty. If we had given some
silly nonsense, I assure you, the theatre would have been overcrowded.
To-morrow we'll put Orpheus in Hades on. Do come."
Whatever Kukin said about the theatre and the actors, she repeated.
She spoke, as he did, with contempt of the public, of its indifference
to art, of its boorishness. She meddled in the rehearsals, corrected
the actors, watched the conduct of the musicians; and when an
unfavourable criticism appeared in the local paper, she wept and went
to the editor to argue with him.
The actors were fond of her and called her "Vanichka and I" and "the
darling." She was sorry for them and lent them small sums. When they
bilked her, she never complained to her husband; at the utmost she
shed a few tears.
In winter, too, they got along nicely together. They leased a theatre
in the town for the whole winter and sublet it for short periods to a
Little Russian theatrical company, to a conjuror and to the local
Olenka grew fuller and was always beaming with contentment; while
Kukin grew thinner and yellower and complained of his terrible losses,
though he did fairly well the whole winter. At night he coughed, and
she gave him raspberry syrup and lime water, rubbed him with eau de
Cologne, and wrapped him up in soft coverings.
"You are my precious sweet," she said with perfect sincerity, stroking
his hair. "You are such a dear."
At Lent he went to Moscow to get his company together, and, while
without him, Olenka was unable to sleep. She sat at the window the
whole time, gazing at the stars. She likened herself to the hens that
are also uneasy and unable to sleep when their rooster is out of the
coop. Kukin was detained in Moscow. He wrote he would be back during
Easter Week, and in his letters discussed arrangements already for the
Tivoli. But late one night, before Easter Monday, there was an
ill-omened knocking at the wicket-gate. It was like a knocking on a
barrel—boom, boom, boom! The sleepy cook ran barefooted, plashing
through the puddles, to open the gate.
"Open the gate, please," said some one in a hollow bass voice. "I have
a telegram for you."
Olenka had received telegrams from her husband before; but this time,
somehow, she was numbed with terror. She opened the telegram with
trembling hands and read:
"Ivan Petrovich died suddenly to-day. Awaiting propt orders for
That was the way the telegram was written—"wuneral"—and another
unintelligible word—"propt." The telegram was signed by the manager
of the opera company.
"My dearest!" Olenka burst out sobbing. "Vanichka, my dearest, my
sweetheart. Why did I ever meet you? Why did I ever get to know you
and love you? To whom have you abandoned your poor Olenka, your poor,
Kukin was buried on Tuesday in the Vagankov Cemetery in Moscow. Olenka
returned home on Wednesday; and as soon as she entered her house she
threw herself on her bed and broke into such loud sobbing that she
could be heard in the street and in the neighbouring yards.
"The darling!" said the neighbours, crossing themselves. "How Olga
Semyonovna, the poor darling, is grieving!"
Three months afterwards Olenka was returning home from mass,
downhearted and in deep mourning. Beside her walked a man also
returning from church, Vasily Pustovalov, the manager of the merchant
Babakayev's lumber-yard. He was wearing a straw hat, a white vest with
a gold chain, and looked more like a landowner than a business man.
"Everything has its ordained course, Olga Semyonovna," he said
sedately, with sympathy in his voice. "And if any one near and dear to
us dies, then it means it was God's will and we should remember that
and bear it with submission."
He took her to the wicket-gate, said good-bye and went away. After
that she heard his sedate voice the whole day; and on closing her eyes
she instantly had a vision of his dark beard. She took a great liking
to him. And evidently he had been impressed by her, too; for, not long
after, an elderly woman, a distant acquaintance, came in to have a cup
of coffee with her. As soon as the woman was seated at table she began
to speak about Pustovalov—how good he was, what a steady man, and any
woman could be glad to get him as a husband. Three days later
Pustovalov himself paid Olenka a visit. He stayed only about ten
minutes, and spoke little, but Olenka fell in love with him, fell in
love so desperately that she did not sleep the whole night and burned
as with fever. In the morning she sent for the elderly woman. Soon
after, Olenka and Pustovalov were engaged, and the wedding followed.
Pustovalov and Olenka lived happily together. He usually stayed in the
lumber-yard until dinner, then went out on business. In his absence
Olenka took his place in the office until evening, attending to the
book-keeping and despatching the orders.
"Lumber rises twenty per cent every year nowadays," she told her
customers and acquaintances. "Imagine, we used to buy wood from our
forests here. Now Vasichka has to go every year to the government of
Mogilev to get wood. And what a tax!" she exclaimed, covering her
cheeks with her hands in terror. "What a tax!"
She felt as if she had been dealing in lumber for ever so long, that
the most important and essential thing in life was lumber. There was
something touching and endearing in the way she pronounced the words,
"beam," "joist," "plank," "stave," "lath," "gun-carriage," "clamp." At
night she dreamed of whole mountains of boards and planks, long,
endless rows of wagons conveying the wood somewhere, far, far from the
city. She dreamed that a whole regiment of beams, 36 ft. x 5 in., were
advancing in an upright position to do battle against the lumber-yard;
that the beams and joists and clamps were knocking against each other,
emitting the sharp crackling reports of dry wood, that they were all
falling and then rising again, piling on top of each other. Olenka
cried out in her sleep, and Pustovalov said to her gently:
"Olenka my dear, what is the matter? Cross yourself."
Her husband's opinions were all hers. If he thought the room was too
hot, she thought so too. If he thought business was dull, she thought
business was dull. Pustovalov was not fond of amusements and stayed
home on holidays; she did the same.
"You are always either at home or in the office," said her friends.
"Why don't you go to the theatre or to the circus, darling?"
"Vasichka and I never go to the theatre," she answered sedately. "We
have work to do, we have no time for nonsense. What does one get out
of going to theatre?"
On Saturdays she and Pustovalov went to vespers, and on holidays to
early mass. On returning home they walked side by side with rapt
faces, an agreeable smell emanating from both of them and her silk
dress rustling pleasantly. At home they drank tea with milk-bread and
various jams, and then ate pie. Every day at noontime there was an
appetising odour in the yard and outside the gate of cabbage soup,
roast mutton, or duck; and, on fast days, of fish. You couldn't pass
the gate without being seized by an acute desire to eat. The samovar
was always boiling on the office table, and customers were treated to
tea and biscuits. Once a week the married couple went to the baths and
returned with red faces, walking side by side.
"We are getting along very well, thank God," said Olenka to her
friends. "God grant that all should live as well as Vasichka and I."
When Pustovalov went to the government of Mogilev to buy wood, she was
dreadfully homesick for him, did not sleep nights, and cried.
Sometimes the veterinary surgeon of the regiment, Smirnov, a young man
who lodged in the wing of her house, came to see her evenings. He
related incidents, or they played cards together. This distracted her.
The most interesting of his stories were those of his own life. He was
married and had a son; but he had separated from his wife because she
had deceived him, and now he hated her and sent her forty rubles a
month for his son's support. Olenka sighed, shook her head, and was
sorry for him.
"Well, the Lord keep you," she said, as she saw him off to the door by
candlelight. "Thank you for coming to kill time with me. May God give
you health. Mother in Heaven!" She spoke very sedately, very
judiciously, imitating her husband. The veterinary surgeon had
disappeared behind the door when she called out after him: "Do you
know, Vladimir Platonych, you ought to make up with your wife. Forgive
her, if only for the sake of your son. The child understands
everything, you may be sure."
When Pustovalov returned, she told him in a low voice about the
veterinary surgeon and his unhappy family life; and they sighed and
shook their heads, and talked about the boy who must be homesick for
his father. Then, by a strange association of ideas, they both stopped
before the sacred images, made genuflections, and prayed to God to
send them children.
And so the Pustovalovs lived for full six years, quietly and
peaceably, in perfect love and harmony. But once in the winter Vasily
Andreyich, after drinking some hot tea, went out into the lumber-yard
without a hat on his head, caught a cold and took sick. He was treated
by the best physicians, but the malady progressed, and he died after
an illness of four months. Olenka was again left a widow.
"To whom have you left me, my darling?" she wailed after the funeral.
"How shall I live now without you, wretched creature that I am. Pity
me, good people, pity me, fatherless and motherless, all alone in the
She went about dressed in black and weepers, and she gave up wearing
hats and gloves for good. She hardly left the house except to go to
church and to visit her husband's grave. She almost led the life of a
It was not until six months had passed that she took off the weepers
and opened her shutters. She began to go out occasionally in the
morning to market with her cook. But how she lived at home and what
went on there, could only be surmised. It could be surmised from the
fact that she was seen in her little garden drinking tea with the
veterinarian while he read the paper out loud to her, and also from
the fact that once on meeting an acquaintance at the post-office, she
said to her:
"There is no proper veterinary inspection in our town. That is why
there is so much disease. You constantly hear of people getting sick
from the milk and becoming infected by the horses and cows. The health
of domestic animals ought really to be looked after as much as that of
She repeated the veterinarian's words and held the same opinions as he
about everything. It was plain that she could not exist a single year
without an attachment, and she found her new happiness in the wing of
her house. In any one else this would have been condemned; but no one
could think ill of Olenka. Everything in her life was so transparent.
She and the veterinary surgeon never spoke about the change in their
relations. They tried, in fact, to conceal it, but unsuccessfully; for
Olenka could have no secrets. When the surgeon's colleagues from the
regiment came to see him, she poured tea, and served the supper, and
talked to them about the cattle plague, the foot and mouth disease,
and the municipal slaughter houses. The surgeon was dreadfully
embarrassed, and after the visitors had left, he caught her hand and
"Didn't I ask you not to talk about what you don't understand? When we
doctors discuss things, please don't mix in. It's getting to be a
She looked at him in astonishment and alarm, and asked:
"But, Volodichka, what am I to talk about?"
And she threw her arms round his neck, with tears in her eyes, and
begged him not to be angry. And they were both happy.
But their happiness was of short duration. The veterinary surgeon went
away with his regiment to be gone for good, when it was transferred to
some distant place almost as far as Siberia, and Olenka was left
Now she was completely alone. Her father had long been dead, and his
armchair lay in the attic covered with dust and minus one leg. She got
thin and homely, and the people who met her on the street no longer
looked at her as they had used to, nor smiled at her. Evidently her
best years were over, past and gone, and a new, dubious life was to
begin which it were better not to think about.
In the evening Olenka sat on the steps and heard the music playing and
the rockets bursting in the Tivoli; but it no longer aroused any
response in her. She looked listlessly into the yard, thought of
nothing, wanted nothing, and when night came on, she went to bed and
dreamed of nothing but the empty yard. She ate and drank as though by
And what was worst of all, she no longer held any opinions. She saw
and understood everything that went on around her, but she could not
form an opinion about it. She knew of nothing to talk about. And how
dreadful not to have opinions! For instance, you see a bottle, or you
see that it is raining, or you see a muzhik riding by in a wagon. But
what the bottle or the rain or the muzhik are for, or what the sense
of them all is, you cannot tell—you cannot tell, not for a thousand
rubles. In the days of Kukin and Pustovalov and then of the veterinary
surgeon, Olenka had had an explanation for everything, and would have
given her opinion freely no matter about what. But now there was the
same emptiness in her heart and brain as in her yard. It was as
galling and bitter as a taste of wormwood.
Gradually the town grew up all around. The Gypsy Road had become a
street, and where the Tivoli and the lumber-yard had been, there were
now houses and a row of side streets. How quickly time flies! Olenka's
house turned gloomy, the roof rusty, the shed slanting. Dock and
thistles overgrew the yard. Olenka herself had aged and grown homely.
In the summer she sat on the steps, and her soul was empty and dreary
and bitter. When she caught the breath of spring, or when the wind
wafted the chime of the cathedral bells, a sudden flood of memories
would pour over her, her heart would expand with a tender warmth, and
the tears would stream down her cheeks. But that lasted only a moment.
Then would come emptiness again, and the feeling, What is the use of
living? The black kitten Bryska rubbed up against her and purred
softly, but the little creature's caresses left Olenka untouched. That
was not what she needed. What she needed was a love that would absorb
her whole being, her reason, her whole soul, that would give her
ideas, an object in life, that would warm her aging blood. And she
shook the black kitten off her skirt angrily, saying:
"Go away! What are you doing here?"
And so day after day, year after year not a single joy, not a single
opinion. Whatever Marva, the cook, said was all right.
One hot day in July, towards evening, as the town cattle were being
driven by, and the whole yard was filled with clouds of dust, there
was suddenly a knocking at the gate. Olenka herself went to open it,
and was dumbfounded to behold the veterinarian Smirnov. He had turned
grey and was dressed as a civilian. All the old memories flooded into
her soul, she could not restrain herself, she burst out crying, and
laid her head on Smirnov's breast without saying a word. So overcome
was she that she was totally unconscious of how they walked into the
house and seated themselves to drink tea.
"My darling!" she murmured, trembling with joy. "Vladimir Platonych,
from where has God sent you?"
"I want to settle here for good," he told her. "I have resigned my
position and have come here to try my fortune as a free man and lead a
settled life. Besides, it's time to send my boy to the gymnasium. He
is grown up now. You know, my wife and I have become reconciled."
"Where is she?" asked Olenka.
"At the hotel with the boy. I am looking for lodgings."
"Good gracious, bless you, take my house. Why won't my house do? Oh,
dear! Why, I won't ask any rent of you," Olenka burst out in the
greatest excitement, and began to cry again. "You live here, and the
wing will be enough for me. Oh, Heavens, what a joy!"
The very next day the roof was being painted and the walls
whitewashed, and Olenka, arms akimbo, was going about the yard
superintending. Her face brightened with her old smile. Her whole
being revived and freshened, as though she had awakened from a long
sleep. The veterinarian's wife and child arrived. She was a thin,
plain woman, with a crabbed expression. The boy Sasha, small for his
ten years of age, was a chubby child, with clear blue eyes and dimples
in his cheeks. He made for the kitten the instant he entered the yard,
and the place rang with his happy laughter.
"Is that your cat, auntie?" he asked Olenka. "When she has little
kitties, please give me one. Mamma is awfully afraid of mice."
Olenka chatted with him, gave him tea, and there was a sudden warmth
in her bosom and a soft gripping at her heart, as though the boy were
her own son.
In the evening, when he sat in the dining-room studying his lessons,
she looked at him tenderly and whispered to herself:
"My darling, my pretty. You are such a clever child, so good to look
"An island is a tract of land entirely surrounded by water," he
"An island is a tract of land," she repeated—the first idea
asseverated with conviction after so many years of silence and mental
She now had her opinions, and at supper discussed with Sasha's parents
how difficult the studies had become for the children at the
gymnasium, but how, after all, a classical education was better than a
commercial course, because when you graduated from the gymnasium then
the road was open to you for any career at all. If you chose to, you
could become a doctor, or, if you wanted to, you could become an
Sasha began to go to the gymnasium. His mother left on a visit to her
sister in Kharkov and never came back. The father was away every day
inspecting cattle, and sometimes was gone three whole days at a time,
so that Sasha, it seemed to Olenka, was utterly abandoned, was treated
as if he were quite superfluous, and must be dying of hunger. So she
transferred him into the wing along with herself and fixed up a little
room for him there.
Every morning Olenka would come into his room and find him sound
asleep with his hand tucked under his cheek, so quiet that he seemed
not to be breathing. What a shame to have to wake him, she thought.
"Sashenka," she said sorrowingly, "get up, darling. It's time to go to
He got up, dressed, said his prayers, then sat down to drink tea. He
drank three glasses of tea, ate two large cracknels and half a
buttered roll. The sleep was not yet out of him, so he was a little
"You don't know your fable as you should, Sashenka," said Olenka,
looking at him as though he were departing on a long journey. "What a
lot of trouble you are. You must try hard and learn, dear, and mind
"Oh, let me alone, please," said Sasha.
Then he went down the street to the gymnasium, a little fellow wearing
a large cap and carrying a satchel on his back. Olenka followed him
"Sashenka," she called.
He looked round and she shoved a date or a caramel into his hand. When
he reached the street of the gymnasium, he turned around and said,
ashamed of being followed by a tall, stout woman:
"You had better go home, aunt. I can go the rest of the way myself."
She stopped and stared after him until he had disappeared into the
Oh, how she loved him! Not one of her other ties had been so deep.
Never before had she given herself so completely, so disinterestedly,
so cheerfully as now that her maternal instincts were all aroused. For
this boy, who was not hers, for the dimples in his cheeks and for his
big cap, she would have given her life, given it with joy and with
tears of rapture. Why? Ah, indeed, why?
When she had seen Sasha off to the gymnasium, she returned home
quietly, content, serene, overflowing with love. Her face, which had
grown younger in the last half year, smiled and beamed. People who met
her were pleased as they looked at her.
"How are you, Olga Semyonovna, darling? How are you getting on,
"The gymnasium course is very hard nowadays," she told at the market.
"It's no joke. Yesterday the first class had a fable to learn by
heart, a Latin translation, and a problem. How is a little fellow to
do all that?"
And she spoke of the teacher and the lessons and the text-books,
repeating exactly what Sasha said about them.
At three o'clock they had dinner. In the evening they prepared the
lessons together, and Olenka wept with Sasha over the difficulties.
When she put him to bed, she lingered a long time making the sign of
the cross over him and muttering a prayer. And when she lay in bed,
she dreamed of the far-away, misty future when Sasha would finish his
studies and become a doctor or an engineer, have a large house of his
own, with horses and a carriage, marry and have children. She would
fall asleep still thinking of the same things, and tears would roll
down her cheeks from her closed eyes. And the black cat would lie at
her side purring: "Mrr, mrr, mrr."
Suddenly there was a loud knocking at the gate. Olenka woke up
breathless with fright, her heart beating violently. Half a minute
later there was another knock.
"A telegram from Kharkov," she thought, her whole body in a tremble.
"His mother wants Sasha to come to her in Kharkov. Oh, great God!"
She was in despair. Her head, her feet, her hands turned cold. There
was no unhappier creature in the world, she felt. But another minute
passed, she heard voices. It was the veterinarian coming home from the
"Thank God," she thought. The load gradually fell from her heart, she
was at ease again. And she went back to bed, thinking of Sasha who lay
fast asleep in the next room and sometimes cried out in his sleep:
"I'll give it to you! Get away! Quit your scrapping!"
BY ANTON P. CHEKHOV
It was a dark autumn night. The old banker was pacing from corner to
corner of his study, recalling to his mind the party he gave in the
autumn fifteen years before. There were many clever people at the
party and much interesting conversation. They talked among other
things of capital punishment. The guests, among them not a few
scholars and journalists, for the most part disapproved of capital
punishment. They found it obsolete as a means of punishment, unfitted
to a Christian State and immoral. Some of them thought that capital
punishment should be replaced universally by life-imprisonment.
"I don't agree with you," said the host. "I myself have experienced
neither capital punishment nor life-imprisonment, but if one may judge
a priori, then in my opinion capital punishment is more moral and
more humane than imprisonment. Execution kills instantly,
life-imprisonment kills by degrees. Who is the more humane
executioner, one who kills you in a few seconds or one who draws the
life out of you incessantly, for years?"
"They're both equally immoral," remarked one of the guests, "because
their purpose is the same, to take away life. The State is not God. It
has no right to take away that which it cannot give back, if it should
Among the company was a lawyer, a young man of about twenty-five. On
being asked his opinion, he said:
"Capital punishment and life-imprisonment are equally immoral; but if
I were offered the choice between them, I would certainly choose the
second. It's better to live somehow than not to live at all."
There ensued a lively discussion. The banker who was then younger and
more nervous suddenly lost his temper, banged his fist on the table,
and turning to the young lawyer, cried out:
"It's a lie. I bet you two millions you wouldn't stick in a cell even
for five years."
"If you mean it seriously," replied the lawyer, "then I bet I'll stay
not five but fifteen."
"Fifteen! Done!" cried the banker. "Gentlemen, I stake two millions."
"Agreed. You stake two millions, I my freedom," said the lawyer.
So this wild, ridiculous bet came to pass. The banker, who at that
time had too many millions to count, spoiled and capricious, was
beside himself with rapture. During supper he said to the lawyer
"Come to your senses, young roan, before it's too late. Two millions
are nothing to me, but you stand to lose three or four of the best
years of your life. I say three or four, because you'll never stick it
out any longer. Don't forget either, you unhappy man, that voluntary
is much heavier than enforced imprisonment. The idea that you have the
right to free yourself at any moment will poison the whole of your
life in the cell. I pity you."
And now the banker, pacing from corner to corner, recalled all this
and asked himself:
"Why did I make this bet? What's the good? The lawyer loses fifteen
years of his life and I throw away two millions. Will it convince
people that capital punishment is worse or better than imprisonment
for life? No, no! all stuff and rubbish. On my part, it was the
caprice of a well-fed man; on the lawyer's pure greed of gold."
He recollected further what happened after the evening party. It was
decided that the lawyer must undergo his imprisonment under the
strictest observation, in a garden wing of the banker's house. It was
agreed that during the period he would be deprived of the right to
cross the threshold, to see living people, to hear human voices, and
to receive letters and newspapers. He was permitted to have a musical
instrument, to read books, to write letters, to drink wine and smoke
tobacco. By the agreement he could communicate, but only in silence,
with the outside world through a little window specially constructed
for this purpose. Everything necessary, books, music, wine, he could
receive in any quantity by sending a note through the window. The
agreement provided for all the minutest details, which made the
confinement strictly solitary, and it obliged the lawyer to remain
exactly fifteen years from twelve o'clock of November 14th, 1870, to
twelve o'clock of November 14th, 1885. The least attempt on his part
to violate the conditions, to escape if only for two minutes before
the time freed the banker from the obligation to pay him the two
During the first year of imprisonment, the lawyer, as far as it was
possible to judge from his short notes, suffered terribly from
loneliness and boredom. From his wing day and night came the sound of
the piano. He rejected wine and tobacco. "Wine," he wrote, "excites
desires, and desires are the chief foes of a prisoner; besides,
nothing is more boring than to drink good wine alone," and tobacco
spoils the air in his room. During the first year the lawyer was sent
books of a light character; novels with a complicated love interest,
stories of crime and fantasy, comedies, and so on.
In the second year the piano was heard no longer and the lawyer asked
only for classics. In the fifth year, music was heard again, and the
prisoner asked for wine. Those who watched him said that during the
whole of that year he was only eating, drinking, and lying on his bed.
He yawned often and talked angrily to himself. Books he did not read.
Sometimes at nights he would sit down to write. He would write for a
long time and tear it all up in the morning. More than once he was
heard to weep.
In the second half of the sixth year, the prisoner began zealously to
study languages, philosophy, and history. He fell on these subjects so
hungrily that the banker hardly had time to get books enough for him.
In the space of four years about six hundred volumes were bought at
his request. It was while that passion lasted that the banker received
the following letter from the prisoner: "My dear gaoler, I am writing
these lines in six languages. Show them to experts. Let them read
them. If they do not find one single mistake, I beg you to give orders
to have a gun fired off in the garden. By the noise I shall know that
my efforts have not been in vain. The geniuses of all ages and
countries speak in different languages; but in them all burns the same
flame. Oh, if you knew my heavenly happiness now that I can understand
them!" The prisoner's desire was fulfilled. Two shots were fired in
the garden by the banker's order.
Later on, after the tenth year, the lawyer sat immovable before his
table and read only the New Testament. The banker found it strange
that a man who in four years had mastered six hundred erudite volumes,
should have spent nearly a year in reading one book, easy to
understand and by no means thick. The New Testament was then replaced
by the history of religions and theology.
During the last two years of his confinement the prisoner read an
extraordinary amount, quite haphazard. Now he would apply himself to
the natural sciences, then he would read Byron or Shakespeare. Notes
used to come from him in which he asked to be sent at the same time a
book on chemistry, a text-book of medicine, a novel, and some treatise
on philosophy or theology. He read as though he were swimming in the
sea among broken pieces of wreckage, and in his desire to save his
life was eagerly grasping one piece after another.
The banker recalled all this, and thought:
"To-morrow at twelve o'clock he receives his freedom. Under the
agreement, I shall have to pay him two millions. If I pay, it's all
over with me. I am ruined for ever …"
Fifteen years before he had too many millions to count, but now he was
afraid to ask himself which he had more of, money or debts. Gambling
on the Stock-Exchange, risky speculation, and the recklessness of
which he could not rid himself even in old age, had gradually brought
his business to decay; and the fearless, self-confident, proud man of
business had become an ordinary banker, trembling at every rise and
fall in the market.
"That cursed bet," murmured the old man clutching his head in
despair… "Why didn't the man die? He's only forty years old. He will
take away my last farthing, marry, enjoy life, gamble on the Exchange,
and I will look on like an envious beggar and hear the same words from
him every day: 'I'm obliged to you for the happiness of my life. Let
me help you.' No, it's too much! The only escape from bankruptcy and
disgrace—is that the man should die."
The clock had just struck three. The banker was listening. In the
house every one was asleep, and one could hear only the frozen trees
whining outside the windows. Trying to make no sound, he took out of
his safe the key of the door which had not been opened for fifteen
years, put on his overcoat, and went out of the house. The garden was
dark and cold. It was raining. A damp, penetrating wind howled in the
garden and gave the trees no rest. Though he strained his eyes, the
banker could see neither the ground, nor the white statues, nor the
garden wing, nor the trees. Approaching the garden wing, he called the
watchman twice. There was no answer. Evidently the watchman had taken
shelter from the bad weather and was now asleep somewhere in the
kitchen or the greenhouse.
