THE WIFE AND OTHER STORIES
THE TALES OF CHEKHOV VOLUME 5
Translated by CONSTANCE GARNETT
A DREARY STORY
THE PRIVY COUNCILLOR
THE MAN IN A CASE
THE LOTTERY TICKET
I RECEIVED the following letter:
"DEAR SIR, PAVEL ANDREITCH!
"Not far from you—that is to say, in the village of Pestrovo—very
distressing incidents are taking place, concerning which I feel it my duty
to write to you. All the peasants of that village sold their cottages and
all their belongings, and set off for the province of Tomsk, but did not
succeed in getting there, and have come back. Here, of course, they have
nothing now; everything belongs to other people. They have settled three
or four families in a hut, so that there are no less than fifteen persons
of both sexes in each hut, not counting the young children; and the long
and the short of it is, there is nothing to eat. There is famine and there
is a terrible pestilence of hunger, or spotted, typhus; literally every
one is stricken. The doctor's assistant says one goes into a cottage and
what does one see? Every one is sick, every one delirious, some laughing,
others frantic; the huts are filthy; there is no one to fetch them water,
no one to give them a drink, and nothing to eat but frozen potatoes. What
can Sobol (our Zemstvo doctor) and his lady assistant do when more than
medicine the peasants need bread which they have not? The District Zemstvo
refuses to assist them, on the ground that their names have been taken off
the register of this district, and that they are now reckoned as
inhabitants of Tomsk; and, besides, the Zemstvo has no money.
"Laying these facts before you, and knowing your humanity, I beg you not
to refuse immediate help.
Obviously the letter was written by the doctor with the animal name* or
his lady assistant. Zemstvo doctors and their assistants go on for years
growing more and more convinced every day that they can do nothing,
and yet continue to receive their salaries from people who are living upon
frozen potatoes, and consider they have a right to judge whether I am
humane or not.
*Sobol in Russian means "sable-marten."—TRANSLATOR'S NOTE.
Worried by the anonymous letter and by the fact that peasants came every
morning to the servants' kitchen and went down on their knees there, and
that twenty sacks of rye had been stolen at night out of the barn, the
wall having first been broken in, and by the general depression which was
fostered by conversations, newspapers, and horrible weather—worried
by all this, I worked listlessly and ineffectively. I was writing "A
History of Railways"; I had to read a great number of Russian and foreign
books, pamphlets, and articles in the magazines, to make calculations, to
refer to logarithms, to think and to write; then again to read, calculate,
and think; but as soon as I took up a book or began to think, my thoughts
were in a muddle, my eyes began blinking, I would get up from the table
with a sigh and begin walking about the big rooms of my deserted
country-house. When I was tired of walking about I would stand still at my
study window, and, looking across the wide courtyard, over the pond and
the bare young birch-trees and the great fields covered with recently
fallen, thawing snow, I saw on a low hill on the horizon a group of
mud-coloured huts from which a black muddy road ran down in an irregular
streak through the white field. That was Pestrovo, concerning which my
anonymous correspondent had written to me. If it had not been for the
crows who, foreseeing rain or snowy weather, floated cawing over the pond
and the fields, and the tapping in the carpenter's shed, this bit of the
world about which such a fuss was being made would have seemed like the
Dead Sea; it was all so still, motionless, lifeless, and dreary!
My uneasiness hindered me from working and concentrating myself; I did not
know what it was, and chose to believe it was disappointment. I had
actually given up my post in the Department of Ways and Communications,
and had come here into the country expressly to live in peace and to
devote myself to writing on social questions. It had long been my
cherished dream. And now I had to say good-bye both to peace and to
literature, to give up everything and think only of the peasants. And that
was inevitable, because I was convinced that there was absolutely nobody
in the district except me to help the starving. The people surrounding me
were uneducated, unintellectual, callous, for the most part dishonest, or
if they were honest, they were unreasonable and unpractical like my wife,
for instance. It was impossible to rely on such people, it was impossible
to leave the peasants to their fate, so that the only thing left to do was
to submit to necessity and see to setting the peasants to rights myself.
I began by making up my mind to give five thousand roubles to the
assistance of the starving peasants. And that did not decrease, but only
aggravated my uneasiness. As I stood by the window or walked about the
rooms I was tormented by the question which had not occurred to me before:
how this money was to be spent. To have bread bought and to go from hut to
hut distributing it was more than one man could do, to say nothing of the
risk that in your haste you might give twice as much to one who was
well-fed or to one who was making money out of his fellows as to the
hungry. I had no faith in the local officials. All these district captains
and tax inspectors were young men, and I distrusted them as I do all young
people of today, who are materialistic and without ideals. The District
Zemstvo, the Peasant Courts, and all the local institutions, inspired in
me not the slightest desire to appeal to them for assistance. I knew that
all these institutions who were busily engaged in picking out plums from
the Zemstvo and the Government pie had their mouths always wide open for a
bite at any other pie that might turn up.
The idea occurred to me to invite the neighbouring landowners and suggest
to them to organize in my house something like a committee or a centre to
which all subscriptions could be forwarded, and from which assistance and
instructions could be distributed throughout the district; such an
organization, which would render possible frequent consultations and free
control on a big scale, would completely meet my views. But I imagined the
lunches, the dinners, the suppers and the noise, the waste of time, the
verbosity and the bad taste which that mixed provincial company would
inevitably bring into my house, and I made haste to reject my idea.
As for the members of my own household, the last thing I could look for
was help or support from them. Of my father's household, of the household
of my childhood, once a big and noisy family, no one remained but the
governess Mademoiselle Marie, or, as she was now called, Marya
Gerasimovna, an absolutely insignificant person. She was a precise little
old lady of seventy, who wore a light grey dress and a cap with white
ribbons, and looked like a china doll. She always sat in the drawing-room
Whenever I passed by her, she would say, knowing the reason for my
"What can you expect, Pasha? I told you how it would be before. You can
judge from our servants."
My wife, Natalya Gavrilovna, lived on the lower storey, all the rooms of
which she occupied. She slept, had her meals, and received her visitors
downstairs in her own rooms, and took not the slightest interest in how I
dined, or slept, or whom I saw. Our relations with one another were simple
and not strained, but cold, empty, and dreary as relations are between
people who have been so long estranged, that even living under the same
roof gives no semblance of nearness. There was no trace now of the
passionate and tormenting love—at one time sweet, at another bitter
as wormwood—which I had once felt for Natalya Gavrilovna. There was
nothing left, either, of the outbursts of the past—the loud
altercations, upbraidings, complaints, and gusts of hatred which had
usually ended in my wife's going abroad or to her own people, and in my
sending money in small but frequent instalments that I might sting her
pride oftener. (My proud and sensitive wife and her family live at my
expense, and much as she would have liked to do so, my wife could not
refuse my money: that afforded me satisfaction and was one comfort in my
sorrow.) Now when we chanced to meet in the corridor downstairs or in the
yard, I bowed, she smiled graciously. We spoke of the weather, said that
it seemed time to put in the double windows, and that some one with bells
on their harness had driven over the dam. And at such times I read in her
face: "I am faithful to you and am not disgracing your good name which you
think so much about; you are sensible and do not worry me; we are quits."
I assured myself that my love had died long ago, that I was too much
absorbed in my work to think seriously of my relations with my wife. But,
alas! that was only what I imagined. When my wife talked aloud downstairs
I listened intently to her voice, though I could not distinguish one word.
When she played the piano downstairs I stood up and listened. When her
carriage or her saddlehorse was brought to the door, I went to the window
and waited to see her out of the house; then I watched her get into her
carriage or mount her horse and ride out of the yard. I felt that there
was something wrong with me, and was afraid the expression of my eyes or
my face might betray me. I looked after my wife and then watched for her
to come back that I might see again from the window her face, her
shoulders, her fur coat, her hat. I felt dreary, sad, infinitely
regretful, and felt inclined in her absence to walk through her rooms, and
longed that the problem that my wife and I had not been able to solve
because our characters were incompatible, should solve itself in the
natural way as soon as possible—that is, that this beautiful woman
of twenty-seven might make haste and grow old, and that my head might be
grey and bald.
One day at lunch my bailiff informed me that the Pestrovo peasants had
begun to pull the thatch off the roofs to feed their cattle. Marya
Gerasimovna looked at me in alarm and perplexity.
"What can I do?" I said to her. "One cannot fight single-handed, and I
have never experienced such loneliness as I do now. I would give a great
deal to find one man in the whole province on whom I could rely."
"Invite Ivan Ivanitch," said Marya Gerasimovna.
"To be sure!" I thought, delighted. "That is an idea! C'est raison,"
I hummed, going to my study to write to Ivan Ivanitch. "C'est raison,
Of all the mass of acquaintances who, in this house twenty-five to
thirty-five years ago, had eaten, drunk, masqueraded, fallen in love,
married bored us with accounts of their splendid packs of hounds and
horses, the only one still living was Ivan Ivanitch Bragin. At one time he
had been very active, talkative, noisy, and given to falling in love, and
had been famous for his extreme views and for the peculiar charm of his
face, which fascinated men as well as women; now he was an old man, had
grown corpulent, and was living out his days with neither views nor charm.
He came the day after getting my letter, in the evening just as the
samovar was brought into the dining-room and little Marya Gerasimovna had
begun slicing the lemon.
"I am very glad to see you, my dear fellow," I said gaily, meeting him.
"Why, you are stouter than ever...."
"It isn't getting stout; it's swelling," he answered. "The bees must have
With the familiarity of a man laughing at his own fatness, he put his arms
round my waist and laid on my breast his big soft head, with the hair
combed down on the forehead like a Little Russian's, and went off into a
thin, aged laugh.
"And you go on getting younger," he said through his laugh. "I wonder what
dye you use for your hair and beard; you might let me have some of it."
Sniffing and gasping, he embraced me and kissed me on the cheek. "You
might give me some of it," he repeated. "Why, you are not forty, are you?"
"Alas, I am forty-six!" I said, laughing.
Ivan Ivanitch smelt of tallow candles and cooking, and that suited him.
His big, puffy, slow-moving body was swathed in a long frock-coat like a
coachman's full coat, with a high waist, and with hooks and eyes instead
of buttons, and it would have been strange if he had smelt of
eau-de-Cologne, for instance. In his long, unshaven, bluish double chin,
which looked like a thistle, his goggle eyes, his shortness of breath, and
in the whole of his clumsy, slovenly figure, in his voice, his laugh, and
his words, it was difficult to recognize the graceful, interesting talker
who used in old days to make the husbands of the district jealous on
account of their wives.
"I am in great need of your assistance, my friend," I said, when we were
sitting in the dining-room, drinking tea. "I want to organize relief for
the starving peasants, and I don't know how to set about it. So perhaps
you will be so kind as to advise me."
"Yes, yes, yes," said Ivan Ivanitch, sighing. "To be sure, to be sure, to
"I would not have worried you, my dear fellow, but really there is no one
here but you I can appeal to. You know what people are like about here."
"To be sure, to be sure, to be sure.... Yes."
I thought that as we were going to have a serious, business consultation
in which any one might take part, regardless of their position or personal
relations, why should I not invite Natalya Gavrilovna.
"Tres faciunt collegium," I said gaily. "What if we were to ask
Natalya Gavrilovna? What do you think? Fenya," I said, turning to the
maid, "ask Natalya Gavrilovna to come upstairs to us, if possible at once.
Tell her it's a very important matter."
A little later Natalya Gavrilovna came in. I got up to meet her and said:
"Excuse us for troubling you, Natalie. We are discussing a very important
matter, and we had the happy thought that we might take advantage of your
good advice, which you will not refuse to give us. Please sit down."
Ivan Ivanitch kissed her hand while she kissed his forehead; then, when we
all sat down to the table, he, looking at her tearfully and blissfully,
craned forward to her and kissed her hand again. She was dressed in black,
her hair was carefully arranged, and she smelt of fresh scent. She had
evidently dressed to go out or was expecting somebody. Coming into the
dining-room, she held out her hand to me with simple friendliness, and
smiled to me as graciously as she did to Ivan Ivanitch—that pleased
me; but as she talked she moved her fingers, often and abruptly leaned
back in her chair and talked rapidly, and this jerkiness in her words and
movements irritated me and reminded me of her native town—Odessa,
where the society, men and women alike, had wearied me by its bad taste.
"I want to do something for the famine-stricken peasants," I began, and
after a brief pause I went on: "Money, of course, is a great thing, but to
confine oneself to subscribing money, and with that to be satisfied, would
be evading the worst of the trouble. Help must take the form of money, but
the most important thing is a proper and sound organization. Let us think
it over, my friends, and do something."
Natalya Gavrilovna looked at me inquiringly and shrugged her shoulders as
though to say, "What do I know about it?"
"Yes, yes, famine..." muttered Ivan Ivanitch. "Certainly... yes."
"It's a serious position," I said, "and assistance is needed as soon as
possible. I imagine the first point among the principles which we must
work out ought to be promptitude. We must act on the military principles
of judgment, promptitude, and energy."
"Yes, promptitude..." repeated Ivan Ivanitch in a drowsy and listless
voice, as though he were dropping asleep. "Only one can't do anything. The
crops have failed, and so what's the use of all your judgment and
energy?... It's the elements.... You can't go against God and fate."
"Yes, but that's what man has a head for, to contend against the
"Eh? Yes... that's so, to be sure.... Yes."
Ivan Ivanitch sneezed into his handkerchief, brightened up, and as though
he had just woken up, looked round at my wife and me.
"My crops have failed, too." He laughed a thin little laugh and gave a sly
wink as though this were really funny. "No money, no corn, and a yard full
of labourers like Count Sheremetyev's. I want to kick them out, but I
haven't the heart to."
Natalya Gavrilovna laughed, and began questioning him about his private
affairs. Her presence gave me a pleasure such as I had not felt for a long
time, and I was afraid to look at her for fear my eyes would betray my
secret feeling. Our relations were such that that feeling might seem
surprising and ridiculous.
She laughed and talked with Ivan Ivanitch without being in the least
disturbed that she was in my room and that I was not laughing.
"And so, my friends, what are we to do?" I asked after waiting for a
pause. "I suppose before we do anything else we had better immediately
open a subscription-list. We will write to our friends in the capitals and
in Odessa, Natalie, and ask them to subscribe. When we have got together a
little sum we will begin buying corn and fodder for the cattle; and you,
Ivan Ivanitch, will you be so kind as to undertake distributing the
relief? Entirely relying on your characteristic tact and efficiency, we
will only venture to express a desire that before you give any relief you
make acquaintance with the details of the case on the spot, and also,
which is very important, you should be careful that corn should be
distributed only to those who are in genuine need, and not to the drunken,
the idle, or the dishonest."
"Yes, yes, yes..." muttered Ivan Ivanitch. "To be sure, to be sure."
"Well, one won't get much done with that slobbering wreck," I thought, and
I felt irritated.
"I am sick of these famine-stricken peasants, bother them! It's nothing
but grievances with them!" Ivan Ivanitch went on, sucking the rind of the
lemon. "The hungry have a grievance against those who have enough, and
those who have enough have a grievance against the hungry. Yes... hunger
stupefies and maddens a man and makes him savage; hunger is not a potato.
When a man is starving he uses bad language, and steals, and may do
worse.... One must realize that."
Ivan Ivanitch choked over his tea, coughed, and shook all over with a
squeaky, smothered laughter.
"'There was a battle at Pol... Poltava,'" he brought out, gesticulating
with both hands in protest against the laughter and coughing which
prevented him from speaking. "'There was a battle at Poltava!' When three
years after the Emancipation we had famine in two districts here, Fyodor
Fyodoritch came and invited me to go to him. 'Come along, come along,' he
persisted, and nothing else would satisfy him. 'Very well, let us go,' I
said. And, so we set off. It was in the evening; there was snow falling.
Towards night we were getting near his place, and suddenly from the wood
came 'bang!' and another time 'bang!' 'Oh, damn it all!'... I jumped out
of the sledge, and I saw in the darkness a man running up to me, knee-deep
in the snow. I put my arm round his shoulder, like this, and knocked the
gun out of his hand. Then another one turned up; I fetched him a knock on
the back of his head so that he grunted and flopped with his nose in the
snow. I was a sturdy chap then, my fist was heavy; I disposed of two of
them, and when I turned round Fyodor was sitting astride of a third. We
did not let our three fine fellows go; we tied their hands behind their
backs so that they might not do us or themselves any harm, and took the
fools into the kitchen. We were angry with them and at the same time
ashamed to look at them; they were peasants we knew, and were good
fellows; we were sorry for them. They were quite stupid with terror. One
was crying and begging our pardon, the second looked like a wild beast and
kept swearing, the third knelt down and began to pray. I said to Fedya:
'Don't bear them a grudge; let them go, the rascals!' He fed them, gave
them a bushel of flour each, and let them go: 'Get along with you,' he
said. So that's what he did.... The Kingdom of Heaven be his and
everlasting peace! He understood and did not bear them a grudge; but there
were some who did, and how many people they ruined! Yes... Why, over the
affair at the Klotchkovs' tavern eleven men were sent to the disciplinary
battalion. Yes.... And now, look, it's the same thing. Anisyin, the
investigating magistrate, stayed the night with me last Thursday, and he
told me about some landowner.... Yes.... They took the wall of his barn to
pieces at night and carried off twenty sacks of rye. When the gentleman
heard that such a crime had been committed, he sent a telegram to the
Governor and another to the police captain, another to the investigating
magistrate!... Of course, every one is afraid of a man who is fond of
litigation. The authorities were in a flutter and there was a general
hubbub. Two villages were searched."
"Excuse me, Ivan Ivanitch," I said. "Twenty sacks of rye were stolen from
me, and it was I who telegraphed to the Governor. I telegraphed to
Petersburg, too. But it was by no means out of love for litigation, as you
are pleased to express it, and not because I bore them a grudge. I look at
every subject from the point of view of principle. From the point of view
of the law, theft is the same whether a man is hungry or not."
"Yes, yes..." muttered Ivan Ivanitch in confusion. "Of course... To be
Natalya Gavrilovna blushed.
"There are people..." she said and stopped; she made an effort to seem
indifferent, but she could not keep it up, and looked into my eyes with
the hatred that I know so well. "There are people," she said, "for whom
famine and human suffering exist simply that they may vent their hateful
and despicable temperaments upon them."
I was confused and shrugged my shoulders.
"I meant to say generally," she went on, "that there are people who are
quite indifferent and completely devoid of all feeling of sympathy, yet
who do not pass human suffering by, but insist on meddling for fear people
should be able to do without them. Nothing is sacred for their vanity."
"There are people," I said softly, "who have an angelic character, but who
express their glorious ideas in such a form that it is difficult to
distinguish the angel from an Odessa market-woman."
I must confess it was not happily expressed.
My wife looked at me as though it cost her a great effort to hold her
tongue. Her sudden outburst, and then her inappropriate eloquence on the
subject of my desire to help the famine-stricken peasants, were, to say
the least, out of place; when I had invited her to come upstairs I had
expected quite a different attitude to me and my intentions. I cannot say
definitely what I had expected, but I had been agreeably agitated by the
expectation. Now I saw that to go on speaking about the famine would be
difficult and perhaps stupid.
"Yes..." Ivan Ivanitch muttered inappropriately. "Burov, the merchant,
must have four hundred thousand at least. I said to him: 'Hand over one or
two thousand to the famine. You can't take it with you when you die,
anyway.' He was offended. But we all have to die, you know. Death is not a
A silence followed again.
"So there's nothing left for me but to reconcile myself to loneliness," I
sighed. "One cannot fight single-handed. Well, I will try single-handed.
Let us hope that my campaign against the famine will be more successful
than my campaign against indifference."
"I am expected downstairs," said Natalya Gavrilovna.
She got up from the table and turned to Ivan Ivanitch.
"So you will look in upon me downstairs for a minute? I won't say good-bye
And she went away.
Ivan Ivanitch was now drinking his seventh glass of tea, choking, smacking
his lips, and sucking sometimes his moustache, sometimes the lemon. He was
muttering something drowsily and listlessly, and I did not listen but
waited for him to go. At last, with an expression that suggested that he
had only come to me to take a cup of tea, he got up and began to take
leave. As I saw him out I said:
"And so you have given me no advice."
"Eh? I am a feeble, stupid old man," he answered. "What use would my
advice be? You shouldn't worry yourself.... I really don't know why you
worry yourself. Don't disturb yourself, my dear fellow! Upon my word,
there's no need," he whispered genuinely and affectionately, soothing me
as though I were a child. "Upon my word, there's no need."
"No need? Why, the peasants are pulling the thatch off their huts, and
they say there is typhus somewhere already."
"Well, what of it? If there are good crops next year, they'll thatch them
again, and if we die of typhus others will live after us. Anyway, we have
to die—if not now, later. Don't worry yourself, my dear."
"I can't help worrying myself," I said irritably.
We were standing in the dimly lighted vestibule. Ivan Ivanitch suddenly
took me by the elbow, and, preparing to say something evidently very
important, looked at me in silence for a couple of minutes.
"Pavel Andreitch!" he said softly, and suddenly in his puffy, set face and
dark eyes there was a gleam of the expression for which he had once been
famous and which was truly charming. "Pavel Andreitch, I speak to you as a
friend: try to be different! One is ill at ease with you, my dear fellow,
one really is!"
He looked intently into my face; the charming expression faded away, his
eyes grew dim again, and he sniffed and muttered feebly:
"Yes, yes.... Excuse an old man.... It's all nonsense... yes."
As he slowly descended the staircase, spreading out his hands to balance
himself and showing me his huge, bulky back and red neck, he gave me the
unpleasant impression of a sort of crab.
"You ought to go away, your Excellency," he muttered. "To Petersburg or
abroad.... Why should you live here and waste your golden days? You are
young, wealthy, and healthy.... Yes.... Ah, if I were younger I would
whisk away like a hare, and snap my fingers at everything."
My wife's outburst reminded me of our married life together. In old days
after every such outburst we felt irresistibly drawn to each other; we
would meet and let off all the dynamite that had accumulated in our souls.
And now after Ivan Ivanitch had gone away I had a strong impulse to go to
my wife. I wanted to go downstairs and tell her that her behaviour at tea
had been an insult to me, that she was cruel, petty, and that her plebeian
mind had never risen to a comprehension of what I was saying and of
what I was doing. I walked about the rooms a long time thinking of
what I would say to her and trying to guess what she would say to me.
That evening, after Ivan Ivanitch went away, I felt in a peculiarly
irritating form the uneasiness which had worried me of late. I could not
sit down or sit still, but kept walking about in the rooms that were
lighted up and keeping near to the one in which Marya Gerasimovna was
sitting. I had a feeling very much like that which I had on the North Sea
during a storm when every one thought that our ship, which had no freight
nor ballast, would overturn. And that evening I understood that my
uneasiness was not disappointment, as I had supposed, but a different
feeling, though what exactly I could not say, and that irritated me more
"I will go to her," I decided. "I can think of a pretext. I shall say that
I want to see Ivan Ivanitch; that will be all."
I went downstairs and walked without haste over the carpeted floor through
the vestibule and the hall. Ivan Ivanitch was sitting on the sofa in the
drawing-room; he was drinking tea again and muttering something. My wife
was standing opposite to him and holding on to the back of a chair. There
was a gentle, sweet, and docile expression on her face, such as one sees
on the faces of people listening to crazy saints or holy men when a
peculiar hidden significance is imagined in their vague words and
mutterings. There was something morbid, something of a nun's exaltation,
in my wife's expression and attitude; and her low-pitched, half-dark rooms
with their old-fashioned furniture, with her birds asleep in their cages,
and with a smell of geranium, reminded me of the rooms of some abbess or
pious old lady.
I went into the drawing-room. My wife showed neither surprise nor
confusion, and looked at me calmly and serenely, as though she had known I
"I beg your pardon," I said softly. "I am so glad you have not gone yet,
Ivan Ivanitch. I forgot to ask you, do you know the Christian name of the
president of our Zemstvo?"
"Andrey Stanislavovitch. Yes...."
"Merci," I said, took out my notebook, and wrote it down.
There followed a silence during which my wife and Ivan Ivanitch were
probably waiting for me to go; my wife did not believe that I wanted to
know the president's name—I saw that from her eyes.
"Well, I must be going, my beauty," muttered Ivan Ivanitch, after I had
walked once or twice across the drawing-room and sat down by the
"No," said Natalya Gavrilovna quickly, touching his hand. "Stay another
quarter of an hour.... Please do!"
Evidently she did not wish to be left alone with me without a witness.
"Oh, well, I'll wait a quarter of an hour, too," I thought.
"Why, it's snowing!" I said, getting up and looking out of window. "A good
fall of snow! Ivan Ivanitch"—I went on walking about the room—"I
do regret not being a sportsman. I can imagine what a pleasure it must be
coursing hares or hunting wolves in snow like this!"
My wife, standing still, watched my movements, looking out of the corner
of her eyes without turning her head. She looked as though she thought I
had a sharp knife or a revolver in my pocket.
"Ivan Ivanitch, do take me out hunting some day," I went on softly. "I
shall be very, very grateful to you."
At that moment a visitor came into the room. He was a tall, thick-set
gentleman whom I did not know, with a bald head, a big fair beard, and
little eyes. From his baggy, crumpled clothes and his manners I took him
to be a parish clerk or a teacher, but my wife introduced him to me as Dr.
"Very, very glad to make your acquaintance," said the doctor in a loud
tenor voice, shaking hands with me warmly, with a naive smile. "Very
He sat down at the table, took a glass of tea, and said in a loud voice:
"Do you happen to have a drop of rum or brandy? Have pity on me, Olya, and
look in the cupboard; I am frozen," he said, addressing the maid.
I sat down by the fire again, looked on, listened, and from time to time
put in a word in the general conversation. My wife smiled graciously to
the visitors and kept a sharp lookout on me, as though I were a wild
beast. She was oppressed by my presence, and this aroused in me jealousy,
annoyance, and an obstinate desire to wound her. "Wife, these snug rooms,
the place by the fire," I thought, "are mine, have been mine for years,
but some crazy Ivan Ivanitch or Sobol has for some reason more right to
them than I. Now I see my wife, not out of window, but close at hand, in
ordinary home surroundings that I feel the want of now I am growing older,
and, in spite of her hatred for me, I miss her as years ago in my
childhood I used to miss my mother and my nurse. And I feel that now, on
the verge of old age, my love for her is purer and loftier than it was in
the past; and that is why I want to go up to her, to stamp hard on her toe
with my heel, to hurt her and smile as I do it."
"Monsieur Marten," I said, addressing the doctor, "how many hospitals have
we in the district?"
"Sobol," my wife corrected.
"Two," answered Sobol.
"And how many deaths are there every year in each hospital?"
"Pavel Andreitch, I want to speak to you," said my wife.
She apologized to the visitors and went to the next room. I got up and
"You will go upstairs to your own rooms this minute," she said.
"You are ill-bred," I said to her.
"You will go upstairs to your own rooms this very minute," she repeated
sharply, and she looked into my face with hatred.
She was standing so near that if I had stooped a little my beard would
have touched her face.
"What is the matter?" I asked. "What harm have I done all at once?"
Her chin quivered, she hastily wiped her eyes, and, with a cursory glance
at the looking-glass, whispered:
"The old story is beginning all over again. Of course you won't go away.
Well, do as you like. I'll go away myself, and you stay."
We returned to the drawing-room, she with a resolute face, while I
shrugged my shoulders and tried to smile. There were some more visitors—an
elderly lady and a young man in spectacles. Without greeting the new
arrivals or taking leave of the others, I went off to my own rooms.
After what had happened at tea and then again downstairs, it became clear
to me that our "family happiness," which we had begun to forget about in
the course of the last two years, was through some absurd and trivial
reason beginning all over again, and that neither I nor my wife could now
stop ourselves; and that next day or the day after, the outburst of hatred
would, as I knew by experience of past years, be followed by something
revolting which would upset the whole order of our lives. "So it seems
that during these two years we have grown no wiser, colder, or calmer," I
thought as I began walking about the rooms. "So there will again be tears,
outcries, curses, packing up, going abroad, then the continual sickly fear
that she will disgrace me with some coxcomb out there, Italian or Russian,
refusing a passport, letters, utter loneliness, missing her, and in five
years old age, grey hairs." I walked about, imagining what was really
impossible—her, grown handsomer, stouter, embracing a man I did not
know. By now convinced that that would certainly happen, "'Why," I asked
myself, "Why, in one of our long past quarrels, had not I given her a
divorce, or why had she not at that time left me altogether? I should not
have had this yearning for her now, this hatred, this anxiety; and I
should have lived out my life quietly, working and not worrying about
A carriage with two lamps drove into the yard, then a big sledge with
three horses. My wife was evidently having a party.
Till midnight everything was quiet downstairs and I heard nothing, but at
midnight there was a sound of moving chairs and a clatter of crockery. So
there was supper. Then the chairs moved again, and through the floor I
heard a noise; they seemed to be shouting hurrah. Marya Gerasimovna was
already asleep and I was quite alone in the whole upper storey; the
portraits of my forefathers, cruel, insignificant people, looked at me
from the walls of the drawing-room, and the reflection of my lamp in the
window winked unpleasantly. And with a feeling of jealousy and envy for
what was going on downstairs, I listened and thought: "I am master here;
if I like, I can in a moment turn out all that fine crew." But I knew that
all that was nonsense, that I could not turn out any one, and the word
"master" had no meaning. One may think oneself master, married, rich, a
kammer-junker, as much as one likes, and at the same time not know what it
After supper some one downstairs began singing in a tenor voice.
"Why, nothing special has happened," I tried to persuade myself. "Why am I
so upset? I won't go downstairs tomorrow, that's all; and that will be the
end of our quarrel."
At a quarter past one I went to bed.
"Have the visitors downstairs gone?" I asked Alexey as he was undressing
"Yes, sir, they've gone."
"And why were they shouting hurrah?"
"Alexey Dmitritch Mahonov subscribed for the famine fund a thousand
bushels of flour and a thousand roubles. And the old lady—I don't
know her name—promised to set up a soup kitchen on her estate to
feed a hundred and fifty people. Thank God... Natalya Gavrilovna has been
pleased to arrange that all the gentry should assemble every Friday."
"To assemble here, downstairs?"
"Yes, sir. Before supper they read a list: since August up to today
Natalya Gavrilovna has collected eight thousand roubles, besides corn.
Thank God.... What I think is that if our mistress does take trouble for
the salvation of her soul, she will soon collect a lot. There are plenty
of rich people here."
Dismissing Alexey, I put out the light and drew the bedclothes over my
"After all, why am I so troubled?" I thought. "What force draws me to the
starving peasants like a butterfly to a flame? I don't know them, I don't
understand them; I have never seen them and I don't like them. Why this
I suddenly crossed myself under the quilt.
"But what a woman she is!" I said to myself, thinking of my wife. "There's
a regular committee held in the house without my knowing. Why this
secrecy? Why this conspiracy? What have I done to them? Ivan Ivanitch is
right—I must go away."
Next morning I woke up firmly resolved to go away. The events of the
previous day—the conversation at tea, my wife, Sobol, the supper, my
apprehensions—worried me, and I felt glad to think of getting away
from the surroundings which reminded me of all that. While I was drinking
my coffee the bailiff gave me a long report on various matters. The most
agreeable item he saved for the last.
"The thieves who stole our rye have been found," he announced with a
smile. "The magistrate arrested three peasants at Pestrovo yesterday."
"Go away!" I shouted at him; and a propos of nothing, I picked up the
cake-basket and flung it on the floor.
After lunch I rubbed my hands, and thought I must go to my wife and tell
her that I was going away. Why? Who cared? Nobody cares, I answered, but
why shouldn't I tell her, especially as it would give her nothing but
pleasure? Besides, to go away after our yesterday's quarrel without saying
a word would not be quite tactful: she might think that I was frightened
of her, and perhaps the thought that she has driven me out of my house may
weigh upon her. It would be just as well, too, to tell her that I
subscribe five thousand, and to give her some advice about the
organization, and to warn her that her inexperience in such a complicated
and responsible matter might lead to most lamentable results. In short, I
wanted to see my wife, and while I thought of various pretexts for going
to her, I had a firm conviction in my heart that I should do so.
It was still light when I went in to her, and the lamps had not yet been
lighted. She was sitting in her study, which led from the drawing-room to
her bedroom, and, bending low over the table, was writing something
quickly. Seeing me, she started, got up from the table, and remained
standing in an attitude such as to screen her papers from me.
"I beg your pardon, I have only come for a minute," I said, and, I don't
know why, I was overcome with embarrassment. "I have learnt by chance that
you are organizing relief for the famine, Natalie."
"Yes, I am. But that's my business," she answered.
"Yes, it is your business," I said softly. "I am glad of it, for it just
fits in with my intentions. I beg your permission to take part in it."
"Forgive me, I cannot let you do it," she said in response, and looked
"Why not, Natalie?" I said quietly. "Why not? I, too, am well fed and I,
too, want to help the hungry."
"I don't know what it has to do with you," she said with a contemptuous
smile, shrugging her shoulders. "Nobody asks you."
"Nobody asks you, either, and yet you have got up a regular committee in
my house," I said.
"I am asked, but you can have my word for it no one will ever ask you. Go
and help where you are not known."
"For God's sake, don't talk to me in that tone." I tried to be mild, and
besought myself most earnestly not to lose my temper. For the first few
minutes I felt glad to be with my wife. I felt an atmosphere of youth, of
home, of feminine softness, of the most refined elegance—exactly
what was lacking on my floor and in my life altogether. My wife was
wearing a pink flannel dressing-gown; it made her look much younger, and
gave a softness to her rapid and sometimes abrupt movements. Her beautiful
dark hair, the mere sight of which at one time stirred me to passion, had
from sitting so long with her head bent c ome loose from the comb and was
untidy, but, to my eyes, that only made it look more rich and luxuriant.
All this, though is banal to the point of vulgarity. Before me stood an
ordinary woman, perhaps neither beautiful nor elegant, but this was my
wife with whom I had once lived, and with whom I should have been living
to this day if it had not been for her unfortunate character; she was the
one human being on the terrestrial globe whom I loved. At this moment,
just before going away, when I knew that I should no longer see her even
through the window, she seemed to me fascinating even as she was, cold and
forbidding, answering me with a proud and contemptuous mockery. I was
proud of her, and confessed to myself that to go away from her was
terrible and impossible.
"Pavel Andreitch," she said after a brief silence, "for two years we have
not interfered with each other but have lived quietly. Why do you suddenly
feel it necessary to go back to the past? Yesterday you came to insult and
humiliate me," she went on, raising her voice, and her face flushed and
her eyes flamed with hatred; "but restrain yourself; do not do it, Pavel
Andreitch! Tomorrow I will send in a petition and they will give me a
passport, and I will go away; I will go! I will go! I'll go into a
convent, into a widows' home, into an almshouse...."
"Into a lunatic asylum!" I cried, not able to restrain myself.
"Well, even into a lunatic asylum! That would be better, that would be
better," she cried, with flashing eyes. "When I was in Pestrovo today I
envied the sick and starving peasant women because they are not living
with a man like you. They are free and honest, while, thanks to you, I am
a parasite, I am perishing in idleness, I eat your bread, I spend your
money, and I repay you with my liberty and a fidelity which is of no use
to any one. Because you won't give me a passport, I must respect your good
name, though it doesn't exist."
I had to keep silent. Clenching my teeth, I walked quickly into the
drawing-room, but turned back at once and said:
"I beg you earnestly that there should be no more assemblies, plots, and
meetings of conspirators in my house! I only admit to my house those with
whom I am acquainted, and let all your crew find another place to do it if
they want to take up philanthropy. I can't allow people at midnight in my
house to be shouting hurrah at successfully exploiting an hysterical woman
My wife, pale and wringing her hands, took a rapid stride across the room,
uttering a prolonged moan as though she had toothache. With a wave of my
hand, I went into the drawing-room. I was choking with rage, and at the
same time I was trembling with terror that I might not restrain myself,
and that I might say or do something which I might regret all my life. And
I clenched my hands tight, hoping to hold myself in.
After drinking some water and recovering my calm a little, I went back to
my wife. She was standing in the same attitude as before, as though
barring my approach to the table with the papers. Tears were slowly
trickling down her pale, cold face. I paused then and said to her bitterly
but without anger:
"How you misunderstand me! How unjust you are to me! I swear upon my
honour I came to you with the best of motives, with nothing but the desire
to do good!"
"Pavel Andreitch!" she said, clasping her hands on her bosom, and her face
took on the agonized, imploring expression with which frightened, weeping
children beg not to be punished, "I know perfectly well that you will
refuse me, but still I beg you. Force yourself to do one kind action in
your life. I entreat you, go away from here! That's the only thing you can
do for the starving peasants. Go away, and I will forgive you everything,
"There is no need for you to insult me, Natalie," I sighed, feeling a
sudden rush of humility. "I had already made up my mind to go away, but I
won't go until I have done something for the peasants. It's my duty!"
"Ach!" she said softly with an impatient frown. "You can make an excellent
bridge or railway, but you can do nothing for the starving peasants. Do
"Indeed? Yesterday you reproached me with indifference and with being
devoid of the feeling of compassion. How well you know me!" I laughed.
"You believe in God—well, God is my witness that I am worried day
"I see that you are worried, but the famine and compassion have nothing to
do with it. You are worried because the starving peasants can get on
without you, and because the Zemstvo, and in fact every one who is helping
them, does not need your guidance."
I was silent, trying to suppress my irritation. Then I said:
"I came to speak to you on business. Sit down. Please sit down."
She did not sit down.
"I beg you to sit down," I repeated, and I motioned her to a chair.
She sat down. I sat down, too, thought a little, and said:
"I beg you to consider earnestly what I am saying. Listen.... Moved by
love for your fellow-creatures, you have undertaken the organization of
famine relief. I have nothing against that, of course; I am completely in
sympathy with you, and am prepared to co-operate with you in every way,
whatever our relations may be. But, with all my respect for your mind and
your heart... and your heart," I repeated, "I cannot allow such a
difficult, complex, and responsible matter as the organization of relief
to be left in your hands entirely. You are a woman, you are inexperienced,
you know nothing of life, you are too confiding and expansive. You have
surrounded yourself with assistants whom you know nothing about. I am not
exaggerating if I say that under these conditions your work will
inevitably lead to two deplorable consequences. To begin with, our
district will be left unrelieved; and, secondly, you will have to pay for
your mistakes and those of your assistants, not only with your purse, but
with your reputation. The money deficit and other losses I could, no
doubt, make good, but who could restore you your good name? When through
lack of proper supervision and oversight there is a rumour that you, and
consequently I, have made two hundred thousand over the famine fund, will
your assistants come to your aid?"
She said nothing.
"Not from vanity, as you say," I went on, "but simply that the starving
peasants may not be left unrelieved and your reputation may not be
injured, I feel it my moral duty to take part in your work."
"Speak more briefly," said my wife.
"You will be so kind," I went on, "as to show me what has been subscribed
so far and what you have spent. Then inform me daily of every fresh
subscription in money or kind, and of every fresh outlay. You will also
give me, Natalie, the list of your helpers. Perhaps they are quite decent
people; I don't doubt it; but, still, it is absolutely necessary to make
She was silent. I got up, and walked up and down the room.
"Let us set to work, then," I said, and I sat down to her table.
"Are you in earnest?" she asked, looking at me in alarm and bewilderment.
"Natalie, do be reasonable!" I said appealingly, seeing from her face that
she meant to protest. "I beg you, trust my experience and my sense of
"I don't understand what you want."
"Show me how much you have collected and how much you have spent."
"I have no secrets. Any one may see. Look."
On the table lay five or six school exercise books, several sheets of
notepaper covered with writing, a map of the district, and a number of
pieces of paper of different sizes. It was getting dusk. I lighted a
"Excuse me, I don't see anything yet," I said, turning over the leaves of
the exercise books. "Where is the account of the receipt of money
"That can be seen from the subscription lists."
"Yes, but you must have an account," I said, smiling at her naivete.
"Where are the letters accompanying the subscriptions in money or in kind?
Pardon, a little practical advice, Natalie: it's absolutely
necessary to keep those letters. You ought to number each letter and make
a special note of it in a special record. You ought to do the same with
your own letters. But I will do all that myself."
"Do so, do so..." she said.
I was very much pleased with myself. Attracted by this living interesting
work, by the little table, the naive exercise books and the charm of doing
this work in my wife's society, I was afraid that my wife would suddenly
hinder me and upset everything by some sudden whim, and so I was in haste
and made an effort to attach no consequence to the fact that her lips were
quivering, and that she was looking about her with a helpless and
frightened air like a wild creature in a trap.
"I tell you what, Natalie," I said without looking at her; "let me take
all these papers and exercise books upstairs to my study. There I will
look through them and tell you what I think about it tomorrow. Have you
any more papers?" I asked, arranging the exercise books and sheets of
papers in piles.
"Take them, take them all!" said my wife, helping me to arrange them, and
big tears ran down her cheeks. "Take it all! That's all that was left me
in life.... Take the last."
"Ach! Natalie, Natalie!" I sighed reproachfully.
She opened the drawer in the table and began flinging the papers out of it
on the table at random, poking me in the chest with her elbow and brushing
my face with her hair; as she did so, copper coins kept dropping upon my
knees and on the floor.
"Take everything!" she said in a husky voice.
When she had thrown out the papers she walked away from me, and putting
both hands to her head, she flung herself on the couch. I picked up the
money, put it back in the drawer, and locked it up that the servants might
not be led into dishonesty; then I gathered up all the papers and went off
with them. As I passed my wife I stopped and, looking at her back and
shaking shoulders, I said:
"What a baby you are, Natalie! Fie, fie! Listen, Natalie: when you realize
how serious and responsible a business it is you will be the first to
thank me. I assure you you will."
In my own room I set to work without haste. The exercise books were not
bound, the pages were not numbered. The entries were put in all sorts of
handwritings; evidently any one who liked had a hand in managing the
books. In the record of the subscriptions in kind there was no note of
their money value. But, excuse me, I thought, the rye which is now worth
one rouble fifteen kopecks may be worth two roubles fifteen kopecks in two
months' time! Was that the way to do things? Then, "Given to A. M. Sobol
32 roubles." When was it given? For what purpose was it given? Where was
the receipt? There was nothing to show, and no making anything of it. In
case of legal proceedings, these papers would only obscure the case.
"How naive she is!" I thought with surprise. "What a child!"
I felt both vexed and amused.
My wife had already collected eight thousand; with my five it would be
thirteen thousand. For a start that was very good. The business which had
so worried and interested me was at last in my hands; I was doing what the
others would not and could not do; I was doing my duty, organizing the
relief fund in a practical and business-like way.
Everything seemed to be going in accordance with my desires and
intentions; but why did my feeling of uneasiness persist? I spent four
hours over my wife's papers, making out their meaning and correcting her
mistakes, but instead of feeling soothed, I felt as though some one were
standing behind me and rubbing my back with a rough hand. What was it I
wanted? The organization of the relief fund had come into trustworthy
hands, the hungry would be fed—what more was wanted?
The four hours of this light work for some reason exhausted me, so that I
could not sit bending over the table nor write. From below I heard from
time to time a smothered moan; it was my wife sobbing. Alexey, invariably
meek, sleepy, and sanctimonious, kept coming up to the table to see to the
candles, and looked at me somewhat strangely.
"Yes, I must go away," I decided at last, feeling utterly exhausted. "As
far as possible from these agreeable impressions! I will set off
I gathered together the papers and exercise books, and went down to my
wife. As, feeling quite worn out and shattered, I held the papers and the
exercise books to my breast with both hands, and passing through my
bedroom saw my trunks, the sound of weeping reached me through the floor.
"Are you a kammer-junker?" a voice whispered in my ear. "That's a very
pleasant thing. But yet you are a reptile."
"It's all nonsense, nonsense, nonsense," I muttered as I went downstairs.
"Nonsense... and it's nonsense, too, that I am actuated by vanity or a
love of display.... What rubbish! Am I going to get a decoration for
working for the peasants or be made the director of a department?
Nonsense, nonsense! And who is there to show off to here in the country?"
I was tired, frightfully tired, and something kept whispering in my ear:
"Very pleasant. But, still, you are a reptile." For some reason I
remembered a line out of an old poem I knew as a child: "How pleasant it
is to be good!"
My wife was lying on the couch in the same attitude, on her face and with
her hands clutching her head. She was crying. A maid was standing beside
her with a perplexed and frightened face. I sent the maid away, laid the
papers on the table, thought a moment and said:
"Here are all your papers, Natalie. It's all in order, it's all capital,
and I am very much pleased. I am going away tomorrow."
She went on crying. I went into the drawing-room and sat there in the
dark. My wife's sobs, her sighs, accused me of something, and to justify
myself I remembered the whole of our quarrel, starting from my unhappy
idea of inviting my wife to our consultation and ending with the exercise
books and these tears. It was an ordinary attack of our conjugal hatred,
senseless and unseemly, such as had been frequent during our married life,
but what had the starving peasants to do with it? How could it have
happened that they had become a bone of contention between us? It was just
as though pursuing one another we had accidentally run up to the altar and
had carried on a quarrel there.
"Natalie," I said softly from the drawing-room, "hush, hush!"
To cut short her weeping and make an end of this agonizing state of
affairs, I ought to have gone up to my wife and comforted her, caressed
her, or apologized; but how could I do it so that she would believe me?
How could I persuade the wild duck, living in captivity and hating me,
that it was dear to me, and that I felt for its sufferings? I had never
known my wife, so I had never known how to talk to her or what to talk
about. Her appearance I knew very well and appreciated it as it deserved,
but her spiritual, moral world, her mind, her outlook on life, her
frequent changes of mood, her eyes full of hatred, her disdain, the scope
and variety of her reading which sometimes struck me, or, for instance,
the nun-like expression I had seen on her face the day before—all
that was unknown and incomprehensible to me. When in my collisions with
her I tried to define what sort of a person she was, my psychology went no
farther than deciding that she was giddy, impractical, ill-tempered,
guided by feminine logic; and it seemed to me that that was quite
sufficient. But now that she was crying I had a passionate desire to know
The weeping ceased. I went up to my wife. She sat up on the couch, and,
with her head propped in both hands, looked fixedly and dreamily at the
"I am going away tomorrow morning," I said.
She said nothing. I walked across the room, sighed, and said:
"Natalie, when you begged me to go away, you said: 'I will forgive you
everything, everything'.... So you think I have wronged you. I beg you
calmly and in brief terms to formulate the wrong I've done you."
"I am worn out. Afterwards, some time..." said my wife.
"How am I to blame?" I went on. "What have I done? Tell me: you are young
and beautiful, you want to live, and I am nearly twice your age and hated
by you, but is that my fault? I didn't marry you by force. But if you want
to live in freedom, go; I'll give you your liberty. You can go and love
whom you please.... I will give you a divorce."
"That's not what I want," she said. "You know I used to love you and
always thought of myself as older than you. That's all nonsense.... You
are not to blame for being older or for my being younger, or that I might
be able to love some one else if I were free; but because you are a
difficult person, an egoist, and hate every one."
"Perhaps so. I don't know," I said.
"Please go away. You want to go on at me till the morning, but I warn you
I am quite worn out and cannot answer you. You promised me to go to town.
I am very grateful; I ask nothing more."
My wife wanted me to go away, but it was not easy for me to do that. I was
dispirited and I dreaded the big, cheerless, chill rooms that I was so
weary of. Sometimes when I had an ache or a pain as a child, I used to
huddle up to my mother or my nurse, and when I hid my face in the warm
folds of their dress, it seemed to me as though I were hiding from the
pain. And in the same way it seemed to me now that I could only hide from
my uneasiness in this little room beside my wife. I sat down and screened
away the light from my eyes with my hand.... There was a stillness.
"How are you to blame?" my wife said after a long silence, looking at me
with red eyes that gleamed with tears. "You are very well educated and
very well bred, very honest, just, and high-principled, but in you the
effect of all that is that wherever you go you bring suffocation,
oppression, something insulting and humiliating to the utmost degree. You
have a straightforward way of looking at things, and so you hate the whole
world. You hate those who have faith, because faith is an expression of
ignorance and lack of culture, and at the same time you hate those who
have no faith for having no faith and no ideals; you hate old people for
being conservative and behind the times, and young people for
free-thinking. The interests of the peasantry and of Russia are dear to
you, and so you hate the peasants because you suspect every one of them of
being a thief and a robber. You hate every one. You are just, and always
take your stand on your legal rights, and so you are always at law with
the peasants and your neighbours. You have had twenty bushels of rye
stolen, and your love of order has made you complain of the peasants to
the Governor and all the local authorities, and to send a complaint of the
local authorities to Petersburg. Legal justice!" said my wife, and she
laughed. "On the ground of your legal rights and in the interests of
morality, you refuse to give me a passport. Law and morality is such that
a self-respecting healthy young woman has to spend her life in idleness,
in depression, and in continual apprehension, and to receive in return
board and lodging from a man she does not love. You have a thorough
knowledge of the law, you are very honest and just, you respect marriage
and family life, and the effect of all that is that all your life you have
not done one kind action, that every one hates you, that you are on bad
terms with every one, and the seven years that you have been married
you've only lived seven months with your wife. You've had no wife and I've
had no husband. To live with a man like you is impossible; there is no way
of doing it. In the early years I was frightened with you, and now I am
ashamed.... That's how my best years have been wasted. When I fought with
you I ruined my temper, grew shrewish, coarse, timid, mistrustful.... Oh,
but what's the use of talking! As though you wanted to understand! Go
upstairs, and God be with you!"
My wife lay down on the couch and sank into thought.
"And how splendid, how enviable life might have been!" she said softly,
looking reflectively into the fire. "What a life it might have been!
There's no bringing it back now."
Any one who has lived in the country in winter and knows those long
dreary, still evenings when even the dogs are too bored to bark and even
the clocks seem weary of ticking, and any one who on such evenings has
been troubled by awakening conscience and has moved restlessly about,
trying now to smother his conscience, now to interpret it, will understand
the distraction and the pleasure my wife's voice gave me as it sounded in
the snug little room, telling me I was a bad man. I did not understand
what was wanted of me by my conscience, and my wife, translating it in her
feminine way, made clear to me in the meaning of my agitation. As often
before in the moments of intense uneasiness, I guessed that the whole
secret lay, not in the starving peasants, but in my not being the sort of
a man I ought to be.
My wife got up with an effort and came up to me.
"Pavel Andreitch," she said, smiling mournfully, "forgive me, I don't
believe you: you are not going away, but I will ask you one more favour.
Call this"—she pointed to her papers—"self-deception, feminine
logic, a mistake, as you like; but do not hinder me. It's all that is left
me in life." She turned away and paused. "Before this I had nothing. I
have wasted my youth in fighting with you. Now I have caught at this and
am living; I am happy.... It seems to me that I have found in this a means
of justifying my existence."
"Natalie, you are a good woman, a woman of ideas," I said, looking at my
wife enthusiastically, "and everything you say and do is intelligent and
I walked about the room to conceal my emotion.
"Natalie," I went on a minute later, "before I go away, I beg of you as a
special favour, help me to do something for the starving peasants!"
"What can I do?" said my wife, shrugging her shoulders. "Here's the
She rummaged among the papers and found the subscription list.
"Subscribe some money," she said, and from her tone I could see that she
did not attach great importance to her subscription list; "that is the
only way in which you can take part in the work."
I took the list and wrote: "Anonymous, 5,000."
In this "anonymous" there was something wrong, false, conceited, but I
only realized that when I noticed that my wife flushed very red and
hurriedly thrust the list into the heap of papers. We both felt ashamed; I
felt that I must at all costs efface this clumsiness at once, or else I
should feel ashamed afterwards, in the train and at Petersburg. But how
efface it? What was I to say?
"I fully approve of what you are doing, Natalie," I said genuinely, "and I
wish you every success. But allow me at parting to give you one piece of
advice, Natalie; be on your guard with Sobol, and with your assistants
generally, and don't trust them blindly. I don't say they are not honest,
but they are not gentlefolks; they are people with no ideas, no ideals, no
faith, with no aim in life, no definite principles, and the whole object
of their life is comprised in the rouble. Rouble, rouble, rouble!" I
sighed. "They are fond of getting money easily, for nothing, and in that
respect the better educated they are the more they are to be dreaded."
My wife went to the couch and lay down.
"Ideas," she brought out, listlessly and reluctantly, "ideas, ideals,
objects of life, principles....you always used to use those words when you
wanted to insult or humiliate some one, or say something unpleasant. Yes,
that's your way: if with your views and such an attitude to people you are
allowed to take part in anything, you would destroy it from the first day.
It's time you understand that."
She sighed and paused.
"It's coarseness of character, Pavel Andreitch," she said. "You are
well-bred and educated, but what a... Scythian you are in reality! That's
because you lead a cramped life full of hatred, see no one, and read
nothing but your engineering books. And, you know, there are good people,
good books! Yes... but I am exhausted and it wearies me to talk. I ought
to be in bed."
"So I am going away, Natalie," I said.
"Yes... yes.... Merci...."
I stood still for a little while, then went upstairs. An hour later—it
was half-past one—I went downstairs again with a candle in my hand
to speak to my wife. I didn't know what I was going to say to her, but I
felt that I must say some thing very important and necessary. She was not
in her study, the door leading to her bedroom was closed.
"Natalie, are you asleep?" I asked softly.
There was no answer.
I stood near the door, sighed, and went into the drawing-room. There I sat
down on the sofa, put out the candle, and remained sitting in the dark
till the dawn.
I went to the station at ten o'clock in the morning. There was no frost,
but snow was falling in big wet flakes and an unpleasant damp wind was
We passed a pond and then a birch copse, and then began going uphill along
the road which I could see from my window. I turned round to take a last
look at my house, but I could see nothing for the snow. Soon afterwards
dark huts came into sight ahead of us as in a fog. It was Pestrovo.
"If I ever go out of my mind, Pestrovo will be the cause of it," I
thought. "It persecutes me."
We came out into the village street. All the roofs were intact, not one of
them had been pulled to pieces; so my bailiff had told a lie. A boy was
pulling along a little girl and a baby in a sledge. Another boy of three,
with his head wrapped up like a peasant woman's and with huge mufflers on
his hands, was trying to catch the flying snowflakes on his tongue, and
laughing. Then a wagon loaded with fagots came toward us and a peasant
walking beside it, and there was no telling whether his beard was white or
whether it was covered with snow. He recognized my coachman, smiled at him
and said something, and mechanically took off his hat to me. The dogs ran
out of the yards and looked inquisitively at my horses. Everything was
quiet, ordinary, as usual. The emigrants had returned, there was no bread;
in the huts "some were laughing, some were delirious"; but it all looked
so ordinary that one could not believe it really was so. There were no
distracted faces, no voices whining for help, no weeping, nor abuse, but
all around was stillness, order, life, children, sledges, dogs with
dishevelled tails. Neither the children nor the peasant we met were
troubled; why was I so troubled?
Looking at the smiling peasant, at the boy with the huge mufflers, at the
huts, remembering my wife, I realized there was no calamity that could
daunt this people; I felt as though there were already a breath of victory
in the air. I felt proud and felt ready to cry out that I was with them
too; but the horses were carrying us away from the village into the open
country, the snow was whirling, the wind was howling, and I was left alone
with my thoughts. Of the million people working for the peasantry, life
itself had cast me out as a useless, incompetent, bad man. I was a
hindrance, a part of the people's calamity; I was vanquished, cast out,
and I was hurrying to the station to go away and hide myself in Petersburg
in a hotel in Bolshaya Morskaya.
An hour later we reached the station. The coachman and a porter with a
disc on his breast carried my trunks into the ladies' room. My coachman
Nikanor, wearing high felt boots and the skirt of his coat tucked up
through his belt, all wet with the snow and glad I was going away, gave me
a friendly smile and said:
"A fortunate journey, your Excellency. God give you luck."
Every one, by the way, calls me "your Excellency," though I am only a
collegiate councillor and a kammer-junker. The porter told me the train
had not yet left the next station; I had to wait. I went outside, and with
my head heavy from my sleepless night, and so exhausted I could hardly
move my legs, I walked aimlessly towards the pump. There was not a soul
"Why am I going?" I kept asking myself. "What is there awaiting me there?
The acquaintances from whom I have come away, loneliness, restaurant
dinners, noise, the electric light, which makes my eyes ache. Where am I
going, and what am I going for? What am I going for?"
And it seemed somehow strange to go away without speaking to my wife. I
felt that I was leaving her in uncertainty. Going away, I ought to have
told that she was right, that I really was a bad man.
When I turned away from the pump, I saw in the doorway the station-master,
of whom I had twice made complaints to his superiors, turning up the
collar of his coat, shrinking from the wind and the snow. He came up to
me, and putting two fingers to the peak of his cap, told me with an
expression of helpless confusion, strained respectfulness, and hatred on
his face, that the train was twenty minutes late, and asked me would I not
like to wait in the warm?
"Thank you," I answered, "but I am probably not going. Send word to my
coachman to wait; I have not made up my mind."
I walked to and fro on the platform and thought, should I go away or not?
When the train came in I decided not to go. At home I had to expect my
wife's amazement and perhaps her mockery, the dismal upper storey and my
uneasiness; but, still, at my age that was easier and as it were more
homelike than travelling for two days and nights with strangers to
Petersburg, where I should be conscious every minute that my life was of
no use to any one or to anything, and that it was approaching its end. No,
better at home whatever awaited me there.... I went out of the station. It
was awkward by daylight to return home, where every one was so glad at my
going. I might spend the rest of the day till evening at some neighbour's,
but with whom? With some of them I was on strained relations, others I did
not know at all. I considered and thought of Ivan Ivanitch.
"We are going to Bragino!" I said to the coachman, getting into the
"It's a long way," sighed Nikanor; "it will be twenty miles, or maybe
"Oh, please, my dear fellow," I said in a tone as though Nikanor had the
right to refuse. "Please let us go!"
Nikanor shook his head doubtfully and said slowly that we really ought to
have put in the shafts, not Circassian, but Peasant or Siskin; and
uncertainly, as though expecting I should change my mind, took the reins
in his gloves, stood up, thought a moment, and then raised his whip.
"A whole series of inconsistent actions..." I thought, screening my face
from the snow. "I must have gone out of my mind. Well, I don't care...."