"If I have the courage to fulfil my intention," thought the old man,
"the suspicion will fall on the watchman first of all."
In the darkness he groped for the steps and the door and entered the
hall of the garden-wing, then poked his way into a narrow passage and
struck a match. Not a soul was there. Some one's bed, with no
bedclothes on it, stood there, and an iron stove loomed dark in the
corner. The seals on the door that led into the prisoner's room were
When the match went out, the old man, trembling from agitation, peeped
into the little window.
In the prisoner's room a candle was burning dimly. The prisoner
himself sat by the table. Only his back, the hair on his head and his
hands were visible. Open books were strewn about on the table, the two
chairs, and on the carpet near the table.
Five minutes passed and the prisoner never once stirred. Fifteen
years' confinement had taught him to sit motionless. The banker tapped
on the window with his finger, but the prisoner made no movement in
reply. Then the banker cautiously tore the seals from the door and put
the key into the lock. The rusty lock gave a hoarse groan and the door
creaked. The banker expected instantly to hear a cry of surprise and
the sound of steps. Three minutes passed and it was as quiet inside as
it had been before. He made up his mind to enter.
Before the table sat a man, unlike an ordinary human being. It was a
skeleton, with tight-drawn skin, with long curly hair like a woman's,
and a shaggy beard. The colour of his face was yellow, of an earthy
shade; the cheeks were sunken, the back long and narrow, and the hand
upon which he leaned his hairy head was so lean and skinny that it was
painful to look upon. His hair was already silvering with grey, and no
one who glanced at the senile emaciation of the face would have
believed that he was only forty years old. On the table, before his
bended head, lay a sheet of paper on which something was written in a
"Poor devil," thought the banker, "he's asleep and probably seeing
millions in his dreams. I have only to take and throw this half-dead
thing on the bed, smother him a moment with the pillow, and the most
careful examination will find no trace of unnatural death. But, first,
let us read what he has written here."
The banker took the sheet from the table and read:
"To-morrow at twelve o'clock midnight, I shall obtain my freedom and
the right to mix with people. But before I leave this room and see the
sun I think it necessary to say a few words to you. On my own clear
conscience and before God who sees me I declare to you that I despise
freedom, life, health, and all that your books call the blessings of
"For fifteen years I have diligently studied earthly life. True, I saw
neither the earth nor the people, but in your books I drank fragrant
wine, sang songs, hunted deer and wild boar in the forests, loved
women… And beautiful women, like clouds ethereal, created by the
magic of your poets' genius, visited me by night and whispered to me
wonderful tales, which made my head drunken. In your books I climbed
the summits of Elbruz and Mont Blanc and saw from there how the sun
rose in the morning, and in the evening suffused the sky, the ocean
and lie mountain ridges with a purple gold. I saw from there how above
me lightnings glimmered cleaving the clouds; I saw green forests,
fields, rivers, lakes, cities; I heard syrens singing, and the playing
of the pipes of Pan; I touched the wings of beautiful devils who came
flying to me to speak of God… In your books I cast myself into
bottomless abysses, worked miracles, burned cities to the ground,
preached new religions, conquered whole countries…
"Your books gave me wisdom. All that unwearying human thought created
in the centuries is compressed to a little lump in my skull. I know
that I am cleverer than you all.
"And I despise your books, despise all worldly blessings and wisdom.
Everything is void, frail, visionary and delusive as a mirage. Though
you be proud and wise and beautiful, yet will death wipe you from the
face of the earth like the mice underground; and your posterity, your
history, and the immortality of your men of genius will be as frozen
slag, burnt down together with the terrestrial globe.
"You are mad, and gone the wrong way. You take falsehood for truth and
ugliness for beauty. You would marvel if suddenly apple and orange
trees should bear frogs and lizards instead of fruit, and if roses
should begin to breathe the odour of a sweating horse. So do I marvel
at you, who have bartered heaven for earth. I do not want to
"That I may show you in deed my contempt for that by which you live, I
waive the two millions of which I once dreamed as of paradise, and
which I now despise. That I may deprive myself of my right to them, I
shall come out from here five minutes before the stipulated term, and
thus shall violate the agreement."
When he had read, the banker put the sheet on the table, kissed the
head of the strange man, and began to weep. He went out of the wing.
Never at any other time, not even after his terrible losses on the
Exchange, had he felt such contempt for himself as now. Coming home,
he lay down on his bed, but agitation and tears kept him a long time
The next morning the poor watchman came running to him and told him
that they had seen the man who lived in the wing climb through the
window into the garden. He had gone to the gate and disappeared. The
banker instantly went with his servants to the wing and established
the escape of his prisoner. To avoid unnecessary rumours he took the
paper with the renunciation from the table and, on his return, locked
it in his safe.
BY ANTON P. CHEKHOV
Nine-year-old Vanka Zhukov, who had been apprentice to the shoemaker
Aliakhin for three months, did not go to bed the night before
Christmas. He waited till the master and mistress and the assistants
had gone out to an early church-service, to procure from his
employer's cupboard a small phial of ink and a penholder with a rusty
nib; then, spreading a crumpled sheet of paper in front of him, he
began to write.
Before, however, deciding to make the first letter, he looked
furtively at the door and at the window, glanced several times at the
sombre ikon, on either side of which stretched shelves full of lasts,
and heaved a heart-rending sigh. The sheet of paper was spread on a
bench, and he himself was on his knees in front of it.
"Dear Grandfather Konstantin Makarych," he wrote, "I am writing you a
letter. I wish you a Happy Christmas and all God's holy best. I have
no mamma or papa, you are all I have."
Vanka gave a look towards the window in which shone the reflection of
his candle, and vividly pictured to himself his grandfather,
Konstantin Makarych, who was night-watchman at Messrs. Zhivarev. He
was a small, lean, unusually lively and active old man of sixty-five,
always smiling and blear-eyed. All day he slept in the servants'
kitchen or trifled with the cooks. At night, enveloped in an ample
sheep-skin coat, he strayed round the domain tapping with his cudgel.
Behind him, each hanging its head, walked the old bitch Kashtanka, and
the dog Viun, so named because of his black coat and long body and his
resemblance to a loach. Viun was an unusually civil and friendly dog,
looking as kindly at a stranger as at his masters, but he was not to
be trusted. Beneath his deference and humbleness was hid the most
inquisitorial maliciousness. No one knew better than he how to sneak
up and take a bite at a leg, or slip into the larder or steal a
muzhik's chicken. More than once they had nearly broken his hind-legs,
twice he had been hung up, every week he was nearly flogged to death,
but he always recovered.
At this moment, for certain, Vanka's grandfather must be standing at
the gate, blinking his eyes at the bright red windows of the village
church, stamping his feet in their high-felt boots, and jesting with
the people in the yard; his cudgel will be hanging from his belt, he
will be hugging himself with cold, giving a little dry, old man's
cough, and at times pinching a servant-girl or a cook.
"Won't we take some snuff?" he asks, holding out his snuff-box to the
women. The women take a pinch of snuff, and sneeze.
The old man goes into indescribable ecstasies, breaks into loud
laughter, and cries:
"Off with it, it will freeze to your nose!"
He gives his snuff to the dogs, too. Kashtanka sneezes, twitches her
nose, and walks away offended. Viun deferentially refuses to sniff and
wags his tail. It is glorious weather, not a breath of wind, clear,
and frosty; it is a dark eight, but the whole village, its white roofs
and streaks of smoke from the chimneys, the trees silvered with
hoar-frost, and the snowdrifts, you can see it all. The sky
scintillates with bright twinkling stars, and the Milky Way stands out
so clearly that it looks as if it had been polished and rubbed over
with snow for the holidays…
Vanka sighs, dips his pen in the ink, and continues to write:
"Last night I got a thrashing, my master dragged me by my hair into
the yard, and belaboured me with a shoe-maker's stirrup, because,
while I was rocking his brat in its cradle, I unfortunately fell
asleep. And during the week, my mistress told me to clean a herring,
and I began by its tail, so she took the herring and stuck its snout
into my face. The assistants tease me, send me to the tavern for
vodka, make me steal the master's cucumbers, and the master beats me
with whatever is handy. Food there is none; in the morning it's bread,
at dinner gruel, and in the evening bread again. As for tea or
sour-cabbage soup, the master and the mistress themselves guzzle that.
They make me sleep in the vestibule, and when their brat cries, I
don't sleep at all, but have to rock the cradle. Dear Grandpapa, for
Heaven's sake, take me away from here, home to our village, I can't
bear this any more… I bow to the ground to you, and will pray to God
for ever and ever, take me from here or I shall die…"
The corners of Vanka's mouth went down, he rubbed his eyes with his
dirty fist, and sobbed.
"I'll grate your tobacco for you," he continued, "I'll pray to God for
you, and if there is anything wrong, then flog me like the grey goat.
And if you really think I shan't find work, then I'll ask the manager,
for Christ's sake, to let me clean the boots, or I'll go instead of
Fedya as underherdsman. Dear Grandpapa, I can't bear this any more,
it'll kill me… I wanted to run away to our village, but I have no
boots, and I was afraid of the frost, and when I grow up I'll look
after you, no one shall harm you, and when you die I'll pray for the
repose of your soul, just like I do for mamma Pelagueya.
"As for Moscow, it is a large town, there are all gentlemen's houses,
lots of horses, no sheep, and the dogs are not vicious. The children
don't come round at Christmas with a star, no one is allowed to sing
in the choir, and once I saw in a shop window hooks on a line and
fishing rods, all for sale, and for every kind of fish, awfully
convenient. And there was one hook which would catch a sheat-fish
weighing a pound. And there are shops with guns, like the master's,
and I am sure they must cost 100 rubles each. And in the meat-shops
there are woodcocks, partridges, and hares, but who shot them or where
they come from, the shopman won't say.
"Dear Grandpapa, and when the masters give a Christmas tree, take a
golden walnut and hide it in my green box. Ask the young lady, Olga
Ignatyevna, for it, say it's for Vanka."
Vanka sighed convulsively, and again stared at the window. He
remembered that his grandfather always went to the forest for the
Christmas tree, and took his grandson with him. What happy times! The
frost crackled, his grandfather crackled, and as they both did, Vanka
did the same. Then before cutting down the Christmas tree his
grandfather smoked his pipe, took a long pinch of snuff, and made fun
of poor frozen little Vanka… The young fir trees, wrapt in
hoar-frost, stood motionless, waiting for which of them would die.
Suddenly a hare springing from somewhere would dart over the
snowdrift… His grandfather could not help shouting:
"Catch it, catch it, catch it! Ah, short-tailed devil!"
When the tree was down, his grandfather dragged it to the master's
house, and there they set about decorating it. The young lady, Olga
Ignatyevna, Vanka's great friend, busied herself most about it. When
little Vanka's mother, Pelagueya, was still alive, and was
servant-woman in the house, Olga Ignatyevna used to stuff him with
sugar-candy, and, having nothing to do, taught him to read, write,
count up to one hundred, and even to dance the quadrille. When
Pelagueya died, they placed the orphan Vanka in the kitchen with his
grandfather, and from the kitchen he was sent to Moscow to Aliakhin,
"Come quick, dear Grandpapa," continued Vanka, "I beseech you for
Christ's sake take me from here. Have pity on a poor orphan, for here
they beat me, and I am frightfully hungry, and so sad that I can't
tell you, I cry all the time. The other day the master hit me on the
head with a last; I fell to the ground, and only just returned to
life. My life is a misfortune, worse than any dog's… I send
greetings to Aliona, to one-eyed Tegor, and the coachman, and don't
let any one have my mouth-organ. I remain, your grandson, Ivan Zhukov,
dear Grandpapa, do come."
Vanka folded his sheet of paper in four, and put it into an envelope
purchased the night before for a kopek. He thought a little, dipped
the pen into the ink, and wrote the address:
"The village, to my grandfather." He then scratched his head, thought
again, and added: "Konstantin Makarych." Pleased at not having been
interfered with in his writing, he put on his cap, and, without
putting on his sheep-skin coat, ran out in his shirt-sleeves into the
The shopman at the poulterer's, from whom he had inquired the night
before, had told him that letters were to be put into post-boxes, and
from there they were conveyed over the whole earth in mail troikas by
drunken post-boys and to the sound of bells. Vanka ran to the first
post-box and slipped his precious letter into the slit.
An hour afterwards, lulled by hope, he was sleeping soundly. In his
dreams he saw a stove, by the stove his grandfather sitting with his
legs dangling down, barefooted, and reading a letter to the cooks, and
Viun walking round the stove wagging his tail.
HIDE AND SEEK
BY FIODOR SOLOGUB
Everything in Lelechka's nursery was bright, pretty, and cheerful.
Lelechka's sweet voice charmed her mother. Lelechka was a delightful
child. There was no other such child, there never had been, and there
never would be. Lelechka's mother, Serafima Aleksandrovna, was sure of
that. Lelechka's eyes were dark and large, her cheeks were rosy, her
lips were made for kisses and for laughter. But it was not these
charms in Lelechka that gave her mother the keenest joy. Lelechka was
her mother's only child. That was why every movement of Lelechka's
bewitched her mother. It was great bliss to hold Lelechka on her knees
and to fondle her; to feel the little girl in her arms—a thing as
lively and as bright as a little bird.
To tell the truth, Serafima Aleksandrovna felt happy only in the
nursery. She felt cold with her husband.
Perhaps it was because he himself loved the cold—he loved to drink
cold water, and to breathe cold air. He was always fresh and cool,
with a frigid smile, and wherever he passed cold currents seemed to
move in the air.
The Nesletyevs, Sergey Modestovich and Serafima Aleksandrovna, had
married without love or calculation, because it was the accepted
thing. He was a young man of thirty-five, she a young woman of
twenty-five; both were of the same circle and well brought up; he was
expected to take a wife, and the time had come for her to take a
It even seemed to Serafima Aleksandrovna that she was in love with her
future husband, and this made her happy. He looked handsome and
well-bred; his intelligent grey eyes always preserved a dignified
expression; and he fulfilled his obligations of a fiancé with
The bride was also good-looking; she was a tall, dark-eyed,
dark-haired girl, somewhat timid but very tactful. He was not after
her dowry, though it pleased him to know that she had something. He
had connexions, and his wife came of good, influential people. This
might, at the proper opportunity, prove useful. Always irreproachable
and tactful, Nesletyev got on in his position not so fast that any one
should envy him, nor yet so slow that he should envy any one
else—everything came in the proper measure and at the proper time.
After their marriage there was nothing in the manner of Sergey
Modestovich to suggest anything wrong to his wife. Later, however,
when his wife was about to have a child, Sergey Modestovich
established connexions elsewhere of a light and temporary nature.
Serafima Aleksandrovna found this out, and, to her own astonishment,
was not particularly hurt; she awaited her infant with a restless
anticipation that swallowed every other feeling.
A little girl was born; Serafima Aleksandrovna gave herself up to her.
At the beginning she used to tell her husband, with rapture, of all
the joyous details of Lekchka's existence. But she soon found that he
listened to her without the slightest interest, and only from the
habit of politeness. Serafima Aleksandrovna drifted farther and
farther away from him. She loved her little girl with the ungratified
passion that other women, deceived in their husbands, show their
chance young lovers.
"Mamochka, let's play priatki" (hide and seek), cried Lelechka,
pronouncing the r like the l, so that the word sounded "pliatki."
This charming inability to speak always made, Serafima Aleksandrovna
smile with tender rapture. Lelechka then ran away, stamping with her
plump little legs over the carpets, and hid herself behind the
curtains near her bed.
"Tiu-tiu, mamochka!" she cried out in her sweet, laughing voice, as
she looked out with a single roguish eye.
"Where is my baby girl?" the mother asked, as she looked for Lelechka
and made believe that she did not see her.
And Lelechka poured out her rippling laughter in her hiding place.
Then she came out a little farther, and her mother, as though she had
only just caught sight of her, seized her by her little shoulders and
exclaimed joyously: "Here she is, my Lelechka!"
Lelechka laughed long and merrily, her head close to her mother's
knees, and all of her cuddled up between her mother's white hands. Her
mother's eyes glowed with passionate emotion.
"Now, mamochka, you hide," said Lelechka, as she ceased laughing.
Her mother went to hide. Lelechka turned away as though not to see,
but watched her mamochka stealthily all the time. Mamma hid behind
the cupboard, and exclaimed: "Tiu-tiu, baby girl!"
Lelechka ran round the room and looked into all the corners, making
believe, as her mother had done before, that she was seeking—though
she really knew all the time where her mamochka was standing.
"Where's my mamochka?" asked Lelechka. "She's not here, and she's
not here," she kept on repeating, as she ran from corner to corner.
Her mother stood, with suppressed breathing, her head pressed against
the wall, her hair somewhat disarranged. A smile of absolute bliss
played on her red lips.
The nurse, Fedosya, a good-natured and fine-looking, if somewhat
stupid woman, smiled as she looked at her mistress with her
characteristic expression, which seemed to say that it was not for her
to object to gentlewomen's caprices. She thought to herself: "The
mother is like a little child herself—look how excited she is."
Lelechka was getting nearer her mother's corner. Her mother was
growing more absorbed every moment by her interest in the game; her
heart beat with short quick strokes, and she pressed even closer to
the wall, disarranging her hair still more. Lelechka suddenly glanced
toward her mother's corner and screamed with joy.
"I've found 'oo," she cried out loudly and joyously, mispronouncing
her words in a way that again made her mother happy.
She pulled her mother by her hands to the middle of the room, they
were merry and they laughed; and Lelechka again hid her head against
her mother's knees, and went on lisping and lisping, without end, her
sweet little words, so fascinating yet so awkward.
Sergey Modestovich was coming at this moment toward the nursery.
Through the half-closed doors he heard the laughter, the joyous
outcries, the sound of romping. He entered the nursery, smiling his
genial cold smile; he was irreproachably dressed, and he looked fresh
and erect, and he spread round him an atmosphere of cleanliness,
freshness and coldness. He entered in the midst of the lively game,
and he confused them all by his radiant coldness. Even Fedosya felt
abashed, now for her mistress, now for herself. Serafima Aleksandrovna
at once became calm and apparently cold—and this mood communicated
itself to the little girl, who ceased to laugh, but looked instead,
silently and intently, at her father.
Sergey Modestovich gave a swift glance round the room. He liked coming
here, where everything was beautifully arranged; this was done by
Serafima Aleksandrovna, who wished to surround her little girl, from
her very infancy, only with the loveliest things. Serafima
Aleksandrovna dressed herself tastefully; this, too, she did for
Lelechka, with the same end in view. One thing Sergey Modestovich had
not become reconciled to, and this was his wife's almost continuous
presence in the nursery.
"It's just as I thought… I knew that I'd find you here," he said
with a derisive and condescending smile.
They left the nursery together. As he followed his wife through the
door Sergey Modestovich said rather indifferently, in an incidental
way, laying no stress on his words: "Don't you think that it would be
well for the little girl if she were sometimes without your company?
Merely, you see, that the child should feel its own individuality," he
explained in answer to Serafima Aleksandrovna's puzzled glance.
"She's still so little," said Serafima Aleksandrovna.
"In any case, this is but my humble opinion. I don't insist. It's your
"I'll think it over," his wife answered, smiling, as he did, coldly
Then they began to talk of something else.
Nurse Fedosya, sitting in the kitchen that evening, was telling the
silent housemaid Darya and the talkative old cook Agathya about the
young lady of the house, and how the child loved to play priatki
with her mother—"She hides her little face, and cries 'tiutiu'!"
"And the mistress herself is like a little one," added Fedosya,
Agathya listened and shook her head ominously; while her face became
grave and reproachful.
"That the mistress does it, well, that's one thing; but that the young
lady does it, that's bad."
"Why?" asked Fedosya with curiosity.
This expression of curiosity gave her face the look of a wooden,
"Yes, that's bad," repeated Agathya with conviction. "Terribly bad!"
"Well?" said Fedosya, the ludicrous expression of curiosity on her
face becoming more emphatic.
"She'll hide, and hide, and hide away," said Agathya, in a mysterious
whisper, as she looked cautiously toward the door.
"What are you saying?" exclaimed Fedosya, frightened.
"It's the truth I'm saying, remember my words," Agathya went on with
the same assurance and secrecy. "It's the surest sign."
The old woman had invented this sign, quite suddenly, herself; and she
was evidently very proud of it.
Lelechka was asleep, and Serafima Aleksandrovna was sitting in her own
room, thinking with joy and tenderness of Lelechka. Lelechka was in
her thoughts, first a sweet, tiny girl, then a sweet, big girl, then
again a delightful little girl; and so until the end she remained
mamma's little Lelechka.
Serafima Aleksandrovna did not even notice that Fedosya came up to her
and paused before her. Fedosya had a worried, frightened look.
"Madam, madam," she said quietly, in a trembling voice.
Serafima Aleksandrovna gave a start. Fedosya's face made her anxious.
"What is it, Fedosya?" she asked with great concern. "Is there
anything wrong with Lelechka?"
"No, madam," said Fedosya, as she gesticulated with her hands to
reassure her mistress and to make her sit down. "Lelechka is asleep,
may God be with her! Only I'd like to say something—you see—Lelechka
is always hiding herself—that's not good."
Fedosya looked at her mistress with fixed eyes, which had grown round
"Why not good?" asked Serafima Aleksandrovna, with vexation,
succumbing involuntarily to vague fears.
"I can't tell you how bad it is," said Fedosya, and her face expressed
the most decided confidence.
"Please speak in a sensible way," observed Serafima Aleksandrovna
dryly. "I understand nothing of what you are saying."
"You see, madam, it's a kind of omen," explained Fedosya abruptly, in
a shamefaced way.
"Nonsense!" said Serafima Aleksandrovna.
She did not wish to hear any further as to the sort of omen it was,
and what it foreboded. But, somehow, a sense of fear and of sadness
crept into her mood, and it was humiliating to feel that an absurd
tale should disturb her beloved fancies, and should agitate her so
"Of course I know that gentlefolk don't believe in omens, but it's a
bad omen, madam," Fedosya went on in a doleful voice, "the young lady
will hide, and hide…"
Suddenly she burst into tears, sobbing out loudly: "She'll hide, and
hide, and hide away, angelic little soul, in a damp grave," she
continued, as she wiped her tears with her apron and blew her nose.
"Who told you all this?" asked Serafima Aleksandrovna in an austere
"Agathya says so, madam," answered Fedosya; "it's she that knows."
"Knows!" exclaimed Serafima Aleksandrovna in irritation, as though she
wished to protect herself somehow from this sudden anxiety. "What
nonsense! Please don't come to me with any such notions in the future.
Now you may go."
Fedosya, dejected, her feelings hurt, left her mistress.
"What nonsense! As though Lelechka could die!" thought Serafima
Aleksandrovna to herself, trying to conquer the feeling of coldness
and fear which took possession, of her at the thought of the possible
death of Lelechka. Serafima Aleksandrovna, upon reflection, attributed
these women's beliefs in omens to ignorance. She saw clearly that
there could be no possible connexion between a child's quite ordinary
diversion and the continuation of the child's life. She made a special
effort that evening to occupy her mind with other matters, but her
thoughts returned involuntarily to the fact that Lelechka loved to
When Lelechka was still quite small, and had learned to distinguish
between her mother and her nurse, she sometimes, sitting in her
nurse's arms, made a sudden roguish grimace, and hid her laughing face
in the nurse's shoulder. Then she would look out with a sly glance.
Of late, in those rare moments of the mistress' absence from the
nursery, Fedosya had again taught Lelechka to hide; and when
Lelechka's mother, on coming in, saw how lovely the child looked when
she was hiding, she herself began to play hide and seek with her tiny
The next day Serafima Aleksandrovna, absorbed in her joyous cares for
Lelechka, had forgotten Fedosya's words of the day before.
But when she returned to the nursery, after having ordered the dinner,
and she heard Lelechka suddenly cry "Tiu-tiu!" from under the table,
a feeling of fear suddenly took hold of her. Though she reproached
herself at once for this unfounded, superstitious dread, nevertheless
she could not enter wholeheartedly into the spirit of Lelechka's
favourite game, and she tried to divert Lelechka's attention to
Lelechka was a lovely and obedient child. She eagerly complied with
her mother's new wishes. But as she had got into the habit of hiding
from her mother in some corner, and of crying out "Tiu-tiu!" so even
that day she returned more than once to the game.
Serafima Aleksandrovna tried desperately to amuse Lelechka. This was
not so easy because restless, threatening thoughts obtruded themselves
"Why does Lelechka keep on recalling the tiu-tiu? Why does she not
get tired of the same thing—of eternally closing her eyes, and of
hiding her face? Perhaps," thought Serafima Aleksandrovna, "she is not
as strongly drawn to the world as other children, who are attracted by
many things. If this is so, is it not a sign of organic weakness? Is
it not a germ of the unconscious non-desire to live?"
Serafima Aleksandrovna was tormented by presentiments. She felt
ashamed of herself for ceasing to play hide and seek with Lelechka
before Fedosya. But this game had become agonising to her, all the
more agonising because she had a real desire to play it, and because
something drew her very strongly to hide herself from Lelechka and to
seek out the hiding child. Serafima Aleksandrovna herself began the
game once or twice, though she played it with a heavy heart. She
suffered as though committing an evil deed with full consciousness.
It was a sad day for Serafima Aleksandrovna.
Lelechka was about to fall asleep. No sooner had she climbed into her
little bed, protected by a network on all sides, than her eyes began
to close from fatigue. Her mother covered her with a blue blanket.
Lelechka drew her sweet little hands from under the blanket and
stretched them out to embrace her mother. Her mother bent down.
Lelechka, with a tender expression on her sleepy face, kissed her
mother and let her head fall on the pillow. As her hands hid
themselves under the blanket Lelechka whispered: "The hands
The mother's heart seemed to stop—Lelechka lay there so small, so
frail, so quiet. Lelechka smiled gently, closed her eyes and said
quietly: "The eyes tiu-tiu!"
Then even more quietly: "Lelechka tiu-tiu!"
With these words she fell asleep, her face pressing the pillow. She
seemed so small and so frail under the blanket that covered her. Her
mother looked at her with sad eyes.
Serafima Aleksandrovna remained standing over Lelechka's bed a long
while, and she kept looking at Lelechka with tenderness and fear.
"I'm a mother: is it possible that I shouldn't be able to protect
her?" she thought, as she imagined the various ills that might befall
She prayed long that night, but the prayer did not relieve her
Several days passed. Lelechka caught cold. The fever came upon her at
night. When Serafima Aleksandrovna, awakened by Fedosya, came to
Lelechka and saw her looking so hot, so restless, and so tormented,
she instantly recalled the evil omen, and a hopeless despair took
possession of her from the first moments.
A doctor was called, and everything was done that is usual on such
occasions—but the inevitable happened. Serafima Aleksandrovna tried
to console herself with the hope that Lelechka would get well, and
would again laugh and play—yet this seemed to her an unthinkable
happiness! And Lelechka grew feebler from hour to hour.
All simulated tranquillity, so as not to frighten Serafima
Aleksandrovna, but their masked faces only made her sad.
Nothing made her so unhappy as the reiterations of Fedosya, uttered
between sobs: "She hid herself and hid herself, our Lelechka!"
But the thoughts of Serafima Aleksandrovna were confused, and she
could not quite grasp what was happening.
Fever was consuming Lelechka, and there were times when she lost
consciousness and spoke in delirium. But when she returned to herself
she bore her pain and her fatigue with gentle good nature; she smiled
feebly at her mamochka, so that her mamochka should not see how
much she suffered. Three days passed, torturing like a nightmare.
Lelechka grew quite feeble. She did not know that she was dying.
She glanced at her mother with her dimmed eyes, and lisped in a
scarcely audible, hoarse voice: "Tiu-tiu, mamochka! Make tiu-tiu,
Serafima Aleksandrovna hid her face behind the curtains near
Lelechka's bed. How tragic!
"Mamochka!" called Lelechka in an almost inaudible voice.
Lelechka's mother bent over her, and Lelechka, her vision grown still
more dim, saw her mother's pale, despairing face for the last time.
"A white mamochka!" whispered Lelechka.
Mamochka's white face became blurred, and everything grew dark
before Lelechka. She caught the edge of the bed-cover feebly with her
hands and whispered: "Tiu-tiu!"
Something rattled in her throat; Lelechka opened and again closed her
rapidly paling lips, and died.
Serafima Aleksandrovna was in dumb despair as she left Lelechka, and
went out of the room. She met her husband.
"Lelechka is dead," she said in a quiet, dull voice.
Sergey Modestovich looked anxiously at her pale face. He was struck by
the strange stupor in her formerly animated handsome features.
Lelechka was dressed, placed in a little coffin, and carried into the
parlour. Serafima Aicksandrovna was standing by the coffin and looking
dully at her dead child. Sergey Modestovich went to his wife and,
consoling her with cold, empty words, tried to draw her away from the
coffin. Seranma Aleksandrovna smiled.
"Go away," she said quietly. "Lelechka is playing. She'll be up in a
"Sima, my dear, don't agitate yourself," said Sergey Modestovich in a
whisper. "You must resign yourself to your fate."
"She'll be up in a minute," persisted Serafima Aleksandrovna, her eyes
fixed on the dead little girl.
Sergey Modestovich looked round him cautiously: he was afraid of the
unseemly and of the ridiculous.
"Sima, don't agitate yourself," he repeated. "This would be a miracle,
and miracles do not happen in the nineteenth century."
No sooner had he said these words than Sergey Modestovich felt their
irrelevance to what had happened. He was confused and annoyed.
He took his wife by the arm, and cautiously led her away from the
coffin. She did not oppose him.
Her face seemed tranquil and her eyes were dry. She went into the
nursery and began to walk round the room, looking into those places
where Lelechka used to hide herself. She walked all about the room,
and bent now and then to look under the table or under the bed, and
kept on repeating cheerfully: "Where is my little one? Where is my
After she had walked round the room once she began to make her quest
anew. Fedosya, motionless, with dejected face, sat in a corner, and
looked frightened at her mistress; then she suddenly burst out
sobbing, and she wailed loudly:
"She hid herself, and hid herself, our Lelechka, our angelic little
Serafima Aleksandrovna trembled, paused, cast a perplexed look at
Fedosya, began to weep, and left the nursery quietly.
Sergey Modestovich hurried the funeral. He saw that Serafima
Aleksandrovna. was terribly shocked by her sudden misfortune, and as
he feared for her reason he thought she would more readily be diverted
and consoled when Lelechka was buried.
Next morning Serafima Aleksandrovna dressed with particular care—for
Lelechka. When she entered the parlour there were several people
between her and Lelechka. The priest and deacon paced up and down the
room; clouds of blue smoke drifted in the air, and there was a smell
of incense. There was an oppressive feeling of heaviness in Serafima
Aleksandrovna's head as she approached Lelechka. Lelechka lay there
still and pale, and smiled pathetically. Serafima Aleksandrovna laid
her cheek upon the edge of Lelechka's coffin, and whispered:
"Tiu-tiu, little one!"
The little one did not reply. Then there was some kind of stir and
confusion around Serafima Aleksandrovna; strange, unnecessary faces
bent over her, some one held her—and Lelechka was carried away
Serafima Aleksandrovna stood up erect, sighed in a lost way, smiled,
and called loudly: "Lelechka!"
Lelechka was being carried out. The mother threw herself after the
coffin with despairing sobs, but she was held back. She sprang behind
the door, through which Lelechka had passed, sat down there on the
floor, and as she looked through the crevice, she cried out:
Then she put her head out from behind the door, and began to laugh.
Lelechka was quickly carried away from her mother, and those who
carried her seemed to run rather than to walk.
BY I.N. POTAPENKO
"Well?" Captain Zarubkin's wife called out impatiently to her husband,
rising from the sofa and turning to face him as he entered.
"He doesn't know anything about it," he replied indifferently, as if
the matter were of no interest to him. Then he asked in a businesslike
tone: "Nothing for me from the office?"
"Why should I know? Am I your errand boy?"
"How they dilly-dally! If only the package doesn't come too late. It's
"Who's an idiot?"
"You, with your indifference, your stupid egoism."
The captain said nothing. He was neither surprised nor insulted. On
the contrary, the smile on his face was as though he had received a
compliment. These wifely animadversions, probably oft-heard, by no
means interfered with his domestic peace.
"It can't be that the man doesn't know when his wife is coming back
home," Mrs. Zarubkin continued excitedly. "She's written to him every
day of the four months that she's been away. The postmaster told me
"Semyonov! Ho, Semyonov! Has any one from the office been here?"
"I don't know, your Excellency," came in a loud, clear voice from back
of the room.
"Why don't you know? Where have you been?"
"I went to Abramka, your Excellency."
"The tailor again?"
"Yes, your Excellency, the tailor Abramka."
The captain spat in annoyance.
"And where is Krynka?"
"He went to market, your Excellency."
"Was he told to go to market?"
"Yes, your Excellency."
The captain spat again.
"Why do you keep spitting? Such vulgar manners!" his wife cried
angrily. "You behave at home like a drunken subaltern. You haven't the
least consideration for your wife. You are so coarse in your behaviour
towards me! Do, please, go to your office."
"If the package comes, please have it sent back to the office and say
I've gone there. And listen! Some one must always be here. I won't
have everybody out of the house at the same time. Do you hear?"
"Yes, your Excellency."
The captain put on his cap to go. In the doorway he turned and
addressed his wife.
"Please, Tasya, please don't send all the servants on your errands at
the same time. Something important may turn up, and then there's
nobody here to attend to it."
He went out, and his wife remained reclining in the sofa corner as if
his plea were no concern of hers. But scarcely had he left the house,
when she called out:
"Semyonov, come here. Quick!"
A bare-footed unshaven man in dark blue pantaloons and cotton shirt
presented himself. His stocky figure and red face made a wholesome
appearance. He was the Captain's orderly.
"At your service, your Excellency."
"Listen, Semyonov, you don't seem to be stupid."
"I don't know, your Excellency."
"For goodness' sake, drop 'your Excellency.' I am not your superior
"Yes, your Excel—"
But the lady's manner toward the servant was far friendlier than
toward her husband. Semyonov had it in his power to perform important
services for her, while the captain had not come up to her
"Listen, Semyonov, how do you and the doctor's men get along together?
Are you friendly?"
"Yes, your Excellency."
"Intolerable!" cried the lady, jumping up. "Stop using that silly
title. Can't you speak like a sensible man?"
Semyonov had been standing in the stiff attitude of attention, with
the palms of his hands at the seams of his trousers. Now he suddenly
relaxed, and even wiped his nose with his fist.
"That's the way we are taught to do," he said carelessly, with a
clownish grin. "The gentlemen, the officers, insist on it."
"Now, tell me, you are on good terms with the doctor's men?"
"You mean Podmar and Shuchok? Of course, we're friends."
"Very well, then go straight to them and try to find out when Mrs.
Shaldin is expected back. They ought to know. They must be getting
things ready against her return—cleaning her bedroom and fixing it
up. Do you understand? But be careful to find out right. And also be
very careful not to let on for whom you are finding it out. Do you
"Of course, I understand."
"Well, then, go. But one more thing. Since you're going out, you may
as well stop at Abramka's again and tell him to come here right away.
"But his Excellency gave me orders to stay at home," said Semyonov,
scratching himself behind his ears.
"Please don't answer back. Just do as I tell you. Go on, now."
"At your service." And the orderly, impressed by the lady's severe
military tone, left the room.
Mrs. Zarubkin remained reclining on the sofa for a while. Then she
rose and walked up and down the room and finally went to her bedroom,
where her two little daughters were playing in their nurse's care. She
scolded them a bit and returned to her former place on the couch. Her
every movement betrayed great excitement.
* * * * *
Tatyana Grigoryevna Zarubkin was one of the most looked-up to ladies
of the S—— Regiment and even of the whole town of Chmyrsk, where the
regiment was quartered. To be sure, you hardly could say that, outside
the regiment, the town could boast any ladies at all. There were very
respectable women, decent wives, mothers, daughters and widows of
honourable citizens; but they all dressed in cotton and flannel, and
on high holidays made a show of cheap Cashmere gowns over which they
wore gay shawls with borders of wonderful arabesques. Their hats and
other headgear gave not the faintest evidence of good taste. So they
could scarcely be dubbed "ladies." They were satisfied to be called
"women." Each one of them, almost, had the name of her husband's trade
or position tacked to her name—Mrs. Grocer so-and-so, Mrs. Mayor
so-and-so, Mrs. Milliner so-and-so, etc. Genuine ladies in the
Russian society sense had never come to the town before the
S——Regiment had taken up its quarters there; and it goes without
saying that the ladies of the regiment had nothing in common, and
therefore no intercourse with, the women of the town. They were so
dissimilar that they were like creatures of a different species.
There is no disputing that Tatyana Grigoryevna Zarubkin was one of the
most looked-up-to of the ladies. She invariably played the most
important part at all the regimental affairs—the amateur theatricals,
the social evenings, the afternoon teas. If the captain's wife was not
to be present, it was a foregone conclusion that the affair would not
be a success.
The most important point was that Mrs. Zarubkin had the untarnished
reputation of being the best-dressed of all the ladies. She was always
the most distinguished looking at the annual ball. Her gown for the
occasion, ordered from Moscow, was always chosen with the greatest
regard for her charms and defects, and it was always exquisitely
beautiful. A new fashion could not gain admittance to the other ladies
of the regiment except by way of the captain's wife. Thanks to her
good taste in dressing, the stately blonde was queen at all the balls
and in all the salons of Chmyrsk. Another advantage of hers was that
although she was nearly forty she still looked fresh and youthful, so
that the young officers were constantly hovering about her and paying
November was a very lively month in the regiment's calendar. It was on
the tenth of November that the annual ball took place. The ladies, of
course, spent their best efforts in preparation for this event.
Needless to say that in these arduous activities, Abramka Stiftik, the
ladies' tailor, played a prominent role. He was the one man in Chmyrsk
who had any understanding at all for the subtle art of the feminine
toilet. Preparations had begun in his shop in August already. Within
the last weeks his modest parlour—furnished with six shabby chairs
placed about a round table, and a fly-specked mirror on the wall—the
atmosphere heavy with a smell of onions and herring, had been filled
from early morning to the evening hours with the most charming and
elegant of the fairer sex. There was trying-on and discussion of
styles and selection of material. It was all very nerve-racking for
The only one who had never appeared in this parlour was the captain's
wife. That had been a thorn in Abramka's flesh. He had spent days and
nights going over in his mind how he could rid this lady of the, in
his opinion, wretched habit of ordering her clothes from Moscow. For
this ball, however, as she herself had told him, she had not ordered a
dress but only material from out of town, from which he deduced that
he was to make the gown for her. But there was only one week left
before the ball, and still she had not come to him. Abramka was in a
state of feverishness. He longed once to make a dress for Mrs.
Zarubkin. It would add to his glory. He wanted to prove that he
understood his trade just as well as any tailor in Moscow, and that it
was quite superfluous for her to order her gowns outside of Chmyrsk.
He would come out the triumphant competitor of Moscow.
As each day passed and Mrs. Zarubkin did not appear in his shop, his
nervousness increased. Finally she ordered a dressing-jacket from
him—but not a word said of a ball gown. What was he to think of it?
So, when Semyonov told him that Mrs. Zarubkin was expecting him at her
home, it goes without saying that he instantly removed the dozen pins
in his mouth, as he was trying on a customer's dress, told one of his
assistants to continue with the fitting, and instantly set off to call
on the captain's wife. In this case, it was not a question of a mere
ball gown, but of the acquisition of the best customer in town.
Although Abramka wore a silk hat and a suit in keeping with the silk
hat, still he was careful not to ring at the front entrance, but
always knocked at the back door. At another time when the captain's
orderly was not in the house—for the captain's orderly also performed
the duties of the captain's cook—he might have knocked long and loud.
On other occasions a cannon might have been shot off right next to
Tatyana Grigoryevna's ears and she would not have lifted her fingers
to open the door. But now she instantly caught the sound of the modest
knocking and opened the back door herself for Abramka.
"Oh!" she cried delightedly. "You, Abramka!"
She really wanted to address him less familiarly, as was more
befitting so dignified a man in a silk hat; but everybody called him
"Abramka," and he would have been very much surprised had he been
honoured with his full name, Abram Srulevich Stiftik. So she thought
it best to address him as the others did.
Mr. "Abramka" was tall and thin. There was always a melancholy
expression in his pale face. He had a little stoop, a long and very
heavy greyish beard. He had been practising his profession for thirty
years. Ever since his apprenticeship he had been called "Abramka,"
which did not strike him as at all derogatory or unfitting. Even his
shingle read: "Ladies' Tailor: Abramka Stiftik"—the most valid proof
that he deemed his name immaterial, but that the chief thing to him
was his art. As a matter of fact, he had attained, if not perfection
in tailoring, yet remarkable skill. To this all the ladies of the
S—— Regiment could attest with conviction.
Abramka removed his silk hat, stepped into the kitchen, and said
gravely, with profound feeling:
"Mrs. Zarubkin, I am entirely at your service."
"Come into the reception room. I have something very important to
speak to you about."
Abramka followed in silence. He stepped softly on tiptoe, as if afraid
of waking some one.
"Sit down, Abramka, listen—but give me your word of honour, you won't
tell any one?" Tatyana Grigoryevna began, reddening a bit. She was
ashamed to have to let the tailor Abramka into her secret, but since
there was no getting around it, she quieted herself and in an instant
had regained her ease.
"I don't know what you are speaking of, Mrs. Zarubkin," Abramka
rejoined. He assumed a somewhat injured manner. "Have you ever heard
of Abramka ever babbling anything out? You certainly know that in my
profession—you know everybody has some secret to be kept."
"Oh, you must have misunderstood me, Abramka. What sort of secrets do
"Well, one lady is a little bit one-sided, another lady"—he pointed
to his breast—"is not quite full enough, another lady has scrawny
arms—such things as that have to be covered up or filled out or laced
in, so as to look better. That is where our art comes in. But we are
in duty bound not to say anything about it."
Tatyana Grigoryevna smiled.
"Well, I can assure you I am all right that way. There is nothing
about me that needs to be covered up or filled out."
"Oh, as if I didn't know that! Everybody knows that Mrs. Zarubkin's
figure is perfect," Abramka cried, trying to flatter his new customer.
Mrs. Zarubkin laughed and made up her mind to remember "Everybody
knows that Mrs. Zarubkin's figure is perfect." Then she said:
"You know that the ball is to take place in a week."
"Yes, indeed, Mrs. Zarubkin, in only one week; unfortunately, only one
week," replied Abramka, sighing.
"But you remember your promise to make my dress for me for the ball
"Mrs. Zarubkin," Abramka cried, laying his hand on his heart. "Have I
said that I was not willing to make it? No, indeed, I said it must be
made and made right—for Mrs. Zarubkin, it must be better than for any
one else. That's the way I feel about it."
"Splendid! Just what I wanted to know."
"But why don't you show me your material? Why don't you say to me,
'Here, Abramka, here is the stuff, make a dress?' Abramka would work
on it day and night."
"Ahem, that's just it—I can't order it. That is where the trouble
comes in. Tell me, Abramka, what is the shortest time you need for
making the dress? Listen, the very shortest?"
Abramka shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, is a week too much for a ball dress such as you will want? It's
got to be sewed, it can't be pasted together, You, yourself, know
that, Mrs. Zarubkin."
"But supposing I order it only three days before the ball?"
"Only three days before the ball? A ball dress? Am I a god, Mrs.
Zarubkin? I am nothing but the ladies' tailor, Abramka Stiftik."
"Well, then you are a nice tailor!" said Tatyana Grigoryevna,
scornfully. "In Moscow they made a ball dress for me in two days."
Abramka jumped up as if at a shot, and beat his breast.
"Is that so? Then I say, Mrs. Zarubkin," he cried pathetically, "if
they made a ball gown for you in Moscow in two days, very well, then I
will make a ball gown for you, if I must, in one day. I will neither
eat nor sleep, and I won't let my help off either for one minute. How
does that suit you?"
"Sit down, Abramka, thank you very much. I hope I shall not have to
put such a strain on you. It really does not depend upon me, otherwise
I should have ordered the dress from you long ago."
"It doesn't depend upon you? Then upon whom does it depend?"
"Ahem, it depends upon—but now, Abramka, remember this is just
between you and me—it depends upon Mrs. Shaldin."
"Upon Mrs. Shaldin, the doctor's wife? Why she isn't even here."
"That's just it. That is why I have to wait. How is it that a clever
man like you, Abramka, doesn't grasp the situation?"
"Hm, hm! Let me see." Abramka racked his brains for a solution of the
riddle. How could it be that Mrs. Shaldin, who was away, should have
anything to do with Mrs. Zarubkin's order for a gown? No, that passed
"She certainly will get back in time for the ball," said Mrs.
Zarubkin, to give him a cue.
"And certainly will bring a dress back with her."
"A dress from abroad, something we have never seen here—something
"Mrs. Zarubkin!" Abramka cried, as if a truth of tremendous import had
been revealed to him. "Mrs. Zarubkin, I understand. Why certainly!
Yes, but that will be pretty hard."
"That's just it."
Abramka reflected a moment, then said:
"I assure you, Mrs. Zarubkin, you need not be a bit uneasy. I will
make a dress for you that will be just as grand as the one from
abroad. I assure you, your dress will be the most elegant one at the
ball, just as it always has been. I tell you, my name won't be Abramka
His eager asseverations seemed not quite to satisfy the captain's
wife. Her mind was not quite set at ease. She interrupted him.
"But the style, Abramka, the style! You can't possibly guess what the
latest fashion is abroad."
"Why shouldn't I know what the latest fashion is, Mrs. Zarubkin? In
Kiev I have a friend who publishes fashion-plates. I will telegraph to
him, and he will immediately send me pictures of the latest French
models. The telegram will cost only eighty cents, Mrs. Zarubkin, and I
swear to you I will copy any dress he sends. Mrs. Shaldin can't
possibly have a dress like that."
"All very well and good, and that's what we'll do. Still we must wait
until Mrs. Shaldin comes back. Don't you see, Abramka, I must have
exactly the same style that she has? Can't you see, so that nobody can
say that she is in the latest fashion?"
At this point Semyonov entered the room cautiously. He was wearing the
oddest-looking jacket and the captain's old boots. His hair was
rumpled, and his eyes were shining suspiciously. There was every sign
that he had used the renewal of friendship with the doctor's men as a
pretext for a booze.
"I had to stand them some brandy, your Excellency," he said saucily,
but catching his mistress's threatening look, he lowered his head
"Idiot," she yelled at him, "face about. Be off with you to the
In his befuddlement, Semyonov had not noticed Abramka's presence. Now
he became aware of him, faced about and retired to the kitchen
"What an impolite fellow," said Abramka reproachfully.
"Oh, you wouldn't believe—" said the captain's wife, but instantly
followed Semyonov into the kitchen.
Semyonov aware of his awful misdemeanour, tried to stand up straight
and give a report.
"She will come back, your Excellency, day after to-morrow toward
evening. She sent a telegram."
"Is that true now?"
"I swear it's true. Shuchok saw it himself."
"All right, very good. You will get something for this."
"Yes, your Excellency."
"Silence, you goose. Go on, set the table."
Abramka remained about ten minutes longer with the captain's wife, and
on leaving said:
"Let me assure you once again, Mrs. Zarubkin, you needn't worry; just
select the style, and I will make a gown for you that the best tailor
in Paris can't beat." He pressed his hand to his heart in token of his
intention to do everything in his power for Mrs. Zarubkin.
* * * * *
It was seven o'clock in the evening. Mrs. Shaldin and her trunk had
arrived hardly half an hour before, yet the captain's wife was already
there paying visit; which was a sign of the warm friendship that
existed between the two women. They kissed each other and fell to
talking. The doctor, a tall man of forty-five, seemed discomfited by
the visit, and passed unfriendly side glances at his guest. He had
hoped to spend that evening undisturbed with his wife, and he well
knew that when the ladies of the regiment came to call upon each other
"for only a second," it meant a whole evening of listening to idle
"You wouldn't believe me, dear, how bored I was the whole time you
were away, how I longed for you, Natalie Semyonovna. But you probably
never gave us a thought."
"Oh, how can you say anything like that. I was thinking of you every
minute, every second. If I hadn't been obliged to finish the cure, I
should have returned long ago. No matter how beautiful it may be away
from home, still the only place to live is among those that are near
and dear to you."
These were only the preliminary soundings. They lasted with variations
for a quarter of an hour. First Mrs. Shaldin narrated a few incidents
of the trip, then Mrs. Zarubkin gave a report of some of the chief
happenings in the life of the regiment. When the conversation was in
full swing, and the samovar was singing on the table, and the pancakes
were spreading their appetising odour, the captain's wife suddenly
"I wonder what the fashions are abroad now. I say, you must have
feasted your eyes on them!"
Mrs. Shaldin simply replied with a scornful gesture.
"Other people may like them, but I don't care for them one bit. I am
glad we here don't get to see them until a year later. You know,
Tatyana Grigoryevna, you sometimes see the ugliest styles."
"Really?" asked the captain's wife eagerly, her eyes gleaming with
curiosity. The great moment of complete revelation seemed to have
"Perfectly hideous, I tell you. Just imagine, you know how nice the
plain skirts were. Then why change them? But no, to be in style now,
the skirts have to be draped. Why? It is just a sign of complete lack
of imagination. And in Lyons they got out a new kind of silk—but that
is still a French secret."
"Why a secret? The silk is certainly being worn already?"
"Yes, one does see it being worn already, but when it was first
manufactured, the greatest secret was made of it. They were afraid the
Germans would imitate. You understand?"
"Oh, but what is the latest style?"
"I really can't explain it to you. All I know is, it is something
"She can't explain! That means she doesn't want to explain. Oh, the
cunning one. What a sly look she has in her eyes." So thought the
captain's wife. From the very beginning of the conversation, the two
warm friends, it need scarcely be said, were mutually distrustful.
Each had the conviction that everything the other said was to be taken
in the very opposite sense. They were of about the same age, Mrs.
Shaldin possibly one or two years younger than Mrs. Zarubkin. Mrs.
Zarubkin was rather plump, and had heavy light hair. Her appearance
was blooming. Mrs. Shaldin was slim, though well proportioned. She was
a brunette with a pale complexion and large dark eyes. They were two
types of beauty very likely to divide the gentlemen of the regiment
into two camps of admirers. But women are never content with halves.