In one place, on a very high and steep slope, Nikanor carefully held the
horses in to the middle of the descent, but in the middle the horses
suddenly bolted and dashed downhill at a fearful rate; he raised his
elbows and shouted in a wild, frantic voice such as I had never heard from
"Hey! Let's give the general a drive! If you come to grief he'll buy new
ones, my darlings! Hey! look out! We'll run you down!"
Only now, when the extraordinary pace we were going at took my breath
away, I noticed that he was very drunk. He must have been drinking at the
station. At the bottom of the descent there was the crash of ice; a piece
of dirty frozen snow thrown up from the road hit me a painful blow in the
The runaway horses ran up the hill as rapidly as they had downhill, and
before I had time to shout to Nikanor my sledge was flying along on the
level in an old pine forest, and the tall pines were stretching out their
shaggy white paws to me from all directions.
"I have gone out of my mind, and the coachman's drunk," I thought. "Good!"
I found Ivan Ivanitch at home. He laughed till he coughed, laid his head
on my breast, and said what he always did say on meeting me:
"You grow younger and younger. I don't know what dye you use for your hair
and your beard; you might give me some of it."
"I've come to return your call, Ivan Ivanitch," I said untruthfully.
"Don't be hard on me; I'm a townsman, conventional; I do keep count of
"I am delighted, my dear fellow. I am an old man; I like respect.... Yes."
From his voice and his blissfully smiling face, I could see that he was
greatly flattered by my visit. Two peasant women helped me off with my
coat in the entry, and a peasant in a red shirt hung it on a hook, and
when Ivan Ivanitch and I went into his little study, two barefooted little
girls were sitting on the floor looking at a picture-book; when they saw
us they jumped up and ran away, and a tall, thin old woman in spectacles
came in at once, bowed gravely to me, and picking up a pillow from the
sofa and a picture-book from the floor, went away. From the adjoining
rooms we heard incessant whispering and the patter of bare feet.
"I am expecting the doctor to dinner," said Ivan Ivanitch. "He promised to
come from the relief centre. Yes. He dines with me every Wednesday, God
bless him." He craned towards me and kissed me on the neck. "You have
come, my dear fellow, so you are not vexed," he whispered, sniffing.
"Don't be vexed, my dear creature. Yes. Perhaps it is annoying, but don't
be cross. My only prayer to God before I die is to live in peace and
harmony with all in the true way. Yes."
"Forgive me, Ivan Ivanitch, I will put my feet on a chair," I said,
feeling that I was so exhausted I could not be myself; I sat further back
on the sofa and put up my feet on an arm-chair. My face was burning from
the snow and the wind, and I felt as though my whole body were basking in
the warmth and growing weaker from it.
"It's very nice here," I went on—"warm, soft, snug... and
goose-feather pens," I laughed, looking at the writing-table; "sand
instead of blotting-paper."
"Eh? Yes... yes.... The writing-table and the mahogany cupboard here were
made for my father by a self-taught cabinet-maker—Glyeb Butyga, a
serf of General Zhukov's. Yes... a great artist in his own way."
Listlessly and in the tone of a man dropping asleep, he began telling me
about cabinet-maker Butyga. I listened. Then Ivan Ivanitch went into the
next room to show me a polisander wood chest of drawers remarkable for its
beauty and cheapness. He tapped the chest with his fingers, then called my
attention to a stove of patterned tiles, such as one never sees now. He
tapped the stove, too, with his fingers. There was an atmosphere of
good-natured simplicity and well-fed abundance about the chest of drawers,
the tiled stove, the low chairs, the pictures embroidered in wool and silk
on canvas in solid, ugly frames. When one remembers that all those objects
were standing in the same places and precisely in the same order when I
was a little child, and used to come here to name-day parties with my
mother, it is simply unbelievable that they could ever cease to exist.
I thought what a fearful difference between Butyga and me! Butyga who made
things, above all, solidly and substantially, and seeing in that his chief
object, gave to length of life peculiar significance, had no thought of
death, and probably hardly believed in its possibility; I, when I built my
bridges of iron and stone which would last a thousand years, could not
keep from me the thought, "It's not for long....it's no use." If in time
Butyga's cupboard and my bridge should come under the notice of some
sensible historian of art, he would say: "These were two men remarkable in
their own way: Butyga loved his fellow-creatures and would not admit the
thought that they might die and be annihilated, and so when he made his
furniture he had the immortal man in his mind. The engineer Asorin did not
love life or his fellow-creatures; even in the happy moments of creation,
thoughts of death, of finiteness and dissolution, were not alien to him,
and we see how insignificant and finite, how timid and poor, are these
lines of his...."
"I only heat these rooms," muttered Ivan Ivanitch, showing me his rooms.
"Ever since my wife died and my son was killed in the war, I have kept the
best rooms shut up. Yes... see..."
He opened a door, and I saw a big room with four columns, an old piano,
and a heap of peas on the floor; it smelt cold and damp.
"The garden seats are in the next room..." muttered Ivan Ivanitch.
"There's no one to dance the mazurka now.... I've shut them up."
We heard a noise. It was Dr. Sobol arriving. While he was rubbing his cold
hands and stroking his wet beard, I had time to notice in the first place
that he had a very dull life, and so was pleased to see Ivan Ivanitch and
me; and, secondly, that he was a naive and simple-hearted man. He looked
at me as though I were very glad to see him and very much interested in
"I have not slept for two nights," he said, looking at me naively and
stroking his beard. "One night with a confinement, and the next I stayed
at a peasant's with the bugs biting me all night. I am as sleepy as Satan,
do you know."
With an expression on his face as though it could not afford me anything
but pleasure, he took me by the arm and led me to the dining-room. His
naive eyes, his crumpled coat, his cheap tie and the smell of iodoform
made an unpleasant impression upon me; I felt as though I were in vulgar
company. When we sat down to table he filled my glass with vodka, and,
smiling helplessly, I drank it; he put a piece of ham on my plate and I
ate it submissively.
"Repetitia est mater studiorum," said Sobol, hastening to drink off
another wineglassful. "Would you believe it, the joy of seeing good people
has driven away my sleepiness? I have turned into a peasant, a savage in
the wilds; I've grown coarse, but I am still an educated man, and I tell
you in good earnest, it's tedious without company."
They served first for a cold course white sucking-pig with horse-radish
cream, then a rich and very hot cabbage soup with pork on it, with boiled
buckwheat, from which rose a column of steam. The doctor went on talking,
and I was soon convinced that he was a weak, unfortunate man, disorderly
in external life. Three glasses of vodka made him drunk; he grew
unnaturally lively, ate a great deal, kept clearing his throat and
smacking his lips, and already addressed me in Italian, "Eccellenza."
Looking naively at me as though he were convinced that I was very glad to
see and hear him, he informed me that he had long been separated from his
wife and gave her three-quarters of his salary; that she lived in the town
with his children, a boy and a girl, whom he adored; that he loved another
woman, a widow, well educated, with an estate in the country, but was
rarely able to see her, as he was busy with his work from morning till
night and had not a free moment.
"The whole day long, first at the hospital, then on my rounds," he told
us; "and I assure you, Eccellenza, I have not time to read a book, let
alone going to see the woman I love. I've read nothing for ten years! For
ten years, Eccellenza. As for the financial side of the question, ask Ivan
Ivanitch: I have often no money to buy tobacco."
"On the other hand, you have the moral satisfaction of your work," I said.
"What?" he asked, and he winked. "No," he said, "better let us drink."
I listened to the doctor, and, after my invariable habit, tried to take
his measure by my usual classification—materialist, idealist, filthy
lucre, gregarious instincts, and so on; but no classification fitted him
even approximately; and strange to say, while I simply listened and looked
at him, he seemed perfectly clear to me as a person, but as soon as I
began trying to classify him he became an exceptionally complex,
intricate, and incomprehensible character in spite of all his candour and
simplicity. "Is that man," I asked myself, "capable of wasting other
people's money, abusing their confidence, being disposed to sponge on
them?" And now this question, which had once seemed to me grave and
important, struck me as crude, petty, and coarse.
Pie was served; then, I remember, with long intervals between, during
which we drank home-made liquors, they gave us a stew of pigeons, some
dish of giblets, roast sucking-pig, partridges, cauliflower, curd
dumplings, curd cheese and milk, jelly, and finally pancakes and jam. At
first I ate with great relish, especially the cabbage soup and the
buckwheat, but afterwards I munched and swallowed mechanically, smiling
helplessly and unconscious of the taste of anything. My face was burning
from the hot cabbage soup and the heat of the room. Ivan Ivanitch and
Sobol, too, were crimson.
"To the health of your wife," said Sobol. "She likes me. Tell her her
doctor sends her his respects."
"She's fortunate, upon my word," sighed Ivan Ivanitch. "Though she takes
no trouble, does not fuss or worry herself, she has become the most
important person in the whole district. Almost the whole business is in
her hands, and they all gather round her, the doctor, the District
Captains, and the ladies. With people of the right sort that happens of
itself. Yes.... The apple-tree need take no thought for the apple to grow
on it; it will grow of itself."
"It's only people who don't care who take no thought," said I.
"Eh? Yes..." muttered Ivan Ivanitch, not catching what I said, "that's
true.... One must not worry oneself. Just so, just so.... Only do your
duty towards God and your neighbour, and then never mind what happens."
"Eccellenza," said Sobol solemnly, "just look at nature about us: if you
poke your nose or your ear out of your fur collar it will be frost-bitten;
stay in the fields for one hour, you'll be buried in the snow; while the
village is just the same as in the days of Rurik, the same Petchenyegs and
Polovtsi. It's nothing but being burnt down, starving, and struggling
against nature in every way. What was I saying? Yes! If one thinks about
it, you know, looks into it and analyses all this hotchpotch, if you will
allow me to call it so, it's not life but more like a fire in a theatre!
Any one who falls down or screams with terror, or rushes about, is the
worst enemy of good order; one must stand up and look sharp, and not stir
a hair! There's no time for whimpering and busying oneself with trifles.
When you have to deal with elemental forces you must put out force against
them, be firm and as unyielding as a stone. Isn't that right,
grandfather?" He turned to Ivan Ivanitch and laughed. "I am no better than
a woman myself; I am a limp rag, a flabby creature, so I hate flabbiness.
I can't endure petty feelings! One mopes, another is frightened, a third
will come straight in here and say: 'Fie on you! Here you've guzzled a
dozen courses and you talk about the starving!' That's petty and stupid! A
fourth will reproach you, Eccellenza, for being rich. Excuse me,
Eccellenza," he went on in a loud voice, laying his hand on his heart,
"but your having set our magistrate the task of hunting day and night for
your thieves—excuse me, that's also petty on your part. I am a
little drunk, so that's why I say this now, but you know, it is petty!"
"Who's asking him to worry himself? I don't understand!" I said, getting
I suddenly felt unbearably ashamed and mortified, and I walked round the
"Who asks him to worry himself? I didn't ask him to.... Damn him!"
"They have arrested three men and let them go again. They turned out not
to be the right ones, and now they are looking for a fresh lot," said
Sobol, laughing. "It's too bad!"
"I did not ask him to worry himself," said I, almost crying with
excitement. "What's it all for? What's it all for? Well, supposing I was
wrong, supposing I have done wrong, why do they try to put me more in the
"Come, come, come, come!" said Sobol, trying to soothe me. "Come! I have
had a drop, that is why I said it. My tongue is my enemy. Come," he
sighed, "we have eaten and drunk wine, and now for a nap."
He got up from the table, kissed Ivan Ivanitch on the head, and staggering
from repletion, went out of the dining-room. Ivan Ivanitch and I smoked in
"I don't sleep after dinner, my dear," said Ivan Ivanitch, "but you have a
rest in the lounge-room."
I agreed. In the half-dark and warmly heated room they called the
lounge-room, there stood against the walls long, wide sofas, solid and
heavy, the work of Butyga the cabinet maker; on them lay high, soft, white
beds, probably made by the old woman in spectacles. On one of them Sobol,
without his coat and boots, already lay asleep with his face to the back
of the sofa; another bed was awaiting me. I took off my coat and boots,
and, overcome by fatigue, by the spirit of Butyga which hovered over the
quiet lounge-room, and by the light, caressing snore of Sobol, I lay down
And at once I began dreaming of my wife, of her room, of the
station-master with his face full of hatred, the heaps of snow, a fire in
the theatre. I dreamed of the peasants who had stolen twenty sacks of rye
out of my barn.
"Anyway, it's a good thing the magistrate let them go," I said.
I woke up at the sound of my own voice, looked for a moment in perplexity
at Sobol's broad back, at the buckles of his waistcoat, at his thick
heels, then lay down again and fell asleep.
When I woke up the second time it was quite dark. Sobol was asleep. There
was peace in my heart, and I longed to make haste home. I dressed and went
out of the lounge-room. Ivan Ivanitch was sitting in a big arm-chair in
his study, absolutely motionless, staring at a fixed point, and it was
evident that he had been in the same state of petrifaction all the while I
had been asleep.
"Good!" I said, yawning. "I feel as though I had woken up after breaking
the fast at Easter. I shall often come and see you now. Tell me, did my
wife ever dine here?"
"So-ome-ti-mes... sometimes,"' muttered Ivan Ivanitch, making an effort to
stir. "She dined here last Saturday. Yes.... She likes me."
After a silence I said:
"Do you remember, Ivan Ivanitch, you told me I had a disagreeable
character and that it was difficult to get on with me? But what am I to do
to make my character different?"
"I don't know, my dear boy.... I'm a feeble old man, I can't advise
you.... Yes.... But I said that to you at the time because I am fond of
you and fond of your wife, and I was fond of your father.... Yes. I shall
soon die, and what need have I to conceal things from you or to tell you
lies? So I tell you: I am very fond of you, but I don't respect you. No, I
don't respect you."
He turned towards me and said in a breathless whisper:
"It's impossible to respect you, my dear fellow. You look like a real man.
You have the figure and deportment of the French President Carnot—I
saw a portrait of him the other day in an illustrated paper... yes.... You
use lofty language, and you are clever, and you are high up in the service
beyond all reach, but haven't real soul, my dear boy... there's no
strength in it."
"A Scythian, in fact," I laughed. "But what about my wife? Tell me
something about my wife; you know her better."
I wanted to talk about my wife, but Sobol came in and prevented me.
"I've had a sleep and a wash," he said, looking at me naively. "I'll have
a cup of tea with some rum in it and go home."
It was by now past seven. Besides Ivan Ivanitch, women servants, the old
dame in spectacles, the little girls and the peasant, all accompanied us
from the hall out on to the steps, wishing us good-bye and all sorts of
blessings, while near the horses in the darkness there were standing and
moving about men with lanterns, telling our coachmen how and which way to
drive, and wishing us a lucky journey. The horses, the men, and the
sledges were white.
"Where do all these people come from?" I asked as my three horses and the
doctor's two moved at a walking pace out of the yard.
"They are all his serfs," said Sobol. "The new order has not reached him
yet. Some of the old servants are living out their lives with him, and
then there are orphans of all sorts who have nowhere to go; there are
some, too, who insist on living there, there's no turning them out. A
queer old man!"
Again the flying horses, the strange voice of drunken Nikanor, the wind
and the persistent snow, which got into one's eyes, one's mouth, and every
fold of one's fur coat....
"Well, I am running a rig," I thought, while my bells chimed in with the
doctor's, the wind whistled, the coachmen shouted; and while this frantic
uproar was going on, I recalled all the details of that strange wild day,
unique in my life, and it seemed to me that I really had gone out of my
mind or become a different man. It was as though the man I had been till
that day were already a stranger to me.
The doctor drove behind and kept talking loudly with his coachman. From
time to time he overtook me, drove side by side, and always, with the same
naive confidence that it was very pleasant to me, offered me a ci garette
or asked for the matches. Or, overtaking me, he would lean right out of
his sledge, and waving about the sleeves of his fur coat, which were at
least twice as long as his arms, shout:
"Go it, Vaska! Beat the thousand roublers! Hey, my kittens!"
And to the accompaniment of loud, malicious laughter from Sobol and his
Vaska the doctor's kittens raced ahead. My Nikanor took it as an affront,
and held in his three horses, but when the doctor's bells had passed out
of hearing, he raised his elbows, shouted, and our horses flew like mad in
pursuit. We drove into a village, there were glimpses of lights, the
silhouettes of huts. Some one shouted:
"Ah, the devils!" We seemed to have galloped a mile and a half, and still
it was the village street and there seemed no end to it. When we caught up
the doctor and drove more quietly, he asked for matches and said:
"Now try and feed that street! And, you know, there are five streets like
that, sir. Stay, stay," he shouted. "Turn in at the tavern! We must get
warm and let the horses rest."
They stopped at the tavern.
"I have more than one village like that in my district," said the doctor,
opening a heavy door with a squeaky block, and ushering me in front of
him. "If you look in broad daylight you can't see to the end of the
street, and there are side-streets, too, and one can do nothing but
scratch one's head. It's hard to do anything."
We went into the best room where there was a strong smell of table-cloths,
and at our entrance a sleepy peasant in a waistcoat and a shirt worn
outside his trousers jumped up from a bench. Sobol asked for some beer and
I asked for tea.
"It's hard to do anything," said Sobol. "Your wife has faith; I respect
her and have the greatest reverence for her, but I have no great faith
myself. As long as our relations to the people continue to have the
character of ordinary philanthropy, as shown in orphan asylums and
almshouses, so long we shall only be shuffling, shamming, and deceiving
ourselves, and nothing more. Our relations ought to be businesslike,
founded on calculation, knowledge, and justice. My Vaska has been working
for me all his life; his crops have failed, he is sick and starving. If I
give him fifteen kopecks a day, by so doing I try to restore him to his
former condition as a workman; that is, I am first and foremost looking
after my own interests, and yet for some reason I call that fifteen
kopecks relief, charity, good works. Now let us put it like this. On the
most modest computation, reckoning seven kopecks a soul and five souls a
family, one needs three hundred and fifty roubles a day to feed a thousand
families. That sum is fixed by our practical duty to a thousand families.
Meanwhile we give not three hundred and fifty a day, but only ten, and say
that that is relief, charity, that that makes your wife and all of us
exceptionally good people and hurrah for our humaneness. That is it, my
dear soul! Ah! if we would talk less of being humane and calculated more,
reasoned, and took a conscientious attitude to our duties! How many such
humane, sensitive people there are among us who tear about in all good
faith with subscription lists, but don't pay their tailors or their cooks.
There is no logic in our life; that's what it is! No logic!"
We were silent for a while. I was making a mental calculation and said:
"I will feed a thousand families for two hundred days. Come and see me
tomorrow to talk it over."
I was pleased that this was said quite simply, and was glad that Sobol
answered me still more simply:
We paid for what we had and went out of the tavern.
"I like going on like this," said Sobol, getting into the sledge.
"Eccellenza, oblige me with a match. I've forgotten mine in the tavern."
A quarter of an hour later his horses fell behind, and the sound of his
bells was lost in the roar of the snow-storm. Reaching home, I walked
about my rooms, trying to think things over and to define my position
clearly to myself; I had not one word, one phrase, ready for my wife. My
brain was not working.
But without thinking of anything, I went downstairs to my wife. She was in
her room, in the same pink dressing-gown, and standing in the same
attitude as though screening her papers from me. On her face was an
expression of perplexity and irony, and it was evident that having heard
of my arrival, she had prepared herself not to cry, not to entreat me, not
to defend herself, as she had done the day before, but to laugh at me, to
answer me contemptuously, and to act with decision. Her face was saying:
"If that's how it is, good-bye."
"Natalie, I've not gone away," I said, "but it's not deception. I have
gone out of my mind; I've grown old, I'm ill, I've become a different man—think
as you like.... I've shaken off my old self with horror, with horror; I
despise him and am ashamed of him, and the new man who has been in me
since yesterday will not let me go away. Do not drive me away, Natalie!"
She looked intently into my face and believed me, and there was a gleam of
uneasiness in her eyes. Enchanted by her presence, warmed by the warmth of
her room, I muttered as in delirium, holding out my hands to her:
"I tell you, I have no one near to me but you. I have never for one minute
ceased to miss you, and only obstinate vanity prevented me from owning it.
The past, when we lived as husband and wife, cannot be brought back, and
there's no need; but make me your servant, take all my property, and give
it away to any one you like. I am at peace, Natalie, I am content.... I am
My wife, looking intently and with curiosity into my face, suddenly
uttered a faint cry, burst into tears, and ran into the next room. I went
upstairs to my own storey.
An hour later I was sitting at my table, writing my "History of Railways,"
and the starving peasants did not now hinder me from doing so. Now I feel
no uneasiness. Neither the scenes of disorder which I saw when I went the
round of the huts at Pestrovo with my wife and Sobol the other day, nor
malignant rumours, nor the mistakes of the people around me, nor old age
close upon me—nothing disturbs me. Just as the flying bullets do not
hinder soldiers from talking of their own affairs, eating and cleaning
their boots, so the starving peasants do not hinder me from sleeping
quietly and looking after my personal affairs. In my house and far around
it there is in full swing the work which Dr. Sobol calls "an orgy of
philanthropy." My wife often comes up to me and looks about my rooms
uneasily, as though looking for what more she can give to the starving
peasants "to justify her existence," and I see that, thanks to her, there
will soon be nothing of our property left and we shall be poor; but that
does not trouble me, and I smile at her gaily. What will happen in the
future I don't know.
YEVGRAF IVANOVITCH SHIRYAEV, a small farmer, whose father, a parish
priest, now deceased, had received a gift of three hundred acres of land
from Madame Kuvshinnikov, a general's widow, was standing in a corner
before a copper washing-stand, washing his hands. As usual, his face
looked anxious and ill-humoured, and his beard was uncombed.
"What weather!" he said. "It's not weather, but a curse laid upon us. It's
He grumbled on, while his family sat waiting at table for him to have
finished washing his hands before beginning dinner. Fedosya Semyonovna,
his wife, his son Pyotr, a student, his eldest daughter Varvara, and three
small boys, had been sitting waiting a long time. The boys—Kolka,
Vanka, and Arhipka—grubby, snub-nosed little fellows with chubby
faces and tousled hair that wanted cutting, moved their chairs
impatiently, while their elders sat without stirring, and apparently did
not care whether they ate their dinner or waited....
As though trying their patience, Shiryaev deliberately dried his hands,
deliberately said his prayer, and sat down to the table without hurrying
himself. Cabbage-soup was served immediately. The sound of carpenters'
axes (Shiryaev was having a new barn built) and the laughter of Fomka,
their labourer, teasing the turkey, floated in from the courtyard.
Big, sparse drops of rain pattered on the window.
Pyotr, a round-shouldered student in spectacles, kept exchanging glances
with his mother as he ate his dinner. Several times he laid down his spoon
and cleared his throat, meaning to begin to speak, but after an intent
look at his father he fell to eating again. At last, when the porridge had
been served, he cleared his throat resolutely and said:
"I ought to go tonight by the evening train. I out to have gone before; I
have missed a fortnight as it is. The lectures begin on the first of
"Well, go," Shiryaev assented; "why are you lingering on here? Pack up and
go, and good luck to you."
A minute passed in silence.
"He must have money for the journey, Yevgraf Ivanovitch," the mother
observed in a low voice.
"Money? To be sure, you can't go without money. Take it at once, since you
need it. You could have had it long ago!"
The student heaved a faint sigh and looked with relief at his mother.
Deliberately Shiryaev took a pocket-book out of his coat-pocket and put on
"How much do you want?" he asked.
"The fare to Moscow is eleven roubles forty-two kopecks...."
"Ah, money, money!" sighed the father. (He always sighed when he saw
money, even when he was receiving it.) "Here are twelve roubles for you.
You will have change out of that which will be of use to you on the
After waiting a little, the student said:
"I did not get lessons quite at first last year. I don't know how it will
be this year; most likely it will take me a little time to find work. I
ought to ask you for fifteen roubles for my lodging and dinner."
Shiryaev thought a little and heaved a sigh.
"You will have to make ten do," he said. "Here, take it."
The student thanked him. He ought to have asked him for something more,
for clothes, for lecture fees, for books, but after an intent look at his
father he decided not to pester him further.
The mother, lacking in diplomacy and prudence, like all mothers, could not
restrain herself, and said:
"You ought to give him another six roubles, Yevgraf Ivanovitch, for a pair
of boots. Why, just see, how can he go to Moscow in such wrecks?"
"Let him take my old ones; they are still quite good."
"He must have trousers, anyway; he is a disgrace to look at."
And immediately after that a storm-signal showed itself, at the sight of
which all the family trembled.
Shiryaev's short, fat neck turned suddenly red as a beetroot. The colour
mounted slowly to his ears, from his ears to his temples, and by degrees
suffused his whole face. Yevgraf Ivanovitch shifted in his chair and
unbuttoned his shirt-collar to save himself from choking. He was evidently
struggling with the feeling that was mastering him. A deathlike silence
followed. The children held their breath. Fedosya Semyonovna, as though
she did not grasp what was happening to her husband, went on:
"He is not a little boy now, you know; he is ashamed to go about without
Shiryaev suddenly jumped up, and with all his might flung down his fat
pocket-book in the middle of the table, so that a hunk of bread flew off a
plate. A revolting expression of anger, resentment, avarice—all
mixed together—flamed on his face.
"Take everything!" he shouted in an unnatural voice; "plunder me! Take it
all! Strangle me!"
He jumped up from the table, clutched at his head, and ran staggering
about the room.
"Strip me to the last thread!" he shouted in a shrill voice. "Squeeze out
the last drop! Rob me! Wring my neck!"
The student flushed and dropped his eyes. He could not go on eating.
Fedosya Semyonovna, who had not after twenty-five years grown used to her
husband's difficult character, shrank into herself and muttered something
in self-defence. An expression of amazement and dull terror came into her
wasted and birdlike face, which at all times looked dull and scared. The
little boys and the elder daughter Varvara, a girl in her teens, with a
pale ugly face, laid down their spoons and sat mute.
Shiryaev, growing more and more ferocious, uttering words each more
terrible than the one before, dashed up to the table and began shaking the
notes out of his pocket-book.
"Take them!" he muttered, shaking all over. "You've eaten and drunk your
fill, so here's money for you too! I need nothing! Order yourself new
boots and uniforms!"
The student turned pale and got up.
"Listen, papa," he began, gasping for breath. "I... I beg you to end this,
"Hold your tongue!" the father shouted at him, and so loudly that the
spectacles fell off his nose; "hold your tongue!"
"I used... I used to be able to put up with such scenes, but... but now I
have got out of the way of it. Do you understand? I have got out of the
way of it!"
"Hold your tongue!" cried the father, and he stamped with his feet. "You
must listen to what I say! I shall say what I like, and you hold your
tongue. At your age I was earning my living, while you... Do you know what
you cost me, you scoundrel? I'll turn you out! Wastrel!"
"Yevgraf Ivanovitch," muttered Fedosya Semyonovna, moving her fingers
nervously; "you know he... you know Petya...!"
"Hold your tongue!" Shiryaev shouted out to her, and tears actually came
into his eyes from anger. "It is you who have spoilt them—you! It's
all your fault! He has no respect for us, does not say his prayers, and
earns nothing! I am only one against the ten of you! I'll turn you out of
The daughter Varvara gazed fixedly at her mother with her mouth open,
moved her vacant-looking eyes to the window, turned pale, and, uttering a
loud shriek, fell back in her chair. The father, with a curse and a wave
of the hand, ran out into the yard.
This was how domestic scenes usually ended at the Shiryaevs'. But on this
occasion, unfortunately, Pyotr the student was carried away by
overmastering anger. He was just as hasty and ill-tempered as his father
and his grandfather the priest, who used to beat his parishioners about
the head with a stick. Pale and clenching his fists, he went up to his
mother and shouted in the very highest tenor note his voice could reach:
"These reproaches are loathsome! sickening to me! I want nothing from you!
Nothing! I would rather die of hunger than eat another mouthful at your
expense! Take your nasty money back! take it!"
The mother huddled against the wall and waved her hands, as though it were
not her son, but some phantom before her. "What have I done?" she wailed.
Like his father, the boy waved his hands and ran into the yard. Shiryaev's
house stood alone on a ravine which ran like a furrow for four miles along
the steppe. Its sides were overgrown with oak saplings and alders, and a
stream ran at the bottom. On one side the house looked towards the ravine,
on the other towards the open country, there were no fences nor hurdles.
Instead there were farm-buildings of all sorts close to one another,
shutting in a small space in front of the house which was regarded as the
yard, and in which hens, ducks, and pigs ran about.
Going out of the house, the student walked along the muddy road towards
the open country. The air was full of a penetrating autumn dampness. The
road was muddy, puddles gleamed here and there, and in the yellow fields
autumn itself seemed looking out from the grass, dismal, decaying, dark.
On the right-hand side of the road was a vegetable-garden cleared of its
crops and gloomy-looking, with here and there sunflowers standing up in it
with hanging heads already black.
Pyotr thought it would not be a bad thing to walk to Moscow on foot; to
walk just as he was, with holes in his boots, without a cap, and without a
farthing of money. When he had gone eighty miles his father, frightened
and aghast, would overtake him, would begin begging him to turn back or
take the money, but he would not even look at him, but would go on and
on.... Bare forests would be followed by desolate fields, fields by
forests again; soon the earth would be white with the first snow, and the
streams would be coated with ice.... Somewhere near Kursk or near
Serpuhovo, exhausted and dying of hunger, he would sink down and die. His
corpse would be found, and there would be a paragraph in all the papers
saying that a student called Shiryaev had died of hunger....
A white dog with a muddy tail who was wandering about the vegetable-garden
looking for something gazed at him and sauntered after him.
He walked along the road and thought of death, of the grief of his family,
of the moral sufferings of his father, and then pictured all sorts of
adventures on the road, each more marvellous than the one before—picturesque
places, terrible nights, chance encounters. He imagined a string of
pilgrims, a hut in the forest with one little window shining in the
darkness; he stands before the window, begs for a night's lodging.... They
let him in, and suddenly he sees that they are robbers. Or, better still,
he is taken into a big manor-house, where, learning who he is, they give
him food and drink, play to him on the piano, listen to his complaints,
and the daughter of the house, a beauty, falls in love with him.
Absorbed in his bitterness and such thoughts, young Shiryaev walked on and
on. Far, far ahead he saw the inn, a dark patch against the grey
background of cloud. Beyond the inn, on the very horizon, he could see a
little hillock; this was the railway-station. That hillock reminded him of
the connection existing between the place where he was now standing and
Moscow, where street-lamps were burning and carriages were rattling in the
streets, where lectures were being given. And he almost wept with
depression and impatience. The solemn landscape, with its order and
beauty, the deathlike stillness all around, revolted him and moved him to
despair and hatred!
"Look out!" He heard behind him a loud voice.
An old lady of his acquaintance, a landowner of the neighbourhood, drove
past him in a light, elegant landau. He bowed to her, and smiled all over
his face. And at once he caught himself in that smile, which was so out of
keeping with his gloomy mood. Where did it come from if his whole heart
was full of vexation and misery? And he thought nature itself had given
man this capacity for lying, that even in difficult moments of spiritual
strain he might be able to hide the secrets of his nest as the fox and the
wild duck do. Every family has its joys and its horrors, but however great
they may be, it's hard for an outsider's eye to see them; they are a
secret. The father of the old lady who had just driven by, for instance,
had for some offence lain for half his lifetime under the ban of the wrath
of Tsar Nicolas I.; her husband had been a gambler; of her four sons, not
one had turned out well. One could imagine how many terrible scenes there
must have been in her life, how many tears must have been shed. And yet
the old lady seemed happy and satisfied, and she had answered his smile by
smiling too. The student thought of his comrades, who did not like talking
about their families; he thought of his mother, who almost always lied
when she had to speak of her husband and children....
Pyotr walked about the roads far from home till dusk, abandoning himself
to dreary thoughts. When it began to drizzle with rain he turned
homewards. As he walked back he made up his mind at all costs to talk to
his father, to explain to him, once and for all, that it was dreadful and
oppressive to live with him.
He found perfect stillness in the house. His sister Varvara was lying
behind a screen with a headache, moaning faintly. His mother, with a look
of amazement and guilt upon her face, was sitting beside her on a box,
mending Arhipka's trousers. Yevgraf Ivanovitch was pacing from one window
to another, scowling at the weather. From his walk, from the way he
cleared his throat, and even from the back of his head, it was evident he
felt himself to blame.
"I suppose you have changed your mind about going today?" he asked.
The student felt sorry for him, but immediately suppressing that feeling,
"Listen... I must speak to you seriously... yes, seriously. I have always
respected you, and... and have never brought myself to speak to you in
such a tone, but your behaviour... your last action..."
The father looked out of the window and did not speak. The student, as
though considering his words, rubbed his forehead and went on in great
"Not a dinner or tea passes without your making an uproar. Your bread
sticks in our throat... nothing is more bitter, more humiliating, than
bread that sticks in one's throat.... Though you are my father, no one,
neither God nor nature, has given you the right to insult and humiliate us
so horribly, to vent your ill-humour on the weak. You have worn my mother
out and made a slave of her, my sister is hopelessly crushed, while I..."
"It's not your business to teach me," said his father.
"Yes, it is my business! You can quarrel with me as much as you like, but
leave my mother in peace! I will not allow you to torment my mother!" the
student went on, with flashing eyes. "You are spoilt because no one has
yet dared to oppose you. They tremble and are mute towards you, but now
that is over! Coarse, ill-bred man! You are coarse... do you understand?
You are coarse, ill-humoured, unfeeling. And the peasants can't endure
The student had by now lost his thread, and was not so much speaking as
firing off detached words. Yevgraf Ivanovitch listened in silence, as
though stunned; but suddenly his neck turned crimson, the colour crept up
his face, and he made a movement.
"Hold your tongue!" he shouted.
"That's right!" the son persisted; "you don't like to hear the truth!
Excellent! Very good! begin shouting! Excellent!"
"Hold your tongue, I tell you!" roared Yevgraf Ivanovitch.
Fedosya Semyonovna appeared in the doorway, very pale, with an astonished
face; she tried to say something, but she could not, and could only move
"It's all your fault!" Shiryaev shouted at her. "You have brought him up
"I don't want to go on living in this house!" shouted the student, crying,
and looking angrily at his mother. "I don't want to live with you!"
Varvara uttered a shriek behind the screen and broke into loud sobs. With
a wave of his hand, Shiryaev ran out of the house.
The student went to his own room and quietly lay down. He lay till
midnight without moving or opening his eyes. He felt neither anger nor
shame, but a vague ache in his soul. He neither blamed his father nor
pitied his mother, nor was he tormented by stings of conscience; he
realized that every one in the house was feeling the same ache, and God
only knew which was most to blame, which was suffering most....
At midnight he woke the labourer, and told him to have the horse ready at
five o'clock in the morning for him to drive to the station; he undressed
and got into bed, but could not get to sleep. He heard how his father,
still awake, paced slowly from window to window, sighing, till early
morning. No one was asleep; they spoke rarely, and only in whispers. Twice
his mother came to him behind the screen. Always with the same look of
vacant wonder, she slowly made the cross over him, shaking nervously.
At five o'clock in the morning he said good-bye to them all
affectionately, and even shed tears. As he passed his father's room, he
glanced in at the door. Yevgraf Ivanovitch, who had not taken off his
clothes or gone to bed, was standing by the window, drumming on the panes.
"Good-bye; I am going," said his son.
"Good-bye... the money is on the round table..." his father answered,
without turning round.
A cold, hateful rain was falling as the labourer drove him to the station.
The sunflowers were drooping their heads still lower, and the grass seemed
darker than ever.
ALL Olga Ivanovna's friends and acquaintances were at her wedding.
"Look at him; isn't it true that there is something in him?" she said to
her friends, with a nod towards her husband, as though she wanted to
explain why she was marrying a simple, very ordinary, and in no way
Her husband, Osip Stepanitch Dymov, was a doctor, and only of the rank of
a titular councillor. He was on the staff of two hospitals: in one a
ward-surgeon and in the other a dissecting demonstrator. Every day from
nine to twelve he saw patients and was busy in his ward, and after twelve
o'clock he went by tram to the other hospital, where he dissected. His
private practice was a small one, not worth more than five hundred roubles
a year. That was all. What more could one say about him? Meanwhile, Olga
Ivanovna and her friends and acquaintances were not quite ordinary people.
Every one of them was remarkable in some way, and more or less famous;
already had made a reputation and was looked upon as a celebrity; or if
not yet a celebrity, gave brilliant promise of becoming one. There was an
actor from the Dramatic Theatre, who was a great talent of established
reputation, as well as an elegant, intelligent, and modest man, and a
capital elocutionist, and who taught Olga Ivanovna to recite; there was a
singer from the opera, a good-natured, fat man who assured Olga Ivanovna,
with a sigh, that she was ruining herself, that if she would take herself
in hand and not be lazy she might make a remarkable singer; then there
were several artists, and chief among them Ryabovsky, a very handsome,
fair young man of five-and-twenty who painted genre pieces, animal
studies, and landscapes, was successful at exhibitions, and had sold his
last picture for five hundred roubles. He touched up Olga Ivanovna's
sketches, and used to say she might do something. Then a violoncellist,
whose instrument used to sob, and who openly declared that of all the
ladies of his acquaintance the only one who could accompany him was Olga
Ivanovna; then there was a literary man, young but already well known, who
had written stories, novels, and plays. Who else? Why, Vassily
Vassilyitch, a landowner and amateur illustrator and vignettist, with a
great feeling for the old Russian style, the old ballad and epic. On
paper, on china, and on smoked plates, he produced literally marvels. In
the midst of this free artistic company, spoiled by fortune, though
refined and modest, who recalled the existence of doctors only in times of
illness, and to whom the name of Dymov sounded in no way different from
Sidorov or Tarasov—in the midst of this company Dymov seemed
strange, not wanted, and small, though he was tall and broad-shouldered.
He looked as though he had on somebody else's coat, and his beard was like
a shopman's. Though if he had been a writer or an artist, they would have
said that his beard reminded them of Zola.
An artist said to Olga Ivanovna that with her flaxen hair and in her
wedding-dress she was very much like a graceful cherry-tree when it is
covered all over with delicate white blossoms in spring.
"Oh, let me tell you," said Olga Ivanovna, taking his arm, "how it was it
all came to pass so suddenly. Listen, listen!... I must tell you that my
father was on the same staff at the hospital as Dymov. When my poor father
was taken ill, Dymov watched for days and nights together at his bedside.
Such self-sacrifice! Listen, Ryabovsky! You, my writer, listen; it is very
interesting! Come nearer. Such self-sacrifice, such genuine sympathy! I
sat up with my father, and did not sleep for nights, either. And all at
once—the princess had won the hero's heart—my Dymov fell head
over ears in love. Really, fate is so strange at times! Well, after my
father's death he came to see me sometimes, met me in the street, and one
fine evening, all at once he made me an offer... like snow upon my
head.... I lay awake all night, crying, and fell hellishly in love myself.
And here, as you see, I am his wife. There really is something strong,
powerful, bearlike about him, isn't there? Now his face is turned
three-quarters towards us in a bad light, but when he turns round look at
his forehead. Ryabovsky, what do you say to that forehead? Dymov, we are
talking about you!" she called to her husband. "Come here; hold out your
honest hand to Ryabovsky.... That's right, be friends."
Dymov, with a naive and good-natured smile, held out his hand to
Ryabovsky, and said:
"Very glad to meet you. There was a Ryabovsky in my year at the medical
school. Was he a relation of yours?"
Olga Ivanovna was twenty-two, Dymov was thirty-one. They got on splendidly
together when they were married. Olga Ivanovna hung all her drawing-room
walls with her own and other people's sketches, in frames and without
frames, and near the piano and furniture arranged picturesque corners with
Japanese parasols, easels, daggers, busts, photographs, and rags of many
colours.... In the dining-room she papered the walls with peasant
woodcuts, hung up bark shoes and sickles, stood in a corner a scythe and a
rake, and so achieved a dining-room in the Russian style. In her bedroom
she draped the ceiling and the walls with dark cloths to make it like a
cavern, hung a Venetian lantern over the beds, and at the door set a
figure with a halberd. And every one thought that the young people had a
very charming little home.
When she got up at eleven o'clock every morning, Olga Ivanovna played the
piano or, if it were sunny, painted something in oils. Then between twelve
and one she drove to her dressmaker's. As Dymov and she had very little
money, only just enough, she and her dressmaker were often put to clever
shifts to enable her to appear constantly in new dresses and make a
sensation with them. Very often out of an old dyed dress, out of bits of
tulle, lace, plush, and silk, costing nothing, perfect marvels were
created, something bewitching—not a dress, but a dream. From the
dressmaker's Olga Ivanovna usually drove to some actress of her
acquaintance to hear the latest theatrical gossip, and incidentally to try
and get hold of tickets for the first night of some new play or for a
benefit performance. From the actress's she had to go to some artist's
studio or to some exhibition or to see some celebrity—either to pay
a visit or to give an invitation or simply to have a chat. And everywhere
she met with a gay and friendly welcome, and was assured that she was
good, that she was sweet, that she was rare.... Those whom she called
great and famous received her as one of themselves, as an equal, and
predicted with one voice that, with her talents, her taste, and her
intelligence, she would do great things if she concentrated herself. She
sang, she played the piano, she painted in oils, she carved, she took part
in amateur performances; and all this not just anyhow, but all with
talent, whether she made lanterns for an illumination or dressed up or
tied somebody's cravat—everything she did was exceptionally
graceful, artistic, and charming. But her talents showed themselves in
nothing so clearly as in her faculty for quickly becoming acquainted and
on intimate terms with celebrated people. No sooner did any one become
ever so little celebrated, and set people talking about him, than she made
his acquaintance, got on friendly terms the same day, and invited him to
her house. Every new acquaintance she made was a veritable fete for her.
She adored celebrated people, was proud of them, dreamed of them every
night. She craved for them, and never could satisfy her craving. The old
ones departed and were forgotten, new ones came to replace them, but to
these, too, she soon grew accustomed or was disappointed in them, and
began eagerly seeking for fresh great men, finding them and seeking for
them again. What for?
Between four and five she dined at home with her husband. His simplicity,
good sense, and kind-heartedness touched her and moved her up to
enthusiasm. She was constantly jumping up, impulsively hugging his head
and showering kisses on it.
"You are a clever, generous man, Dymov," she used to say, "but you have
one very serious defect. You take absolutely no interest in art. You don't
believe in music or painting."
"I don't understand them," he would say mildly. "I have spent all my life
in working at natural science and medicine, and I have never had time to
take an interest in the arts."
"But, you know, that's awful, Dymov!"
"Why so? Your friends don't know anything of science or medicine, but you
don't reproach them with it. Every one has his own line. I don't
understand landscapes and operas, but the way I look at it is that if one
set of sensible people devote their whole lives to them, and other
sensible people pay immense sums for them, they must be of use. I don't
understand them, but not understanding does not imply disbelieving in
"Let me shake your honest hand!"
After dinner Olga Ivanovna would drive off to see her friends, then to a
theatre or to a concert, and she returned home after midnight. So it was
On Wednesdays she had "At Homes." At these "At Homes" the hostess and her
guests did not play cards and did not dance, but entertained themselves
with various arts. An actor from the Dramatic Theatre recited, a singer
sang, artists sketched in the albums of which Olga Ivanovna had a great
number, the violoncellist played, and the hostess herself sketched,
carved, sang, and played accompaniments. In the intervals between the
recitations, music, and singing, they talked and argued about literature,
the theatre, and painting. There were no ladies, for Olga Ivanovna
considered all ladies wearisome and vulgar except actresses and her
dressmaker. Not one of these entertainments passed without the hostess
starting at every ring at the bell, and saying, with a triumphant
expression, "It is he," meaning by "he," of course, some new celebrity.
Dymov was not in the drawing-room, and no one remembered his existence.
But exactly at half-past eleven the door leading into the dining-room
opened, and Dymov would appear with his good-natured, gentle smile and
say, rubbing his hands:
"Come to supper, gentlemen."
They all went into the dining-room, and every time found on the table
exactly the same things: a dish of oysters, a piece of ham or veal,
sardines, cheese, caviare, mushrooms, vodka, and two decanters of wine.
"My dear maitre d' hotel!" Olga Ivanovna would say, clasping her
hands with enthusiasm, "you are simply fascinating! My friends, look at
his forehead! Dymov, turn your profile. Look! he has the face of a Bengal
tiger and an expression as kind and sweet as a gazelle. Ah, the darling!"
The visitors ate, and, looking at Dymov, thought, "He really is a nice
fellow"; but they soon forgot about him, and went on talking about the
theatre, music, and painting.
The young people were happy, and their life flowed on without a hitch.
The third week of their honeymoon was spent, however, not quite happily—sadly,
indeed. Dymov caught erysipelas in the hospital, was in bed for six days,
and had to have his beautiful black hair cropped. Olga Ivanovna sat beside
him and wept bitterly, but when he was better she put a white handkerchief
on his shaven head and began to paint him as a Bedouin. And they were both
in good spirits. Three days after he had begun to go back to the hospital
he had another mischance.
"I have no luck, little mother," he said one day at dinner. "I had four
dissections to do today, and I cut two of my fingers at one. And I did not
notice it till I got home."
Olga Ivanovna was alarmed. He smiled, and told her that it did not matter,
and that he often cut his hands when he was dissecting.
"I get absorbed, little mother, and grow careless."
Olga Ivanovna dreaded symptoms of blood-poisoning, and prayed about it
every night, but all went well. And again life flowed on peaceful and
happy, free from grief and anxiety. The present was happy, and to follow
it spring was at hand, already smiling in the distance, and promising a
thousand delights. There would be no end to their happiness. In April, May
and June a summer villa a good distance out of town; walks, sketching,
fishing, nightingales; and then from July right on to autumn an artist's
tour on the Volga, and in this tour Olga Ivanovna would take part as an
indispensable member of the society. She had already had made for her two
travelling dresses of linen, had bought paints, brushes, canvases, and a
new palette for the journey. Almost every day Ryabovsky visited her to see
what progress she was making in her painting; when she showed him her
painting, he used to thrust his hands deep into his pockets, compress his
lips, sniff, and say:
"Ye—es...! That cloud of yours is screaming: it's not in the evening
light. The foreground is somehow chewed up, and there is something, you
know, not the thing.... And your cottage is weighed down and whines
pitifully. That corner ought to have been taken more in shadow, but on the
whole it is not bad; I like it."
And the more incomprehensible he talked, the more readily Olga Ivanovna
After dinner on the second day of Trinity week, Dymov bought some sweets
and some savouries and went down to the villa to see his wife. He had not
seen her for a fortnight, and missed her terribly. As he sat in the train
and afterwards as he looked for his villa in a big wood, he felt all the
while hungry and weary, and dreamed of how he would have supper in freedom
with his wife, then tumble into bed and to sleep. And he was delighted as
he looked at his parcel, in which there was caviare, cheese, and white
The sun was setting by the time he found his villa and recognized it. The
old servant told him that her mistress was not at home, but that most
likely she would soon be in. The villa, very uninviting in appearance,
with low ceilings papered with writing-paper and with uneven floors full
of crevices, consisted only of three rooms. In one there was a bed, in the
second there were canvases, brushes, greasy papers, and men's overcoats
and hats lying about on the chairs and in the windows, while in the third
Dymov found three unknown men; two were dark-haired and had beards, the
other was clean-shaven and fat, apparently an actor. There was a samovar
boiling on the table.
"What do you want?" asked the actor in a bass voice, looking at Dymov
ungraciously. "Do you want Olga Ivanovna? Wait a minute; she will be here
Dymov sat down and waited. One of the dark-haired men, looking sleepily
and listlessly at him, poured himself out a glass of tea, and asked:
"Perhaps you would like some tea?"
Dymov was both hungry and thirsty, but he refused tea for fear of spoiling
his supper. Soon he heard footsteps and a familiar laugh; a door slammed,
and Olga Ivanovna ran into the room, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and
carrying a box in her hand; she was followed by Ryabovsky, rosy and
good-humoured, carrying a big umbrella and a camp-stool.
"Dymov!" cried Olga Ivanovna, and she flushed crimson with pleasure.
"Dymov!" she repeated, laying her head and both arms on his bosom. "Is
that you? Why haven't you come for so long? Why? Why?"
"When could I, little mother? I am always busy, and whenever I am free it
always happens somehow that the train does not fit."
"But how glad I am to see you! I have been dreaming about you the whole
night, the whole night, and I was afraid you must be ill. Ah! if you only
knew how sweet you are! You have come in the nick of time! You will be my
salvation! You are the only person who can save me! There is to be a most
original wedding here tomorrow," she went on, laughing, and tying her
husband's cravat. "A young telegraph clerk at the station, called
Tchikeldyeev, is going to be married. He is a handsome young man and—well,
not stupid, and you know there is something strong, bearlike in his
face... you might paint him as a young Norman. We summer visitors take a
great interest in him, and have promised to be at his wedding.... He is a
lonely, timid man, not well off, and of course it would be a shame not to
be sympathetic to him. Fancy! the wedding will be after the service; then
we shall all walk from the church to the bride's lodgings... you see the
wood, the birds singing, patches of sunlight on the grass, and all of us
spots of different colours against the bright green background—very
original, in the style of the French impressionists. But, Dymov, what am I
to go to the church in?" said Olga Ivanovna, and she looked as though she
were going to cry. "I have nothing here, literally nothing! no dress, no
flowers, no gloves... you must save me. Since you have come, fate itself
bids you save me. Take the keys, my precious, go home and get my pink
dress from the wardrobe. You remember it; it hangs in front.... Then, in
the storeroom, on the floor, on the right side, you will see two cardboard
boxes. When you open the top one you will see tulle, heaps of tulle and
rags of all sorts, and under them flowers. Take out all the flowers
carefully, try not to crush them, darling; I will choose among them
later.... And buy me some gloves."
"Very well," said Dymov; "I will go tomorrow and send them to you."
"Tomorrow?" asked Olga Ivanovna, and she looked at him surprised. "You
won't have time tomorrow. The first train goes tomorrow at nine, and the
wedding's at eleven. No, darling, it must be today; it absolutely must be
today. If you won't be able to come tomorrow, send them by a messenger.
Come, you must run along.... The passenger train will be in directly;
don't miss it, darling."
"Oh, how sorry I am to let you go!" said Olga Ivanovna, and tears came
into her eyes. "And why did I promise that telegraph clerk, like a silly?"
Dymov hurriedly drank a glass of tea, took a cracknel, and, smiling
gently, went to the station. And the caviare, the cheese, and the white
salmon were eaten by the two dark gentlemen and the fat actor.
On a still moonlight night in July Olga Ivanovna was standing on the deck
of a Volga steamer and looking alternately at the water and at the
picturesque banks. Beside her was standing Ryabovsky, telling her the
black shadows on the water were not shadows, but a dream, that it would be
sweet to sink into forgetfulness, to die, to become a memory in the sight
of that enchanted water with the fantastic glimmer, in sight of the
fathomless sky and the mournful, dreamy shores that told of the vanity of
our life and of the existence of something higher, blessed, and eternal.
The past was vulgar and uninteresting, the future was trivial, and that
marvellous night, unique in a lifetime, would soon be over, would blend
with eternity; then, why live?
And Olga Ivanovna listened alternately to Ryabovsky's voice and the
silence of the night, and thought of her being immortal and never dying.
The turquoise colour of the water, such as she had never seen before, the
sky, the river-banks, the black shadows, and the unaccountable joy that
flooded her soul, all told her that she would make a great artist, and
that somewhere in the distance, in the infinite space beyond the
moonlight, success, glory, the love of the people, lay awaiting her....
When she gazed steadily without blinking into the distance, she seemed to
see crowds of people, lights, triumphant strains of music, cries of
enthusiasm, she herself in a white dress, and flowers showered upon her
from all sides. She thought, too, that beside her, leaning with his elbows
on the rail of the steamer, there was standing a real great man, a genius,
one of God's elect.... All that he had created up to the present was fine,
new, and extraordinary, but what he would create in time, when with
maturity his rare talent reached its full development, would be
astounding, immeasurably sublime; and that could be seen by his face, by
his manner of expressing himself and his attitude to nature. He talked of
shadows, of the tones of evening, of the moonlight, in a special way, in a
language of his own, so that one could not help feeling the fascination of
his power over nature. He was very handsome, original, and his life, free,
independent, aloof from all common cares, was like the life of a bird.
"It's growing cooler," said Olga Ivanovna, and she gave a shudder.
Ryabovsky wrapped her in his cloak, and said mournfully:
"I feel that I am in your power; I am a slave. Why are you so enchanting
He kept staring intently at her, and his eyes were terrible. And she was
afraid to look at him.
"I love you madly," he whispered, breathing on her cheek. "Say one word to
me and I will not go on living; I will give up art..." he muttered in
violent emotion. "Love me, love...."
"Don't talk like that," said Olga Ivanovna, covering her eyes. "It's
dreadful! How about Dymov?"
"What of Dymov? Why Dymov? What have I to do with Dymov? The Volga, the
moon, beauty, my love, ecstasy, and there is no such thing as Dymov....
Ah! I don't know... I don't care about the past; give me one moment, one
Olga Ivanovna's heart began to throb. She tried to think about her
husband, but all her past, with her wedding, with Dymov, and with her "At
Homes," seemed to her petty, trivial, dingy, unnecessary, and far, far
away.... Yes, really, what of Dymov? Why Dymov? What had she to do with
Dymov? Had he any existence in nature, or was he only a dream?
"For him, a simple and ordinary man the happiness he has had already is
enough," she thought, covering her face with her hands. "Let them condemn
me, let them curse me, but in spite of them all I will go to my ruin; I
will go to my ruin!... One must experience everything in life. My God! how
terrible and how glorious!"
"Well? Well?" muttered the artist, embracing her, and greedily kissing the
hands with which she feebly tried to thrust him from her. "You love me?
Yes? Yes? Oh, what a night! marvellous night!"
"Yes, what a night!" she whispered, looking into his eyes, which were
bright with tears.
Then she looked round quickly, put her arms round him, and kissed him on
"We are nearing Kineshmo!" said some one on the other side of the deck.
They heard heavy footsteps; it was a waiter from the refreshment-bar.
"Waiter," said Olga Ivanovna, laughing and crying with happiness, "bring
us some wine."
The artist, pale with emotion, sat on the seat, looking at Olga Ivanovna
with adoring, grateful eyes; then he closed his eyes, and said, smiling
"I am tired."
And he leaned his head against the rail.
On the second of September the day was warm and still, but overcast. In
the early morning a light mist had hung over the Volga, and after nine
o'clock it had begun to spout with rain. And there seemed no hope of the
sky clearing. Over their morning tea Ryabovsky told Olga Ivanovna that
painting was the most ungrateful and boring art, that he was not an
artist, that none but fools thought that he had any talent, and all at
once, for no rhyme or reason, he snatched up a knife and with it scraped
over his very best sketch. After his tea he sat plunged in gloom at the
window and gazed at the Volga. And now the Volga was dingy, all of one
even colour without a gleam of light, cold-looking. Everything, everything
recalled the approach of dreary, gloomy autumn. And it seemed as though
nature had removed now from the Volga the sumptuous green covers from the
banks, the brilliant reflections of the sunbeams, the transparent blue
distance, and all its smart gala array, and had packed it away in boxes
till the coming spring, and the crows were flying above the Volga and
crying tauntingly, "Bare, bare!"
Ryabovsky heard their cawing, and thought he had already gone off and lost
his talent, that everything in this world was relative, conditional, and
stupid, and that he ought not to have taken up with this woman.... In
short, he was out of humour and depressed.
Olga Ivanovna sat behind the screen on the bed, and, passing her fingers
through her lovely flaxen hair, pictured herself first in the
drawing-room, then in the bedroom, then in her husband's study; her
imagination carried her to the theatre, to the dress-maker, to her
distinguished friends. Were they getting something up now? Did they think
of her? The season had begun by now, and it would be time to think about
her "At Homes." And Dymov? Dear Dymov! with what gentleness and childlike
pathos he kept begging her in his letters to make haste and come home!
Every month he sent her seventy-five roubles, and when she wrote him that
she had lent the artists a hundred roubles, he sent that hundred too. What
a kind, generous-hearted man! The travelling wearied Olga Ivanovna; she
was bored; and she longed to get away from the peasants, from the damp
smell of the river, and to cast off the feeling of physical uncleanliness
of which she was conscious all the time, living in the peasants' huts and
wandering from village to village. If Ryabovsky had not given his word to
the artists that he would stay with them till the twentieth of September,
they might have gone away that very day. And how nice that would have
"My God!" moaned Ryabovsky. "Will the sun ever come out? I can't go on
with a sunny landscape without the sun...."
"But you have a sketch with a cloudy sky," said Olga Ivanovna, coming from
behind the screen. "Do you remember, in the right foreground forest trees,
on the left a herd of cows and geese? You might finish it now."
"Aie!" the artist scowled. "Finish it! Can you imagine I am such a fool
that I don't know what I want to do?"
"How you have changed to me!" sighed Olga Ivanovna.
"Well, a good thing too!"
Olga Ivanovna's face quivered; she moved away to the stove and began to
"Well, that's the last straw—crying! Give over! I have a thousand
reasons for tears, but I am not crying."
"A thousand reasons!" cried Olga Ivanovna. "The chief one is that you are
weary of me. Yes!" she said, and broke into sobs. "If one is to tell the
truth, you are ashamed of our love. You keep trying to prevent the artists
from noticing it, though it is impossible to conceal it, and they have
known all about it for ever so long."
"Olga, one thing I beg you," said the artist in an imploring voice, laying
his hand on his heart—"one thing; don't worry me! I want nothing
else from you!"
"But swear that you love me still!"
"This is agony!" the artist hissed through his teeth, and he jumped up.
"It will end by my throwing myself in the Volga or going out of my mind!
Let me alone!"
"Come, kill me, kill me!" cried Olga Ivanovna. "Kill me!"
She sobbed again, and went behind the screen. There was a swish of rain on
the straw thatch of the hut. Ryabovsky clutched his head and strode up and
down the hut; then with a resolute face, as though bent on proving
something to somebody, put on his cap, slung his gun over his shoulder,
and went out of the hut.