Mrs. Zarubkin wanted to see all the officers of the regiment at her
feet, and so did Mrs. Shaldin. It naturally led to great rivalry
between the two women, of which they were both conscious, though they
always had the friendliest smiles for each other.
Mrs. Shaldin tried to give a different turn to the conversation.
"Do you think the ball will be interesting this year?"
"Why should it be interesting?" rejoined the captain's wife
scornfully. "Always the same people, the same old humdrum jog-trot."
"I suppose the ladies have been besieging our poor Abramka?"
"I really can't tell you. So far as I am concerned, I have scarcely
looked at what he made for me."
"Hm, how's that? Didn't you order your dress from Moscow again?"
"No, it really does not pay. I am sick of the bother of it all. Why
all that trouble? For whom? Our officers don't care a bit how one
dresses. They haven't the least taste."
"Hm, there's something back of that," thought Mrs. Shaldin.
The captain's wife continued with apparent indifference:
"I can guess what a gorgeous dress you had made abroad. Certainly in
the latest fashion?"
"I?" Mrs. Shaldin laughed innocently. "How could I get the time during
my cure to think of a dress? As a matter of fact, I completely forgot
the ball, thought of it at the last moment, and bought the first piece
of goods I laid my hands on."
"Oh, no. How can you say pink!"
"Light blue, then?"
"You can't call it exactly light blue. It is a very undefined sort of
colour. I really wouldn't know what to call it."
"But it certainly must have some sort of a shade?"
"You may believe me or not if you choose, but really I don't know.
It's a very indefinite shade."
"Is it Sura silk?"
"No, I can't bear Sura. It doesn't keep the folds well."
"I suppose it is crêpe de Chine?"
"Heavens, no! Crêpe de Chine is much too expensive for me."
"Then what can it be?"
"Oh, wait a minute, what is the name of that goods? You know there
are so many funny new names now. They don't make any sense."
"Then show me your dress, dearest. Do please show me your dress."
Mrs. Shaldin seemed to be highly embarrassed.
"I am so sorry I can't. It is way down at the bottom of the trunk.
There is the trunk. You see yourself I couldn't unpack it now."
The trunk, close to the wall, was covered with oil cloth and tied
tight with heavy cords. The captain's wife devoured it with her eyes.
She would have liked to see through and through it. She had nothing to
say in reply, because it certainly was impossible to ask her friend,
tired out from her recent journey, to begin to unpack right away and
take out all her things just to show her her new dress. Yet she could
not tear her eyes away from the trunk. There was a magic in it that
held her enthralled. Had she been alone she would have begun to unpack
it herself, nor even have asked the help of a servant to undo the
knots. Now there was nothing left for her but to turn her eyes
sorrowfully away from the fascinating object and take up another topic
of conversation to which she would be utterly indifferent. But she
couldn't think of anything else to talk about. Mrs. Shaldin must have
prepared herself beforehand. She must have suspected something. So now
Mrs. Zarubkin pinned her last hope to Abramka's inventiveness. She
glanced at the clock.
"Dear me," she exclaimed, as if surprised at the lateness of the hour.
"I must be going. I don't want to disturb you any longer either,
dearest. You must be very tired. I hope you rest well."
She shook hands with Mrs. Shaldin, kissed her and left.
* * * * *
Abramka Stiftik had just taken off his coat and was doing some ironing
in his shirt sleeves, when a peculiar figure appeared in his shop. It
was that of a stocky orderly in a well-worn uniform without buttons
and old galoshes instead of boots. His face was gloomy-looking and was
covered with a heavy growth of hair. Abramka knew this figure well. It
seemed always just to have been awakened from the deepest sleep.
"Ah, Shuchok, what do you want?"
"Mrs. Shaldin would like you to call upon her," said Shuchok. He
behaved as if he had come on a terribly serious mission.
"Ah, that's so, your lady has come back. I heard about it. You see I
am very busy. Still you may tell her I am coming right away. I just
want to finish ironing Mrs. Konopotkin's dress."
Abramka simply wanted to keep up appearances, as always when he was
sent for. But his joy at the summons to Mrs. Shaldin was so great that
to the astonishment of his helpers and Shuchok he left immediately.
He found Mrs. Shaldin alone. She had not slept well the two nights
before and had risen late that morning. Her husband had left long
before for the Military Hospital. She was sitting beside her open
trunk taking her things out very carefully.
"How do you do, Mrs. Shaldin? Welcome back to Chmyrsk. I congratulate
you on your happy arrival."
"Oh, how do you do, Abramka?" said Mrs. Shaldin delightedly; "we
haven't seen each other for a long time, have we? I was rather
homesick for you."
"Oh, Mrs. Shaldin, you must have had a very good time abroad. But what
do you need me for? You certainly brought a dress back with you?"
"Abramka always comes in handy," said Mrs. Shaldin jestingly. "We
ladies of the regiment are quite helpless without Abramka. Take a
Abramka seated himself. He felt much more at ease in Mrs. Shaldin's
home than in Mrs. Zarubkin's. Mrs. Shaldin did not order her clothes
from Moscow. She was a steady customer of his. In this room he had
many a time circled about the doctor's wife with a yard measure, pins,
chalk and scissors, had kneeled down beside her, raised himself to his
feet, bent over again and stood puzzling over some difficult problem
of dressmaking—how low to cut the dress out at the neck, how long to
make the train, how wide the hem, and so on. None of the ladies of the
regiment ordered as much from him as Mrs. Shaldin. Her grandmother
would send her material from Kiev or the doctor would go on a
professional trip to Chernigov and always bring some goods back with
him; or sometimes her aunt in Voronesh would make her a gift of some
"Abramka is always ready to serve Mrs. Shaldin first," said the
tailor, though seized with a little pang, as if bitten by a guilty
"Are you sure you are telling the truth? Is Abramka always to be
depended upon? Eh, is he?" She looked at him searchingly from beneath
"What a question," rejoined Abramka. His face quivered slightly. His
feeling of discomfort was waxing. "Has Abramka ever—"
"Oh, things can happen. But, all right, never mind. I brought a dress
along with me. I had to have it made in a great hurry, and there is
just a little more to be done on it. Now if I give you this dress to
finish, can I be sure that you positively won't tell another soul how
it is made?"
"Mrs. Shaldin, oh, Mrs. Shaldin," said Abramka reproachfully.
Nevertheless, the expression of his face was not so reassuring as
"You give me your word of honour?"
"Certainly! My name isn't Abramka Stiftik if I—"
"Well, all right, I will trust you. But be careful. You know of whom
you must be careful?"
"Who is that, Mrs. Shaldin?"
"Oh, you know very well whom I mean. No, you needn't put your hand on
your heart. She was here to see me yesterday and tried in every way
she could to find out how my dress is made. But she couldn't get it
out of me." Abramka sighed. Mrs. Shaldin seemed to suspect his
betrayal. "I am right, am I not? She has not had her dress made yet,
has she? She waited to see my dress, didn't she? And she told you to
copy the style, didn't she?" Mrs, Shaldin asked with honest naïveté.
"But I warn you, Abramka, if you give away the least little thing
about my dress, then all is over between you and me. Remember that."
Abramka's hand went to his heart again, and the gesture carried the
same sense of conviction as of old.
"Mrs. Shaldin, how can you speak like that?"
"Wait a moment."
Mrs. Shaldin left the room. About ten minutes passed during which
Abramka had plenty of time to reflect. How could he have given the
captain's wife a promise like that so lightly? What was the captain's
wife to him as compared with the doctor's wife? Mrs. Zarubkin had
never given him a really decent order—just a few things for the house
and some mending. Supposing he were now to perform this great service
for her, would that mean that he could depend upon her for the future?
Was any woman to be depended upon? She would wear this dress out and
go back to ordering her clothes from Moscow again. But Mrs. Shaldin,
she was very different. He could forgive her having brought this one
dress along from abroad. What woman in Russia would have refrained,
when abroad, from buying a new dress? Mrs. Shaldin would continue to
be his steady customer all the same.
The door opened. Abramka rose involuntarily, and clasped his hands in
"Well," he exclaimed rapturously, "that is a dress, that is—My, my!"
He was so stunned he could find nothing more to say. And how charming
Mrs. Shaldin looked in her wonderful gown! Her tall slim figure seemed
to have been made for it. What simple yet elegant lines. At first
glance you would think it was nothing more than an ordinary
house-gown, but only at first glance. If you looked at it again, you
could tell right away that it met all the requirements of a fancy
ball-gown. What struck Abramka most was that it had no waist line,
that it did not consist of bodice and skirt. That was strange. It was
just caught lightly together under the bosom, which it brought out in
relief. Draped over the whole was a sort of upper garment of exquisite
old-rose lace embroidered with large silk flowers, which fell from the
shoulders and broadened out in bold superb lines. The dress was cut
low and edged with a narrow strip of black down around the bosom,
around the bottom of the lace drapery, and around the hem of the
skirt. A wonderful fan of feathers to match the down edging gave the
"Well, how do you like it, Abramka!" asked Mrs. Shaldin with a
"Glorious, glorious! I haven't the words at my command. What a dress!
No, I couldn't make a dress like that. And how beautifully it fits
you, as if you had been born in it, Mrs. Shaldin. What do you call the
"Ampeer?" he queried. "Is that a new style? Well, well, what people
don't think of. Tailors like us might just as well throw our needles
and scissors away."
"Now, listen, Abramka, I wouldn't have shown it to you if there were
not this sewing to be done on it. You are the only one who will have
seen it before the ball. I am not even letting my husband look at it."
"Oh, Mrs. Shaldin, you can rely upon me as upon a rock. But after the
ball may I copy it?"
"Oh, yes, after the ball copy it as much as you please, but not now,
not for anything in the world."
There were no doubts in Abramka's mind when he left the doctor's
house. He had arrived at his decision. That superb creation had
conquered him. It would be a piece of audacity on his part, he felt,
even to think of imitating such a gown. Why, it was not a gown. It was
a dream, a fantastic vision—without a bodice, without puffs or frills
or tawdry trimmings of any sort. Simplicity itself and yet so chic.
Back in his shop he opened the package of fashion-plates that had just
arrived from Kiev. He turned the pages and stared in astonishment.
What was that? Could he trust his eyes? An Empire gown. There it was,
with the broad voluptuous drapery of lace hanging from the shoulders
and the edging of down. Almost exactly the same thing as Mrs.
He glanced up and saw Semyonov outside the window. He had certainly
come to fetch him to the captain's wife, who must have ordered him to
watch the tailor's movements, and must have learned that he had just
been at Mrs. Shaldin's. Semyonov entered and told him his mistress
wanted to sec him right away.
Abramks slammed the fashion magazine shut as if afraid that Semyonov
might catch a glimpse of the new Empire fashion and give the secret
"I will come immediately," he said crossly.
He picked up his fashion plates, put the yard measure in his pocket,
rammed his silk hat sorrowfully on his head and set off for the
captain's house. He found Mrs. Zarubkin pacing the room excitedly,
greeted her, but carefully avoided meeting her eyes.
"Well, what did you find out?"
"Nothing, Mrs. Zarubkin," said Abramka dejectedly. "Unfortunately I
couldn't find out a thing."
"Idiot! I have no patience with you. Where are the fashion plates?"
"Here, Mrs. Zarubkin."
She turned the pages, looked at one picture after the other, and
suddenly her eyes shone and her cheeks reddened.
"Oh, Empire! The very thing. Empire is the very latest. Make this one
for me," she cried commandingly.
Abramka turned pale.
"Ampeer, Mrs. Zarubkin? I can't make that Ampeer dress for you," he
"Why not?" asked the captain's wife, giving him a searching look.
"Oh—h—h, you can't? You know why you can't. Because that is the
style of Mrs. Shaldin's dress. So that is the reliability you boast so
"Mrs. Zarubkin, I will make any other dress you choose, but it is
absolutely impossible for me to make this one."
"I don't need your fashion plates, do you hear me? Get out of here,
and don't ever show your face again."
"Mrs. Zarubkin, I—"
"Get out of here," repeated the captain's wife, quite beside herself.
The poor tailor stuck his yard measure, which he had already taken
out, back into his pocket and left.
Half an hour later the captain's wife was entering a train for Kiev,
carrying a large package which contained material for a dress. The
captain had accompanied her to the station with a pucker in his
forehead. That was five days before the ball.
* * * * *
At the ball two expensive Empire gowns stood out conspicuously from
among the more or less elegant gowns which had been finished in the
shop of Abramka Stiftik, Ladies' Tailor. The one gown adorned Mrs.
Shaldin's figure, the other the figure of the captain's wife.
Mrs. Zarubkin had bought her gown ready made at Kiev, and had returned
only two hours before the beginning of the ball. She had scarcely had
time to dress. Perhaps it would have been better had she not appeared
at this one of the annual balls, had she not taken that fateful trip
to Kiev. For in comparison with the make and style of Mrs. Shaldin's
dress, which had been brought abroad, hers was like the botched
imitation of an amateur.
That was evident to everybody, though the captain's wife had her
little group of partisans, who maintained with exaggerated eagerness
that she looked extraordinarily fascinating in her dress and Mrs.
Shaldin still could not rival her. But there was no mistaking it,
there was little justice in this contention. Everybody knew better;
what was worst of all, Mrs. Zarubkin herself knew better. Mrs.
Shaldin's triumph was complete.
The two ladies gave each other the same friendly smiles as always, but
one of them was experiencing the fine disdain and the derision of the
conqueror, while the other was burning inside with the furious
resentment of a dethroned goddess—goddess of the annual ball.
From that time on Abramka cautiously avoided passing the captain's
BY S.T. SEMYONOV
Gerasim returned to Moscow just at a time when it was hardest to find
work, a short while before Christmas, when a man sticks even to a poor
job in the expectation of a present. For three weeks the peasant lad
had been going about in vain seeking a position.
He stayed with relatives and friends from his village, and although he
had not yet suffered great want, it disheartened him that he, a strong
young man, should go without work.
Gerasim had lived in Moscow from early boyhood. When still a mere
child, he had gone to work in a brewery as bottle-washer, and later as
a lower servant in a house. In the last two years he had been in a
merchant's employ, and would still have held that position, had he not
been summoned back to his village for military duty. However, he had
not been drafted. It seemed dull to him in the village, he was not
used to the country life, so he decided he would rather count the
stones in Moscow than stay there.
Every minute it was getting to be more and more irk-some for him to be
tramping the streets in idleness. Not a stone did he leave unturned in
his efforts to secure any sort of work. He plagued all of his
acquaintances, he even held up people on the street and asked them if
they knew of a situation—all in vain.
Finally Gerasim could no longer bear being a burden on his people.
Some of them were annoyed by his coming to them; and others had
suffered unpleasantness from their masters on his account. He was
altogether at a loss what to do. Sometimes he would go a whole day
One day Gerasim betook himself to a friend from his village, who lived
at the extreme outer edge of Moscow, near Sokolnik. The man was
coachman to a merchant by the name of Sharov, in whose service he had
been for many years. He had ingratiated himself with his master, so
that Sharov trusted him absolutely and gave every sign of holding him
in high favour. It was the man's glib tongue, chiefly, that had gained
him his master's confidence. He told on all the servants, and Sharov
valued him for it.
Gerasim approached and greeted him. The coachman gave his guest a
proper reception, served him with tea and something to eat, and asked
him how he was doing.
"Very badly, Yegor Danilych," said Gerasim. "I've been without a job
"Didn't you ask your old employer to take you back?"
"He wouldn't take you again?"
"The position was filled already."
"That's it. That's the way you young fellows are. You serve your
employers so-so, and when you leave your jobs, you usually have
muddied up the way back to them. You ought to serve your masters so
that they will think a lot of you, and when you come again, they will
not refuse you, but rather dismiss the man who has taken your place."
"How can a man do that? In these days there aren't any employers like
that, and we aren't exactly angels, either."
"What's the use of wasting words? I just want to tell you about
myself. If for some reason or other I should ever have to leave this
place and go home, not only would Mr. Sharov, if I came back, take me
on again without a word, but he would be glad to, too."
Gerasim sat there downcast. He saw his friend was boasting, and it
occurred to him to gratify him.
"I know it," he said. "But it's hard to find men like you, Yegor
Danilych. If you were a poor worker, your master would not have kept
you twelve years."
Yegor smiled. He liked the praise.
"That's it," he said. "If you were to live and serve as I do, you
wouldn't be out of work for months and months."
Gerasim made no reply.
Yegor was summoned to his master.
"Wait a moment," he said to Gerasim. "I'll be right back."
Yegor came back and reported that inside of half an hour he would have
to have the horses harnessed, ready to drive his master to town. He
lighted his pipe and took several turns in the room. Then he came to a
halt in front of Gerasim.
"Listen, my boy," he said, "if you want, I'll ask my master to take
you as a servant here."
"Does he need a man?"
"We have one, but he's not much good. He's getting old, and it's very
hard for him to do the work. It's lucky for us that the neighbourhood
isn't a lively one and the police don't make a fuss about things being
kept just so, else the old man couldn't manage to keep the place clean
enough for them."
"Oh, if you can, then please do say a word for me, Yegor Danilych.
I'll pray for you all my life. I can't stand being without work any
"All right, I'll speak for you. Come again to-morrow, and in the
meantime take this ten-kopek piece. It may come in handy."
"Thanks, Yegor Danilych. Then you will try for me? Please do me the
"All right. I'll try for you."
Gerasim left, and Yegor harnessed up his horses. Then he put on his
coachman's habit, and drove up to the front door. Mr. Sharov stepped
out of the house, seated himself in the sleigh, and the horses
galloped off. He attended to his business in town and returned home.
Yegor, observing that his master was in a good humour, said to him:
"Yegor Fiodorych, I have a favour to ask of you."
"What is it?"
"There's a young man from my village here, a good boy He's without a
"Wouldn't you take him?"
"What do I want him for?"
"Use him as man of all work round the place."
"How about Polikarpych?"
"What good is he? It's about time you dismissed him."
"That wouldn't be fair. He has been with me so many years. I can't let
him go just so, without any cause."
"Supposing he has worked for you for years. He didn't work for
nothing. He got paid for it. He's certainly saved up a few dollars for
his old age."
"Saved up! How could he? From what? He's not alone in the world. He
has a wife to support, and she has to eat and drink also."
"His wife earns money, too, at day's work as charwoman."
"A lot she could have made! Enough for kvas."
"Why should you care about Polikarpych and his wife? To tell you the
truth, he's a very poor servant. Why should you throw your money away
on him? He never shovels the snow away on time, or does anything
right. And when it comes his turn to be night watchman, he slips away
at least ten times a night. It's too cold for him. You'll see, some
day, because of him, you will have trouble with the police. The
quarterly inspector will descend on us, and it won't be so agreeable
for you to be responsible for Polikarpych."
"Still, it's pretty rough. He's been with me fifteen years. And to
treat him that way in his old age—it would be a sin."
"A sin! Why, what harm would you be doing him? He won't starve. He'll
go to the almshouse. It will be better for him, too, to be quiet in
his old age."
"All right," he said finally. "Bring your friend here. I'll see what I
"Do take him, sir. I'm so sorry for him. He's a good boy, and he's
been without work for such a long time. I know he'll do his work well
and serve you faithfully. On account of having to report for military
duty, he lost his last position. If it hadn't been for that, his
master would never have let him go."
The next evening Gerasim came again and asked:
"Well, could you do anything for me?"
"Something, I believe. First let's have some tea. Then we'll go see my
Even tea had no allurements for Gerasim. He was eager for a decision;
but under the compulsion of politeness to his host, he gulped down two
glasses of tea, and then they betook themselves to Sharov.
Sharov asked Gerasim where he had lived before end what work he could
do. Then he told him he was prepared to engage him as man of all work,
and he should come back the next day ready to take the place.
Gerasim was fairly stunned by the great stroke of fortune. So
overwhelming was his joy that his legs would scarcely carry him. He
went to the coachman's room, and Yegor said to him:
"Well, my lad, see to it that you do your work right, so that I shan't
have to be ashamed of you. You know what masters are like. If you go
wrong once, they'll be at you forever after with their fault-finding,
and never give you peace."
"Don't worry about that, Yegor Danilych."
Gerasim took leave, crossing the yard to go out by the gate.
Polikarpych's rooms gave on the yard, and a broad beam of light from
the window fell across Gerasim's way. He was curio as to get a glimpse
of his future home, but the panes were all frosted over, and it was
impossible to peep through. However, he could hear what the people
inside were saying.
"What will we do now?" was said in a woman's voice.
"I don't know, I don't know," a man, undoubtedly Polikarpych, replied.
"Go begging, I suppose."
"That's all we can do. There's nothing else left," said the woman.
"Oh, we poor people, what a miserable life we lead. We work and work
from early morning till late at night, day after day, and when we get
old, then it's, 'Away with you!'"
"What can we do? Our master is not one of us. It wouldn't be worth the
while to say much to him about it. He cares only for his own
"All the masters are so mean. They don't think of any one but
themselves. It doesn't occur to them that we work for them honestly
and faithfully for years, and use up our best strength in their
service. They're afraid to keep us a year longer, even though we've
got all the strength we need to do their work. If we weren't strong
enough, we'd go of our own accord."
"The master's not so much to blame as his coachman. Yegor Danilych
wants to get a good position for his friend."
"Yes, he's a serpent. He knows how to wag his tongue. You wait, you
foul-mouthed beast, I'll get even with you. I'll go straight to the
master and tell him how the fellow deceives him, how he steals the hay
and fodder. I'll put it down in writing, and he can convince himself
how the fellow lies about us all."
"Don't, old woman. Don't sin."
"Sin? Isn't what I said all true? I know to a dot what I'm saying, and
I mean to tell it straight out to the master. He should see with his
own eyes. Why not? What can we do now anyhow? Where shall we go? He's
ruined us, ruined us."
The old woman burst out sobbing.
Gerasim heard all that, and it stabbed him like a dagger. He realised
what misfortune he would be bringing the old people, and it made him
sick at heart. He stood there a long while, saddened, lost in thought,
then he turned and went back into the coachman's room.
"Ah, you forgot something?"
"No, Yegor Danilych." Gerasim stammered out, "I've come—listen—I
want to thank you ever and ever so much—for the way you received
me—and—and all the trouble you took for me—but—I can't take the
"What! What does that mean?"
"Nothing. I don't want the place. I will look for another one for
Yegor flew into a rage.
"Did you mean to make a fool of me, did you, you idiot? You come here
so meek—'Try for me, do try for me'—and then you refuse to take the
place. You rascal, you have disgraced me!"
Gerasim found nothing to say in reply. He reddened, and lowered his
eyes. Yegor turned his back scornfully and said nothing more.
Then Gerasim quietly picked up his cap and left the coachman's room.
He crossed the yard rapidly, went out by the gate, and hurried off
down the street. He felt happy and lighthearted.
ONE AUTUMN NIGHT
BY MAXIM GORKY
Once in the autumn I happened to be in a very unpleasant and
inconvenient position. In the town where I had just arrived and where
I knew not a soul, I found myself without a farthing in my pocket and
without a night's lodging.
Having sold during the first few days every part of my costume without
which it was still possible to go about, I passed from the town into
the quarter called "Yste," where were the steamship wharves—a quarter
which during the navigation season fermented with boisterous,
laborious life, but now was silent and deserted, for we were in the
last days of October.
Dragging my feet along the moist sand, and obstinately scrutinising it
with the desire to discover in it any sort of fragment of food, I
wandered alone among the deserted buildings and warehouses, and
thought how good it would be to get a full meal.
In our present state of culture hunger of the mind is more quickly
satisfied than hunger of the body. You wander about the streets, you
are surrounded by buildings not bad-looking from the outside and—you
may safely say it—not so badly furnished inside, and the sight of
them may excite within you stimulating ideas about architecture,
hygiene, and many other wise and high-flying subjects. You may meet
warmly and neatly dressed folks—all very polite, and turning away
from you tactfully, not wishing offensively to notice the lamentable
fact of your existence. Well, well, the mind of a hungry man is always
better nourished and healthier than the mind of the well-fed man; and
there you have a situation from which you may draw a very ingenious
conclusion in favour of the ill fed.
The evening was approaching, the rain was falling, and the wind blew
violently from the north. It whistled in the empty booths and shops,
blew into the plastered window-panes of the taverns, and whipped into
foam the wavelets of the river which splashed noisily on the sandy
shore, casting high their white crests, racing one after another into
the dim distance, and leaping impetuously over one another's
shoulders. It seemed as if the river felt the proximity of winter, and
was running at random away from the fetters of ice which the north
wind might well have flung upon her that very night. The sky was heavy
and dark; down from it swept incessantly scarcely visible drops of
rain, and the melancholy elegy in nature all around me was emphasised
by a couple of battered and misshapen willow-trees and a boat, bottom
upwards, that was fastened to their roots.
The overturned canoe with its battered keel and the miserable old
trees rifled by the cold wind—everything around me was bankrupt,
barren, and dead, and the sky flowed with undryable tears…
Everything around was waste and gloomy … it seemed as if everything
were dead, leaving me alone among the living, and for me also a cold
I was then eighteen years old—a good time!