After he had gone, Olga Ivanovna lay a long time on the bed, crying. At
first she thought it would be a good thing to poison herself, so that when
Ryabovsky came back he would find her dead; then her imagination carried
her to her drawing-room, to her husband's study, and she imagined herself
sitting motionless beside Dymov and enjoying the physical peace and
cleanliness, and in the evening sitting in the theatre, listening to
Mazini. And a yearning for civilization, for the noise and bustle of the
town, for celebrated people sent a pang to her heart. A peasant woman came
into the hut and began in a leisurely way lighting the stove to get the
dinner. There was a smell of charcoal fumes, and the air was filled with
bluish smoke. The artists came in, in muddy high boots and with faces wet
with rain, examined their sketches, and comforted themselves by saying
that the Volga had its charms even in bad weather. On the wall the cheap
clock went "tic-tic-tic."... The flies, feeling chilled, crowded round the
ikon in the corner, buzzing, and one could hear the cockroaches scurrying
about among the thick portfolios under the seats....
Ryabovsky came home as the sun was setting. He flung his cap on the table,
and, without removing his muddy boots, sank pale and exhausted on the
bench and closed his eyes.
"I am tired..." he said, and twitched his eyebrows, trying to raise his
To be nice to him and to show she was not cross, Olga Ivanovna went up to
him, gave him a silent kiss, and passed the comb through his fair hair.
She meant to comb it for him.
"What's that?" he said, starting as though something cold had touched him,
and he opened his eyes. "What is it? Please let me alone."
He thrust her off, and moved away. And it seemed to her that there was a
look of aversion and annoyance on his face.
At that time the peasant woman cautiously carried him, in both hands, a
plate of cabbage-soup. And Olga Ivanovna saw how she wetted her fat
fingers in it. And the dirty peasant woman, standing with her body thrust
forward, and the cabbage-soup which Ryabovsky began eating greedily, and
the hut, and their whole way of life, which she at first had so loved for
its simplicity and artistic disorder, seemed horrible to her now. She
suddenly felt insulted, and said coldly:
"We must part for a time, or else from boredom we shall quarrel in
earnest. I am sick of this; I am going today."
"Going how? Astride on a broomstick?"
"Today is Thursday, so the steamer will be here at half-past nine."
"Eh? Yes, yes.... Well, go, then..." Ryabovsky said softly, wiping his
mouth with a towel instead of a dinner napkin. "You are dull and have
nothing to do here, and one would have to be a great egoist to try and
keep you. Go home, and we shall meet again after the twentieth."
Olga Ivanovna packed in good spirits. Her cheeks positively glowed with
pleasure. Could it really be true, she asked herself, that she would soon
be writing in her drawing-room and sleeping in her bedroom, and dining
with a cloth on the table? A weight was lifted from her heart, and she no
longer felt angry with the artist.
"My paints and brushes I will leave with you, Ryabovsky," she said. "You
can bring what's left.... Mind, now, don't be lazy here when I am gone;
don't mope, but work. You are such a splendid fellow, Ryabovsky!"
At ten o'clock Ryabovsky gave her a farewell kiss, in order, as she
thought, to avoid kissing her on the steamer before the artists, and went
with her to the landing-stage. The steamer soon came up and carried her
She arrived home two and a half days later. Breathless with excitement,
she went, without taking off her hat or waterproof, into the drawing-room
and thence into the dining-room. Dymov, with his waistcoat unbuttoned and
no coat, was sitting at the table sharpening a knife on a fork; before him
lay a grouse on a plate. As Olga Ivanovna went into the flat she was
convinced that it was essential to hide everything from her husband, and
that she would have the strength and skill to do so; but now, when she saw
his broad, mild, happy smile, and shining, joyful eyes, she felt that to
deceive this man was as vile, as revolting, and as impossible and out of
her power as to bear false witness, to steal, or to kill, and in a flash
she resolved to tell him all that had happened. Letting him kiss and
embrace her, she sank down on her knees before him and hid her face.
"What is it, what is it, little mother?" he asked tenderly. "Were you
She raised her face, red with shame, and gazed at him with a guilty and
imploring look, but fear and shame prevented her from telling him the
"Nothing," she said; "it's just nothing...."
"Let us sit down," he said, raising her and seating her at the table.
"That's right, eat the grouse. You are starving, poor darling."
She eagerly breathed in the atmosphere of home and ate the grouse, while
he watched her with tenderness and laughed with delight.
Apparently, by the middle of the winter Dymov began to suspect that he was
being deceived. As though his conscience was not clear, he could not look
his wife straight in the face, did not smile with delight when he met her,
and to avoid being left alone with her, he often brought in to dinner his
colleague, Korostelev, a little close-cropped man with a wrinkled face,
who kept buttoning and unbuttoning his reefer jacket with embarrassment
when he talked with Olga Ivanovna, and then with his right hand nipped his
left moustache. At dinner the two doctors talked about the fact that a
displacement of the diaphragm was sometimes accompanied by irregularities
of the heart, or that a great number of neurotic complaints were met with
of late, or that Dymov had the day before found a cancer of the lower
abdomen while dissecting a corpse with the diagnosis of pernicious
anaemia. And it seemed as though they were talking of medicine to give
Olga Ivanovna a chance of being silent—that is, of not lying. After
dinner Korostelev sat down to the piano, while Dymov sighed and said to
"Ech, brother—well, well! Play something melancholy."
Hunching up his shoulders and stretching his fingers wide apart,
Korostelev played some chords and began singing in a tenor voice, "Show me
the abode where the Russian peasant would not groan," while Dymov sighed
once more, propped his head on his fist, and sank into thought.
Olga Ivanovna had been extremely imprudent in her conduct of late. Every
morning she woke up in a very bad humour and with the thought that she no
longer cared for Ryabovsky, and that, thank God, it was all over now. But
as she drank her coffee she reflected that Ryabovsky had robbed her of her
husband, and that now she was left with neither her husband nor Ryabovsky;
then she remembered talks she had heard among her acquaintances of a
picture Ryabovsky was preparing for the exhibition, something striking, a
mixture of genre and landscape, in the style of Polyenov, about which
every one who had been into his studio went into raptures; and this, of
course, she mused, he had created under her influence, and altogether,
thanks to her influence, he had greatly changed for the better. Her
influence was so beneficent and essential that if she were to leave him he
might perhaps go to ruin. And she remembered, too, that the last time he
had come to see her in a great-coat with flecks on it and a new tie, he
had asked her languidly:
"Am I beautiful?"
And with his elegance, his long curls, and his blue eyes, he really was
very beautiful (or perhaps it only seemed so), and he had been
affectionate to her.
Considering and remembering many things Olga Ivanovna dressed and in great
agitation drove to Ryabovsky's studio. She found him in high spirits, and
enchanted with his really magnificent picture. He was dancing about and
playing the fool and answering serious questions with jokes. Olga Ivanovna
was jealous of the picture and hated it, but from politeness she stood
before the picture for five minutes in silence, and, heaving a sigh, as
though before a holy shrine, said softly:
"Yes, you have never painted anything like it before. Do you know, it is
And then she began beseeching him to love her and not to cast her off, to
have pity on her in her misery and her wretchedness. She shed tears,
kissed his hands, insisted on his swearing that he loved her, told him
that without her good influence he would go astray and be ruined. And,
when she had spoilt his good-humour, feeling herself humiliated, she would
drive off to her dressmaker or to an actress of her acquaintance to try
and get theatre tickets.
If she did not find him at his studio she left a letter in which she swore
that if he did not come to see her that day she would poison herself. He
was scared, came to see her, and stayed to dinner. Regardless of her
husband's presence, he would say rude things to her, and she would answer
him in the same way. Both felt they were a burden to each other, that they
were tyrants and enemies, and were wrathful, and in their wrath did not
notice that their behaviour was unseemly, and that even Korostelev, with
his close-cropped head, saw it all. After dinner Ryabovsky made haste to
say good-bye and get away.
"Where are you off to?" Olga Ivanovna would ask him in the hall, looking
at him with hatred.
Scowling and screwing up his eyes, he mentioned some lady of their
acquaintance, and it was evident that he was laughing at her jealousy and
wanted to annoy her. She went to her bedroom and lay down on her bed; from
jealousy, anger, a sense of humiliation and shame, she bit the pillow and
began sobbing aloud. Dymov left Korostelev in the drawing-room, went into
the bedroom, and with a desperate and embarrassed face said softly:
"Don't cry so loud, little mother; there's no need. You must be quiet
about it. You must not let people see.... You know what is done is done,
and can't be mended."
Not knowing how to ease the burden of her jealousy, which actually set her
temples throbbing with pain, and thinking still that things might be set
right, she would wash, powder her tear-stained face, and fly off to the
Not finding Ryabovsky with her, she would drive off to a second, then to a
third. At first she was ashamed to go about like this, but afterwards she
got used to it, and it would happen that in one evening she would make the
round of all her female acquaintances in search of Ryabovsky, and they all
One day she said to Ryabovsky of her husband:
"That man crushes me with his magnanimity."
This phrase pleased her so much that when she met the artists who knew of
her affair with Ryabovsky she said every time of her husband, with a
vigorous movement of her arm:
"That man crushes me with his magnanimity."
Their manner of life was the same as it had been the year before. On
Wednesdays they were "At Home"; an actor recited, the artists sketched.
The violoncellist played, a singer sang, and invariably at half-past
eleven the door leading to the dining-room opened and Dymov, smiling,
"Come to supper, gentlemen."
As before, Olga Ivanovna hunted celebrities, found them, was not
satisfied, and went in pursuit of fresh ones. As before, she came back
late every night; but now Dymov was not, as last year, asleep, but sitting
in his study at work of some sort. He went to bed at three o'clock and got
up at eight.
One evening when she was getting ready to go to the theatre and standing
before the pier glass, Dymov came into her bedroom, wearing his dress-coat
and a white tie. He was smiling gently and looked into his wife's face
joyfully, as in old days; his face was radiant.
"I have just been defending my thesis," he said, sitting down and
smoothing his knees.
"Defending?" asked Olga Ivanovna.
"Oh, oh!" he laughed, and he craned his neck to see his wife's face in the
mirror, for she was still standing with her back to him, doing up her
hair. "Oh, oh," he repeated, "do you know it's very possible they may
offer me the Readership in General Pathology? It seems like it."
It was evident from his beaming, blissful face that if Olga Ivanovna had
shared with him his joy and triumph he would have forgiven her everything,
both the present and the future, and would have forgotten everything, but
she did not understand what was meant by a "readership" or by "general
pathology"; besides, she was afraid of being late for the theatre, and she
He sat there another two minutes, and with a guilty smile went away.
It had been a very troubled day.
Dymov had a very bad headache; he had no breakfast, and did not go to the
hospital, but spent the whole time lying on his sofa in the study. Olga
Ivanovna went as usual at midday to see Ryabovsky, to show him her
still-life sketch, and to ask him why he had not been to see her the
evening before. The sketch seemed to her worthless, and she had painted it
only in order to have an additional reason for going to the artist.
She went in to him without ringing, and as she was taking off her goloshes
in the entry she heard a sound as of something running softly in the
studio, with a feminine rustle of skirts; and as she hastened to peep in
she caught a momentary glimpse of a bit of brown petticoat, which vanished
behind a big picture draped, together with the easel, with black calico,
to the floor. There could be no doubt that a woman was hiding there. How
often Olga Ivanovna herself had taken refuge behind that picture!
Ryabovsky, evidently much embarrassed, held out both hands to her, as
though surprised at her arrival, and said with a forced smile:
"Aha! Very glad to see you! Anything nice to tell me?"
Olga Ivanovna's eyes filled with tears. She felt ashamed and bitter, and
would not for a million roubles have consented to speak in the presence of
the outsider, the rival, the deceitful woman who was standing now behind
the picture, and probably giggling malignantly.
"I have brought you a sketch," she said timidly in a thin voice, and her
lips quivered. "Nature morte."
"Ah—ah!... A sketch?"
The artist took the sketch in his hands, and as he examined it w alked, as
it were mechanically, into the other room.
Olga Ivanovna followed him humbly.
"Nature morte... first-rate sort," he muttered, falling into rhyme.
"Kurort... sport... port..."
From the studio came the sound of hurried footsteps and the rustle of a
So she had gone. Olga Ivanovna wanted to scream aloud, to hit the artist
on the head with something heavy, but she could see nothing through her
tears, was crushed by her shame, and felt herself, not Olga Ivanovna, not
an artist, but a little insect.
"I am tired..." said the artist languidly, looking at the sketch and
tossing his head as though struggling with drowsiness. "It's very nice, of
course, but here a sketch today, a sketch last year, another sketch in a
month... I wonder you are not bored with them. If I were you I should give
up painting and work seriously at music or something. You're not an
artist, you know, but a musician. But you can't think how tired I am! I'll
tell them to bring us some tea, shall I?"
He went out of the room, and Olga Ivanovna heard him give some order to
his footman. To avoid farewells and explanations, and above all to avoid
bursting into sobs, she ran as fast as she could, before Ryabovsky came
back, to the entry, put on her goloshes, and went out into the street;
then she breathed easily, and felt she was free for ever from Ryabovsky
and from painting and from the burden of shame which had so crushed her in
the studio. It was all over!
She drove to her dressmaker's; then to see Barnay, who had only arrived
the day before; from Barnay to a music-shop, and all the time she was
thinking how she would write Ryabovsky a cold, cruel letter full of
personal dignity, and how in the spring or the summer she would go with
Dymov to the Crimea, free herself finally from the past there, and begin a
On getting home late in the evening she sat down in the drawing-room,
without taking off her things, to begin the letter. Ryabovsky had told her
she was not an artist, and to pay him out she wrote to him now that he
painted the same thing every year, and said exactly the same thing every
day; that he was at a standstill, and that nothing more would come of him
than had come already. She wanted to write, too, that he owed a great deal
to her good influence, and that if he was going wrong it was only because
her influence was paralysed by various dubious persons like the one who
had been hiding behind the picture that day.
"Little mother!" Dymov called from the study, without opening the door.
"What is it?"
"Don't come in to me, but only come to the door—that's right.... The
day before yesterday I must have caught diphtheria at the hospital, and
now... I am ill. Make haste and send for Korostelev."
Olga Ivanovna always called her husband by his surname, as she did all the
men of her acquaintance; she disliked his Christian name, Osip, because it
reminded her of the Osip in Gogol and the silly pun on his name. But now
"Osip, it cannot be!"
"Send for him; I feel ill," Dymov said behind the door, and she could hear
him go back to the sofa and lie down. "Send!" she heard his voice faintly.
"Good Heavens!" thought Olga Ivanovna, turning chill with horror. "Why,
For no reason she took the candle and went into the bedroom, and there,
reflecting what she must do, glanced casually at herself in the pier
glass. With her pale, frightened face, in a jacket with sleeves high on
the shoulders, with yellow ruches on her bosom, and with stripes running
in unusual directions on her skirt, she seemed to herself horrible and
disgusting. She suddenly felt poignantly sorry for Dymov, for his
boundless love for her, for his young life, and even for the desolate
little bed in which he had not slept for so long; and she remembered his
habitual, gentle, submissive smile. She wept bitterly, and wrote an
imploring letter to Korostelev. It was two o'clock in the night.
When towards eight o'clock in the morning Olga Ivanovna, her head heavy
from want of sleep and her hair unbrushed, came out of her bedroom,
looking unattractive and with a guilty expression on her face, a gentleman
with a black beard, apparently the doctor, passed by her into the entry.
There was a smell of drugs. Korostelev was standing near the study door,
twisting his left moustache with his right hand.
"Excuse me, I can't let you go in," he said surlily to Olga Ivanovna;
"it's catching. Besides, it's no use, really; he is delirious, anyway."
"Has he really got diphtheria?" Olga Ivanovna asked in a whisper.
"People who wantonly risk infection ought to be hauled up and punished for
it," muttered Korostelev, not answering Olga Ivanovna's question. "Do you
know why he caught it? On Tuesday he was sucking up the mucus through a
pipette from a boy with diphtheria. And what for? It was stupid.... Just
"Is it dangerous, very?" asked Olga Ivanovna.
"Yes; they say it is the malignant form. We ought to send for Shrek
A little red-haired man with a long nose and a Jewish accent arrived; then
a tall, stooping, shaggy individual, who looked like a head deacon; then a
stout young man with a red face and spectacles. These were doctors who
came to watch by turns beside their colleague. Korostelev did not go home
when his turn was over, but remained and wandered about the rooms like an
uneasy spirit. The maid kept getting tea for the various doctors, and was
constantly running to the chemist, and there was no one to do the rooms.
There was a dismal stillness in the flat.
Olga Ivanovna sat in her bedroom and thought that God was punishing her
for having deceived her husband. That silent, unrepining, uncomprehended
creature, robbed by his mildness of all personality and will, weak from
excessive kindness, had been suffering in obscurity somewhere on his sofa,
and had not complained. And if he were to complain even in delirium, the
doctors watching by his bedside would learn that diphtheria was not the
only cause of his sufferings. They would ask Korostelev. He knew all about
it, and it was not for nothing that he looked at his friend's wife with
eyes that seemed to say that she was the real chief criminal and
diphtheria was only her accomplice. She did not think now of the moonlight
evening on the Volga, nor the words of love, nor their poetical life in
the peasant's hut. She thought only that from an idle whim, from
self-indulgence, she had sullied herself all over from head to foot in
something filthy, sticky, which one could never wash off....
"Oh, how fearfully false I've been!" she thought, recalling the troubled
passion she had known with Ryabovsky. "Curse it all!..."
At four o'clock she dined with Korostelev. He did nothing but scowl and
drink red wine, and did not eat a morsel. She ate nothing, either. At one
minute she was praying inwardly and vowing to God that if Dymov recovered
she would love him again and be a faithful wife to him. Then, forgetting
herself for a minute, she would look at Korostelev, and think: "Surely it
must be dull to be a humble, obscure person, not remarkable in any way,
especially with such a wrinkled face and bad manners!"
Then it seemed to her that God would strike her dead that minute for not
having once been in her husband's study, for fear of infection. And
altogether she had a dull, despondent feeling and a conviction that her
life was spoilt, and that there was no setting it right anyhow....
After dinner darkness came on. When Olga Ivanovna went into the
drawing-room Korostelev was asleep on the sofa, with a gold-embroidered
silk cushion under his head.
"Khee-poo-ah," he snored—"khee-poo-ah."
And the doctors as they came to sit up and went away again did not notice
this disorder. The fact that a strange man was asleep and snoring in the
drawing-room, and the sketches on the walls and the exquisite decoration
of the room, and the fact that the lady of the house was dishevelled and
untidy—all that aroused not the slightest interest now. One of the
doctors chanced to laugh at something, and the laugh had a strange and
timid sound that made one's heart ac he.
When Olga Ivanovna went into the drawing-room next time, Korostelev was
not asleep, but sitting up and smoking.
"He has diphtheria of the nasal cavity," he said in a low voice, "and the
heart is not working properly now. Things are in a bad way, really."
"But you will send for Shrek?" said Olga Ivanovna.
"He has been already. It was he noticed that the diphtheria had passed
into the nose. What's the use of Shrek! Shrek's no use at all, really. He
is Shrek, I am Korostelev, and nothing more."
The time dragged on fearfully slowly. Olga Ivanovna lay down in her
clothes on her bed, that had not been made all day, and sank into a doze.
She dreamed that the whole flat was filled up from floor to ceiling with a
huge piece of iron, and that if they could only get the iron out they
would all be light-hearted and happy. Waking, she realized that it was not
the iron but Dymov's illness that was weighing on her.
"Nature morte, port..." she thought, sinking into forgetfulness again.
"Sport... Kurort... and what of Shrek? Shrek... trek... wreck.... And
where are my friends now? Do they know that we are in trouble? Lord,
save... spare! Shrek... trek..."
And again the iron was there.... The time dragged on slowly, though the
clock on the lower storey struck frequently. And bells were continually
ringing as the doctors arrived.... The house-maid came in with an empty
glass on a tray, and asked, "Shall I make the bed, madam?" and getting no
answer, went away.
The clock below struck the hour. She dreamed of the rain on the Volga; and
again some one came into her bedroom, she thought a stranger. Olga
Ivanovna jumped up, and recognized Korostelev.
"What time is it?" she asked.
"Well, what is it?"
"What, indeed!... I've come to tell you he is passing...."
He gave a sob, sat down on the bed beside her, and wiped away the tears
with his sleeve. She could not grasp it at once, but turned cold all over
and began slowly crossing herself.
"He is passing," he repeated in a shrill voice, and again he gave a sob.
"He is dying because he sacrificed himself. What a loss for science!" he
said bitterly. "Compare him with all of us. He was a great man, an
extraordinary man! What gifts! What hopes we all had of him!" Korostelev
went on, wringing his hands: "Merciful God, he was a man of science; we
shall never look on his like again. Osip Dymov, what have you done—aie,
aie, my God!"
Korostelev covered his face with both hands in despair, and shook his
"And his moral force," he went on, seeming to grow more and more
exasperated against some one. "Not a man, but a pure, good, loving soul,
and clean as crystal. He served science and died for science. And he
worked like an ox night and day—no one spared him—and with his
youth and his learning he had to take a private practice and work at
translations at night to pay for these... vile rags!"
Korostelev looked with hatred at Olga Ivanovna, snatched at the sheet with
both hands and angrily tore it, as though it were to blame.
"He did not spare himself, and others did not spare him. Oh, what's the
use of talking!"
"Yes, he was a rare man," said a bass voice in the drawing-room.
Olga Ivanovna remembered her whole life with him from the beginning to the
end, with all its details, and suddenly she understood that he really was
an extraordinary, rare, and, compared with every one else she knew, a
great man. And remembering how her father, now dead, and all the other
doctors had behaved to him, she realized that they really had seen in him
a future celebrity. The walls, the ceiling, the lamp, and the carpet on
the floor, seemed to be winking at her sarcastically, as though they would
say, "You were blind! you were blind!" With a wail she flung herself out
of the bedroom, dashed by some unknown man in the drawing-room, and ran
into her husband's study. He was lying motionless on the sofa, covered to
the waist with a quilt. His face was fearfully thin and sunken, and was of
a greyish-yellow colour such as is never seen in the living; only from the
forehead, from the black eyebrows and from the familiar smile, could he be
recognized as Dymov. Olga Ivanovna hurriedly felt his chest, his forehead,
and his hands. The chest was still warm, but the forehead and hands were
unpleasantly cold, and the half-open eyes looked, not at Olga Ivanovna,
but at the quilt.
"Dymov!" she called aloud, "Dymov!" She wanted to explain to him that it
had been a mistake, that all was not lost, that life might still be
beautiful and happy, that he was an extraordinary, rare, great man, and
that she would all her life worship him and bow down in homage and holy
awe before him....
"Dymov!" she called him, patting him on the shoulder, unable to believe
that he would never wake again. "Dymov! Dymov!"
In the drawing-room Korostelev was saying to the housemaid:
"Why keep asking? Go to the church beadle and enquire where they live.
They'll wash the body and lay it out, and do everything that is
A DREARY STORY
FROM THE NOTEBOOK OF AN OLD MAN
THERE is in Russia an emeritus Professor Nikolay Stepanovitch, a chevalier
and privy councillor; he has so many Russian and foreign decorations that
when he has occasion to put them on the students nickname him "The
Ikonstand." His acquaintances are of the most aristocratic; for the last
twenty-five or thirty years, at any rate, there has not been one single
distinguished man of learning in Russia with whom he has not been
intimately acquainted. There is no one for him to make friends with
nowadays; but if we turn to the past, the long list of his famous friends
winds up with such names as Pirogov, Kavelin, and the poet Nekrasov, all
of whom bestowed upon him a warm and sincere affection. He is a member of
all the Russian and of three foreign universities. And so on, and so on.
All that and a great deal more that might be said makes up what is called
That is my name as known to the public. In Russia it is known to every
educated man, and abroad it is mentioned in the lecture-room with the
addition "honoured and distinguished." It is one of those fortunate names
to abuse which or to take which in vain, in public or in print, is
considered a sign of bad taste. And that is as it should be. You see, my
name is closely associated with the conception of a highly distinguished
man of great gifts and unquestionable usefulness. I have the industry and
power of endurance of a camel, and that is important, and I have talent,
which is even more important. Moreover, while I am on this subject, I am a
well-educated, modest, and honest fellow. I have never poked my nose into
literature or politics; I have never sought popularity in polemics with
the ignorant; I have never made speeches either at public dinners or at
the funerals of my friends.... In fact, there is no slur on my learned
name, and there is no complaint one can make against it. It is fortunate.
The bearer of that name, that is I, see myself as a man of sixty-two, with
a bald head, with false teeth, and with an incurable tic douloureux. I am
myself as dingy and unsightly as my name is brilliant and splendid. My
head and my hands tremble with weakness; my neck, as Turgenev says of one
of his heroines, is like the handle of a double bass; my chest is hollow;
my shoulders narrow; when I talk or lecture, my mouth turns down at one
corner; when I smile, my whole face is covered with aged-looking, deathly
wrinkles. There is nothing impressive about my pitiful figure; only,
perhaps, when I have an attack of tic douloureux my face wears a peculiar
expression, the sight of which must have roused in every one the grim and
impressive thought, "Evidently that man will soon die."
I still, as in the past, lecture fairly well; I can still, as in the past,
hold the attention of my listeners for a couple of hours. My fervour, the
literary skill of my exposition, and my humour, almost efface the defects
of my voice, though it is harsh, dry, and monotonous as a praying
beggar's. I write poorly. That bit of my brain which presides over the
faculty of authorship refuses to work. My memory has grown weak; there is
a lack of sequence in my ideas, and when I put them on paper it always
seems to me that I have lost the instinct for their organic connection; my
construction is monotonous; my language is poor and timid. Often I write
what I do not mean; I have forgotten the beginning when I am writing the
end. Often I forget ordinary words, and I always have to waste a great
deal of energy in avoiding superfluous phrases and unnecessary parentheses
in my letters, both unmistakable proofs of a decline in mental activity.
And it is noteworthy that the simpler the letter the more painful the
effort to write it. At a scientific article I feel far more intelligent
and at ease than at a letter of congratulation or a minute of proceedings.
Another point: I find it easier to write German or English than to write
As regards my present manner of life, I must give a foremost place to the
insomnia from which I have suffered of late. If I were asked what
constituted the chief and fundamental feature of my existence now, I
should answer, Insomnia. As in the past, from habit I undress and go to
bed exactly at midnight. I fall asleep quickly, but before two o'clock I
wake up and feel as though I had not slept at all. Sometimes I get out of
bed and light a lamp. For an hour or two I walk up and down the room
looking at the familiar photographs and pictures. When I am weary of
walking about, I sit down to my table. I sit motionless, thinking of
nothing, conscious of no inclination; if a book is lying before me, I
mechanically move it closer and read it without any interest—in that
way not long ago I mechanically read through in one night a whole novel,
with the strange title "The Song the Lark was Singing"; or to occupy my
attention I force myself to count to a thousand; or I imagine the face of
one of my colleagues and begin trying to remember in what year and under
what circumstances he entered the service. I like listening to sounds. Two
rooms away from me my daughter Liza says something rapidly in her sleep,
or my wife crosses the drawing-room with a candle and invariably drops the
matchbox; or a warped cupboard creaks; or the burner of the lamp suddenly
begins to hum—and all these sounds, for some reason, excite me.
To lie awake at night means to be at every moment conscious of being
abnormal, and so I look forward with impatience to the morning and the day
when I have a right to be awake. Many wearisome hours pass before the cock
crows in the yard. He is my first bringer of good tidings. As soon as he
crows I know that within an hour the porter will wake up below, and,
coughing angrily, will go upstairs to fetch something. And then a pale
light will begin gradually glimmering at the windows, voices will sound in
The day begins for me with the entrance of my wife. She comes in to me in
her petticoat, before she has done her hair, but after she has washed,
smelling of flower-scented eau-de-Cologne, looking as though she had come
in by chance. Every time she says exactly the same thing: "Excuse me, I
have just come in for a minute.... Have you had a bad night again?"
Then she puts out the lamp, sits down near the table, and begins talking.
I am no prophet, but I know what she will talk about. Every morning it is
exactly the same thing. Usually, after anxious inquiries concerning my
health, she suddenly mentions our son who is an officer serving at Warsaw.
After the twentieth of each month we send him fifty roubles, and that
serves as the chief topic of our conversation.
"Of course it is difficult for us," my wife would sigh, "but until he is
completely on his own feet it is our duty to help him. The boy is among
strangers, his pay is small.... However, if you like, next month we won't
send him fifty, but forty. What do you think?"
Daily experience might have taught my wife that constantly talking of our
expenses does not reduce them, but my wife refuses to learn by experience,
and regularly every morning discusses our officer son, and tells me that
bread, thank God, is cheaper, while sugar is a halfpenny dearer—with
a tone and an air as though she were communicating interesting news.
I listen, mechanically assent, and probably because I have had a bad
night, strange and inappropriate thoughts intrude themselves upon me. I
gaze at my wife and wonder like a child. I ask myself in perplexity, is it
possible that this old, very stout, ungainly woman, with her dull
expression of petty anxiety and alarm about daily bread, with eyes dimmed
by continual brooding over debts and money difficulties, who can talk of
nothing but expenses and who smiles at nothing but things getting cheaper—is
it possible that this woman is no other than the slender Varya whom I fell
in love with so passionately for her fine, clear intelligence, for her
pure soul, her beauty, and, as Othello his Desdemona, for her "sympathy"
for my studies? Could that woman be no other than the Varya who had once
borne me a son?