I walked and walked along the cold wet sand, making my chattering
teeth warble in honour of cold and hunger, when suddenly, as I was
carefully searching for something to eat behind one of the empty
crates, I perceived behind it, crouching on the ground, a figure in
woman's clothes dank with the rain and clinging fast to her stooping
shoulders. Standing over her, I watched to see what she was doing. It
appeared that she was digging a trench in the sand with her
hands—digging away under one of the crates.
"Why are you doing that?" I asked, crouching down on my heels quite
close to her.
She gave a little scream and was quickly on her legs again. Now that
she stood there staring at me, with her wide-open grey eyes full of
terror, I perceived that it was a girl of my own age, with a very
pleasant face embellished unfortunately by three large blue marks.
This spoilt her, although these blue marks had been distributed with a
remarkable sense of proportion, one at a time, and all were of equal
size—two under the eyes, and one a little bigger on the forehead just
over the bridge of the nose. This symmetry was evidently the work of
an artist well inured to the business of spoiling the human
The girl looked at me, and the terror in her eyes gradually died
out… She shook the sand from her hands, adjusted her cotton
head-gear, cowered down, and said:
"I suppose you too want something to eat? Dig away then! My hands are
tired. Over there"—she nodded her head in the direction of a
booth—"there is bread for certain … and sausages too… That booth
is still carrying on business."
I began to dig. She, after waiting a little and looking at me, sat
down beside me and began to help me.
We worked in silence. I cannot say now whether I thought at that
moment of the criminal code, of morality, of proprietorship, and all
the other things about which, in the opinion of many experienced
persons, one ought to think every moment of one's life. Wishing to
keep as close to the truth as possible, I must confess that apparently
I was so deeply engaged in digging under the crate that I completely
forgot about everything else except this one thing: What could be
inside that crate?
The evening drew on. The grey, mouldy, cold fog grew thicker and
thicker around us. The waves roared with a hollower sound than before,
and the rain pattered down on the boards of that crate more loudly and
more frequently. Somewhere or other the night-watchman began springing
"Has it got a bottom or not?" softly inquired my assistant. I did not
understand what she was talking about, and I kept silence.
"I say, has the crate got a bottom? If it has we shall try in vain to
break into it. Here we are digging a trench, and we may, after all,
come upon nothing but solid boards. How shall we take them off? Better
smash the lock; it is a wretched lock."
Good ideas rarely visit the heads of women, but, as you see, they do
visit them sometimes. I have always valued good ideas, and have always
tried to utilise them as far as possible.
Having found the lock, I tugged at it and wrenched off the whole
thing. My accomplice immediately stooped down and wriggled like a
serpent into the gaping-open, four cornered cover of the crate whence
she called to me approvingly, in a low tone:
"You're a brick!"
Nowadays a little crumb of praise from a woman is dearer to me than a
whole dithyramb from a man, even though he be more eloquent than all
the ancient and modern orators put together. Then, however, I was less
amiably disposed than I am now, and, paying no attention to the
compliment of my comrade, I asked her curtly and anxiously:
"Is there anything?"
In a monotonous tone she set about calculating our discoveries.
"A basketful of bottles—thick furs—a sunshade—an iron pail."
All this was uneatable. I felt that my hopes had vanished… But
suddenly she exclaimed vivaciously:
"Aha! here it is!"
"Bread … a loaf … it's only wet … take it!"
A loaf flew to my feet and after it herself, my valiant comrade. I had
already bitten off a morsel, stuffed it in my mouth, and was chewing
"Come, give me some too!… And we mustn't stay here… Where shall we
go?" she looked inquiringly about on all sides… It was dark, wet,
"Look! there's an upset canoe yonder … let us go there."
"Let us go then!" And off we set, demolishing our booty as we went,
and filling our mouths with large portions of it… The rain grew more
violent, the river roared; from somewhere or other resounded a
prolonged mocking whistle—just as if Someone great who feared nobody
was whistling down all earthly institutions and along with them this
horrid autumnal wind and us its heroes. This whistling made my heart
throb painfully, in spite of which I greedily went on eating, and in
this respect the girl, walking on my left hand, kept even pace with
"What do they call you?" I asked her—why I know not.
"Natasha," she answered shortly, munching loudly.
I stared at her. My heart ached within me; and then I stared into the
mist before me, and it seemed to me as if the inimical countenance of
my Destiny was smiling at me enigmatically and coldly.
* * * * *
The rain scourged the timbers of the skiff incessantly, and its soft
patter induced melancholy thoughts, and the wind whistled as it flew
down into the boat's battered bottom through a rift, where some loose
splinters of wood were rattling together—a disquieting and depressing
sound. The waves of the river were splashing on the shore, and sounded
so monotonous and hopeless, just as if they were telling something
unbearably dull and heavy, which was boring them into utter disgust,
something from which they wanted to run away and yet were obliged to
talk about all the same. The sound of the rain blended with their
splashing, and a long-drawn sigh seemed to be floating above the
overturned skiff—the endless, labouring sigh of the earth, injured
and exhausted by the eternal changes from the bright and warm summer
to the cold misty and damp autumn. The wind blew continually over the
desolate shore and the foaming river—blew and sang its melancholy
Our position beneath the shelter of the skiff was utterly devoid of
comfort; it was narrow and damp, tiny cold drops of rain dribbled
through the damaged bottom; gusts of wind penetrated it. We sat in
silence and shivered with cold. I remembered that I wanted to go to
sleep. Natasha leaned her back against the hull of the boat and curled
herself up into a tiny ball. Embracing her knees with her hands, and
resting her chin upon them, she stared doggedly at the river with
wide-open eyes; on the pale patch of her face they seemed immense,
because of the blue marks below them. She never moved, and this
immobility and silence—I felt it—gradually produced within me a
terror of my neighbour. I wanted to talk to her, but I knew not how to
It was she herself who spoke.
"What a cursed thing life is!" she exclaimed plainly, abstractedly,
and in a tone of deep conviction.
But this was no complaint. In these words there was too much of
indifference for a complaint. This simple soul thought according to
her understanding—thought and proceeded to form a certain conclusion
which she expressed aloud, and which I could not confute for fear of
contradicting myself. Therefore I was silent, and she, as if she had
not noticed me, continued to sit there immovable.
"Even if we croaked … what then…?" Natasha began again, this time
quietly and reflectively, and still there was not one note of
complaint in her words. It was plain that this person, in the course
of her reflections on life, was regarding her own case, and had
arrived at the conviction that in order to preserve herself from the
mockeries of life, she was not in a position to do anything else but
simply "croak"—to use her own expression.
The clearness of this line of thought was inexpressibly sad and
painful to me, and I felt that if I kept silence any longer I was
really bound to weep… And it would have been shameful to have done
this before a woman, especially as she was not weeping herself. I
resolved to speak to her.
"Who was it that knocked you about?" I asked. For the moment I could
not think of anything more sensible or more delicate.
"Pashka did it all," she answered in a dull and level tone.
"And who is he?"
"My lover… He was a baker."
"Did he beat you often?"
"Whenever he was drunk he beat me… Often!"
And suddenly, turning towards me, she began to talk about herself,
Pashka, and their mutual relations. He was a baker with red moustaches
and played very well on the banjo. He came to see her and greatly
pleased her, for he was a merry chap and wore nice clean clothes. He
had a vest which cost fifteen rubles and boots with dress tops. For
these reasons she had fallen in love with him, and he became her
"creditor." And when he became her creditor he made it his business to
take away from her the money which her other friends gave to her for
bonbons, and, getting drunk on this money, he would fall to beating
her; but that would have been nothing if he hadn't also begun to "run
after" other girls before her very eyes.
"Now, wasn't that an insult? I am not worse than the others. Of course
that meant that he was laughing at me, the blackguard. The day before
yesterday I asked leave of my mistress to go out for a bit, went to
him, and there I found Dimka sitting beside him drunk. And he, too,
was half seas over. I said, 'You scoundrel, you!' And he gave me a
thorough hiding. He kicked me and dragged me by the hair. But that was
nothing to what came after. He spoiled everything I had on—left me
just as I am now! How could I appear before my mistress? He spoiled
everything … my dress and my jacket too—it was quite a new one; I
gave a fiver for it … and tore my kerchief from my head… Oh, Lord!
What will become of me now?" she suddenly whined in a lamentable
The wind howled, and became ever colder and more boisterous… Again
my teeth began to dance up and down, and she, huddled up to avoid the
cold, pressed as closely to me as she could, so that I could see the
gleam of her eyes through the darkness.
"What wretches all you men are! I'd burn you all in an oven; I'd cut
you in pieces. If any one of you was dying I'd spit in his mouth, and
not pity him a bit. Mean skunks! You wheedle and wheedle, you wag your
tails like cringing dogs, and we fools give ourselves up to you, and
it's all up with us! Immediately you trample us underfoot… Miserable
She cursed us up and down, but there was no vigour, no malice, no
hatred of these "miserable loafers" in her cursing that I could hear.
The tone of her language by no means corresponded with its
subject-matter, for it was calm enough, and the gamut of her voice was
Yet all this made a stronger impression on me than the most eloquent
and convincing pessimistic bocks and speeches, of which I had read a
good many and which I still read to this day. And this, you see, was
because the agony of a dying person is much more natural and violent
than the most minute and picturesque descriptions of death.
I felt really wretched—more from cold than from the words of my
neighbour. I groaned softly and ground my teeth.
Almost at the same moment I felt two little arms about me—one of them
touched my neck and the other lay upon my face—and at the same time
an anxious, gentle, friendly voice uttered the question:
"What ails you?"
I was ready to believe that some one else was asking me this and not
Natasha, who had just declared that all men were scoundrels, and
expressed a wish for their destruction. But she it was, and now she
began speaking quickly, hurriedly.
"What ails you, eh? Are you cold? Are you frozen? Ah, what a one you
are, sitting there so silent like a little owl! Why, you should have
told me long ago that you were cold. Come … lie on the ground …
stretch yourself out and I will lie … there! How's that? Now put
your arms round me?… tighter! How's that? You shall be warm very
soon now… And then we'll lie back to back… The night will pass so
quickly, see if it won't. I say … have you too been drinking?…
Turned out of your place, eh?… It doesn't matter."
And she comforted me… She encouraged me.
May I be thrice accursed! What a world of irony was in this single
fact for me! Just imagine! Here was I, seriously occupied at this very
time with the destiny of humanity, thinking of the re-organisation of
the social system, of political revolutions, reading all sorts of
devilishly-wise books whose abysmal profundity was certainly
unfathomable by their very authors—at this very time. I say, I was
trying with all my might to make of myself "a potent active social
force." It even seemed to me that I had partially accomplished my
object; anyhow, at this time, in my ideas about myself, I had got so
far as to recognise that I had an exclusive right to exist, that I had
the necessary greatness to deserve to live my life, and that I was
fully competent to play a great historical part therein. And a woman
was now warming me with her body, a wretched, battered, hunted
creature, who had no place and no value in life, and whom I had never
thought of helping till she helped me herself, and whom I really would
not have known how to help in any way even if the thought of it had
occurred to me.
Ah! I was ready to think that all this was happening to me in a
dream—in a disagreeable, an oppressive dream.
But, ugh! it was impossible for me to think that, for cold drops of
rain were dripping down upon me, the woman was pressing close to me,
her warm breath was fanning my face, and—despite a slight odor of
vodka—it did me good. The wind howled and raged, the rain smote upon
the skiff, the waves splashed, and both of us, embracing each other
convulsively, nevertheless shivered with cold. All this was only too
real, and I am certain that nobody ever dreamed such an oppressive and
horrid dream as that reality.
But Natasha was talking all the time of something or other, talking
kindly and sympathetically, as only women can talk. Beneath the
influence of her voice and kindly words a little fire began to burn up
within me, and something inside my heart thawed in consequence.
Then tears poured from my eyes like a hailstorm, washing away from my
heart much that was evil, much that war, stupid, much sorrow and dirt
which had fastened upon it before that night. Natasha comforted me.
"Come, come, that will do, little one! Don't take on! That'll do! God
will give you another chance … you will right yourself and stand in
your proper place again … and it will be all right…"
And she kept kissing me … many kisses did she give me … burning
kisses … and all for nothing…
Those were the first kisses from a woman that had ever been bestowed
upon me, and they were the best kisses too, for all the subsequent
kisses cost me frightfully dear, and really gave me nothing at all in
"Come, don't take on so, funny one! I'll manage for you to-morrow if
you cannot find a place." Her quiet persuasive whispering sounded in
my ears as if it came through a dream…
There we lay till dawn…
And when the dawn came, we crept from behind the skiff and went into
the town… Then we took friendly leave of each other and never met
again, although for half a year I searched in every hole and corner
for that kind Natasha, with whom I spent the autumn night just
If she be already dead—and well for her if it were so—may she rest
in peace! And if she be alive … still I say "Peace to her soul!" And
may the consciousness of her fall never enter her soul … for that
would be a superfluous and fruitless suffering if life is to be
BY MAXIM GORKY
An acquaintance of mine once told me the following story.
When I was a student at Moscow I happened to live alongside one of
those ladies whose repute is questionable. She was a Pole, and they
called her Teresa. She was a tallish, powerfully-built brunette, with
black, bushy eyebrows and a large coarse face as if carved out by a
hatchet—the bestial gleam of her dark eyes, her thick bass voice, her
cabman-like gait and her immense muscular vigour, worthy of a
fishwife, inspired me with horror. I lived on the top flight and her
garret was opposite to mine. I never left my door open when I knew her
to be at home. But this, after all, was a very rare occurrence.
Sometimes I chanced to meet her on the staircase or in the yard, and
she would smile upon me with a smile which seemed to me to be sly and
cynical. Occasionally, I saw her drunk, with bleary eyes, tousled
hair, and a particularly hideous grin. On such occasions she would
speak to me.
"How d'ye do, Mr. Student!" and her stupid laugh would still further
intensify my loathing of her. I should have liked to have changed my
quarters in order to have avoided such encounters and greetings; but
my little chamber was a nice one, and there was such a wide view from
the window, and it was always so quiet in the street below—so I
And one morning I was sprawling on my couch, trying to find some sort
of excuse for not attending my class, when the door opened, and the
bass voice of Teresa the loathsome resounded from my threshold:
"Good health to you, Mr. Student!"
"What do you want?" I said. I saw that her face was confused and
supplicatory… It was a very unusual sort of face for her.
"Sir! I want to beg a favour of you. Will you grant it me?"
I lay there silent, and thought to myself:
"Gracious!… Courage, my boy!"
"I want to send a letter home, that's what it is," she said; her voice
was beseeching, soft, timid.
"Deuce take you!" I thought; but up I jumped, sat down at my table,
took a sheet of paper, and said:
"Come here, sit down, and dictate!"
She came, sat down very gingerly on a chair, and looked at me with a
"Well, to whom do you want to write?"
"To Boleslav Kashput, at the town of Svieptziana, on the Warsaw
"Well, fire away!"
"My dear Boles … my darling … my faithful lover. May the Mother of
God protect thee! Thou heart of gold, why hast thou not written for
such a long time to thy sorrowing little dove, Teresa?"
I very nearly burst out laughing. "A sorrowing little dove!" more than
five feet high, with fists a stone and more in weight, and as black a
face as if the little dove had lived all its life in a chimney, and
had never once washed itself! Restraining myself somehow, I asked:
"Who is this Bolest?"
"Boles, Mr. Student," she said, as if offended with me for blundering
over the name, "he is Boles—my young man."
"Why are you so surprised, sir? Cannot I, a girl, have a young man?"
She? A girl? Well!
"Oh, why not?" I said. "All things are possible. And has he been your
young man long?"
"Oh, ho!" I thought. "Well, let us write your letter…"
And I tell you plainly that I would willingly have changed places with
this Boles if his fair correspondent had been not Teresa but something
less than she.
"I thank you most heartily, sir, for your kind services," said Teresa
to me, with a curtsey. "Perhaps I can show you some service, eh?"
"No, I most humbly thank you all the same."
"Perhaps, sir, your shirts or your trousers may want a little
I felt that this mastodon in petticoats had made me grow quite red
with shame, and I told her pretty sharply that I had no need whatever
of her services.
A week or two passed away. It was evening. I was sitting at my window
whistling and thinking of some expedient for enabling me to get away
from myself. I was bored; the weather was dirty. I didn't want to go
out, and out of sheer ennui I began a course of self-analysis and
reflection. This also was dull enough work, but I didn't care about
doing anything else. Then the door opened. Heaven be praised! Some one
"Oh, Mr. Student, you have no pressing business, I hope?"
It was Teresa. Humph!
"No. What is it?"
"I was going to ask you, sir, to write me another letter."
"Very well! To Boles, eh?"
"No, this time it is from him."
"Stupid that I am! It is not for me, Mr. Student, I beg your pardon.
It is for a friend of mine, that is to say, not a friend but an
acquaintance—a man acquaintance. He has a sweetheart just like me
here, Teresa. That's how it is. Will you, sir, write a letter to this
I looked at her—her face was troubled, her fingers were trembling. I
was a bit fogged at first—and then I guessed how it was.
"Look here, my lady," I said, "there are no Boleses or Teresas at all,
and you've been telling me a pack of lies. Don't you come sneaking
about me any longer. I have no wish whatever to cultivate your
acquaintance. Do you understand?"
And suddenly she grew strangely terrified and distraught; she began to
shift from foot to foot without moving from the place, and spluttered
comically, as if she wanted to say something and couldn't. I waited to
see what would come of all this, and I saw and felt that, apparently,
I had made a great mistake in suspecting her of wishing to draw me
from the path of righteousness. It was evidently something very
"Mr. Student!" she began, and suddenly, waving her hand, she turned
abruptly towards the door and went out. I remained with a very
unpleasant feeling in my mind. I listened. Her door was flung
violently to—plainly the poor wench was very angry… I thought it
over, and resolved to go to her, and, inviting her to come in here,
write everything she wanted.
I entered her apartment. I looked round. She was sitting at the table,
leaning on her elbows, with her head in her hands.
"Listen to me," I said.
Now, whenever I come to this point in my story, I always feel horribly
awkward and idiotic. Well, well!
"Listen to me," I said.
She leaped from her seat, came towards me with flashing eyes, and
laying her hands on my shoulders, began to whisper, or rather to hum
in her peculiar bass voice:
"Look you, now! It's like this. There's no Boles at all, and there's
no Teresa either. But what's that to you? Is it a hard thing for you
to draw your pen over paper? Eh? Ah, and you, too! Still such a
little fair-haired boy! There's nobody at all, neither Boles, nor
Teresa, only me. There you have it, and much good may it do you!"
"Pardon me!" said I, altogether flabbergasted by such a reception,
"what is it all about? There's no Boles, you say?"
"No. So it is."
"And no Teresa either?"
"And no Teresa. I'm Teresa."
I didn't understand it at all. I fixed my eyes upon her, and tried to
make out which of us was taking leave of his or her senses. But she
went again to the table, searched about for something, came back to
me, and said in an offended tone:
"If it was so hard for you to write to Boles, look, there's your
letter, take it! Others will write for me."
I looked. In her hand was my letter to Boles. Phew!
"Listen, Teresa! What is the meaning of all this? Why must you get
others to write for you when I have already written it, and you
haven't sent it?"
"Sent it where?"
"Why, to this—Boles."
"There's no such person."
I absolutely did not understand it. There was nothing for me but to
spit and go. Then she explained.
"What is it?" she said, still offended. "There's no such person, I
tell you," and she extended her arms as if she herself did not
understand why there should be no such person. "But I wanted him to
be… Am I then not a human creature like the rest of them? Yes, yes,
I know, I know, of course… Yet no harm was done to any one by my
writing to him that I can see…"
"Pardon me—to whom?"
"To Boles, of course."
"But he doesn't exist."
"Alas! alas! But what if he doesn't? He doesn't exist, but he might!
I write to him, and it looks as if he did exist. And Teresa—that's
me, and he replies to me, and then I write to him again…"
I understood at last. And I felt so sick, so miserable, so ashamed,
somehow. Alongside of me, not three yards away, lived a human creature
who had nobody in the world to treat her kindly, affectionately, and
this human being had invented a friend for herself!
"Look, now! you wrote me a letter to Boles, and I gave it to some one
else to read it to me; and when they read it to me I listened and
fancied that Boles was there. And I asked you to write me a letter
from Boles to Teresa—that is to me. When they write such a letter for
me, and read it to me, I feel quite sure that Boles is there. And life
grows easier for me in consequence."
"Deuce take you for a blockhead!" said I to myself when I heard this.
And from thenceforth, regularly, twice a week, I wrote a letter to
Boles, and an answer from Boles to Teresa. I wrote those answers
well… She, of course, listened to them, and wept like anything,
roared, I should say, with her bass voice. And in return for my thus
moving her to tears by real letters from the imaginary Boles, she
began to mend the holes I had in my socks, shirts, and other articles
of clothing. Subsequently, about three months after this history
began, they put her in prison for something or other. No doubt by this
time she is dead.
My acquaintance shook the ash from his cigarette, looked pensively up
at the sky, and thus concluded:
Well, well, the more a human creature has tasted of bitter things the
more it hungers after the sweet things of life. And we, wrapped round
in the rags of our virtues, and regarding others through the mist of
our self-sufficiency, and persuaded of our universal impeccability, do
not understand this.
And the whole thing turns out pretty stupidly—and very cruelly. The
fallen classes, we say. And who are the fallen classes, I should like
to know? They are, first of all, people with the same bones, flesh,
and blood and nerves as ourselves. We have been told this day after
day for ages. And we actually listen—and the devil only knows how
hideous the whole thing is. Or are we completely depraved by the loud
sermonising of humanism? In reality, we also are fallen folks, and, so
far as I can see, very deeply fallen into the abyss of
self-sufficiency and the conviction of our own superiority. But enough
of this. It is all as old as the hills—so old that it is a shame to
speak of it. Very old indeed—yes, that's what it is!
BY LEONID ANDREYEV
When Lazarus rose from the grave, after three days and nights in the
mysterious thraldom of death, and returned alive to his home, it was a
long time before any one noticed the evil peculiarities in him that
were later to make his very name terrible. His friends and relatives
were jubilant that he had come back to life. They surrounded him with
tenderness, they were lavish of their eager attentions, spending the
greatest care upon his food and drink and the new garments they made
for him. They clad him gorgeously in the glowing colours of hope and
laughter, and when, arrayed like a bridegroom, he sat at table with
them again, ate again, and drank again, they wept fondly and summoned
the neighbours to look upon the man miraculously raised from the dead.
The neighbours came and were moved with joy. Strangers arrived from
distant cities and villages to worship the miracle. They burst into
stormy exclamations, and buzzed around the house of Mary and Martha,
like so many bees.
That which was new in Lazarus' face and gestures they explained
naturally, as the traces of his severe illness and the shock he had
passed through. It was evident that the disintegration of the body had
been halted by a miraculous power, but that the restoration had not
been complete; that death had left upon his face and body the effect
of an artist's unfinished sketch seen through a thin glass. On his
temples, under his eyes, and in the hollow of his cheek lay a thick,
earthy blue. His fingers were blue, too, and under his nails, which
had grown long in the grave, the blue had turned livid. Here and there
on his lips and body, the skin, blistered in the grave, had burst open
and left reddish glistening cracks, as if covered with a thin, glassy
slime. And he had grown exceedingly stout. His body was horribly
bloated and suggested the fetid, damp smell of putrefaction. But the
cadaverous, heavy odour that clung to his burial garments and, as it
seemed, to his very body, soon wore off, and after some time the blue
of his hands and face softened, and the reddish cracks of his skin
smoothed out, though they never disappeared completely. Such was the
aspect of Lazarus in his second life. It looked natural only to those
who had seen him buried.
Not merely Lazarus' face, but his very character, it seemed, had
changed; though it astonished no one and did not attract the attention
it deserved. Before his death Lazarus had been cheerful and careless,
a lover of laughter and harmless jest. It was because of his good
humour, pleasant and equable, his freedom from meanness and gloom,
that he had been so beloved by the Master. Now he was grave and
silent; neither he himself jested nor did he laugh at the jests of
others; and the words he spoke occasionally were simple, ordinary and
necessary words—words as much devoid of sense and depth as are the
sounds with which an animal expresses pain and pleasure, thirst and
hunger. Such words a man may speak all his life and no one would ever
know the sorrows and joys that dwelt within him.
Thus it was that Lazarus sat at the festive table among his friends
and relatives—his face the face of a corpse over which, for three
days, death had reigned in darkness, his garments gorgeous and
festive, glittering with gold, bloody-red and purple; his mien heavy
and silent. He was horribly changed and strange, but as yet
undiscovered. In high waves, now mild, now stormy, the festivities
went on around him. Warm glances of love caressed his face, still cold
with the touch of the grave; and a friend's warm hand patted his
bluish, heavy hand. And the music played joyous tunes mingled of the
sounds of the tympanum, the pipe, the zither and the dulcimer. It was
as if bees were humming, locusts buzzing and birds singing over the
happy home of Mary and Martha.
Some one recklessly lifted the veil. By one breath of an uttered word
he destroyed the serene charm, and uncovered the truth in its ugly
nakedness. No thought was clearly defined in his mind, when his lips
smilingly asked: "Why do you not tell us, Lazarus, what was There?"
And all became silent, struck with the question. Only now it seemed to
have occurred to them that for three days Lazarus had been dead; and
they looked with curiosity, awaiting an answer. But Lazarus remained
"You will not tell us?" wondered the inquirer. "Is it so terrible
Again his thought lagged behind his words. Had it preceded them, he
would not have asked the question, for, at the very moment he uttered
it, his heart sank with a dread fear. All grew restless; they awaited
the words of Lazarus anxiously. But he was silent, cold and severe,
and his eyes were cast down. And now, as if for the first time, they
perceived the horrible bluishness of his face and the loathsome
corpulence of his body. On the table, as if forgotten by Lazarus, lay
his livid blue hand, and all eyes were riveted upon it, as though
expecting the desired answer from that hand. The musicians still
played; then silence fell upon them, too, and the gay sounds died
down, as scattered coals are extinguished by water. The pipe became
mute, and the ringing tympanum and the murmuring dulcimer; and as
though a chord were broken, as though song itself were dying, the
zither echoed a trembling broken sound. Then all was quiet.
"You will not?" repeated the inquirer, unable to restrain his babbling
tongue. Silence reigned, and the livid blue hand lay motionless. It
moved slightly, and the company sighed with relief and raised their
eyes. Lazarus, risen from the dead, was looking straight at them,
embracing all with one glance, heavy and terrible.
This was on the third day after Lazarus had arisen from the grave.
Since then many had felt that his gaze was the gaze of destruction,
but neither those who had been forever crushed by it, nor those who in
the prime of life (mysterious even as death) had found the will to
resist his glance, could ever explain the terror that lay immovable in
the depths of his black pupils. He looked quiet and simple. One felt
that he had no intention to hide anything, but also no intention to
tell anything. His look was cold, as of one who is entirely
indifferent to all that is alive. And many careless people who pressed
around him, and did not notice him, later learned with wonder and fear
the name of this stout, quiet man who brushed against them with his
sumptuous, gaudy garments. The sun did not stop shining when he
looked, neither did the fountain cease playing, and the Eastern sky
remained cloudless and blue as always; but the man who fell under his
inscrutable gaze could no longer feel the sun, nor hear the fountain,
nor recognise his native sky. Sometimes he would cry bitterly,
sometimes tear his hair in despair and madly call for help; but
generally it happened that the men thus stricken by the gaze of
Lazarus began to fade away listlessly and quietly and pass into a slow
death lasting many long years. They died in the presence of everybody,
colourless, haggard and gloomy, like trees withering on rocky ground.
Those who screamed in madness sometimes came back to life; but the
"So you will not tell us, Lazarus, what you saw There?" the inquirer
repeated for the third time. But now his voice was dull, and a dead,
grey weariness looked stupidly from out his eyes. The faces of all
present were also covered by the same dead grey weariness like a mist.
The guests stared at one another stupidly, not knowing why they had
come together or why they sat around this rich table. They stopped
talking, and vaguely felt it was time to leave; but they could not
overcome the lassitude that spread through their muscles. So they
continued to sit there, each one isolated, like little dim lights
scattered in the darkness of night.
The musicians were paid to play, and they again took up the
instruments, and again played gay or mournful airs. But it was music
made to order, always the same tunes, and the guests listened
wonderingly. Why was this music necessary, they thought, why was it
necessary and what good did it do for people to pull at strings and
blow their cheeks into thin pipes, and produce varied and
"How badly they play!" said some one.
The musicians were insulted and left. Then the guests departed one by
one, for it was nearing night. And when the quiet darkness enveloped
them, and it became easier to breathe, the image of Lazarus suddenly
arose before each one in stern splendour. There he stood, with the
blue face of a corpse and the raiment of a bridegroom, sumptuous and
resplendent, in his eyes that cold stare in the depths of which lurked
The Horrible! They stood still as if turned into stone. The darkness
surrounded them, and in the midst of this darkness flamed up the
horrible apparition, the supernatural vision, of the one who for three
days had lain under the measureless power of death. Three days he had
been dead. Thrice had the sun risen and set—and he had lain dead. The
children had played, the water had murmured as it streamed over the
rocks, the hot dust had clouded the highway—and he had been dead. And
now he was among men again—touched them—looked at them—looked at
them! And through the black rings of his pupils, as through dark
glasses, the unfathomable There gazed upon humanity.
No one took care of Lazarus, and no friends or kindred remained with
him. Only the great desert, enfolding the Holy City, came close to the
threshold of his abode. It entered his home, and lay down on his couch
like a spouse, and put out all the fires. No one cared for Lazarus.
One after the other went away, even his sisters, Mary and Martha. For
a long while Martha did not want to leave him, for she knew not who
would nurse him or take care of him; and she cried and prayed. But one
night, when the wind was roaming about the desert, and the rustling
cypress trees were bending over the roof, she dressed herself quietly,
and quietly went away. Lazarus probably heard how the door was
slammed—it had not shut properly and the wind kept knocking it
continually against the post—but he did not rise, did not go out, did
not try to find out the reason. And the whole night until the morning
the cypress trees hissed over his head, and the door swung to and fro,
allowing the cold, greedily prowling desert to enter his dwelling.
Everybody shunned him as though he were a leper. They wanted to put a
bell on his neck to avoid meeting him. But some one, turning pale,
remarked it would be terrible if at night, under the windows, one
should happen to hear Lazarus' bell, and all grew pale and assented.
Since he did nothing for himself, he would probably have starved had
not his neighbours, in trepidation, saved some food for him. Children
brought it to him. They did not fear him, neither did they laugh at
him in the innocent cruelty in which children often laugh at
unfortunates. They were indifferent to him, and Lazarus showed the
same indifference to them. He showed no desire to thank them for their
services; he did not try to pat the dark hands and look into the
simple shining little eyes. Abandoned to the ravages of time and the
desert, his house was falling to ruins, and his hungry, bleating goats
had long been scattered among his neighbours. His wedding garments had
grown old. He wore them without changing them, as he had donned them
on that happy day when the musicians played. He did not see the
difference between old and new, between torn and whole. The brilliant
colours were burnt and faded; the vicious dogs of the city and the
sharp thorns of the desert had rent the fine clothes to shreds.
During the day, when the sun beat down mercilessly upon all living
things, and even the scorpions hid under the stones, convulsed with a
mad desire to sting, he sat motionless in the burning rays, lifting
high his blue face and shaggy wild beard.
While yet the people were unafraid to speak to him, same one had asked
him: "Poor Lazarus! Do you find it pleasant to sit so, and look at the
sun?" And he answered: "Yes, it is pleasant."
The thought suggested itself to people that the cold of the three days
in the grave had been so intense, its darkness so deep, that there was
not in all the earth enough heat or light to warm Lazarus and lighten
the gloom of his eyes; and inquirers turned away with a sigh.
And when the setting sun, flat and purple-red, descended to earth,
Lazarus went into the desert and walked straight toward it, as though
intending to reach it. Always he walked directly toward the sun, and
those who tried to follow him and find out what he did at night in the
desert had indelibly imprinted upon their mind's vision the black
silhouette of a tall, stout man against the red background of an
immense disk. The horrors of the night drove them away, and so they
never found out what Lazarus did in the desert; but the image of the
black form against the red was burned forever into their brains. Like
an animal with a cinder in its eye which furiously rubs its muzzle
against its paws, they foolishly rubbed their eyes; but the impression
left by Lazarus was ineffaceable, forgotten only in death.
There were people living far away who never saw Lazarus and only heard
of him. With an audacious curiosity which is stronger than fear and
feeds on fear, with a secret sneer in their hearts, some of them came
to him one day as he basked in the sun, and entered into conversation
with him. At that time his appearance had changed for the better and
was not so frightful. At first the visitors snapped their fingers and
thought disapprovingly of the foolish inhabitants of the Holy City.
But when the short talk came to an end and they went home, their
expression was such that the inhabitants of the Holy City at once knew
their errand and said: "Here go some more madmen at whom Lazarus has
looked." The speakers raised their hands in silent pity.
Other visitors came, among them brave warriors in clinking armour, who
knew not fear, and happy youths who made merry with laughter and song.
Busy merchants, jingling their coins, ran in for awhile, and proud
attendants at the Temple placed their staffs at Lazarus' door. But no
one returned the same as he came. A frightful shadow fell upon their
souls, and gave a new appearance to the old familiar world.
Those who felt any desire to speak, after they had been stricken by
the gaze of Lazarus, described the change that had come over them
somewhat like this:
All objects seen by the eye and palpable to the hand became empty,
light and transparent, as though they were light shadows in the
darkness; and this darkness enveloped the whole universe. It was
dispelled neither by the sun, nor by the moon, nor by the stars, but
embraced the earth like a mother, and clothed it in a boundless black
Into all bodies it penetrated, even into iron and stone; and the
particles of the body lost their unity and became lonely. Even to the
heart of the particles it penetrated, and the particles of the
particles became lonely.
The vast emptiness which surrounds the universe, was not filled with
things seen, with sun or moon or stars; it stretched boundless,
penetrating everywhere, disuniting everything, body from body,
particle from particle.
In emptiness the trees spread their roots, themselves empty; in
emptiness rose phantom temples, palaces and houses—all empty; and in
the emptiness moved restless Man, himself empty and light, like a
There was no more a sense of time; the beginning of all things and
their end merged into one. In the very moment when a building was
being erected and one could hear the builders striking with their
hammers, one seemed already to see its ruins, and then emptiness where
the ruins were.
A man was just born, and funeral candles were already lighted at his
head, and then were extinguished; and soon there was emptiness where
before had been the man and the candles.
And surrounded by Darkness and Empty Waste, Man trembled hopelessly
before the dread of the Infinite.
So spoke those who had a desire to speak. But much more could probably
have been told by those who did not want to talk, and who died in
At that time there lived in Rome a celebrated sculptor by the name of
Aurelius. Out of clay, marble and bronze he created forms of gods and
men of such beauty that this beauty was proclaimed immortal. But he
himself was not satisfied, and said there was a supreme beauty that he
had never succeeded in expressing in marble or bronze. "I have not yet
gathered the radiance of the moon," he said; "I have not yet caught
the glare of the sun. There is no soul in my marble, there is no life
in my beautiful bronze." And when by moonlight he would slowly wander
along the roads, crossing the black shadows of the cypress-trees, his
white tunic flashing in the moonlight, those he met used to laugh
good-naturedly and say: "Is it moonlight that you are gathering,
Aurelius? Why did you not bring some baskets along?"
And he, too, would laugh and point to his eyes and say: "Here are the
baskets in which I gather the light of the moon and the radiance of
And that was the truth. In his eyes shone moon and sun. But he could
not transmit the radiance to marble. Therein lay the greatest tragedy
of his life. He was a descendant of an ancient race of patricians, had
a good wife and children, and except in this one respect, lacked
When the dark rumour about Lazarus reached him, he consulted his wife
and friends and decided to make the long voyage to Judea, in order
that he might look upon the man miraculously raised from the dead. He
felt lonely in those days and hoped on the way to renew his jaded
energies. What they told him about Lazarus did not frighten him. He
had meditated much upon death. He did not like it, nor did he like
those who tried to harmonise it with life. On this side, beautiful
life; on the other, mysterious death, he reasoned, and no better lot
could befall a man than to live—to enjoy life and the beauty of
living. And he already had conceived a desire to convince Lazarus of
the truth of this view and to return his soul to life even as his body
had been returned. This task did not appear impossible, for the
reports about Lazarus, fearsome and strange as they were, did not tell
the whole truth about him, but only carried a vague warning against
Lazarus was getting up from a stone to follow in the path of the
setting sun, on the evening when the rich Roman, accompanied by an
armed slave, approached him, and in a ringing voice called to him:
Lazarus saw a proud and beautiful face, made radiant by fame, and
white garments and precious jewels shining in the sunlight. The ruddy
rays of the sun lent to the head and face a likeness to dimly shining
bronze—that was what Lazarus saw. He sank back to his seat
obediently, and wearily lowered his eyes.
"It is true you are not beautiful, my poor Lazarus," said the Roman
quietly, playing with his gold chain. "You are even frightful, my poor
friend; and death was not lazy the day when you so carelessly fell
into its arms. But you are as fat as a barrel, and 'Fat people are not
bad,' as the great Cæsar said. I do not understand why people are so
afraid of you. You will permit me to stay with you over night? It is
already late, and I have no abode."
Nobody had ever asked Lazarus to be allowed to pass the night with
"I have no bed," said he.
"I am somewhat of a warrior and can sleep sitting," replied the Roman.
"We shall make a light."
"I have no light."
"Then we will converse in the darkness like two friends. I suppose you
have some wine?"
"I have no wine."
The Roman laughed.
"Now I understand why you are so gloomy and why you do not like your
second life. No wine? Well, we shall do without. You know there are
words that go to one's head even as Falernian wine."
With a motion of his head he dismissed the slave, and they were alone.
And again the sculptor spoke, but it seemed as though the sinking sun
had penetrated into his words. They faded, pale and empty, as if
trembling on weak feet, as if slipping and falling, drunk with the
wine of anguish and despair. And black chasms appeared between the two
men—like remote hints of vast emptiness and vast darkness.
"Now I am your guest and you will not ill-treat me, Lazarus!" said the
Roman. "Hospitality is binding even upon those who have been three
days dead. Three days, I am told, you were in the grave. It must have
been cold there… and it is from there that you have brought this bad
habit of doing without light and wine. I like a light. It gets dark so
quickly here. Your eyebrows and forehead have an interesting line:
even as the ruins of castles covered with the ashes of an earthquake.
But why in such strange, ugly clothes? I have seen the bridegrooms of
your country, they wear clothes like that—such ridiculous
clothes—such awful garments… Are you a bridegroom?"
Already the sun had disappeared. A gigantic black shadow was
approaching fast from the west, as if prodigious bare feet were
rustling over the sand. And the chill breezes stole up behind.
"In the darkness you seem even bigger, Lazarus, as though you had
grown stouter in these few minutes. Do you feed on darkness,
perchance?… And I would like a light… just a small light… just a
small light. And I am cold. The nights here are so barbarously cold…
If it were not so dark, I should say you were looking at me, Lazarus.
Yes, it seems, you are looking. You are looking. You are looking at
me!… I feel it—now you are smiling."
The night had come, and a heavy blackness filled the air.
"How good it will be when the sun rises again to-morrow… You know I
am a great sculptor… so my friends call me. I create, yes, they say
I create, but for that daylight is necessary. I give life to cold
marble. I melt the ringing bronze in the fire, in a bright, hot fire.
Why did you touch me with your hand?"
"Come," said Lazarus, "you are my guest." And they went into the
house. And the shadows of the long evening fell on the earth…
The slave at last grew tired waiting for his master, and when the sun
stood high he came to the house. And he saw, directly under its
burning rays, Lazarus and his master sitting close together. They
looked straight up and were silent.
The slave wept and cried aloud: "Master, what ails you, Master!"
The same day Aurelius left for Rome. The whole way he was thoughtful
and silent, attentively examining everything, the people, the ship,
and the sea, as though endeavouring to recall something. On the sea a
great storm overtook them, and all the while Aurelius remained on deck
and gazed eagerly at the approaching and falling waves. When he
reached home his family were shocked at the terrible change in his
demeanour, but he calmed them with the words: "I have found it!"
In the dusty clothes which he had worn during the entire journey and
had not changed, he began his work, and the marble ringingly responded
to the resounding blows of the hammer. Long and eagerly he worked,
admitting no one. At last, one morning, he announced that the work was
ready, and gave instructions that all his friends, and the severe
critics and judges of art, be called together. Then he donned gorgeous
garments, shining with gold, glowing with the purple of the byssin.
"Here is what I have created," he said thoughtfully.
His friends looked, and immediately the shadow of deep sorrow covered
their faces. It was a thing monstrous, possessing none of the forms
familiar to the eye, yet not devoid of a hint of some new unknown
form. On a thin tortuous little branch, or rather an ugly likeness of
one, lay crooked, strange, unsightly, shapeless heaps of something
turned outside in, or something turned inside out—wild fragments
which seemed to be feebly trying to get away from themselves. And,
accidentally, under one of the wild projections, they noticed a
wonderfully sculptured butterfly, with transparent wings, trembling as
though with a weak longing to fly.
"Why that wonderful butterfly, Aurelius?" timidly asked some one.
"I do not know," answered the sculptor.
The truth had to be told, and one of his friends, the one who loved
Aurelius best, said: "This is ugly, my poor friend. It must be
destroyed. Give me the hammer." And with two blows he destroyed the
monstrous mass, leaving only the wonderfully sculptured butterfly.
After that Aurelius created nothing. He looked with absolute
indifference at marble and at bronze and at his own divine creations,
in which dwelt immortal beauty. In the hope of breathing into him once
again the old flame of inspiration, with the idea of awakening his
dead soul, his friends led him to see the beautiful creations of
others, but he remained indifferent and no smile warmed his closed
lips. And only after they spoke to him much and long of beauty, he
would reply wearily:
"But all this is—a lie."
And in the daytime, when the sun was shining, he would go into his
rich and beautifully laid-out garden, and finding a place where there
was no shadow, would expose his bare head and his dull eyes to the
glitter and burning heat of the sun. Red and white butterflies
fluttered around; down into the marble cistern ran splashing water
from the crooked mouth of a blissfully drunken Satyr; but he sat
motionless, like a pale shadow of that other one who, in a far land,
at the very gates of the stony desert, also sat motionless under the
And it came about finally that Lazarus was summoned to Rome by the
They dressed him in gorgeous garments as though it had been ordained
that he was to remain a bridegroom to an unknown bride until the very
day of his death. It was as if an old coffin, rotten and falling
apart, were regilded over and over, and gay tassels were hung on it.
And solemnly they conducted him in gala attire, as though in truth it
were a bridal procession, the runners loudly sounding the trumpet that
the way be made for the ambassadors of the Emperor. But the roads
along which he passed were deserted. His entire native land cursed the
execrable name of Lazarus, the man miraculously brought to life, and
the people scattered at the mere report of his horrible approach. The
trumpeters blew lonely blasts, and only the desert answered with a
Then they carried him across the sea on the saddest and most gorgeous
ship that was ever mirrored in the azure waves of the Mediterranean.
There were many people aboard, but the ship was silent and still as a
coffin, and the water seemed to moan as it parted before the short
curved prow. Lazarus sat lonely, baring his head to the sun, and
listening in silence to the splashing of the waters. Further away the
seamen and the ambassadors gathered like a crowd of distressed
shadows. If a thunderstorm had happened to burst upon them at that
time or the wind had overwhelmed the red sails, the ship would
probably have perished, for none of those who were on her had strength
or desire enough to fight for life. With supreme effort some went to
the side of the ship and eagerly gazed at the blue, transparent abyss.
Perhaps they imagined they saw a naiad flashing a pink shoulder
through the waves, or an insanely joyous and drunken centaur galloping
by, splashing up the water with his hoofs. But the sea was deserted
and mute, and so was the watery abyss.
Listlessly Lazarus set foot on the streets of the Eternal City, as
though all its riches, all the majesty of its gigantic edifices, all
the lustre and beauty and music of refined life, were simply the echo
of the wind in the desert, or the misty images of hot running sand.
Chariots whirled by; the crowd of strong, beautiful, haughty men
passed on, builders of the Eternal City and proud partakers of its
life; songs rang out; fountains laughed; pearly laughter of women
filled the air, while the drunkard philosophised and the sober ones
smilingly listened; horseshoes rattled on the pavement. And surrounded
on all sides by glad sounds, a fat, heavy man moved through the centre
of the city like a cold spot of silence, sowing in his path grief,
anger and vague, carking distress. Who dared to be sad in Rome?
indignantly demanded frowning citizens; and in two days the
swift-tongued Rome knew of Lazarus, the man miraculously raised from
the grave, and timidly evaded him.
There were many brave men ready to try their strength, and at their
senseless call Lazarus came obediently. The Emperor was so engrossed
with state affairs that he delayed receiving the visitor, and for
seven days Lazarus moved among the people.
A jovial drunkard met him with a smile on his red lips. "Drink,
Lazarus, drink!" he cried, "Would not Augustus laugh to see you
drink!" And naked, besotted women laughed, and decked the blue hands
of Lazarus with rose-leaves. But the drunkard looked into the eyes of
Lazarus—and his joy ended forever. Thereafter he was always drunk. He
drank no more, but was drunk all the time, shadowed by fearful dreams,
instead of the joyous reveries that wine gives. Fearful dreams became
the food of his broken spirit. Fearful dreams held him day and night
in the mists of monstrous fantasy, and death itself was no more
fearful than the apparition of its fierce precursor.
Lazarus came to a youth and his lass who loved each other and were
beautiful in their love. Proudly and strongly holding in his arms his
beloved one, the youth said, with gentle pity: "Look at us, Lazarus,
and rejoice with us. Is there anything stronger than love?"
And Lazarus looked at them. And their whole life they continued to
love one another, but their love became mournful and gloomy, even as
those cypress trees over the tombs that feed their roots on the
putrescence of the grave, and strive in vain in the quiet evening hour
to touch the sky with their pointed tops. Hurled by fathomless
life-forces into each other's arms, they mingled their kisses with
tears, their joy with pain, and only succeeded in realising the more
vividly a sense of their slavery to the silent Nothing. Forever
united, forever parted, they flashed like sparks, and like sparks went
out in boundless darkness.
Lazarus came to a proud sage, and the sage said to him: "I already
know all the horrors that you may tell me, Lazarus. With what else can
you terrify me?"
Only a few moments passed before the sage realised that the knowledge
of the horrible is not the horrible, and that the sight of death is
not death. And he felt that in the eyes of the Infinite wisdom and
folly are the same, for the Infinite knows them not. And the
boundaries between knowledge and ignorance, between truth and
falsehood, between top and bottom, faded and his shapeless thought was
suspended in emptiness. Then he grasped his grey head in his hands and
cried out insanely: "I cannot think! I cannot think!"
Thus it was that under the cool gaze of Lazarus, the man miraculously
raised from the dead, all that serves to affirm life, its sense and
its joys, perished. And people began to say it was dangerous to allow
him to see the Emperor; that it were better to kill him and bury him
secretly, and swear he had disappeared. Swords were sharpened and
youths devoted to the welfare of the people announced their readiness
to become assassins, when Augustus upset the cruel plans by demanding
that Lazarus appear before him.
Even though Lazarus could not be kept away, it was felt that the heavy
impression conveyed by his face might be somewhat softened. With that
end in view expert painters, barbers and artists were secured who
worked the whole night on Lazarus' head. His beard was trimmed and
curled. The disagreeable and deadly bluishness of his hands and face
was covered up with paint; his hands were whitened, his cheeks rouged.
The disgusting wrinkles of suffering that ridged his old face were
patched up and painted, and on the smooth surface, wrinkles of
good-nature and laughter, and of pleasant, good-humoured cheeriness,
were laid on artistically with fine brushes.
Lazarus submitted indifferently to all they did with him, and soon was
transformed into a stout, nice-looking old man, for all the world a
quiet and good-humoured grandfather of numerous grandchildren. He
looked as though the smile with which he told funny stories had not
left his lips, as though a quiet tenderness still lay hidden in the
corner of his eyes. But the wedding-dress they did not dare to take
off; and they could not change his eyes—the dark, terrible eyes from
out of which stared the incomprehensible There.
Lazarus was untouched by the magnificence of the imperial apartments.
He remained stolidly indifferent, as though he saw no contrast between
his ruined house at the edge of the desert and the solid, beautiful
palace of stone. Under his feet the hard marble of the floor took on
the semblance of the moving sands of the desert, and to his eyes the
throngs of gaily dressed, haughty men were as unreal as the emptiness
of the air. They looked not into his face as he passed by, fearing to
come under the awful bane of his eyes; but when the sound of his heavy
steps announced that he had passed, heads were lifted, and eyes
examined with timid curiosity the figure of the corpulent, tall,
slightly stooping old man, as he slowly passed into the heart of the
imperial palace. If death itself had appeared men would not have
feared it so much; for hitherto death had been known to the dead only,
and life to the living only, and between these two there had been no
bridge. But this strange being knew death, and that knowledge of his
was felt to be mysterious and cursed. "He will kill our great, divine
Augustus," men cried with horror, and they hurled curses after him.
Slowly and stolidly he passed them by, penetrating ever deeper into
Caesar knew already who Lazarus was, and was prepared to meet him. He
was a courageous man; he felt his power was invincible, and in the
fateful encounter with the man "wonderfully raised from the dead" he
refused to lean on other men's weak help. Man to man, face to face, he
"Do not fix your gaze on me, Lazarus," he commanded. "I have heard
that your head is like the head of Medusa, and turns into stone all
upon whom you look. But I should like to have a close look at you, and
to talk to you before I turn into stone," he added in a spirit of
playfulness that concealed his real misgivings.
Approaching him, he examined closely Lazarus' face and his strange
festive clothes. Though his eyes were sharp and keen, he was deceived
by the skilful counterfeit.
"Well, your appearance is not terrible, venerable sir. But all the
worse for men, when the terrible takes on such a venerable and
pleasant appearance. Now let us talk."
Augustus sat down, and as much by glance as by words began the
discussion. "Why did you not salute me when you entered?"
Lazarus answered indifferently: "I did not know it was necessary."
"You are a Christian?"
Augustus nodded approvingly. "That is good. I do not like the
Christians. They shake the tree of life, forbidding it to bear fruit,
and they scatter to the wind its fragrant blossoms. But who are you?"