I look with strained attention into the face of this flabby, spiritless,
clumsy old woman, seeking in her my Varya, but of her past self nothing is
left but her anxiety over my health and her manner of calling my salary
"our salary," and my cap "our cap." It is painful for me to look at her,
and, to give her what little comfort I can, I let her say what she likes,
and say nothing even when she passes unjust criticisms on other people or
pitches into me for not having a private practice or not publishing
Our conversation always ends in the same way. My wife suddenly remembers
with dismay that I have not had my tea.
"What am I thinking about, sitting here?" she says, getting up. "The
samovar has been on the table ever so long, and here I stay gossiping. My
goodness! how forgetful I am growing!"
She goes out quickly, and stops in the doorway to say:
"We owe Yegor five months' wages. Did you know it? You mustn't let the
servants' wages run on; how many times I have said it! It's much easier to
pay ten roubles a month than fifty roubles every five months!"
As she goes out, she stops to say:
"The person I am sorriest for is our Liza. The girl studies at the
Conservatoire, always mixes with people of good position, and goodness
knows how she is dressed. Her fur coat is in such a state she is ashamed
to show herself in the street. If she were somebody else's daughter it
wouldn't matter, but of course every one knows that her father is a
distinguished professor, a privy councillor."
And having reproached me with my rank and reputation, she goes away at
last. That is how my day begins. It does not improve as it goes on.
As I am drinking my tea, my Liza comes in wearing her fur coat and her
cap, with her music in her hand, already quite ready to go to the
Conservatoire. She is two-and-twenty. She looks younger, is pretty, and
rather like my wife in her young days. She kisses me tenderly on my
forehead and on my hand, and says:
"Good-morning, papa; are you quite well?"
As a child she was very fond of ice-cream, and I used often to take her to
a confectioner's. Ice-cream was for her the type of everything delightful.
If she wanted to praise me she would say: "You are as nice as cream,
papa." We used to call one of her little fingers "pistachio ice," the
next, "cream ice," the third "raspberry," and so on. Usually when she came
in to say good-morning to me I used to sit her on my knee, kiss her little
fingers, and say:
"Creamy ice... pistachio... lemon...."
And now, from old habit, I kiss Liza's fingers and mutter: "Pistachio...
cream... lemon..." but the effect is utterly different. I am cold as ice
and I am ashamed. When my daughter comes in to me and touches my forehead
with her lips I start as though a bee had stung me on the head, give a
forced smile, and turn my face away. Ever since I have been suffering from
sleeplessness, a question sticks in my brain like a nail. My daughter
often sees me, an old man and a distinguished man, blush painfully at
being in debt to my footman; she sees how often anxiety over petty debts
forces me to lay aside my work and to walk u p and down the room for hours
together, thinking; but why is it she never comes to me in secret to
whisper in my ear: "Father, here is my watch, here are my bracelets, my
earrings, my dresses.... Pawn them all; you want money..."? How is it
that, seeing how her mother and I are placed in a false position and do
our utmost to hide our poverty from people, she does not give up her
expensive pleasure of music lessons? I would not accept her watch nor her
bracelets, nor the sacrifice of her lessons—God forbid! That isn't
what I want.
I think at the same time of my son, the officer at Warsaw. He is a clever,
honest, and sober fellow. But that is not enough for me. I think if I had
an old father, and if I knew there were moments when he was put to shame
by his poverty, I should give up my officer's commission to somebody else,
and should go out to earn my living as a workman. Such thoughts about my
children poison me. What is the use of them? It is only a narrow-minded or
embittered man who can harbour evil thoughts about ordinary people because
they are not heroes. But enough of that!
At a quarter to ten I have to go and give a lecture to my dear boys. I
dress and walk along the road which I have known for thirty years, and
which has its history for me. Here is the big grey house with the
chemist's shop; at this point there used to stand a little house, and in
it was a beershop; in that beershop I thought out my thesis and wrote my
first love-letter to Varya. I wrote it in pencil, on a page headed
"Historia morbi." Here there is a grocer's shop; at one time it was kept
by a little Jew, who sold me cigarettes on credit; then by a fat peasant
woman, who liked the students because "every one of them has a mother";
now there is a red-haired shopkeeper sitting in it, a very stolid man who
drinks tea from a copper teapot. And here are the gloomy gates of the
University, which have long needed doing up; I see the bored porter in his
sheep-skin, the broom, the drifts of snow.... On a boy coming fresh from
the provinces and imagining that the temple of science must really be a
temple, such gates cannot make a healthy impression. Altogether the
dilapidated condition of the University buildings, the gloominess of the
corridors, the griminess of the walls, the lack of light, the dejected
aspect of the steps, the hat-stands and the benches, take a prominent
position among predisposing causes in the history of Russian pessimism....
Here is our garden... I fancy it has grown neither better nor worse since
I was a student. I don't like it. It would be far more sensible if there
were tall pines and fine oaks growing here instead of sickly-looking
lime-trees, yellow acacias, and skimpy pollard lilacs. The student whose
state of mind is in the majority of cases created by his surroundings,
ought in the place where he is studying to see facing him at every turn
nothing but what is lofty, strong and elegant.... God preserve him from
gaunt trees, broken windows, grey walls, and doors covered with torn
When I go to my own entrance the door is flung wide open, and I am met by
my colleague, contemporary, and namesake, the porter Nikolay. As he lets
me in he clears his throat and says:
"A frost, your Excellency!"
Or, if my great-coat is wet:
"Rain, your Excellency!"
Then he runs on ahead of me and opens all the doors on my way. In my study
he carefully takes off my fur coat, and while doing so manages to tell me
some bit of University news. Thanks to the close intimacy existing between
all the University porters and beadles, he knows everything that goes on
in the four faculties, in the office, in the rector's private room, in the
library. What does he not know? When in an evil day a rector or dean, for
instance, retires, I hear him in conversation with the young porters
mention the candidates for the post, explain that such a one would not be
confirmed by the minister, that another would himself refuse to accept it,
then drop into fantastic details concerning mysterious papers received in
the office, secret conversations alleged to have taken place between the
minister and the trustee, and so on. With the exception of these details,
he almost always turns out to be right. His estimates of the candidates,
though original, are very correct, too. If one wants to know in what year
some one read his thesis, entered the service, retired, or died, then
summon to your assistance the vast memory of that soldier, and he will not
only tell you the year, the month and the day, but will furnish you also
with the details that accompanied this or that event. Only one who loves
can remember like that.
He is the guardian of the University traditions. From the porters who were
his predecessors he has inherited many legends of University life, has
added to that wealth much of his own gained during his time of service,
and if you care to hear he will tell you many long and intimate stories.
He can tell one about extraordinary sages who knew everything,
about remarkable students who did not sleep for weeks, about numerous
martyrs and victims of science; with him good triumphs over evil, the weak
always vanquishes the strong, the wise man the fool, the humble the proud,
the young the old. There is no need to take all these fables and legends
for sterling coin; but filter them, and you will have left what is wanted:
our fine traditions and the names of real heroes, recognized as such by
In our society the knowledge of the learned world consists of anecdotes of
the extraordinary absentmindedness of certain old professors, and two or
three witticisms variously ascribed to Gruber, to me, and to Babukin. For
the educated public that is not much. If it loved science, learned men,
and students, as Nikolay does, its literature would long ago have
contained whole epics, records of sayings and doings such as,
unfortunately, it cannot boast of now.
After telling me a piece of news, Nikolay assumes a severe expression, and
conversation about business begins. If any outsider could at such times
overhear Nikolay's free use of our terminology, he might perhaps imagine
that he was a learned man disguised as a soldier. And, by the way, the
rumours of the erudition of the University porters are greatly
exaggerated. It is true that Nikolay knows more than a hundred Latin
words, knows how to put the skeleton together, sometimes prepares the
apparatus and amuses the students by some long, learned quotation, but the
by no means complicated theory of the circulation of the blood, for
instance, is as much a mystery to him now as it was twenty years ago.
At the table in my study, bending low over some book or preparation, sits
Pyotr Ignatyevitch, my demonstrator, a modest and industrious but by no
means clever man of five-and-thirty, already bald and corpulent; he works
from morning to night, reads a lot, remembers well everything he has read—and
in that way he is not a man, but pure gold; in all else he is a carthorse
or, in other words, a learned dullard. The carthorse characteristics that
show his lack of talent are these: his outlook is narrow and sharply
limited by his specialty; outside his special branch he is simple as a
"Fancy! what a misfortune! They say Skobelev is dead."
Nikolay crosses himself, but Pyotr Ignatyevitch turns to me and asks:
"What Skobelev is that?"
Another time—somewhat earlier—I told him that Professor Perov
was dead. Good Pyotr Ignatyevitch asked:
"What did he lecture on?"
I believe if Patti had sung in his very ear, if a horde of Chinese had
invaded Russia, if there had been an earthquake, he would not have stirred
a limb, but screwing up his eye, would have gone on calmly looking through
his microscope. What is he to Hecuba or Hecuba to him, in fact? I would
give a good deal to see how this dry stick sleeps with his wife at night.
Another characteristic is his fanatical faith in the infallibility of
science, and, above all, of everything written by the Germans. He believes
in himself, in his preparations; knows the object of life, and knows
nothing of the doubts and disappointments that turn the hair o f talent
grey. He has a slavish reverence for authorities and a complete lack of
any desire for independent thought. To change his convictions is
difficult, to argue with him impossible. How is one to argue with a man
who is firmly persuaded that medicine is the finest of sciences, that
doctors are the best of men, and that the traditions of the medical
profession are superior to those of any other? Of the evil past of
medicine only one tradition has been preserved—the white tie still
worn by doctors; for a learned—in fact, for any educated man the
only traditions that can exist are those of the University as a whole,
with no distinction between medicine, law, etc. But it would be hard for
Pyotr Ignatyevitch to accept these facts, and he is ready to argue with
you till the day of judgment.
I have a clear picture in my mind of his future. In the course of his life
he will prepare many hundreds of chemicals of exceptional purity; he will
write a number of dry and very accurate memoranda, will make some dozen
conscientious translations, but he won't do anything striking. To do that
one must have imagination, inventiveness, the gift of insight, and Pyotr
Ignatyevitch has nothing of the kind. In short, he is not a master in
science, but a journeyman.
Pyotr Ignatyevitch, Nikolay, and I, talk in subdued tones. We are not
quite ourselves. There is always a peculiar feeling when one hears through
the doors a murmur as of the sea from the lecture-theatre. In the course
of thirty years I have not grown accustomed to this feeling, and I
experience it every morning. I nervously button up my coat, ask Nikolay
unnecessary questions, lose my temper.... It is just as though I were
frightened; it is not timidity, though, but something different which I
can neither describe nor find a name for.
Quite unnecessarily, I look at my watch and say: "Well, it's time to go
And we march into the room in the following order: foremost goes Nikolay,
with the chemicals and apparatus or with a chart; after him I come; and
then the carthorse follows humbly, with hanging head; or, when necessary,
a dead body is carried in first on a stretcher, followed by Nikolay, and
so on. On my entrance the students all stand up, then they sit down, and
the sound as of the sea is suddenly hushed. Stillness reigns.
I know what I am going to lecture about, but I don't know how I am going
to lecture, where I am going to begin or with what I am going to end. I
haven't a single sentence ready in my head. But I have only to look round
the lecture-hall (it is built in the form of an amphitheatre) and utter
the stereotyped phrase, "Last lecture we stopped at..." when sentences
spring up from my soul in a long string, and I am carried away by my own
eloquence. I speak with irresistible rapidity and passion, and it seems as
though there were no force which could check the flow of my words. To
lecture well—that is, with profit to the listeners and without
boring them—one must have, besides talent, experience and a special
knack; one must possess a clear conception of one's own powers, of the
audience to which one is lecturing, and of the subject of one's lecture.
Moreover, one must be a man who knows what he is doing; one must keep a
sharp lookout, and not for one second lose sight of what lies before one.
A good conductor, interpreting the thought of the composer, does twenty
things at once: reads the score, waves his baton, watches the singer,
makes a motion sideways, first to the drum then to the wind-instruments,
and so on. I do just the same when I lecture. Before me a hundred and
fifty faces, all unlike one another; three hundred eyes all looking
straight into my face. My object is to dominate this many-headed monster.
If every moment as I lecture I have a clear vision of the degree of its
attention and its power of comprehension, it is in my power. The other foe
I have to overcome is in myself. It is the infinite variety of forms,
phenomena, laws, and the multitude of ideas of my own and other people's
conditioned by them. Every moment I must have the skill to snatch out of
that vast mass of material what is most important and necessary, and, as
rapidly as my words flow, clothe my thought in a form in which it can be
grasped by the monster's intelligence, and may arouse its attention, and
at the same time one must keep a sharp lookout that one's thoughts are
conveyed, not just as they come, but in a certain order, essential for the
correct composition of the picture I wish to sketch. Further, I endeavour
to make my diction literary, my definitions brief and precise, my wording,
as far as possible, simple and eloquent. Every minute I have to pull
myself up and remember that I have only an hour and forty minutes at my
disposal. In short, one has one's work cut out. At one and the same minute
one has to play the part of savant and teacher and orator, and it's a bad
thing if the orator gets the upper hand of the savant or of the teacher in
one, or vice versa.
You lecture for a quarter of an hour, for half an hour, when you notice
that the students are beginning to look at the ceiling, at Pyotr
Ignatyevitch; one is feeling for his handkerchief, another shifts in his
seat, another smiles at his thoughts.... That means that their attention
is flagging. Something must be done. Taking advantage of the first
opportunity, I make some pun. A broad grin comes on to a hundred and fifty
faces, the eyes shine brightly, the sound of the sea is audible for a
brief moment.... I laugh too. Their attention is refreshed, and I can go
No kind of sport, no kind of game or diversion, has ever given me such
enjoyment as lecturing. Only at lectures have I been able to abandon
myself entirely to passion, and have understood that inspiration is not an
invention of the poets, but exists in real life, and I imagine Hercules
after the most piquant of his exploits felt just such voluptuous
exhaustion as I experience after every lecture.
That was in old times. Now at lectures I feel nothing but torture. Before
half an hour is over I am conscious of an overwhelming weakness in my legs
and my shoulders. I sit down in my chair, but I am not accustomed to
lecture sitting down; a minute later I get up and go on standing, then sit
down again. There is a dryness in my mouth, my voice grows husky, my head
begins to go round.... To conceal my condition from my audience I
continually drink water, cough, often blow my nose as though I were
hindered by a cold, make puns inappropriately, and in the end break off
earlier than I ought to. But above all I am ashamed.
My conscience and my intelligence tell me that the very best thing I could
do now would be to deliver a farewell lecture to the boys, to say my last
word to them, to bless them, and give up my post to a man younger and
stronger than me. But, God, be my judge, I have not manly courage enough
to act according to my conscience.
Unfortunately, I am not a philosopher and not a theologian. I know
perfectly well that I cannot live more than another six months; it might
be supposed that I ought now to be chiefly concerned with the question of
the shadowy life beyond the grave, and the visions that will visit my
slumbers in the tomb. But for some reason my soul refuses to recognize
these questions, though my mind is fully alive to their importance. Just
as twenty, thirty years ago, so now, on the threshold of death, I am
interested in nothing but science. As I yield up my last breath I shall
still believe that science is the most important, the most splendid, the
most essential thing in the life of man; that it always has been and will
be the highest manifestation of love, and that only by means of it will
man conquer himself and nature. This faith is perhaps naive and may rest
on false assumptions, but it is not my fault that I believe that and
nothing else; I cannot overcome in myself this belief.
But that is not the point. I only ask people to be indulgent to my
weakness, and to realize that to tear from the lecture-theatre and his
pupils a man who is more interested in the history of the development of
the bone medulla than in the final object of creation would be equivalent
to taking him and nailing him up in his coffin without waiting for him to
Sleeplessness and the consequent strain of combating increasing weakness
leads to something strange in me. In the middle of my lecture tears
suddenly rise in my throat, my eyes begin to smart, and I feel a
passionate, hysterical desire to stretch out my hands before me and break
into loud lamentation. I want to cry out in a loud voice that I, a famous
man, have been sentenced by fate to the death penalty, that within some
six months another man will be in control here in the lecture-theatre. I
want to shriek that I am poisoned; new ideas such as I have not known
before have poisoned the last days of my life, and are still stinging my
brain like mosquitoes. And at that moment my position seems to me so awful
that I want all my listeners to be horrified, to leap up from their seats
and to rush in panic terror, with desperate screams, to the exit.
It is not easy to get through such moments.
After my lecture I sit at home and work. I read journals and monographs,
or prepare my next lecture; sometimes I write something. I work with
interruptions, as I have from time to time to see visitors.
There is a ring at the bell. It is a colleague come to discuss some
business matter with me. He comes in to me with his hat and his stick,
and, holding out both these objects to me, says:
"Only for a minute! Only for a minute! Sit down, collega! Only a
couple of words."
To begin with, we both try to show each other that we are extraordinarily
polite and highly delighted to see each other. I make him sit down in an
easy-chair, and he makes me sit down; as we do so, we cautiously pat each
other on the back, touch each other's buttons, and it looks as though we
were feeling each other and afraid of scorching our fingers. Both of us
laugh, though we say nothing amusing. When we are seated we bow our heads
towards each other and begin talking in subdued voices. However
affectionately disposed we may be to one another, we cannot help adorning
our conversation with all sorts of Chinese mannerisms, such as "As you so
justly observed," or "I have already had the honour to inform you"; we
cannot help laughing if one of us makes a joke, however unsuccessfully.
When we have finished with business my colleague gets up impulsively and,
waving his hat in the direction of my work, begins to say good-bye. Again
we paw one another and laugh. I see him into the hall; when I assist my
colleague to put on his coat, while he does all he can to decline this
high honour. Then when Yegor opens the door my colleague declares that I
shall catch cold, while I make a show of being ready to go even into the
street with him. And when at last I go back into my study my face still
goes on smiling, I suppose from inertia.
A little later another ring at the bell. Somebody comes into the hall, and
is a long time coughing and taking off his things. Yegor announces a
student. I tell him to ask him in. A minute later a young man of agreeable
appearance comes in. For the last year he and I have been on strained
relations; he answers me disgracefully at the examinations, and I mark him
one. Every year I have some seven such hopefuls whom, to express it in the
students' slang, I "chivy" or "floor." Those of them who fail in their
examination through incapacity or illness usually bear their cross
patiently and do not haggle with me; those who come to the house and
haggle with me are always youths of sanguine temperament, broad natures,
whose failure at examinations spoils their appetites and hinders them from
visiting the opera with their usual regularity. I let the first class off
easily, but the second I chivy through a whole year.
"Sit down," I say to my visitor; "what have you to tell me?"
"Excuse me, professor, for troubling you," he begins, hesitating, and not
looking me in the face. "I would not have ventured to trouble you if it
had not been... I have been up for your examination five times, and have
been ploughed.... I beg you, be so good as to mark me for a pass,
The argument which all the sluggards bring forward on their own behalf is
always the same; they have passed well in all their subjects and have only
come to grief in mine, and that is the more surprising because they have
always been particularly interested in my subject and knew it so well;
their failure has always been entirely owing to some incomprehensible
"Excuse me, my friend," I say to the visitor; "I cannot mark you for a
pass. Go and read up the lectures and come to me again. Then we shall
A pause. I feel an impulse to torment the student a little for liking beer
and the opera better than science, and I say, with a sigh:
"To my mind, the best thing you can do now is to give up medicine
altogether. If, with your abilities, you cannot succeed in passing the
examination, it's evident that you have neither the desire nor the
vocation for a doctor's calling."
The sanguine youth's face lengthens.
"Excuse me, professor," he laughs, "but that would be odd of me, to say
the least of it. After studying for five years, all at once to give it
"Oh, well! Better to have lost your five years than have to spend the rest
of your life in doing work you do not care for."
But at once I feel sorry for him, and I hasten to add:
"However, as you think best. And so read a little more and come again."
"When?" the idle youth asks in a hollow voice.
"When you like. Tomorrow if you like."
And in his good-natured eyes I read:
"I can come all right, but of course you will plough me again, you beast!"
"Of course," I say, "you won't know more science for going in for my
examination another fifteen times, but it is training your character, and
you must be thankful for that."
Silence follows. I get up and wait for my visitor to go, but he stands and
looks towards the window, fingers his beard, and thinks. It grows boring.
The sanguine youth's voice is pleasant and mellow, his eyes are clever and
ironical, his face is genial, though a little bloated from frequent
indulgence in beer and overlong lying on the sofa; he looks as though he
could tell me a lot of interesting things about the opera, about his
affairs of the heart, and about comrades whom he likes. Unluckily, it is
not the thing to discuss these subjects, or else I should have been glad
to listen to him.
"Professor, I give you my word of honour that if you mark me for a pass
As soon as we reach the "word of honour" I wave my hands and sit down to
the table. The student ponders a minute longer, and says dejectedly:
"In that case, good-bye... I beg your pardon."
"Good-bye, my friend. Good luck to you."
He goes irresolutely into the hall, slowly puts on his outdoor things,
and, going out into the street, probably ponders for some time longer;
unable to think of anything, except "old devil," inwardly addressed to me,
he goes into a wretched restaurant to dine and drink beer, and then home
to bed. "Peace be to thy ashes, honest toiler."
A third ring at the bell. A young doctor, in a pair of new black trousers,
gold spectacles, and of course a white tie, walks in. He introduces
himself. I beg him to be seated, and ask what I can do for him. Not
without emotion, the young devotee of science begins telling me that he
has passed his examination as a doctor of medicine, and that he has now
only to write his dissertation. He would like to work with me under my
guidance, and he would be greatly obliged to me if I would give him a
subject for his dissertation.
"Very glad to be of use to you, colleague," I say, "but just let us come
to an understanding as to the meaning of a dissertation. That word is
taken to mean a composition which is a product of independent creative
effort. Is that not so? A work written on another man's subject and under
another man's guidance is called something different...."
The doctor says nothing. I fly into a rage and jump up from my seat.
"Why is it you all come to me?" I cry angrily. "Do I keep a shop? I don't
deal in subjects. For the thousand and oneth time I ask you all to leave
me in peace! Excuse my brutality, but I am quite sick of it!"
The doctor remains silent, but a faint flush is apparent on his
cheek-bones. His face expresses a profound reverence for my fame and my
learning, but from his eyes I can see he feels a contempt for my voice, my
pitiful figure, and my nervous gesticulation. I impress him in my anger as
a queer fish.
"I don't keep a shop," I go on angrily. "And it is a strange thing! Why
don't you want to be independent? Why have you such a distaste for
I say a great deal, but he still remains silent. By degrees I calm down,
and of course give in. The doctor gets a subject from me for his theme not
worth a halfpenny, writes under my supervision a dissertation of no use to
any one, with dignity defends it in a dreary discussion, and receives a
degree of no use to him.
The rings at the bell may follow one another endlessly, but I will confine
my description here to four of them. The bell rings for the fourth time,
and I hear familiar footsteps, the rustle of a dress, a dear voice....
Eighteen years ago a colleague of mine, an oculist, died leaving a little
daughter Katya, a child of seven, and sixty thousand roubles. In his will
he made me the child's guardian. Till she was ten years old Katya lived
with us as one of the family, then she was sent to a boarding-school, and
only spent the summer holidays with us. I never had time to look after her
education. I only superintended it at leisure moments, and so I can say
very little about her childhood.
The first thing I remember, and like so much in remembrance, is the
extraordinary trustfulness with which she came into our house and let
herself be treated by the doctors, a trustfulness which was always shining
in her little face. She would sit somewhere out of the way, with her face
tied up, invariably watching something with attention; whether she watched
me writing or turning over the pages of a book, or watched my wife
bustling about, or the cook scrubbing a potato in the kitchen, or the dog
playing, her eyes invariably expressed the same thought—that is,
"Everything that is done in this world is nice and sensible." She was
curious, and very fond of talking to me. Sometimes she would sit at the
table opposite me, watching my movements and asking questions. It
interested her to know what I was reading, what I did at the University,
whether I was not afraid of the dead bodies, what I did with my salary.
"Do the students fight at the University?" she would ask.
"They do, dear."
"And do you make them go down on their knees?"
"Yes, I do."
And she thought it funny that the students fought and I made them go down
on their knees, and she laughed. She was a gentle, patient, good child. It
happened not infrequently that I saw something taken away from her, saw
her punished without reason, or her curiosity repressed; at such times a
look of sadness was mixed with the invariable expression of trustfulness
on her face—that was all. I did not know how to take her part; only
when I saw her sad I had an inclination to draw her to me and to
commiserate her like some old nurse: "My poor little orphan one!"
I remember, too, that she was fond of fine clothes and of sprinkling
herself with scent. In that respect she was like me. I, too, am fond of
pretty clothes and nice scent.
I regret that I had not time nor inclination to watch over the rise and
development of the passion which took complete possession of Katya when
she was fourteen or fifteen. I mean her passionate love for the theatre.
When she used to come from boarding-school and stay with us for the summer
holidays, she talked of nothing with such pleasure and such warmth as of
plays and actors. She bored us with her continual talk of the theatre. My
wife and children would not listen to her. I was the only one who had not
the courage to refuse to attend to her. When she had a longing to share
her transports, she used to come into my study and say in an imploring
"Nikolay Stepanovitch, do let me talk to you about the theatre!"
I pointed to the clock, and said:
"I'll give you half an hour—begin."
Later on she used to bring with her dozens of portraits of actors and
actresses which she worshipped; then she attempted several times to take
part in private theatricals, and the upshot of it all was that when she
left school she came to me and announced that she was born to be an
I had never shared Katya's inclinations for the theatre. To my mind, if a
play is good there is no need to trouble the actors in order that it may
make the right impression; it is enough to read it. If the play is poor,
no acting will make it good.
In my youth I often visited the theatre, and now my family takes a box
twice a year and carries me off for a little distraction. Of course, that
is not enough to give me the right to judge of the theatre. In my opinion
the theatre has become no better than it was thirty or forty years ago.
Just as in the past, I can never find a glass of clean water in the
corridors or foyers of the theatre. Just as in the past, the attendants
fine me twenty kopecks for my fur coat, though there is nothing
reprehensible in wearing a warm coat in winter. As in the past, for no
sort of reason, music is played in the intervals, which adds something new
and uncalled-for to the impression made by the play. As in the past, men
go in the intervals and drink spirits in the buffet. If no progress can be
seen in trifles, I should look for it in vain in what is more important.
When an actor wrapped from head to foot in stage traditions and
conventions tries to recite a simple ordinary speech, "To be or not to
be," not simply, but invariably with the accompaniment of hissing and
convulsive movements all over his body, or when he tries to convince me at
all costs that Tchatsky, who talks so much with fools and is so fond of
folly, is a very clever man, and that "Woe from Wit" is not a dull play,
the stage gives me the same feeling of conventionality which bored me so
much forty years ago when I was regaled with the classical howling and
beating on the breast. And every time I come out of the theatre more
conservative than I go in.
The sentimental and confiding public may be persuaded that the stage, even
in its present form, is a school; but any one who is familiar with a
school in its true sense will not be caught with that bait. I cannot say
what will happen in fifty or a hundred years, but in its actual condition
the theatre can serve only as an entertainment. But this entertainment is
too costly to be frequently enjoyed. It robs the state of thousands of
healthy and talented young men and women, who, if they had not devoted
themselves to the theatre, might have been good doctors, farmers,
schoolmistresses, officers; it robs the public of the evening hours—the
best time for intellectual work and social intercourse. I say nothing of
the waste of money and the moral damage to the spectator when he sees
murder, fornication, or false witness unsuitably treated on the stage.
Katya was of an entirely different opinion. She assured me that the
theatre, even in its present condition, was superior to the lecture-hall,
to books, or to anything in the world. The stage was a power that united
in itself all the arts, and actors were missionaries. No art nor science
was capable of producing so strong and so certain an effect on the soul of
man as the stage, and it was with good reason that an actor of medium
quality enjoys greater popularity than the greatest savant or artist. And
no sort of public service could provide such enjoyment and gratification
as the theatre.
And one fine day Katya joined a troupe of actors, and went off, I believe
to Ufa, taking away with her a good supply of money, a store of rainbow
hopes, and the most aristocratic views of her work.
Her first letters on the journey were marvellous. I read them, and was
simply amazed that those small sheets of paper could contain so much
youth, purity of spirit, holy innocence, and at the same time subtle and
apt judgments which would have done credit to a fine mas culine intellect.
It was more like a rapturous paean of praise she sent me than a mere
description of the Volga, the country, the towns she visited, her
companions, her failures and successes; every sentence was fragrant with
that confiding trustfulness I was accustomed to read in her face—and
at the same time there were a great many grammatical mistakes, and there
was scarcely any punctuation at all.
Before six months had passed I received a highly poetical and enthusiastic
letter beginning with the words, "I have come to love..." This letter was
accompanied by a photograph representing a young man with a shaven face, a
wide-brimmed hat, and a plaid flung over his shoulder. The letters that
followed were as splendid as before, but now commas and stops made their
appearance in them, the grammatical mistakes disappeared, and there was a
distinctly masculine flavour about them. Katya began writing to me how
splendid it would be to build a great theatre somewhere on the Volga, on a
cooperative system, and to attract to the enterprise the rich merchants
and the steamer owners; there would be a great deal of money in it; there
would be vast audiences; the actors would play on co-operative terms....