With some effort Lazarus answered: "I was dead."
"I heard about that. But who are you now?"
Lazarus' answer came slowly. Finally he said again, listlessly and
indistinctly: "I was dead."
"Listen to me, stranger," said the Emperor sharply, giving expression
to what had been in his mind before. "My empire is an empire of the
living; my people are a people of the living and not of the dead. You
are superfluous here. I do not know who you are, I do not know what
you have seen There, but if you lie, I hate your lies, and if you tell
the truth, I hate your truth. In my heart I feel the pulse of life; in
my hands I feel power, and my proud thoughts, like eagles, fly through
space. Behind my back, under the protection of my authority, under the
shadow of the laws I have created, men live and labour and rejoice. Do
you hear this divine harmony of life? Do you hear the war cry that men
hurl into the face of the future, challenging it to strife?"
Augustus extended his arms reverently and solemnly cried out: "Blessed
art thou, Great Divine Life!"
But Lazarus was silent, and the Emperor continued more severely: "You
are not wanted here. Pitiful remnant, half devoured of death, you fill
men with distress and aversion to life. Like a caterpillar on the
fields, you are gnawing away at the full seed of joy, exuding the
slime of despair and sorrow. Your truth is like a rusted sword in the
hands of a night assassin, and I shall condemn you to death as an
assassin. But first I want to look into your eyes. Mayhap only cowards
fear them, and brave men are spurred on to struggle and victory. Then
will you merit not death but a reward. Look at me, Lazarus."
At first it seemed to divine Augustus as if a friend were looking at
him, so soft, so alluring, so gently fascinating was the gaze of
Lazarus. It promised not horror but quiet rest, and the Infinite dwelt
there as a fond mistress, a compassionate sister, a mother. And ever
stronger grew its gentle embrace, until he felt, as it were, the
breath of a mouth hungry for kisses… Then it seemed as if iron bones
protruded in a ravenous grip, and closed upon him in an iron band; and
cold nails touched his heart, and slowly, slowly sank into it.
"It pains me," said divine Augustus, growing pale; "but look, Lazarus,
Ponderous gates, shutting off eternity, appeared to be slowly swinging
open, and through the growing aperture poured in, coldly and calmly,
the awful horror of the Infinite. Boundless Emptiness and Boundless
Gloom entered like two shadows, extinguishing the sun, removing the
ground from under the feet, and the cover from over the head. And the
pain in his icy heart ceased.
"Look at me, look at me, Lazarus!" commanded Augustus, staggering…
Time ceased and the beginning of things came perilously near to the
end. The throne of Augustus, so recently erected, fell to pieces, and
emptiness took the place of the throne and of Augustus. Rome fell
silently into ruins. A new city rose in its place, and it too was
erased by emptiness. Like phantom giants, cities, kingdoms, and
countries swiftly fell and disappeared into emptiness—swallowed up in
the black maw of the Infinite…
"Cease," commanded the Emperor. Already the accent of indifference was
in his voice. His arms hung powerless, and his eagle eyes flashed and
were dimmed again, struggling against overwhelming darkness.
"You have killed me, Lazarus," he said drowsily.
These words of despair saved him. He thought of the people, whose
shield he was destined to be, and a sharp, redeeming pang pierced his
dull heart. He thought of them doomed to perish, and he was filled
with anguish. First they seemed bright shadows in the gloom of the
Infinite.—How terrible! Then they appeared as fragile vessels with
life-agitated blood, and hearts that knew both sorrow and great
joy.—And he thought of them with tenderness.
And so thinking and feeling, inclining the scales now to the side of
life, now to the side of death, he slowly returned to life, to find in
its suffering and joy a refuge from the gloom, emptiness and fear of
"No, you did not kill me, Lazarus," said he firmly. "But I will kill
Evening came and divine Augustus partook of food and drink with great
joy. But there were moments when his raised arm would remain suspended
in the air, and the light of his shining, eager eyes was dimmed. It
seemed as if an icy wave of horror washed against his feet. He was
vanquished but not killed, and coldly awaited his doom, like a black
shadow. His nights were haunted by horror, but the bright days still
brought him the joys, as well as the sorrows, of life.
Next day, by order of the Emperor, they burned out Lazarus' eyes with
hot irons and sent him home. Even Augustus dared not kill him.
* * * * *
Lazarus returned to the desert and the desert received him with the
breath of the hissing wind and the ardour of the glowing sun. Again he
sat on the stone with matted beard uplifted; and two black holes,
where the eyes had once been, looked dull and horrible at the sky. In
the distance the Holy City surged and roared restlessly, but near him
all was deserted and still. No one approached the place where Lazarus,
miraculously raised from the dead, passed his last days, for his
neighbours had long since abandoned their homes. His cursed knowledge,
driven by the hot irons from his eyes deep into the brain, lay there
in ambush; as if from ambush it might spring out upon men with a
thousand unseen eyes. No one dared to look at Lazarus.
And in the evening, when the sun, swollen crimson and growing larger,
bent its way toward the west, blind Lazarus slowly groped after it. He
stumbled against stones and fell; corpulent and feeble, he rose
heavily and walked on; and against the red curtain of sunset his dark
form and outstretched arms gave him the semblance of a cross.
It happened once that he went and never returned. Thus ended the
second life of Lazarus, who for three days had been in the mysterious
thraldom of death and then was miraculously raised from the dead.
BY MICHAÏL P. ARTZYBASHEV
Gabriel Andersen, the teacher, walked to the edge of the school
garden, where he paused, undecided what to do. Off in the distance,
two miles away, the woods hung like bluish lace over a field of pure
snow. It was a brilliant day. A hundred tints glistened on the white
ground and the iron bars of the garden railing. There was a lightness
and transparency in the air that only the days of early spring
possess. Gabriel Andersen turned his steps toward the fringe of blue
lace for a tramp in the woods.
"Another spring in my life," he said, breathing deep and peering up at
the heavens through his spectacles. Andersen was rather given to
sentimental poetising. He walked with his hands folded behind him,
dangling his cane.
He had gone but a few paces when he noticed a group of soldiers and
horses on the road beyond the garden rail. Their drab uniforms stood
out dully against the white of the snow, but their swords and horses'
coats tossed back the light. Their bowed cavalry legs moved awkwardly
on the snow. Andersen wondered what they were doing there Suddenly the
nature of their business flashed upon him. It was an ugly errand they
were upon, an instinct rather that his reason told him. Something
unusual and terrible was to happen. And the same instinct told him he
must conceal himself from the soldiers. He turned to the left quickly,
dropped on his knees, and crawled on the soft, thawing, crackling snow
to a low haystack, from behind which, by craning his neck, he could
watch what the soldiers were doing.
There were twelve of them, one a stocky young officer in a grey cloak
caught in prettily at the waist by a silver belt. His face was so red
that even at that distance Andersen caught the odd, whitish gleam of
his light protruding moustache and eyebrows against the vivid colour
of his skin. The broken tones of his raucous voice reached distinctly
to where the teacher, listening intently, lay hidden.
"I know what I am about. I don't need anybody's advice," the officer
cried. He clapped his arms akimbo and looked down at some one among
the group of bustling soldiers. "I'll show you how to be a rebel, you
Andersen's heart beat fast. "Good heavens!" he thought. "Is it
possible?" His head grew chill as if struck by a cold wave.
"Officer," a quiet, restrained, yet distinct voice came from among the
soldiers, "you have no right—It's for the court to decide—you aren't
a judge—it's plain murder, not—" "Silence!" thundered the officer,
his voice choking with rage. "I'll give you a court. Ivanov, go
He put the spurs to his horse and rode away. Gabriel Andersen
mechanically observed how carefully the horse picked its way, placing
its feet daintily as if for the steps of a minuet. Its ears were
pricked to catch every sound. There was momentary bustle and
excitement among the soldiers. Then they dispersed in different
directions, leaving three persons in black behind, two tall men and
one very short and frail. Andersen could see the hair of the short
one's head. It was very light. And he saw his rosy ears sticking out
on each side.
Now he fully understood what was to happen. But it was a thing so out
of the ordinary, so horrible, that he fancied he was dreaming.
"It's so bright, so beautiful—the snow, the field, the woods, the
sky. The breath of spring is upon everything. Yet people are going to
be killed. How can it be? Impossible!" So his thoughts ran in
confusion. He had the sensation of a man suddenly gone insane, who
finds he sees, hears and feels what he is not accustomed to, and ought
not hear, see and feel.
The three men in black stood next to one another hard by the railing,
two quite close together, the short one some distance away.
"Officer!" one of them cried in a desperate voice—Andersen could not
see which it was—"God sees us! Officer!"
Eight soldiers dismounted quickly, their spurs and sabres catching
awkwardly. Evidently they were in a hurry, as if doing a thief's job.
Several seconds passed in silence until the soldiers placed themselves
in a row a few feet from the black figures and levelled their guns. In
doing so one soldier knocked his cap from his head. He picked it up
and put it on again without brushing off the wet snow.
The officer's mount still kept dancing on one spot with his ears
pricked, while the other horses, also with sharp ears erect to catch
every sound, stood motionless looking at the men in black, their long
wise heads inclined to one side.
"Spare the boy at least!" another voice suddenly pierced the air. "Why
kill a child, damn you! What has the child done?"
"Ivanov, do what I told you to do," thundered the officer, drowning
the other voice. His face turned as scarlet as a piece of red flannel.
There followed a scene savage and repulsive in its gruesomeness. The
short figure in black, with the light hair and the rosy ears, uttered
a wild shriek in a shrill child's tones and reeled to one side.
Instantly it was caught up by two or three soldiers. But the boy began
to struggle, and two more soldiers ran up.
"Ow-ow-ow-ow!" the boy cried. "Let me go, let me go! Ow-ow!"
His shrill voice cut the air like the yell of a stuck porkling not
quite done to death. Suddenly he grew quiet. Some one must have struck
him. An unexpected, oppressive silence ensued. The boy was being
pushed forward. Then there came a deafening report. Andersen started
back all in a tremble. He saw distinctly, yet vaguely as in a dream,
the dropping of two dark bodies, the flash of pale sparks, and a light
smoke rising in the clean, bright atmosphere. He saw the soldiers
hastily mounting their horses without even glancing at the bodies. He
saw them galloping along the muddy road, their arms clanking, their
horses' hoofs clattering.
He saw all this, himself now standing in the middle of the road, not
knowing when and why he had jumped from behind the haystack. He was
deathly pale. His face was covered with dank sweat, his body was
aquiver. A physical sadness smote and tortured him. He could not make
out the nature of the feeling. It was akin to extreme sickness, though
far more nauseating and terrible.
After the soldiers had disappeared beyond the bend toward the woods,
people came hurrying to the spot of the shooting, though till then not
a soul had been in sight.
The bodies lay at the roadside on the other side of the railing, where
the snow was clean, brittle and untrampled and glistened cheerfully in
the bright atmosphere. There were three dead bodies, two men and a
boy. The boy lay with his long soft neck stretched on the snow. The
face of the man next to the boy was invisible. He had fallen face
downward in a pool of blood. The third was a big man with a black
beard and huge, muscular arms. He lay stretched out to the full length
of his big body, his arms extended over a large area of blood-stained
The three men who had been shot lay black against the white snow,
motionless. From afar no one could have told the terror that was in
their immobility as they lay there at the edge of the narrow road
crowded with people.
That night Gabriel Andersen in his little room in the schoolhouse did
not write poems as usual. He stood at the window and looked at the
distant pale disk of the moon in the misty blue sky, and thought. And
his thoughts were confused, gloomy, and heavy as if a cloud had
descended upon his brain.
Indistinctly outlined in the dull moonlight he saw the dark railing,
the trees, the empty garden. It seemed to him that he beheld them—the
three men who had been shot, two grown up, one a child. They were
lying there now at the roadside, in the empty, silent field, looking
at the far-off cold moon with their dead, white eyes as he with his
"The time will come some day," he thought, "when the killing of people
by others will be an utter impossibility The time will come when even
the soldiers and officers who killed these three men will realise what
they have done and will understand that what they killed them for is
just as necessary, important, and dear to them—to the officers and
soldiers—as to those whom they killed.
"Yes," he said aloud and solemnly, his eyes moistening, "that time
will come. They will understand." And the pale disk of the moon was
blotted out by the moisture in his eyes.
A large pity pierced his heart for the three victims whose eyes looked
at the moon, sad and unseeing. A feeling of rage cut him as with a
sharp knife and took possession of him.
But Gabriel Andersen quieted his heart, whispering softly, "They know
not what they do." And this old and ready phrase gave him the strength
to stifle his rage and indignation.
The day was as bright and white, but the spring was already advanced.
The wet soil smelt of spring. Clear cold water ran everywhere from
under the loose, thawing snow. The branches of the trees were springy
and elastic. For miles and miles around, the country opened up in
clear azure stretches.
Yet the clearness and the joy of the spring day were not in the
village. They were somewhere outside the village, where there were no
people—in the fields, the woods and the mountains. In the village the
air was stifling, heavy and terrible as in a nightmare.
Gabriel Andersen stood in the road near a crowd of dark, sad,
absent-minded people and craned his neck to see the preparations for
the flogging of seven peasants.
They stood in the thawing snow, and Gabriel Andersen could not
persuade himself that they were people whom he had long known and
understood. By that which was about to happen to them, the shameful,
terrible, ineradicable thing that was to happen to them, they were
separated from all the rest of the world, and so were unable to feel
what he, Gabriel Andersen, felt, just as he was unable to feel what
they felt. Round them were the soldiers, confidently and beautifully
mounted on high upon their large steeds, who tossed their wise heads
and turned their dappled wooden faces slowly from side to side,
looking contemptuously at him, Gabriel Andersen, who was soon to
behold this horror, this disgrace, and would do nothing, would not
dare to do anything. So it seemed to Gabriel Andersen; and a sense of
cold, intolerable shame gripped him as between two clamps of ice
through which he could see everything without being able to move, cry
out or utter a groan.
They took the first peasant. Gabriel Andersen saw his strange,
imploring, hopeless look. His lips moved, but no sound was heard, and
his eyes wandered. There was a bright gleam in them as in the eyes of
a madman. His mind, it was evident, was no longer able to comprehend
what was happening.
And so terrible was that face, at once full of reason and of madness,
that Andersen felt relieved when they put him face downward on the
snow and, instead of the fiery eyes, he saw his bare back
glistening—a senseless, shameful, horrible sight.
The large, red-faced soldier in a red cap pushed toward him, looked
down at his body with seeming delight, and then cried in a clear
"Well, let her go, with God's blessing!"
Andersen seemed not to see the soldiers, the sky, the horses or the
crowd. He did not feel the cold, the terror or the shame. He did not
hear the swish of the knout in the air or the savage howl of pain and
despair. He only saw the bare back of a man's body swelling up and
covered over evenly with white and purple stripes. Gradually the bare
back lost the semblance of human flesh. The blood oozed and squirted,
forming patches, drops and rivulets, which ran down on the white,
Terror gripped the soul of Gabriel Andersen as he thought of the
moment when the man would rise and face all the people who had seen
his body bared out in the open and reduced to a bloody pulp. He closed
his eyes. When he opened them, he saw four soldiers in uniform and red
hats forcing another man down on the snow, his back bared just as
shamefully, terribly and absurdly—a ludicrously tragic sight.
Then came the third, the fourth, and so on, to the end.
And Gabriel Andersen stood on the wet, thawing snow, craning his neck,
trembling and stuttering, though he did not say a word. Dank sweat
poured from his body. A sense of shame permeated his whole being. It
was a humiliating feeling, having to escape being noticed so that they
should not catch him and lay him there on the snow and strip him
bare—him, Gabriel Andersen.
The soldiers pressed and crowded, the horses tossed their heads, the
knout swished in the air, and the bare, shamed human flesh swelled up,
tore, ran over with blood, and curled like a snake. Oaths, wild
shrieks rained upon the village through the clean white air of that
Andersen now saw five men's faces at the steps of the town hall, the
faces of those men who had already undergone their shame. He quickly
turned his eyes away. After seeing this a man must die, he thought.
There were seventeen of them, fifteen soldiers, a subaltern and a
young beardless officer. The officer lay in front of the fire looking
intently into the flames. The soldiers were tinkering with the
firearms in the wagon.
Their grey figures moved about quietly on the black thawing ground,
and occasionally stumbled across the logs sticking out from the
Gabriel Andersen, wearing an overcoat and carrying his cane behind his
back, approached them. The subaltern, a stout fellow with a moustache,
jumped up, turned from the fire, and looked at him.
"Who are you? What do you want?" he asked excitedly. From his tone it
was evident that the soldiers feared everybody in that district,
through which they went scattering death, destruction and torture.
"Officer," he said, "there is a man here I don't know."
The officer looked at Andersen without speaking.
"Officer," said Andersen in a thin, strained voice, "my name is
Michelson. I am a business man here, and I am going to the village on
business. I was afraid I might be mistaken for some one else—you
"Then what are you nosing about here for?" the officer said angrily,
and turned away.
"A business man," sneered a soldier. "He ought to be searched, this
business man ought, so as not to be knocking about at night. A good
one in the jaw is what he needs."
"He's a suspicious character, officer," said the subaltern. "Don't you
think we'd better arrest him, what?"
"Don't," answered the officer lazily. "I'm sick of them, damn 'em."
Gabriel Andersen stood there without saying anything. His eyes flashed
strangely in the dark by the firelight. And it was strange to see his
short, substantial, clean, neat figure in the field at night among the
soldiers, with his overcoat and cane and glasses glistening in the
The soldiers left him and walked away. Gabriel Andersen remained
standing for a while. Then he turned and left, rapidly disappearing in
The night was drawing to a close. The air turned chilly, and the tops
of the bushes defined themselves more clearly in the dark. Gabriel
Andersen went again to the military post. But this time he hid,
crouching low as he made his way under the cover of the bushes. Behind
him people moved about quietly and carefully, bending the bushes,
silent as shadows. Next to Gabriel, on his right, walked a tall man
with a revolver in his hand.
The figure of a soldier on the hill outlined itself strangely,
unexpectedly, not where they had been looking for it. It was faintly
illumined by the gleam from the dying fire. Gabriel Andersen
recognised the soldier. It was the one who had proposed that he should
be searched. Nothing stirred in Andersen's heart. His face was cold
and motionless, as of a man who is asleep. Round the fire the soldiers
lay stretched out sleeping, all except the subaltern, who sat with his
head drooping over his knees.
The tall thin man on Andersen's right raised the revolver and pulled
the trigger. A momentary blinding flash, a deafening report.
Andersen saw the guard lift his hands and then sit down on the ground
clasping his bosom. From all directions short, crackling sparks
flashed up which combined into one riving roar. The subaltern jumped
up and dropped straight into the fire. Grey soldiers' figures moved
about in all directions like apparitions, throwing up their hands and
falling and writhing on the black earth. The young officer ran past
Andersen, fluttering his hands like some strange, frightened bird.
Andersen, as if he were thinking of something else, raised his cane.
With all his strength he hit the officer on the head, each blow
descending with a dull, ugly thud. The officer reeled in a circle,
struck a bush, and sat down after the second blow, covering his head
with both hands, as children do. Some one ran up and discharged a
revolver as if from Andersen's own hand. The officer sank together in
a heap and lunged with great force head foremost on the ground. His
legs twitched for a while, then he curled up quietly.
The shots ceased. Black men with white faces, ghostly grey in the
dark, moved about the dead bodies of the soldiers, taking away their
arms and ammunition.
Andersen watched all this with a cold, attentive stare. When all was
over, he went up, took hold of the burned subaltern's legs, and tried
to remove the body from the fire. But it was too heavy for him, and he
let it go.
Andersen sat motionless on the steps of the town hall, and thought. He
thought of how he, Gabriel Andersen, with his spectacles, cane,
overcoat and poems, had lied and betrayed fifteen men. He thought it
was terrible, yet there was neither pity, shame nor regret in his
heart. Were he to be set free, he knew that he, Gabriel Andersen, with
the spectacles and poems, would go straightway and do it again. He
tried to examine himself, to see what was going on inside his soul.
But his thoughts were heavy and confused. For some reason it was more
painful for him to think of the three men lying on the snow, looking
at the pale disk of the far-off moon with their dead, unseeing eyes,
than of the murdered officer whom he had struck two dry, ugly blows on
the head. Of his own death he did not think. It seemed to him that he
had done with everything long, long ago. Something had died, had gone
out and left him empty, and he must not think about it.
And when they grabbed him by the shoulder and he rose, and they
quickly led him through the garden where the cabbages raised their dry
heads, he could not formulate a single thought.
He was conducted to the road and placed at the railing with his back
to one of the iron bars. He fixed his spectacles, put his hands behind
him, and stood there with his neat, stocky body, his head slightly
inclined to one side.
At the last moment he looked in front of him and saw rifle barrels
pointing at his head, chest and stomach, and pale faces with trembling
lips. He distinctly saw how one barrel levelled at his forehead
Something strange and incomprehensible, as if no longer of this world,
no longer earthly, passed through Andersen's mind. He straightened
himself to the full height of his short body and threw back his head
in simple pride. A strange indistinct sense of cleanness, strength and
pride filled his soul, and everything—the sun and the sky and the
people and the field and death—seemed to him insignificant, remote
The bullets hit him in the chest, in the left eye, in the stomach,
went through his clean coat buttoned all the way up. His glasses
shivered into bits. He uttered a shriek, circled round, and fell with
his face against one of the iron bars, his one remaining eye wide
open. He clawed the ground with his outstretched hands as if trying to
The officer, who had turned green, rushed toward him, and senselessly
thrust the revolver against his neck, and fired twice. Andersen
stretched out on the ground.
The soldiers left quickly. But Andersen remained pressed flat to the
ground. The index finger of his left hand continued to quiver for
about ten seconds.
THE OUTRAGE—A TRUE STORY
BY ALEKSANDR I. KUPRIN
It was five o'clock on a July afternoon. The heat was terrible. The
whole of the huge stone-built town breathed out heat like a glowing
furnace. The glare of the white-walled house was insufferable. The
asphalt pavements grew soft and burned the feet. The shadows of the
acacias spread over the cobbled road, pitiful and weary. They too
seemed hot. The sea, pale in the sunlight, lay heavy and immobile as
one dead. Over the streets hung a white dust.
In the foyer of one of the private theatres a small committee of local
barristers who had undertaken to conduct the cases of those who had
suffered in the last pogrom against the Jews was reaching the end of
its daily task. There were nineteen of them, all juniors, young,
progressive and conscientious men. The sitting was without formality,
and white suits of duck, flannel and alpaca were in the majority. They
sat anywhere, at little marble tables, and the chairman stood in front
of an empty counter where chocolates were sold in the winter.
The barristers were quite exhausted by the heat which poured in
through the windows, with the dazzling sunlight and the noise of the
streets. The proceedings went lazily and with a certain irritation.
A tall young man with a fair moustache and thin hair was in the chair.
He was dreaming voluptuously how he would be off in an instant on his
new-bought bicycle to the bungalow. He would undress quickly, and
without waiting to cool, still bathed in sweat, would fling himself
into the clear, cold, sweet-smelling sea. His whole body was enervated
and tense, thrilled by the thought. Impatiently moving the papers
before him, he spoke in a drowsy voice.
"So, Joseph Moritzovich will conduct the case of Rubinchik… Perhaps
there is still a statement to be made on the order of the day?"
His youngest colleague, a short, stout Karaite, very black and lively,
said in a whisper so that every one could hear: "On the order of the
day, the best thing would be iced kvas…"
The chairman gave him a stern side-glance, but could not restrain a
smile. He sighed and put both his hands on the table to raise himself
and declare the meeting closed, when the doorkeeper, who stood at the
entrance to the theatre, suddenly moved forward and said: "There are
seven people outside, sir. They want to come in."
The chairman looked impatiently round the company.
"What is to be done, gentlemen?"
Voices were heard.
"Next time. Basta!"
"Let 'em put it in writing."
"If they'll get it over quickly… Decide it at once."
"Let 'em go to the devil. Phew! It's like boiling pitch."
"Let them in." The chairman gave a sign with his head, annoyed. "Then
bring me a Vichy, please. But it must be cold."
The porter opened the door and called down the corridor: "Come in.
They say you may."
Then seven of the most surprising and unexpected individuals filed
into the foyer. First appeared a full-grown, confident man in a smart
suit, of the colour of dry sea-sand, in a magnificent pink shirt with
white stripes and a crimson rose in his buttonhole. From the front his
head looked like an upright bean, from the side like a horizontal
bean. His face was adorned with a strong, bushy, martial moustache. He
wore dark blue pince-nez on his nose, on his hands straw-coloured
gloves. In his left hand he held a black walking-stick with a silver
mount, in his right a light blue handkerchief.
The other six produced a strange, chaotic, incongruous impression,
exactly as though they had all hastily pooled not merely their
clothes, but their hands, feet and heads as well. There was a man with
the splendid profile of a Roman senator, dressed in rags and tatters.
Another wore an elegant dress waistcoat, from the deep opening of
which a dirty Little-Russian shirt leapt to the eye. Here were the
unbalanced faces of the criminal type, but looking with a confidence
that nothing could shake. All these men, in spite of their apparent
youth, evidently possessed a large experience of life, an easy manner,
a bold approach, and some hidden, suspicious cunning.