Possibly all this was really excellent, but it seemed to me that such
schemes could only originate from a man's mind.
However that may have been, for a year and a half everything seemed to go
well: Katya was in love, believed in her work, and was happy; but then I
began to notice in her letters unmistakable signs of falling off. It began
with Katya's complaining of her companions—this was the first and
most ominous symptom; if a young scientific or literary man begins his
career with bitter complaints of scientific and literary men, it is a sure
sign that he is worn out and not fit for his work. Katya wrote to me that
her companions did not attend the rehearsals and never knew their parts;
that one could see in every one of them an utter disrespect for the public
in the production of absurd plays, and in their behaviour on the stage;
that for the benefit of the Actors' Fund, which they only talked about,
actresses of the serious drama demeaned themselves by singing
chansonettes, while tragic actors sang comic songs making fun of deceived
husbands and the pregnant condition of unfaithful wives, and so on. In
fact, it was amazing that all this had not yet ruined the provincial
stage, and that it could still maintain itself on such a rotten and
In answer I wrote Katya a long and, I must confess, a very boring letter.
Among other things, I wrote to her:
"I have more than once happened to converse with old actors, very worthy
men, who showed a friendly disposition towards me; from my conversations
with them I could understand that their work was controlled not so much by
their own intelligence and free choice as by fashion and the mood of the
public. The best of them had had to play in their day in tragedy, in
operetta, in Parisian farces, and in extravaganzas, and they always seemed
equally sure that they were on the right path and that they were of use.
So, as you see, the cause of the evil must be sought, not in the actors,
but, more deeply, in the art itself and in the attitude of the whole of
society to it."
This letter of mine only irritated Katya. She answered me:
"You and I are singing parts out of different operas. I wrote to you, not
of the worthy men who showed a friendly disposition to you, but of a band
of knaves who have nothing worthy about them. They are a horde of savages
who have got on the stage simply because no one would have taken them
elsewhere, and who call themselves artists simply because they are
impudent. There are numbers of dull-witted creatures, drunkards,
intriguing schemers and slanderers, but there is not one person of talent
among them. I cannot tell you how bitter it is to me that the art I love
has fallen into the hands of people I detest; how bitter it is that the
best men look on at evil from afar, not caring to come closer, and,
instead of intervening, write ponderous commonplaces and utterly useless
sermons...." And so on, all in the same style.
A little time passed, and I got this letter: "I have been brutally
deceived. I cannot go on living. Dispose of my money as you think best. I
loved you as my father and my only friend. Good-bye."
It turned out that he, too, belonged to the "horde of savages."
Later on, from certain hints, I gathered that there had been an attempt at
suicide. I believe Katya tried to poison herself. I imagine that she must
have been seriously ill afterwards, as the next letter I got was from
Yalta, where she had most probably been sent by the doctors. Her last
letter contained a request to send her a thousand roubles to Yalta as
quickly as possible, and ended with these words:
"Excuse the gloominess of this letter; yesterday I buried my child." After
spending about a year in the Crimea, she returned home.
She had been about four years on her travels, and during those four years,
I must confess, I had played a rather strange and unenviable part in
regard to her. When in earlier days she had told me she was going on the
stage, and then wrote to me of her love; when she was periodically
overcome by extravagance, and I continually had to send her first one and
then two thousand roubles; when she wrote to me of her intention of
suicide, and then of the death of her baby, every time I lost my head, and
all my sympathy for her sufferings found no expression except that, after
prolonged reflection, I wrote long, boring letters which I might just as
well not have written. And yet I took a father's place with her and loved
her like a daughter!
Now Katya is living less than half a mile off. She has taken a flat of
five rooms, and has installed herself fairly comfortably and in the taste
of the day. If any one were to undertake to describe her surroundings, the
most characteristic note in the picture would be indolence. For the
indolent body there are soft lounges, soft stools; for indolent feet soft
rugs; for indolent eyes faded, dingy, or flat colours; for the indolent
soul the walls are hung with a number of cheap fans and trivial pictures,
in which the originality of the execution is more conspicuous than the
subject; and the room contains a multitude of little tables and shelves
filled with utterly useless articles of no value, and shapeless rags in
place of curtains.... All this, together with the dread of bright colours,
of symmetry, and of empty space, bears witness not only to spiritual
indolence, but also to a corruption of natural taste. For days together
Katya lies on the lounge reading, principally novels and stories. She only
goes out of the house once a day, in the afternoon, to see me.
I go on working while Katya sits silent not far from me on the sofa,
wrapping herself in her shawl, as though she were cold. Either because I
find her sympathetic or because I was used to her frequent visits when she
was a little girl, her presence does not prevent me from concentrating my
attention. From time to time I mechanically ask her some question; she
gives very brief replies; or, to rest for a minute, I turn round and watch
her as she looks dreamily at some medical journal or review. And at such
moments I notice that her face has lost the old look of confiding
trustfulness. Her expression now is cold, apathetic, and absent-minded,
like that of passengers who had to wait too long for a train. She is
dressed, as in old days, simply and beautifully, but carelessly; her dress
and her hair show visible traces of the sofas and rocking-chairs in which
she spends whole days at a stretch. And she has lost the curiosity she had
in old days. She has ceased to ask me questions now, as though she had
experienced everything in life and looked for nothing new from it.
Towards four o'clock there begins to be sounds of movement in the hall and
in the drawing-room. Liza has come back from the Conservatoire, and has
brought some girl-friends in with her. We hear them playing on the piano,
trying their voices and laughing; in the dining-room Yegor is laying the
table, with the clatter of crockery.
"Good-bye," said Katya. "I won't go in and see your people today. They
must excuse me. I haven't time. Come and see me."
While I am seeing her to the door, she looks me up and down grimly, and
says with vexation:
"You are getting thinner and thinner! Why don't you consult a doctor? I'll
call at Sergey Fyodorovitch's and ask him to have a look at you."
"There's no need, Katya."
"I can't think where your people's eyes are! They are a nice lot, I must
She puts on her fur coat abruptly, and as she does so two or three
hairpins drop unnoticed on the floor from her carelessly arranged hair.
She is too lazy and in too great a hurry to do her hair up; she carelessly
stuffs the falling curls under her hat, and goes away.
When I go into the dining-room my wife asks me:
"Was Katya with you just now? Why didn't she come in to see us? It's
"Mamma," Liza says to her reproachfully, "let her alone, if she doesn't
want to. We are not going down on our knees to her."
"It's very neglectful, anyway. To sit for three hours in the study without
remembering our existence! But of course she must do as she likes."
Varya and Liza both hate Katya. This hatred is beyond my comprehension,
and probably one would have to be a woman in order to understand it. I am
ready to stake my life that of the hundred and fifty young men I see every
day in the lecture-theatre, and of the hundred elderly ones I meet every
week, hardly one could be found capable of understanding their hatred and
aversion for Katya's past—that is, for her having been a mother
without being a wife, and for her having had an illegitimate child; and at
the same time I cannot recall one woman or girl of my acquaintance who
would not consciously or unconsciously harbour such feelings. And this is
not because woman is purer or more virtuous than man: why, virtue and
purity are not very different from vice if they are not free from evil
feeling. I attribute this simply to the backwardness of woman. The
mournful feeling of compassion and the pang of conscience experienced by a
modern man at the sight of suffering is, to my mind, far greater proof of
culture and moral elevation than hatred and aversion. Woman is as tearful
and as coarse in her feelings now as she was in the Middle Ages, and to my
thinking those who advise that she should be educated like a man are quite
My wife also dislikes Katya for having been an actress, for ingratitude,
for pride, for eccentricity, and for the numerous vices which one woman
can always find in another.
Besides my wife and daughter and me, there are dining with us two or three
of my daughter's friends and Alexandr Adolfovitch Gnekker, her admirer and
suitor. He is a fair-haired young man under thirty, of medium height, very
stout and broad-shouldered, with red whiskers near his ears, and little
waxed moustaches which make his plump smooth face look like a toy. He is
dressed in a very short reefer jacket, a flowered waistcoat, breeches very
full at the top and very narrow at the ankle, with a large check pattern
on them, and yellow boots without heels. He has prominent eyes like a
crab's, his cravat is like a crab's neck, and I even fancy there is a
smell of crab-soup about the young man's whole person. He visits us every
day, but no one in my family knows anything of his origin nor of the place
of his education, nor of his means of livelihood. He neither plays nor
sings, but has some connection with music and singing, sells somebody's
pianos somewhere, is frequently at the Conservatoire, is acquainted with
all the celebrities, and is a steward at the concerts; he criticizes music
with great authority, and I have noticed that people are eager to agree
Rich people always have dependents hanging about them; the arts and
sciences have the same. I believe there is not an art nor a science in the
world free from "foreign bodies" after the style of this Mr. Gnekker. I am
not a musician, and possibly I am mistaken in regard to Mr. Gnekker, of
whom, indeed, I know very little. But his air of authority and the dignity
with which he takes his stand beside the piano when any one is playing or
singing strike me as very suspicious.
You may be ever so much of a gentleman and a privy councillor, but if you
have a daughter you cannot be secure of immunity from that petty bourgeois
atmosphere which is so often brought into your house and into your mood by
the attentions of suitors, by matchmaking and marriage. I can never
reconcile myself, for instance, to the expression of triumph on my wife's
face every time Gnekker is in our company, nor can I reconcile myself to
the bottles of Lafitte, port and sherry which are only brought out on his
account, that he may see with his own eyes the liberal and luxurious way
in which we live. I cannot tolerate the habit of spasmodic laughter Liza
has picked up at the Conservatoire, and her way of screwing up her eyes
whenever there are men in the room. Above all, I cannot understand why a
creature utterly alien to my habits, my studies, my whole manner of life,
completely different from the people I like, should come and see me every
day, and every day should dine with me. My wife and my servants
mysteriously whisper that he is a suitor, but still I don't understand his
presence; it rouses in me the same wonder and perplexity as if they were
to set a Zulu beside me at the table. And it seems strange to me, too,
that my daughter, whom I am used to thinking of as a child, should love
that cravat, those eyes, those soft cheeks....
In the old days I used to like my dinner, or at least was indifferent
about it; now it excites in me no feeling but weariness and irritation.
Ever since I became an "Excellency" and one of the Deans of the Faculty my
family has for some reason found it necessary to make a complete change in
our menu and dining habits. Instead of the simple dishes to which I was
accustomed when I was a student and when I was in practice, now they feed
me with a puree with little white things like circles floating about in
it, and kidneys stewed in madeira. My rank as a general and my fame have
robbed me for ever of cabbage-soup and savoury pies, and goose with
apple-sauce, and bream with boiled grain. They have robbed me of our
maid-servant Agasha, a chatty and laughter-loving old woman, instead of
whom Yegor, a dull-witted and conceited fellow with a white glove on his
right hand, waits at dinner. The intervals between the courses are short,
but they seem immensely long because there is nothing to occupy them.
There is none of the gaiety of the old days, the spontaneous talk, the
jokes, the laughter; there is nothing of mutual affection and the joy
which used to animate the children, my wife, and me when in old days we
met together at meals. For me, the celebrated man of science, dinner was a
time of rest and reunion, and for my wife and children a fete—brief
indeed, but bright and joyous—in which they knew that for half an
hour I belonged, not to science, not to students, but to them alone. Our
real exhilaration from one glass of wine is gone for ever, gone is Agasha,
gone the bream with boiled grain, gone the uproar that greeted every
little startling incident at dinner, such as the cat and dog fighting
under the table, or Katya's bandage falling off her face into her
To describe our dinner nowadays is as uninteresting as to eat it. My
wife's face wears a look of triumph and affected dignity, and her habitual
expression of anxiety. She looks at our plates and says, "I see you don't
care for the joint. Tell me; you don't like it, do you?" and I am obliged
to answer: "There is no need for you to trouble, my dear; the meat is very
nice." And she will say: "You always stand up for me, Nikolay
Stepanovitch, and you never tell the truth. Why is Alexandr Adolfovitch
eating so little?" And so on in the same style all through dinner. Liza
laughs spasmodically and screws up her eyes. I watch them both, and it is
only now at dinner that it becomes absolutely evident to me that the inner
life of these two has slipped away out of my ken. I have a feeling as
though I had once lived at home with a real wife and children and that now
I am dining with visitors, in the house of a sham wife who is not the real
one, and am looking at a Liza who is not the real Liza. A startling change
has taken place in both of them; I have missed the long process by which
that change was effected, and it is no wonder that I can make nothing of
it. Why did that change take place? I don't know. Perhaps the whole
trouble is that God has not given my wife and daughter the same strength
of character as me. From childhood I have been accustomed to resisting
external influences, and have steeled myself pretty thoroughly. Such
catastrophes in life as fame, the rank of a general, the transition from
comfort to living beyond our means, acquaintance with celebrities, etc.,
have scarcely affected me, and I have remained intact and unashamed; but
on my wife and Liza, who have not been through the same hardening process
and are weak, all this has fallen like an avalanche of snow, overwhelming
them. Gnekker and the young ladies talk of fugues, of counterpoint, of
singers and pianists, of Bach and Brahms, while my wife, afraid of their
suspecting her of ignorance of music, smiles to them sympathetically and
mutters: "That's exquisite... really! You don't say so!..." Gnekker eats
with solid dignity, jests with solid dignity, and condescendingly listens
to the remarks of the young ladies. From time to time he is moved to speak
in bad French, and then, for some reason or other, he thinks it necessary
to address me as "Votre Excellence."
And I am glum. Evidently I am a constraint to them and they are a
constraint to me. I have never in my earlier days had a close knowledge of
class antagonism, but now I am tormented by something of that sort. I am
on the lookout for nothing but bad qualities in Gnekker; I quickly find
them, and am fretted at the thought that a man not of my circle is sitting
here as my daughter's suitor. His presence has a bad influence on me in
other ways, too. As a rule, when I am alone or in the society of people I
like, never think of my own achievements, or, if I do recall them, they
seem to me as trivial as though I had only completed my studies yesterday;
but in the presence of people like Gnekker my achievements in science seem
to be a lofty mountain the top of which vanishes into the clouds, while at
its foot Gnekkers are running about scarcely visible to the naked eye.
After dinner I go into my study and there smoke my pipe, the only one in
the whole day, the sole relic of my old bad habit of smoking from morning
till night. While I am smoking my wife comes in and sits down to talk to
me. Just as in the morning, I know beforehand what our conversation is
going to be about.
"I must talk to you seriously, Nikolay Stepanovitch," she begins. "I mean
about Liza.... Why don't you pay attention to it?"
"You pretend to notice nothing. But that is not right. We can't shirk
responsibility.... Gnekker has intentions in regard to Liza.... What do
"That he is a bad man I can't say, because I don't know him, but that I
don't like him I have told you a thousand times already."
"But you can't... you can't!"
She gets up and walks about in excitement.
"You can't take up that attitude to a serious step," she says. "When it is
a question of our daughter's happiness we must lay aside all personal
feeling. I know you do not like him.... Very good... if we refuse him now,
if we break it all off, how can you be sure that Liza will not have a
grievance against us all her life? Suitors are not plentiful nowadays,
goodness knows, and it may happen that no other match will turn up.... He
is very much in love with Liza, and she seems to like him.... Of course,
he has no settled position, but that can't be helped. Please God, in time
he will get one. He is of good family and well off."
"Where did you learn that?"
"He told us so. His father has a large house in Harkov and an estate in
the neighbourhood. In short, Nikolay Stepanovitch, you absolutely must go
"You will find out all about him there.... You know the professors there;
they will help you. I would go myself, but I am a woman. I cannot...."
"I am not going to Harkov," I say morosely.
My wife is frightened, and a look of intense suffering comes into her
"For God's sake, Nikolay Stepanovitch," she implores me, with tears in her
voice—"for God's sake, take this burden off me! I am so worried!"
It is painful for me to look at her.
"Very well, Varya," I say affectionately, "if you wish it, then certainly
I will go to Harkov and do all you want."
She presses her handkerchief to her eyes and goes off to her room to cry,
and I am left alone.
A little later lights are brought in. The armchair and the lamp-shade cast
familiar shadows that have long grown wearisome on the walls and on the
floor, and when I look at them I feel as though the night had come and
with it my accursed sleeplessness. I lie on my bed, then get up and walk
about the room, then lie down again. As a rule it is after dinner, at the
approach of evening, that my nervous excitement reaches its highest pitch.
For no reason I begin crying and burying my head in the pillow. At such
times I am afraid that some one may come in; I am afraid of suddenly
dying; I am ashamed of my tears, and altogether there is something
insufferable in my soul. I feel that I can no longer bear the sight of my
lamp, of my books, of the shadows on the floor. I cannot bear the sound of
the voices coming from the drawing-room. Some force unseen,
uncomprehended, is roughly thrusting me out of my flat. I leap up
hurriedly, dress, and cautiously, that my family may not notice, slip out
into the street. Where am I to go?
The answer to that question has long been ready in my brain. To Katya.
As a rule she is lying on the sofa or in a lounge-chair reading. Seeing
me, she raises her head languidly, sits up, and shakes hands.
"You are always lying down," I say, after pausing and taking breath.
"That's not good for you. You ought to occupy yourself with something."
"I say you ought to occupy yourself in some way."
"With what? A woman can be nothing but a simple workwoman or an actress."
"Well, if you can't be a workwoman, be an actress."
She says nothing.
"You ought to get married," I say, half in jest.
"There is no one to marry. There's no reason to, either."
"You can't live like this."
"Without a husband? Much that matters; I could have as many men as I like
if I wanted to."
"That's ugly, Katya."
"What is ugly?"
"Why, what you have just said."
Noticing that I am hurt and wishing to efface the disagreeable impression,
"Let us go; come this way."
She takes me into a very snug little room, and says, pointing to the
"Look... I have got that ready for you. You shall work here. Come here
every day and bring your work with you. They only hinder you there at
home. Will you work here? Will you like to?"
Not to wound her by refusing, I answer that I will work here, and that I
like the room very much. Then we both sit down in the snug little room and
The warm, snug surroundings and the presence of a sympathetic person does
not, as in old days, arouse in me a feeling of pleasure, but an intense
impulse to complain and grumble. I feel for some reason that if I lament
and complain I shall feel better.
"Things are in a bad way with me, my dear—very bad...."
"What is it?"
"You see how it is, my dear; the best and holiest right of kings is the
right of mercy. And I have always felt myself a king, since I have made
unlimited use of that right. I have never judged, I have been indulgent, I
have readily forgiven every one, right and left. Where others have
protested and expressed indignation, I have only advised and persuaded.
All my life it has been my endeavour that my society should not be a
burden to my family, to my students, to my colleagues, to my servants. And
I know that this attitude to people has had a good influence on all who
have chanced to c ome into contact with me. But now I am not a king.
Something is happening to me that is only excusable in a slave; day and
night my brain is haunted by evil thoughts, and feelings such as I never
knew before are brooding in my soul. I am full of hatred, and contempt,
and indignation, and loathing, and dread. I have become excessively
severe, exacting, irritable, ungracious, suspicious. Even things that in
old days would have provoked me only to an unnecessary jest and a
good-natured laugh now arouse an oppressive feeling in me. My reasoning,
too, has undergone a change: in old days I despised money; now I harbour
an evil feeling, not towards money, but towards the rich as though they
were to blame: in old days I hated violence and tyranny, but now I hate
the men who make use of violence, as though they were alone to blame, and
not all of us who do not know how to educate each other. What is the
meaning of it? If these new ideas and new feelings have come from a change
of convictions, what is that change due to? Can the world have grown worse
and I better, or was I blind before and indifferent? If this change is the
result of a general decline of physical and intellectual powers—I am
ill, you know, and every day I am losing weight—my position is
pitiable; it means that my new ideas are morbid and abnormal; I ought to
be ashamed of them and think them of no consequence...."
"Illness has nothing to do with it," Katya interrupts me; "it's simply
that your eyes are opened, that's all. You have seen what in old days, for
some reason, you refused to see. To my thinking, what you ought to do
first of all, is to break with your family for good, and go away."
"You are talking nonsense."
"You don't love them; why should you force your feelings? Can you call
them a family? Nonentities! If they died today, no one would notice their
Katya despises my wife and Liza as much as they hate her. One can hardly
talk at this date of people's having a right to despise one another. But
if one looks at it from Katya's standpoint and recognizes such a right,
one can see she has as much right to despise my wife and Liza as they have
to hate her.
"Nonentities," she goes on. "Have you had dinner today? How was it they
did not forget to tell you it was ready? How is it they still remember
"Katya," I say sternly, "I beg you to be silent."
"You think I enjoy talking about them? I should be glad not to know them
at all. Listen, my dear: give it all up and go away. Go abroad. The sooner
"What nonsense! What about the University?"
"The University, too. What is it to you? There's no sense in it, anyway.
You have been lecturing for thirty years, and where are your pupils? Are
many of them celebrated scientific men? Count them up! And to multiply the
doctors who exploit ignorance and pile up hundreds of thousands for
themselves, there is no need to be a good and talented man. You are not
"Good heavens! how harsh you are!" I cry in horror. "How harsh you are! Be
quiet or I will go away! I don't know how to answer the harsh things you
The maid comes in and summons us to tea. At the samovar our conversation,
thank God, changes. After having had my grumble out, I have a longing to
give way to another weakness of old age, reminiscences. I tell Katya about
my past, and to my great astonishment tell her incidents which, till then,
I did not suspect of being still preserved in my memory, and she listens
to me with tenderness, with pride, holding her breath. I am particularly
fond of telling her how I was educated in a seminary and dreamed of going
to the University.
"At times I used to walk about our seminary garden..." I would tell her.
"If from some faraway tavern the wind floated sounds of a song and the
squeaking of an accordion, or a sledge with bells dashed by the
garden-fence, it was quite enough to send a rush of happiness, filling not
only my heart, but even my stomach, my legs, my arms.... I would listen to
the accordion or the bells dying away in the distance and imagine myself a
doctor, and paint pictures, one better than another. And here, as you see,
my dreams have come true. I have had more than I dared to dream of. For
thirty years I have been the favourite professor, I have had splendid
comrades, I have enjoyed fame and honour. I have loved, married from
passionate love, have had children. In fact, looking back upon it, I see
my whole life as a fine composition arranged with talent. Now all that is
left to me is not to spoil the end. For that I must die like a man. If
death is really a thing to dread, I must meet it as a teacher, a man of
science, and a citizen of a Christian country ought to meet it, with
courage and untroubled soul. But I am spoiling the end; I am sinking, I
fly to you, I beg for help, and you tell me 'Sink; that is what you ought
But here there comes a ring at the front-door. Katya and I recognize it,
"It must be Mihail Fyodorovitch."
And a minute later my colleague, the philologist Mihail Fyodorovitch, a
tall, well-built man of fifty, clean-shaven, with thick grey hair and
black eyebrows, walks in. He is a good-natured man and an excellent
comrade. He comes of a fortunate and talented old noble family which has
played a prominent part in the history of literature and enlightenment. He
is himself intelligent, talented, and very highly educated, but has his
oddities. To a certain extent we are all odd and all queer fish, but in
his oddities there is something exceptional, apt to cause anxiety among
his acquaintances. I know a good many people for whom his oddities
completely obscure his good qualities.
Coming in to us, he slowly takes off his gloves and says in his velvety
"Good-evening. Are you having tea? That's just right. It's diabolically
Then he sits down to the table, takes a glass, and at once begins talking.
What is most characteristic in his manner of talking is the continually
jesting tone, a sort of mixture of philosophy and drollery as in
Shakespeare's gravediggers. He is always talking about serious things, but
he never speaks seriously. His judgments are always harsh and railing,
but, thanks to his soft, even, jesting tone, the harshness and abuse do
not jar upon the ear, and one soon grows used to them. Every evening he
brings with him five or six anecdotes from the University, and he usually
begins with them when he sits down to table.
"Oh, Lord!" he sighs, twitching his black eyebrows ironically. "What comic
people there are in the world!"
"Well?" asks Katya.
"As I was coming from my lecture this morning I met that old idiot N. N——
on the stairs.... He was going along as usual, sticking out his chin like
a horse, looking for some one to listen to his grumblings at his migraine,
at his wife, and his students who won't attend his lectures. 'Oh,' I
thought, 'he has seen me—I am done for now; it is all up....'"
And so on in the same style. Or he will begin like this:
"I was yesterday at our friend Z. Z——'s public lecture. I
wonder how it is our alma mater—don't speak of it after dark—dare
display in public such noodles and patent dullards as that Z. Z——
Why, he is a European fool! Upon my word, you could not find another like
him all over Europe! He lectures—can you imagine?—as though he
were sucking a sugar-stick—sue, sue, sue;... he is in a nervous
funk; he can hardly decipher his own manuscript; his poor little thoughts
crawl along like a bishop on a bicycle, and, what's worse, you can never
make out what he is trying to say. The deadly dulness is awful, the very
flies expire. It can only be compared with the boredom in the
assembly-hall at the yearly meeting when the traditional address is read—damn
And at once an abrupt transition:
"Three years ago—Nikolay Stepanovitch here will remember it—I
had to deliver that address. It was hot, stifling, my uniform cut me under
the arms—it was deadly! I read for half an hour, for an hour, for an
hour and a half, for two hours.... 'Come,' I thought; 'thank God, there
are only ten pages left!' And at the end there were four pages that there
was no need to read, and I reckoned to leave them out. 'So there are only
six really,' I thought; 'that is, only six pages left to read.' But, only
fancy, I chanced to glance before me, and, sitting in the front row, side
by side, were a general with a ribbon on his breast and a bishop. The poor
beggars were numb with boredom; they were staring with their eyes wide
open to keep awake, and yet they were trying to put on an expression of
attention and to pretend that they understood what I was saying and liked
it. 'Well,' I thought, 'since you like it you shall have it! I'll pay you
out;' so I just gave them those four pages too."
As is usual with ironical people, when he talks nothing in his face smiles
but his eyes and eyebrows. At such times there is no trace of hatred or
spite in his eyes, but a great deal of humour, and that peculiar fox-like
slyness which is only to be noticed in very observant people. Since I am
speaking about his eyes, I notice another peculiarity in them. When he
takes a glass from Katya, or listens to her speaking, or looks after her
as she goes out of the room for a moment, I notice in his eyes something
gentle, beseeching, pure....
The maid-servant takes away the samovar and puts on the table a large
piece of cheese, some fruit, and a bottle of Crimean champagne—a
rather poor wine of which Katya had grown fond in the Crimea. Mihail
Fyodorovitch takes two packs of cards off the whatnot and begins to play
patience. According to him, some varieties of patience require great
concentration and attention, yet while he lays out the cards he does not
leave off distracting his attention with talk. Katya watches his cards
attentively, and more by gesture than by words helps him in his play. She
drinks no more than a couple of wine-glasses of wine the whole evening; I
drink four glasses, and the rest of the bottle falls to the share of
Mihail Fyodorovitch, who can drink a great deal and never get drunk.
Over our patience we settle various questions, principally of the higher
order, and what we care for most of all—that is, science and
learning—is more roughly handled than anything.
"Science, thank God, has outlived its day," says Mihail Fyodorovitch
emphatically. "Its song is sung. Yes, indeed. Mankind begins to feel
impelled to replace it by something different. It has grown on the soil of
superstition, been nourished by superstition, and is now just as much the
quintessence of superstition as its defunct granddames, alchemy,
metaphysics, and philosophy. And, after all, what has it given to mankind?
Why, the difference between the learned Europeans and the Chinese who have
no science is trifling, purely external. The Chinese know nothing of
science, but what have they lost thereby?"
"Flies know nothing of science, either," I observe, "but what of that?"
"There is no need to be angry, Nikolay Stepanovitch. I only say this here
between ourselves... I am more careful than you think, and I am not going
to say this in public—God forbid! The superstition exists in the
multitude that the arts and sciences are superior to agriculture,
commerce, superior to handicrafts. Our sect is maintained by that
superstition, and it is not for you and me to destroy it. God forbid!"
After patience the younger generation comes in for a dressing too.
"Our audiences have degenerated," sighs Mihail Fyodorovitch. "Not to speak
of ideals and all the rest of it, if only they were capable of work and
rational thought! In fact, it's a case of 'I look with mournful eyes on
the young men of today.'"
"Yes; they have degenerated horribly," Katya agrees. "Tell me, have you
had one man of distinction among them for the last five or ten years?"
"I don't know how it is with the other professors, but I can't remember
any among mine."
"I have seen in my day many of your students and young scientific men and
many actors—well, I have never once been so fortunate as to meet—I
won't say a hero or a man of talent, but even an interesting man. It's all
the same grey mediocrity, puffed up with self-conceit."
All this talk of degeneration always affects me as though I had
accidentally overheard offensive talk about my own daughter. It offends me
that these charges are wholesale, and rest on such worn-out commonplaces,
on such wordy vapourings as degeneration and absence of ideals, or on
references to the splendours of the past. Every accusation, even if it is
uttered in ladies' society, ought to be formulated with all possible
definiteness, or it is not an accusation, but idle disparagement, unworthy
of decent people.
I am an old man, I have been lecturing for thirty years, but I notice
neither degeneration nor lack of ideals, and I don't find that the present
is worse than the past. My porter Nikolay, whose experience of this
subject has its value, says that the students of today are neither better
nor worse than those of the past.