The gentleman in the sandy suit bowed just his head, neatly and
easily, and said with a half-question in his voice: "Mr. Chairman?"
"Yes. I am the chairman. What is your business?"
"We—all whom you see before you," the gentleman began in a quiet
voice and turned round to indicate his companions, "we come as
delegates from the United Rostov-Kharkov-and-Odessa-Nikolayev
Association of Thieves."
The barristers began to shift in their seats.
The chairman flung himself back and opened his eyes wide. "Association
of what?" he said, perplexed.
"The Association of Thieves," the gentleman in the sandy suit coolly
repeated. "As for myself, my comrades did me the signal honour of
electing me as the spokesman of the deputation."
"Very … pleased," the chairman said uncertainly.
"Thank you. All seven of us are ordinary thieves—naturally of
different departments. The Association has authorised us to put before
your esteemed Committee"—the gentleman again made an elegant
bow—"our respectful demand for assistance."
"I don't quite understand … quite frankly … what is the
connection…" The chairman waved his hands helplessly. "However,
please go on."
"The matter about which we have the courage and the honour to apply to
you, gentlemen, is very clear, very simple, and very brief. It will
take only six or seven minutes. I consider it my duty to warn you of
this beforehand, in view of the late hour and the 115 degrees that
Fahrenheit marks in the shade." The orator expectorated slightly and
glanced at his superb gold watch. "You see, in the reports that have
lately appeared in the local papers of the melancholy and terrible
days of the last pogrom, there have very often been indications that
among the instigators of the pogrom who were paid and organised by the
police—the dregs of society, consisting of drunkards, tramps,
souteneurs, and hooligans from the slums—thieves were also to be
found. At first we were silent, but finally we considered ourselves
under the necessity of protesting against such an unjust and serious
accusation, before the face of the whole of intellectual society. I
know well that in the eye of the law we are offenders and enemies of
society. But imagine only for a moment, gentlemen, the situation of
this enemy of society when he is accused wholesale of an offence which
he not only never committed, but which he is ready to resist with the
whole strength of his soul. It goes without saying that he will feel
the outrage of such an injustice more keenly than a normal, average,
fortunate citizen. Now, we declare that the accusation brought against
us is utterly devoid of all basis, not merely of fact but even of
logic. I intend to prove this in a few words if the honourable
committee will kindly listen."
"Proceed," said the chairman.
"Please do … Please …" was heard from the barristers, now
"I offer you my sincere thanks in the name of all my comrades. Believe
me, you will never repent your attention to the representatives of our
… well, let us say, slippery, but nevertheless difficult,
profession. 'So we begin,' as Giraldoni sings in the prologue to
"But first I would ask your permission, Mr. Chairman, to quench my
thirst a little… Porter, bring me a lemonade and a glass of English
bitter, there's a good fellow. Gentlemen, I will not speak of the
moral aspect of our profession nor of its social importance. Doubtless
you know better than I the striking and brilliant paradox of Proudhon:
La propriete c'est le vol—a paradox if you like, but one that has
never yet been refuted by the sermons of cowardly bourgeois or fat
priests. For instance: a father accumulates a million by energetic and
clever exploitation, and leaves it to his son—a rickety, lazy,
ignorant, degenerate idiot, a brainless maggot, a true parasite.
Potentially a million rubles is a million working days, the absolutely
irrational right to labour, sweat, life, and blood of a terrible
number of men. Why? What is the ground of reason? Utterly unknown.
Then why not agree with the proposition, gentlemen, that our
profession is to some extent as it were a correction of the excessive
accumulation of values in the hands of individuals, and serves as a
protest against all the hardships, abominations, arbitrariness,
violence, and negligence of the human personality, against all the
monstrosities created by the bourgeois capitalistic organisation of
modern society? Sooner or later, this order of things will assuredly
be overturned by the social revolution. Property will pass away into
the limbo of melancholy memories and with it, alas! we will disappear
from the face of the earth, we, les braves chevaliers d'industrie."
The orator paused to take the tray from the hands of the porter, and
placed it near to his hand on the table.
"Excuse me, gentlemen… Here, my good man, take this,… and by the
way, when you go out shut the door close behind you."
"Very good, your Excellency!" the porter bawled in jest.
The orator drank off half a glass and continued: "However, let us
leave aside the philosophical, social, and economic aspects of the
question. I do not wish to fatigue your attention. I must nevertheless
point out that our profession very closely approaches the idea of that
which is called art. Into it enter all the elements which go to form
art—vocation, inspiration, fantasy, inventiveness, ambition, and a
long and arduous apprenticeship to the science. From it is absent
virtue alone, concerning which the great Karamzin wrote with such
stupendous and fiery fascination. Gentlemen, nothing is further from
my intention than to trifle with you and waste your precious time with
idle paradoxes; but I cannot avoid expounding my idea briefly. To an
outsider's ear it sounds absurdly wild and ridiculous to speak of the
vocation of a thief. However, I venture to assure you that this
vocation is a reality. There are men who possess a peculiarly strong
visual memory, sharpness and accuracy of eye, presence of mind,
dexterity of hand, and above all a subtle sense of touch, who are as
it were born into God's world for the sole and special purpose of
becoming distinguished card-sharpers. The pickpockets' profession
demands extraordinary nimbleness and agility, a terrific certainty of
movement, not to mention a ready wit, a talent for observation and
strained attention. Some have a positive vocation for breaking open
safes: from their tenderest childhood they are attracted by the
mysteries of every kind of complicated mechanism—bicycles, sewing
machines, clock-work toys and watches. Finally, gentlemen, there are
people with an hereditary animus against private property. You may
call this phenomenon degeneracy. But I tell you that you cannot entice
a true thief, and thief by vocation, into the prose of honest
vegetation by any gingerbread reward, or by the offer of a secure
position, or by the gift of money, or by a woman's love: because there
is here a permanent beauty of risk, a fascinating abyss of danger, the
delightful sinking of the heart, the impetuous pulsation of life, the
ecstasy! You are armed with the protection of the law, by locks,
revolvers, telephones, police and soldiery; but we only by our own
dexterity, cunning and fearlessness. We are the foxes, and society—is
a chicken-run guarded by dogs. Are you aware that the most artistic
and gifted natures in our villages become horse-thieves and poachers?
What would you have? Life is so meagre, so insipid, so intolerably
dull to eager and high-spirited souls!
"I pass on to inspiration. Gentlemen, doubtless you have had to read
of thefts that were supernatural in design and execution. In the
headlines of the newspapers they are called 'An Amazing Robbery,' or
'An Ingenious Swindle,' or again 'A Clever Ruse of the Gangsters.' In
such cases our bourgeois paterfamilias waves his hands and exclaims:
'What a terrible thing! If only their abilities were turned to
good—their inventiveness, their amazing knowledge of human
psychology, their self-possession, their fearlessness, their
incomparable histrionic powers! What extraordinary benefits they would
bring to the country!' But it is well known that the bourgeois
paterfamilias was specially devised by Heaven to utter commonplaces
and trivialities. I myself sometimes—we thieves are sentimental
people, I confess—I myself sometimes admire a beautiful sunset in
Aleksandra Park or by the sea-shore. And I am always certain
beforehand that some one near me will say with infallible aplomb:
'Look at it. If it were put into picture no one would ever believe
it!' I turn round and naturally I see a self-satisfied, full-fed
paterfamilias, who delights in repeating some one else's silly
statement as though it were his own. As for our dear country, the
bourgeois paterfamilias looks upon it as though it were a roast
turkey. If you've managed to cut the best part of the bird for
yourself, eat it quietly in a comfortable corner and praise God. But
he's not really the important person. I was led away by my detestation
of vulgarity and I apologise for the digression. The real point is
that genius and inspiration, even when they are not devoted to the
service of the Orthodox Church, remain rare and beautiful things.
Progress is a law—and theft too has its creation.
"Finally, our profession is by no means as easy and pleasant as it
seems to the first glance. It demands long experience, constant
practice, slow and painful apprenticeship. It comprises in itself
hundreds of supple, skilful processes that the cleverest juggler
cannot compass. That I may not give you only empty words, gentlemen, I
will perform a few experiments before you now. I ask you to have every
confidence in the demonstrators. We are all at present in the
enjoyment of legal freedom, and though we are usually watched, and
every one of us is known by face, and our photographs adorn the albums
of all detective departments, for the time being we are not under the
necessity of hiding ourselves from anybody. If any one of you should
recognise any of us in the future under different circumstances, we
ask you earnestly always to act in accordance with your professional
duties and your obligations as citizens. In grateful return for your
kind attention we have decided to declare your property inviolable,
and to invest it with a thieves' taboo. However, I proceed to
The orator turned round and gave an order: "Sesoi the Great, will you
come this way!"
An enormous fellow with a stoop, whose hands reached to his knees,
without a forehead or a neck, like a big, fair Hercules, came forward.
He grinned stupidly and rubbed his left eyebrow in his confusion.
"Can't do nothin' here," he said hoarsely.
The gentleman in the sandy suit spoke for him, turning to the
"Gentlemen, before you stands a respected member of our association.
His specialty is breaking open safes, iron strong boxes, and other
receptacles for monetary tokens. In his night work he sometimes avails
himself of the electric current of the lighting installation for
fusing metals. Unfortunately he has nothing on which he can
demonstrate the best items of his repertoire. He will open the most
elaborate lock irreproachably… By the way, this door here, it's
locked, is it not?"
Every one turned to look at the door, on which a printed notice hung:
"Stage Door. Strictly Private."
"Yes, the door's locked, evidently," the chairman agreed.
"Admirable. Sesoi the Great, will you be so kind?"
"'Tain't nothin' at all," said the giant leisurely.
He went close to the door, shook it cautiously with his hand, took out
of his pocket a small bright instrument, bent down to the keyhole,
made some almost imperceptible movements with the tool, suddenly
straightened and flung the door wide in silence. The chairman had his
watch in his hands. The whole affair took only ten seconds.
"Thank you, Sesoi the Great," said the gentleman in the sandy suit
politely. "You may go back to your seat."
But the chairman interrupted in some alarm: "Excuse me. This is all
very interesting and instructive, but … is it included in your
esteemed colleague's profession to be able to lock the door again?"
"Ah, mille pardons." The gentleman bowed hurriedly. "It slipped my
mind. Sesoi the Great, would you oblige?"
The door was locked with the same adroitness and the same silence. The
esteemed colleague waddled back to his friends, grinning.
"Now I will have the honour to show you the skill of one of our
comrades who is in the line of picking pockets in theatres and
railway-stations," continued the orator. "He is still very young, but
you may to some extent judge from the delicacy of his present work of
the heights he will attain by diligence. Yasha!" A swarthy youth in a
blue silk blouse and long glacé boots, like a gipsy, came forward with
a swagger, fingering the tassels of his belt, and merrily screwing up
his big, impudent black eyes with yellow whites.
"Gentlemen," said the gentleman in the sandy suit persuasively, "I
must ask if one of you would be kind enough to submit himself to a
little experiment. I assure you this will be an exhibition only, just
He looked round over the seated company.
The short plump Karaite, black as a beetle, came forward from his
"At your service," he said amusedly.
"Yasha!" The orator signed with his head.
Yasha came close to the solicitor. On his left arm, which was bent,
hung a bright-coloured, figured scarf.
"Suppose yer in church or at the bar in one of the halls,—or watchin'
a circus," he began in a sugary, fluent voice. "I see straight
off—there's a toff… Excuse me, sir. Suppose you're the toff.
There's no offence—just means a rich gent, decent enough, but don't
know his way about. First—what's he likely to have about 'im? All
sorts. Mostly, a ticker and a chain. Whereabouts does he keep 'em?
Somewhere in his top vest pocket—here. Others have 'em in the bottom
pocket. Just here. Purse—most always in the trousers, except when a
greeny keeps it in his jacket. Cigar-case. Have a look first what it
is—gold, silver—with a monogram. Leather—what decent man'd soil his
hands? Cigar-case. Seven pockets: here, here, here, up there, there,
here and here again. That's right, ain't it? That's how you go to
As he spoke the young man smiled. His eyes shone straight into the
barrister's. With a quick, dexterous movement of his right hand he
pointed to various portions of his clothes.
"Then again you might see a pin here in the tie. However we do not
appropriate. Such gents nowadays—they hardly ever wear a real
stone. Then I comes up to him. I begin straight off to talk to him
like a gent: 'Sir, would you be so kind as to give me a light from
your cigarette'—or something of the sort. At any rate, I enter into
conversation. What's next? I look him straight in the peepers, just
like this. Only two of me fingers are at it—just this and this."
Yasha lifted two fingers of his right hand on a level with the
solicitor's face, the forefinger and the middle finger and moved them
"D' you see? With these two fingers I run over the whole pianner.
Nothin' wonderful in it: one, two, three—ready. Any man who wasn't
stupid could learn easily. That's all it is. Most ordinary business. I
The pickpocket swung on his heel as if to return to his seat.
"Yasha!" The gentleman in the sandy suit said with meaning weight.
"Yasha!" he repeated sternly.
Yasha stopped. His back was turned to the barrister, but be evidently
gave his representative an imploring look, because the latter frowned
and shook his head.
"Yasha!" he said for the third time, in a threatening tone.
"Huh!" The young thief grunted in vexation and turned to face the
solicitor. "Where's your little watch, sir?" he said in a piping
"Oh!" the Karaite brought himself up sharp.
"You see—now you say 'Oh!'" Yasha continued reproachfully. "All the
while you were admiring me right hand, I was operatin' yer watch with
my left. Just with these two little fingers, under the scarf. That's
why we carry a scarf. Since your chain's not worth anything—a present
from some mamselle and the watch is a gold one, I've left you the
chain as a keepsake. Take it," he added with a sigh, holding out the
"But … That is clever," the barrister said in confusion. "I didn't
notice it at all."
"That's our business," Yasha said with pride.
He swaggered back to his comrades. Meantime the orator took a drink
from his glass and continued.
"Now, gentlemen, our next collaborator will give you an exhibition of
some ordinary card tricks, which are worked at fairs, on steamboats
and railways. With three cards, for instance, an ace, a queen, and a
six, he can quite easily… But perhaps you are tired of these
"Not at all. It's extremely interesting," the chairman answered
affably. "I should like to ask one question—that is if it is not too
indiscreet—what is your own specialty?"
"Mine… H'm… No, how could it be an indiscretion?… I work the big
diamond shops … and my other business is banks," answered the orator
with a modest smile. "Don't think this occupation is easier than
others. Enough that I know four European languages, German, French,
English, and Italian, not to mention Polish, Ukrainian and Yiddish.
But shall I show you some more experiments, Mr. Chairman?"
The chairman looked at his watch.
"Unfortunately the time is too short," he said. "Wouldn't it be better
to pass on to the substance of your business? Besides, the experiments
we have just seen have amply convinced us of the talent of your
esteemed associates… Am I not right, Isaac Abramovich?"
"Yes, yes … absolutely," the Karaite barrister readily confirmed.
"Admirable," the gentleman in the sandy suit kindly agreed. "My dear
Count"—he turned to a blond, curly-haired man, with a face like a
billiard-maker on a bank-holiday—"put your instruments away. They
will not be wanted. I have only a few words more to say, gentlemen.
Now that you have convinced yourselves that our art, although it does
not enjoy the patronage of high-placed individuals, is nevertheless an
art; and you have probably come to my opinion that this art is one
which demands many personal qualities besides constant labour, danger,
and unpleasant misunderstandings—you will also, I hope, believe that
it is possible to become attached to its practice and to love and
esteem it, however strange that may appear at first sight. Picture to
yourselves that a famous poet of talent, whose tales and poems adorn
the pages of our best magazines, is suddenly offered the chance of
writing verses at a penny a line, signed into the bargain, as an
advertisement for 'Cigarettes Jasmine'—or that a slander was spread
about one of you distinguished barristers, accusing you of making a
business of concocting evidence for divorce cases, or of writing
petitions from the cabmen to the governor in public-houses! Certainly
your relatives, friends and acquaintances wouldn't believe it. But the
rumour has already done its poisonous work, and you have to live
through minutes of torture. Now picture to yourselves that such a
disgraceful and vexatious slander, started by God knows whom, begins
to threaten not only your good name and your quiet digestion, but your
freedom, your health, and even your life!
"This is the position of us thieves, now being slandered by the
newspapers. I must explain. There is in existence a class of
scum—passez-moi le mot—whom we call their 'Mothers' Darlings.'
With these we are unfortunately confused. They have neither shame nor
conscience, a dissipated riff-raff, mothers' useless darlings, idle,
clumsy drones, shop assistants who commit unskilful thefts. He thinks
nothing of living on his mistress, a prostitute, like the male
mackerel, who always swims after the female and lives on her
excrements. He is capable of robbing a child with violence in a dark
alley, in order to get a penny; he will kill a man in his sleep and
torture an old woman. These men are the pests of our profession. For
them the beauties and the traditions of the art have no existence.
They watch us real, talented thieves like a pack of jackals after a
lion. Suppose I've managed to bring off an important job—we won't
mention the fact that I have to leave two-thirds of what I get to the
receivers who sell the goods and discount the notes, or the customary
subsidies to our incorruptible police—I still have to share out
something to each one of these parasites, who have got wind of my job,
by accident, hearsay, or a casual glance.
"So we call them Motients, which means 'half,' a corruption of
moitié … Original etymology. I pay him only because he knows and
may inform against me. And it mostly happens that even when he's got
his share he runs off to the police in order to get another dollar.
We, honest thieves… Yes, you may laugh, gentlemen, but I repeat it:
we honest thieves detest these reptiles. We have another name for
them, a stigma of ignominy; but I dare not utter it here out of
respect for the place and for my audience. Oh, yes, they would gladly
accept an invitation to a pogrom. The thought that we may be confused
with them is a hundred times more insulting to us even than the
accusation of taking part in a pogrom.
"Gentlemen! While I have been speaking I have often noticed smiles on
your faces. I understand you. Our presence here, our application for
your assistance, and above all the unexpectedness of such a phenomenon
as a systematic organisation of thieves, with delegates who are
thieves, and a leader of the deputation, also a thief by
profession—it is all so original that it must inevitably arouse a
smile. But now I will speak from the depth of my heart. Let us be rid
of our outward wrappings, gentlemen, let us speak as men to men.
"Almost all of us are educated, and all love books. We don't only read
the adventures of Roqueambole, as the realistic writers say of us. Do
you think our hearts did not bleed and our cheeks did not burn from
shame, as though we had been slapped in the face, all the time that
this unfortunate, disgraceful, accursed, cowardly war lasted. Do you
really think that our souls do not flame with anger when our country
is lashed with Cossack-whips, and trodden under foot, shot and spit at
by mad, exasperated men? Will you not believe that we thieves meet
every step towards the liberation to come with a thrill of ecstasy?
"We understand, every one of us—perhaps only a little less than you
barristers, gentlemen—the real sense of the pogroms. Every time that
some dastardly event or some ignominious failure has occurred, after
executing a martyr in a dark corner of a fortress, or after deceiving
public confidence, some one who is hidden and unapproachable gets
frightened of the people's anger and diverts its vicious element upon
the heads of innocent Jews. Whose diabolical mind invents these
pogroms—these titanic blood-lettings, these cannibal amusements for
the dark, bestial souls?
"We all see with certain clearness that the last convulsions of the
bureaucracy are at hand. Forgive me if I present it imaginatively.
There was a people that had a chief temple, wherein dwelt a
bloodthirsty deity, behind a curtain, guarded by priests. Once
fearless hands tore the curtain away. Then all the people saw, instead
of a god, a huge, shaggy, voracious spider, like a loathsome
cuttlefish. They beat it and shoot at it: it is dismembered already;
but still in the frenzy of its final agony it stretches over all the
ancient temple its disgusting, clawing tentacles. And the priests,
themselves under sentence of death, push into the monster's grasp all
whom they can seize in their terrified, trembling fingers.
"Forgive me. What I have said is probably wild and incoherent. But I
am somewhat agitated. Forgive me. I continue. We thieves by profession
know better than any one else how these pogroms were organised. We
wander everywhere: into public houses, markets, tea-shops,
doss-houses, public places, the harbour. We can swear before God and
man and posterity that we have seen how the police organise the
massacres, without shame and almost without concealment. We know them
all by face, in uniform or disguise. They invited many of us to take
part; but there was none so vile among us as to give even the outward
consent that fear might have extorted.
"You know, of course, how the various strata of Russian society behave
towards the police? It is not even respected by those who avail
themselves of its dark services. But we despise and hate it three, ten
times more—not because many of us have been tortured in the detective
departments, which are just chambers of horror, beaten almost to
death, beaten with whips of ox-hide and of rubber in order to extort a
confession or to make us betray a comrade. Yes, we hate them for that
too. But we thieves, all of us who have been in prison, have a mad
passion for freedom. Therefore we despise our gaolers with all the
hatred that a human heart can feel. I will speak for myself. I have
been tortured three times by police detectives till I was half dead.
My lungs and liver have been shattered. In the mornings I spit blood
until I can breathe no more. But if I were told that I will be spared
a fourth flogging only by shaking hands with a chief of the detective
police, I would refuse to do it!
"And then the newspapers say that we took from these hands
Judas-money, dripping with human blood. No, gentlemen, it is a slander
which stabs our very soul, and inflicts insufferable pain. Not money,
nor threats, nor promises will suffice to make us mercenary murderers
of our brethren, nor accomplices with them."
"Never … No … No … ," his comrades standing behind him began to
"I will say more," the thief continued. "Many of us protected the
victims during this pogrom. Our friend, called Sesoi the Great—you
have just seen him, gentlemen—was then lodging with a Jewish
braid-maker on the Moldavanka. With a poker in his hands he defended
his landlord from a great horde of assassins. It is true, Sesoi the
Great is a man of enormous physical strength, and this is well known
to many of the inhabitants of the Moldavanka. But you must agree,
gentlemen, that in these moments Sesoi the Great looked straight into
the face of death. Our comrade Martin the Miner—this gentleman here"
—the orator pointed to a pale, bearded man with beautiful eyes who
was holding himself in the background—"saved an old Jewess, whom he
had never seen before, who was being pursued by a crowd of these
canaille. They broke his head with a crowbar for his pains, smashed
his arm in two places and splintered a rib. He is only just out of
hospital. That is the way our most ardent and determined members
acted. The others trembled for anger and wept for their own impotence.
"None of us will forget the horrors of those bloody days and bloody
nights lit up by the glare of fires, those sobbing women, those little
children's bodies torn to pieces and left lying in the street. But for
all that not one of us thinks that the police and the mob are the real
origin of the evil. These tiny, stupid, loathsome vermin are only a
senseless fist that is governed by a vile, calculating mind, moved by
a diabolical will.
"Yes, gentlemen," the orator continued, "we thieves have nevertheless
merited your legal contempt. But when you, noble gentlemen, need the
help of clever, brave, obedient men at the barricades, men who will be
ready to meet death with a song and a jest on their lips for the most
glorious word in the world—Freedom—will you cast us off then and
order us away because of an inveterate revulsion? Damn it all, the
first victim in the French Revolution was a prostitute. She jumped up
on to a barricade, with her skirt caught elegantly up into her hand
and called out: 'Which of you soldiers will dare to shoot a woman?'
Yes, by God." The orator exclaimed aloud and brought down his fist on
to the marble table top: "They killed her, but her action was
magnificent, and the beauty of her words immortal.
"If you should drive us away on the great day, we will turn to you and
say: 'You spotless Cherubim—if human thoughts had the power to wound,
kill, and rob man of honour and property, then which of you innocent
doves would not deserve the knout and imprisonment for life?' Then we
will go away from you and build our own gay, sporting, desperate
thieves' barricade, and will die with such united songs on our lips
that you will envy us, you who are whiter than snow!
"But I have been once more carried away. Forgive me. I am at the end.
You now see, gentlemen, what feelings the newspaper slanders have
excited in us. Believe in our sincerity and do what you can to remove
the filthy stain which has so unjustly been cast upon us. I have
He went away from the table and joined his comrades. The barristers
were whispering in an undertone, very much as the magistrates of the
bench at sessions. Then the chairman rose.
"We trust you absolutely, and we will make every effort to clear your
association of this most grievous charge. At the same time my
colleagues have authorised me, gentlemen, to convey to you their deep
respect for your passionate feelings as citizens. And for my own part
I ask the leader of the deputation for permission to shake him by the
The two men, both tall and serious, held each other's hands in a
strong, masculine grip.
The barristers were leaving the theatre; but four of them hung back a
little beside the clothes rack in the hall. Isaac Abramovich could not
find his new, smart grey hat anywhere. In its place on the wooden peg
hung a cloth cap jauntily flattened in on either side.
"Yasha!" The stern voice of the orator was suddenly heard from the
other side of the door. "Yasha! It's the last time I'll speak to you,
curse you! … Do you hear?" The heavy door opened wide. The gentleman
in the sandy suit entered. In his hands he held Isaac Abramovich's
hat; on his face was a well-bred smile.
"Gentlemen, for Heaven's sake forgive us—an odd little
misunderstanding. One of our comrades exchanged his hat by accident…
Oh, it is yours! A thousand pardons. Doorkeeper! Why don't you keep an
eye on things, my good fellow, eh? Just give me that cap, there. Once
more, I ask you to forgive me, gentlemen."
With a pleasant bow and the same well-bred smile he made his way
quickly into the street.