If I were asked what I don't like in my pupils of today, I should answer
the question, not straight off and not at length, but with sufficient
definiteness. I know their failings, and so have no need to resort to
vague generalities. I don't like their smoking, using spirituous
beverages, marrying late, and often being so irresponsible and careless
that they will let one of their number be starving in their midst while
they neglect to pay their subscriptions to the Students' Aid Society. They
don't know modern languages, and they don't express themselves correctly
in Russian; no longer ago than yesterday my colleague, the professor of
hygiene, complained to me that he had to give twice as many lectures,
because the students had a very poor knowledge of physics and were utterly
ignorant of meteorology. They are readily carried away by the influence of
the last new writers, even when they are not first-rate, but they take
absolutely no interest in classics such as Shakespeare, Marcus Aurelius,
Epictetus, or Pascal, and this inability to distinguish the great from the
small betrays their ignorance of practical life more than anything. All
difficult questions that have more or less a social character (for
instance the migration question) they settle by studying monographs on the
subject, but not by way of scientific investigation or experiment, though
that method is at their disposal and is more in keeping with their
calling. They gladly become ward-surgeons, assistants, demonstrators,
external teachers, and are ready to fill such posts until they are forty,
though independence, a sense of freedom and personal initiative, are no
less necessary in science than, for instance, in art or commerce. I have
pupils and listeners, but no successors and helpers, and so I love them
and am touched by them, but am not proud of them. And so on, and so on....
Such shortcomings, however numerous they may be, can only give rise to a
pessimistic or fault-finding temper in a faint-hearted and timid man. All
these failings have a casual, transitory character, and are completely
dependent on conditions of life; in some ten years they will have
disappeared or given place to other fresh defects, which are all
inevitable and will in their turn alarm the faint-hearted. The students'
sins often vex me, but that vexation is nothing in comparison with the joy
I have been experiencing now for the last thirty years when I talk to my
pupils, lecture to them, watch their relations, and compare them with
people not of their circle.
Mihail Fyodorovitch speaks evil of everything. Katya listens, and neither
of them notices into what depths the apparently innocent diversion of
finding fault with their neighbours is gradually drawing them. They are
not conscious how by degrees simple talk passes into malicious mockery and
jeering, and how they are both beginning to drop into the habits and
methods of slander.
"Killing types one meets with," says Mihail Fyodorovitch. "I went
yesterday to our friend Yegor Petrovitch's, and there I found a studious
gentleman, one of your medicals in his third year, I believe. Such a
face!... in the Dobrolubov style, the imprint of profound thought on his
brow; we got into talk. 'Such doings, young man,' said I. 'I've read,'
said I, 'that some German—I've forgotten his name—has created
from the human brain a new kind of alkaloid, idiotine.' What do you think?
He believed it, and there was positively an expression of respect on his
face, as though to say, 'See what we fellows can do!' And the other day I
went to the theatre. I took my seat. In the next row directly in front of
me were sitting two men: one of 'us fellows' and apparently a law student,
the other a shaggy-looking figure, a medical student. The latter was as
drunk as a cobbler. He did not look at the stage at all. He was dozing
with his nose on his shirt-front. But as soon as an actor begins loudly
reciting a monologue, or simply raises his voice, our friend starts, pokes
his neighbour in the ribs, and asks, 'What is he saying? Is it elevating?'
'Yes,' answers one of our fellows. 'B-r-r-ravo!' roars the medical
student. 'Elevating! Bravo!' He had gone to the theatre, you see, the
drunken blockhead, not for the sake of art, the play, but for elevation!
He wanted noble sentiments."
Katya listens and laughs. She has a strange laugh; she catches her breath
in rhythmically regular gasps, very much as though she were playing the
accordion, and nothing in her face is laughing but her nostrils. I grow
depressed and don't know what to say. Beside myself, I fire up, leap up
from my seat, and cry:
"Do leave off! Why are you sitting here like two toads, poisoning the air
with your breath? Give over!"
And without waiting for them to finish their gossip I prepare to go home.
And, indeed, it is high time: it is past ten.
"I will stay a little longer," says Mihail Fyodorovitch. "Will you allow
me, Ekaterina Vladimirovna?"
"I will," answers Katya.
"Bene! In that case have up another little bottle."
They both accompany me with candles to the hall, and while I put on my fur
coat, Mihail Fyodorovitch says:
"You have grown dreadfully thin and older looking, Nikolay Stepanovitch.
What's the matter with you? Are you ill?"
"Yes; I am not very well."
"And you are not doing anything for it..." Katya puts in grimly.
"Why don't you? You can't go on like that! God helps those who help
themselves, my dear fellow. Remember me to your wife and daughter, and
make my apologies for not having been to see them. In a day or two, before
I go abroad, I shall come to say good-bye. I shall be sure to. I am going
away next week."
I come away from Katya, irritated and alarmed by what has been said about
my being ill, and dissatisfied with myself. I ask myself whether I really
ought not to consult one of my colleagues. And at once I imagine how my
colleague, after listening to me, would walk away to the window without
speaking, would think a moment, then would turn round to me and, trying to
prevent my reading the truth in his face, would say in a careless tone:
"So far I see nothing serious, but at the same time, collega, I
advise you to lay aside your work...." And that would deprive me of my
Who is without hope? Now that I am diagnosing my illness and prescribing
for myself, from time to time I hope that I am deceived by my own illness,
that I am mistaken in regard to the albumen and the sugar I find, and in
regard to my heart, and in regard to the swellings I have twice noticed in
the mornings; when with the fervour of the hypochondriac I look through
the textbooks of therapeutics and take a different medicine every day, I
keep fancying that I shall hit upon something comforting. All that is
Whether the sky is covered with clouds or the moon and the stars are
shining, I turn my eyes towards it every evening and think that death is
taking me soon. One would think that my thoughts at such times ought to be
deep as the sky, brilliant, striking.... But no! I think about myself,
about my wife, about Liza, Gnekker, the students, people in general; my
thoughts are evil, petty, I am insincere with myself, and at such times my
theory of life may be expressed in the words the celebrated Araktcheev
said in one of his intimate letters: "Nothing good can exist in the world
without evil, and there is more evil than good." That is, everything is
disgusting; there is nothing to live for, and the sixty-two years I have
already lived must be reckoned as wasted. I catch myself in these
thoughts, and try to persuade myself that they are accidental, temporary,
and not deeply rooted in me, but at once I think:
"If so, what drives me every evening to those two toads?"
And I vow to myself that I will never go to Katya's again, though I know I
shall go next evening.
Ringing the bell at the door and going upstairs, I feel that I have no
family now and no desire to bring it back again. It is clear that the new
Araktcheev thoughts are not casual, temporary visitors, but have
possession of my whole being. With my conscience ill at ease, dejected,
languid, hardly able to move my limbs, feeling as though tons were added
to my weight, I get into bed and quickly drop asleep.
Summer comes on and life is changed.
One fine morning Liza comes in to me and says in a jesting tone:
"Come, your Excellency! We are ready."
My Excellency is conducted into the street, and seated in a cab. As I go
along, having nothing to do, I read the signboards from right to left. The
word "Traktir" reads "Ritkart"; that would just suit some baron's family:
Baroness Ritkart. Farther on I drive through fields, by the graveyard,
which makes absolutely no impression on me, though I shall soon lie in it;
then I drive by forests and again by fields. There is nothing of interest.
After two hours of driving, my Excellency is conducted into the lower
storey of a summer villa and installed in a small, very cheerful little
room with light blue hangings.
At night there is sleeplessness as before, but in the morning I do not put
a good face upon it and listen to my wife, but lie in bed. I do not sleep,
but lie in the drowsy, half-conscious condition in which you know you are
not asleep, but dreaming. At midday I get up and from habit sit down at my
table, but I do not work now; I amuse myself with French books in yellow
covers, sent me by Katya. Of course, it would be more patriotic to read
Russian authors, but I must confess I cherish no particular liking for
them. With the exception of two or three of the older writers, all our
literature of today strikes me as not being literature, but a special sort
of home industry, which exists simply in order to be encouraged, though
people do not readily make use of its products. The very best of these
home products cannot be called remarkable and cannot be sincerely praised
without qualification. I must say the same of all the literary novelties I
have read during the last ten or fifteen years; not one of them is
remarkable, and not one of them can be praised without a "but."
Cleverness, a good tone, but no talent; talent, a good tone, but no
cleverness; or talent, cleverness, but not a good tone.
I don't say the French books have talent, cleverness, and a good tone.
They don't satisfy me, either. But they are not so tedious as the Russian,
and it is not unusual to find in them the chief element of artistic
creation—the feeling of personal freedom which is lacking in the
Russian authors. I don't remember one new book in which the author does
not try from the first page to entangle himself in all sorts of conditions
and contracts with his conscience. One is afraid to speak of the naked
body; another ties himself up hand and foot in psychological analysis; a
third must have a "warm attitude to man"; a fourth purposely scrawls whole
descriptions of nature that he may not be suspected of writing with a
purpose.... One is bent upon being middle-class in his work, another must
be a nobleman, and so on. There is intentionalness, circumspection, and
self-will, but they have neither the independence nor the manliness to
write as they like, and therefore there is no creativeness.
All this applies to what is called belles-lettres.
As for serious treatises in Russian on sociology, for instance, on art,
and so on, I do not rea d them simply from timidity. In my childhood and
early youth I had for some reason a terror of doorkeepers and attendants
at the theatre, and that terror has remained with me to this day. I am
afraid of them even now. It is said that we are only afraid of what we do
not understand. And, indeed, it is very difficult to understand why
doorkeepers and theatre attendants are so dignified, haughty, and
majestically rude. I feel exactly the same terror when I read serious
articles. Their extraordinary dignity, their bantering lordly tone, their
familiar manner to foreign authors, their ability to split straws with
dignity—all that is beyond my understanding; it is intimidating and
utterly unlike the quiet, gentlemanly tone to which I am accustomed when I
read the works of our medical and scientific writers. It oppresses me to
read not only the articles written by serious Russians, but even works
translated or edited by them. The pretentious, edifying tone of the
preface; the redundancy of remarks made by the translator, which prevent
me from concentrating my attention; the question marks and "sic" in
parenthesis scattered all over the book or article by the liberal
translator, are to my mind an outrage on the author and on my independence
as a reader.
Once I was summoned as an expert to a circuit court; in an interval one of
my fellow-experts drew my attention to the rudeness of the public
prosecutor to the defendants, among whom there were two ladies of good
education. I believe I did not exaggerate at all when I told him that the
prosecutor s manner was no ruder than that of the authors of serious
articles to one another. Their manners are, indeed, so rude that I cannot
speak of them without distaste. They treat one another and the writers
they criticize either with superfluous respect, at the sacrifice of their
own dignity, or, on the contrary, with far more ruthlessness than I have
shown in my notes and my thoughts in regard to my future son-in-law
Gnekker. Accusations of irrationality, of evil intentions, and, indeed, of
every sort of crime, form an habitual ornament of serious articles. And
that, as young medical men are fond of saying in their monographs, is the
ultima ratio! Such ways must infallibly have an effect on the
morals of the younger generation of writers, and so I am not at all
surprised that in the new works with which our literature has been
enriched during the last ten or fifteen years the heroes drink too much
vodka and the heroines are not over-chaste.
I read French books, and I look out of the window which is open; I can see
the spikes of my garden-fence, two or three scraggy trees, and beyond the
fence the road, the fields, and beyond them a broad stretch of pine-wood.
Often I admire a boy and girl, both flaxen-headed and ragged, who clamber
on the fence and laugh at my baldness. In their shining little eyes I
read, "Go up, go up, thou baldhead!" They are almost the only people who
care nothing for my celebrity or my rank.
Visitors do not come to me every day now. I will only mention the visits
of Nikolay and Pyotr Ignatyevitch. Nikolay usually comes to me on
holidays, with some pretext of business, though really to see me. He
arrives very much exhilarated, a thing which never occurs to him in the
"What have you to tell me?" I ask, going out to him in the hall.
"Your Excellency!" he says, pressing his hand to his heart and looking at
me with the ecstasy of a lover—"your Excellency! God be my witness!
Strike me dead on the spot! Gaudeamus egitur juventus!"
And he greedily kisses me on the shoulder, on the sleeve, and on the
"Is everything going well?" I ask him.
"Your Excellency! So help me God!..."
He persists in grovelling before me for no sort of reason, and soon bores
me, so I send him away to the kitchen, where they give him dinner.
Pyotr Ignatyevitch comes to see me on holidays, too, with the special
object of seeing me and sharing his thoughts with me. He usually sits down
near my table, modest, neat, and reasonable, and does not venture to cross
his legs or put his elbows on the table. All the time, in a soft, even,
little voice, in rounded bookish phrases, he tells me various, to his
mind, very interesting and piquant items of news which he has read in the
magazines and journals. They are all alike and may be reduced to this
type: "A Frenchman has made a discovery; some one else, a German, has
denounced him, proving that the discovery was made in 1870 by some
American; while a third person, also a German, trumps them both by proving
they both had made fools of themselves, mistaking bubbles of air for dark
pigment under the microscope." Even when he wants to amuse me, Pyotr
Ignatyevitch tells me things in the same lengthy, circumstantial manner as
though he were defending a thesis, enumerating in detail the literary
sources from which he is deriving his narrative, doing his utmost to be
accurate as to the date and number of the journals and the name of every
one concerned, invariably mentioning it in full—Jean Jacques Petit,
never simply Petit. Sometimes he stays to dinner with us, and then during
the whole of dinner-time he goes on telling me the same sort of piquant
anecdotes, reducing every one at table to a state of dejected boredom. If
Gnekker and Liza begin talking before him of fugues and counterpoint,
Brahms and Bach, he drops his eyes modestly, and is overcome with
embarrassment; he is ashamed that such trivial subjects should be
discussed before such serious people as him and me.
In my present state of mind five minutes of him is enough to sicken me as
though I had been seeing and hearing him for an eternity. I hate the poor
fellow. His soft, smooth voice and bookish language exhaust me, and his
stories stupefy me.... He cherishes the best of feelings for me, and talks
to me simply in order to give me pleasure, and I repay him by looking at
him as though I wanted to hypnotize him, and think, "Go, go, go!..." But
he is not amenable to thought-suggestion, and sits on and on and on....
While he is with me I can never shake off the thought, "It's possible when
I die he will be appointed to succeed me," and my poor lecture-hall
presents itself to me as an oasis in which the spring is died up; and I am
ungracious, silent, and surly with Pyotr Ignatyevitch, as though he were
to blame for such thoughts, and not I myself. When he begins, as usual,
praising up the German savants, instead of making fun of him
good-humouredly, as I used to do, I mutter sullenly:
"Asses, your Germans!..."
That is like the late Professor Nikita Krylov, who once, when he was
bathing with Pirogov at Revel and vexed at the water's being very cold,
burst out with, "Scoundrels, these Germans!" I behave badly with Pyotr
Ignatyevitch, and only when he is going away, and from the window I catch
a glimpse of his grey hat behind the garden-fence, I want to call out and
say, "Forgive me, my dear fellow!"
Dinner is even drearier than in the winter. Gnekker, whom now I hate and
despise, dines with us almost every day. I used to endure his presence in
silence, now I aim biting remarks at him which make my wife and daughter
blush. Carried away by evil feeling, I often say things that are simply
stupid, and I don't know why I say them. So on one occasion it happened
that I stared a long time at Gnekker, and, a propos of nothing, I
"An eagle may perchance swoop down below a cock,
But never will the fowl soar upwards to the clouds..."
And the most vexatious thing is that the fowl Gnekker shows himself much
cleverer than the eagle professor. Knowing that my wife and daughter are
on his side, he takes up the line of meeting my gibes with condescending
silence, as though to say:
"The old chap is in his dotage; what's the use of talking to him?"
Or he makes fun of me good-naturedly. It is wonderful how petty a man may
become! I am capable of dreaming all dinner-time of how Gnekker will turn
out to be an adventurer, how my wife and Liza will come to see their
mistake, and how I will taunt them—and such absurd thoughts at the
time when I am standing with one foot in the grave!
There are now, too, misunderstandings of which in the old days I had no
idea except from hearsay. Though I am ashamed of it, I will describe one
that occurred the other day after dinner.
I was sitting in my room smoking a pipe; my wife came in as usual, sat
down, and began saying what a good thing it would be for me to go to
Harkov now while it is warm and I have free time, and there find out what
sort of person our Gnekker is.
"Very good; I will go," I assented.
My wife, pleased with me, got up and was going to the door, but turned
back and said:
"By the way, I have another favour to ask of you. I know you will be
angry, but it is my duty to warn you.... Forgive my saying it, Nikolay
Stepanovitch, but all our neighbours and acquaintances have begun talking
about your being so often at Katya's. She is clever and well-educated; I
don't deny that her company may be agreeable; but at your age and with
your social position it seems strange that you should find pleasure in her
society.... Besides, she has such a reputation that..."
All the blood suddenly rushed to my brain, my eyes flashed fire, I leaped
up and, clutching at my head and stamping my feet, shouted in a voice
unlike my own:
"Let me alone! let me alone! let me alone!"
Probably my face was terrible, my voice was strange, for my wife suddenly
turned pale and began shrieking aloud in a despairing voice that was
utterly unlike her own. Liza, Gnekker, then Yegor, came running in at our
"Let me alone!" I cried; "let me alone! Go away!"
My legs turned numb as though they had ceased to exist; I felt myself
falling into someone's arms; for a little while I still heard weeping,
then sank into a swoon which lasted two or three hours.
Now about Katya; she comes to see me every day towards evening, and of
course neither the neighbours nor our acquaintances can avoid noticing it.
She comes in for a minute and carries me off for a drive with her. She has
her own horse and a new chaise bought this summer. Altogether she lives in
an expensive style; she has taken a big detached villa with a large
garden, and has taken all her town retinue with her—two maids, a
coachman... I often ask her:
"Katya, what will you live on when you have spent your father's money?"
"Then we shall see," she answers.
"That money, my dear, deserves to be treated more seriously. It was earned
by a good man, by honest labour."
"You have told me that already. I know it."
At first we drive through the open country, then through the pine-wood
which is visible from my window. Nature seems to me as beautiful as it
always has been, though some evil spirit whispers to me that these pines
and fir trees, birds, and white clouds on the sky, will not notice my
absence when in three or four months I am dead. Katya loves driving, and
she is pleased that it is fine weather and that I am sitting beside her.
She is in good spirits and does not say harsh things.
"You are a very good man, Nikolay Stepanovitch," she says. "You are a rare
specimen, and there isn't an actor who would understand how to play you.
Me or Mihail Fyodorovitch, for instance, any poor actor could do, but not
you. And I envy you, I envy you horribly! Do you know what I stand for?
She ponders for a minute, and then asks me:
"Nikolay Stepanovitch, I am a negative phenomenon! Yes?"
"Yes," I answer.
"H'm! what am I to do?"
What answer was I to make her? It is easy to say "work," or "give your
possessions to the poor," or "know yourself," and because it is so easy to
say that, I don't know what to answer.
My colleagues when they teach therapeutics advise "the individual study of
each separate case." One has but to obey this advice to gain the
conviction that the methods recommended in the textbooks as the best and
as providing a safe basis for treatment turn out to be quite unsuitable in
individual cases. It is just the same in moral ailments.
But I must make some answer, and I say:
"You have too much free time, my dear; you absolutely must take up some
occupation. After all, why shouldn't you be an actress again if it is your
"Your tone and manner suggest that you are a victim. I don't like that, my
dear; it is your own fault. Remember, you began with falling out with
people and methods, but you have done nothing to make either better. You
did not struggle with evil, but were cast down by it, and you are not the
victim of the struggle, but of your own impotence. Well, of course you
were young and inexperienced then; now it may all be different. Yes,
really, go on the stage. You will work, you will serve a sacred art."
"Don't pretend, Nikolay Stepanovitch," Katya interrupts me. "Let us make a
compact once for all; we will talk about actors, actresses, and authors,
but we will let art alone. You are a splendid and rare person, but you
don't know enough about art sincerely to think it sacred. You have no
instinct or feeling for art. You have been hard at work all your life, and
have not had time to acquire that feeling. Altogether... I don't like talk
about art," she goes on nervously. "I don't like it! And, my goodness, how
they have vulgarized it!"
"Who has vulgarized it?"
"They have vulgarized it by drunkenness, the newspapers by their familiar
attitude, clever people by philosophy."
"Philosophy has nothing to do with it."
"Yes, it has. If any one philosophizes about it, it shows he does not
To avoid bitterness I hasten to change the subject, and then sit a long
time silent. Only when we are driving out of the wood and turning towards
Katya's villa I go back to my former question, and say:
"You have still not answered me, why you don't want to go on the stage."
"Nikolay Stepanovitch, this is cruel!" she cries, and suddenly flushes all
over. "You want me to tell you the truth aloud? Very well, if... if you
like it! I have no talent! No talent and... and a great deal of vanity! So
After making this confession she turns her face away from me, and to hide
the trembling of her hands tugs violently at the reins.
As we are driving towards her villa we see Mihail Fyodorovitch walking
near the gate, impatiently awaiting us.
"That Mihail Fyodorovitch again!" says Katya with vexation. "Do rid me of
him, please! I am sick and tired of him... bother him!"
Mihail Fyodorovitch ought to have gone abroad long ago, but he puts off
going from week to week. Of late there have been certain changes in him.
He looks, as it were, sunken, has taken to drinking until he is tipsy, a
thing which never used to happen to him, and his black eyebrows are
beginning to turn grey. When our chaise stops at the gate he does not
conceal his joy and his impatience. He fussily helps me and Katya out,
hurriedly asks questions, laughs, rubs his hands, and that gentle,
imploring, pure expression, which I used to notice only in his eyes, is
now suffused all over his face. He is glad and at the same time he is
ashamed of his gladness, ashamed of his habit of spending every evening
with Katya. And he thinks it necessary to explain his visit by some
obvious absurdity such as: "I was driving by, and I thought I would just
look in for a minute."
We all three go indoors; first we drink tea, then the familiar packs of
cards, the big piece of cheese, the fruit, and the bottle of Crimean
champagne are put upon the table. The subjects of our conversation are not
new; they are just the same as in the winter. We fall foul of the
University, the students, and literature and the theatre; the air grows
thick and stifling with evil speaking, and poisoned by the breath, not of
two toads as in the winter, but of three. Besides the velvety baritone
laugh and the giggle like the gasp of a concertina, the maid who waits
upon us hears an unpleasant cracked "He, he!" like the chuckle of a
general in a vaudeville.
There are terrible nights with thunder, lightning, rain, and wind, such as
are called among the people "sparrow nights." There has been one such
night in my personal life.
I woke up after midnight and leaped suddenly out of bed. It seemed to me
for some reason that I was just immediately going to die. Why did it seem
so? I had no sensation in my body that suggested my immediate death, but
my soul was oppressed with terror, as though I had suddenly seen a vast
menacing glow of fire.
I rapidly struck a light, drank some water straight out of the decanter,
then hurried to the open window. The weather outside was magnificent.
There was a smell of hay and some other very sweet scent. I could see the
spikes of the fence, the gaunt, drowsy trees by the window, the road, the
dark streak of woodland, there was a serene, very bright moon in the sky
and not a single cloud, perfect stillness, not one leaf stirring. I felt
that everything was looking at me and waiting for me to die....
It was uncanny. I closed the window and ran to my bed. I felt for my
pulse, and not finding it in my wrist, tried to find it in my temple, then
in my chin, and again in my wrist, and everything I touched was cold and
clammy with sweat. My breathing came more and more rapidly, my body was
shivering, all my inside was in commotion; I had a sensation on my face
and on my bald head as though they were covered with spiders' webs.
What should I do? Call my family? No; it would be no use. I could not
imagine what my wife and Liza would do when they came in to me.
I hid my head under the pillow, closed my eyes, and waited and waited....
My spine was cold; it seemed to be drawn inwards, and I felt as though
death were coming upon me stealthily from behind.
"Kee-vee! kee-vee!" I heard a sudden shriek in the night's stillness, and
did not know where it was—in my breast or in the street—"Kee-vee!
"My God, how terrible!" I would have drunk some more water, but by then it
was fearful to open my eyes and I was afraid to raise my head. I was
possessed by unaccountable animal terror, and I cannot understand why I
was so frightened: was it that I wanted to live, or that some new unknown
pain was in store for me?
Upstairs, overhead, some one moaned or laughed. I listened. Soon
afterwards there was a sound of footsteps on the stairs. Some one came
hurriedly down, then went up again. A minute later there was a sound of
steps downstairs again; some one stopped near my door and listened.
"Who is there?" I cried.
The door opened. I boldly opened my eyes, and saw my wife. Her face was
pale and her eyes were tear-stained.
"You are not asleep, Nikolay Stepanovitch?" she asked.
"What is it?"
"For God's sake, go up and have a look at Liza; there is something the
matter with her...."
"Very good, with pleasure," I muttered, greatly relieved at not being
alone. "Very good, this minute...."
I followed my wife, heard what she said to me, and was too agitated to
understand a word. Patches of light from her candle danced about the
stairs, our long shadows trembled. My feet caught in the skirts of my
dressing-gown; I gasped for breath, and felt as though something were
pursuing me and trying to catch me from behind.
"I shall die on the spot, here on the staircase," I thought. "On the
spot...." But we passed the staircase, the dark corridor with the Italian
windows, and went into Liza's room. She was sitting on the bed in her
nightdress, with her bare feet hanging down, and she was moaning.
"Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" she was muttering, screwing up her eyes at our
candle. "I can't bear it."
"Liza, my child," I said, "what is it?"
Seeing me, she began crying out, and flung herself on my neck.
"My kind papa!..." she sobbed—"my dear, good papa... my darling, my
pet, I don't know what is the matter with me.... I am miserable!"
She hugged me, kissed me, and babbled fond words I used to hear from her
when she was a child.
"Calm yourself, my child. God be with you," I said. "There is no need to
cry. I am miserable, too."
I tried to tuck her in; my wife gave her water, and we awkwardly stumbled
by her bedside; my shoulder jostled against her shoulder, and meanwhile I
was thinking how we used to give our children their bath together.
"Help her! help her!" my wife implored me. "Do something!"
What could I do? I could do nothing. There was some load on the girl's
heart; but I did not understand, I knew nothing about it, and could only
"It's nothing, it's nothing; it will pass. Sleep, sleep!"
To make things worse, there was a sudden sound of dogs howling, at first
subdued and uncertain, then loud, two dogs howling together. I had never
attached significance to such omens as the howling of dogs or the
shrieking of owls, but on that occasion it sent a pang to my heart, and I
hastened to explain the howl to myself.
"It's nonsense," I thought, "the influence of one organism on another. The
intensely strained condition of my nerves has infected my wife, Liza, the
dog—that is all.... Such infection explains presentiments,
When a little later I went back to my room to write a prescription for
Liza, I no longer thought I should die at once, but only had such a
weight, such a feeling of oppression in my soul that I felt actually sorry
that I had not died on the spot. For a long time I stood motionless in the
middle of the room, pondering what to prescribe for Liza. But the moans
overhead ceased, and I decided to prescribe nothing, and yet I went on
There was a deathlike stillness, such a stillness, as some author has
expressed it, "it rang in one's ears." Time passed slowly; the streaks of
moonlight on the window-sill did not shift their position, but seemed as
though frozen.... It was still some time before dawn.
But the gate in the fence creaked, some one stole in and, breaking a twig
from one of those scraggy trees, cautiously tapped on the window with it.
"Nikolay Stepanovitch," I heard a whisper. "Nikolay Stepanovitch."
I opened the window, and fancied I was dreaming: under the window, huddled
against the wall, stood a woman in a black dress, with the moonlight
bright upon her, looking at me with great eyes. Her face was pale, stern,
and weird-looking in the moonlight, like marble, her chin was quivering.
"It is I," she said—"I... Katya."
In the moonlight all women's eyes look big and black, all people look
taller and paler, and that was probably why I had not recognized her for
the first minute.
"What is it?"
"Forgive me!" she said. "I suddenly felt unbearably miserable... I
couldn't stand it, so came here. There was a light in your window and...
and I ventured to knock.... I beg your pardon. Ah! if you knew how
miserable I am! What are you doing just now?"
"Nothing.... I can't sleep."
"I had a feeling that there was something wrong, but that is nonsense."
Her brows were lifted, her eyes shone with tears, and her whole face was
lighted up with the familiar look of trustfulness which I had not seen for
"Nikolay Stepanovitch," she said imploringly, stretching out both hands to
me, "my precious friend, I beg you, I implore you.... If you don't despise
my affection and respect for you, consent to what I ask of you."
"What is it?"
"Take my money from me!"
"Come! what an idea! What do I want with your money?"
"You'll go away somewhere for your health.... You ought to go for your
health. Will you take it? Yes? Nikolay Stepanovitch darling, yes?"
She looked greedily into my face and repeated: "Yes, you will take it?"
"No, my dear, I won't take it," I said. "Thank you."
She turned her back upon me and bowed her head. Probably I refused her in
a tone which made further conversation about money impossible.
"Go home to bed," I said. "We will see each other tomorrow."
"So you don't consider me your friend?" she asked dejectedly.
"I don't say that. But your money would be no use to me now."
"I beg your pardon..." she said, dropping her voice a whole octave. "I
understand you... to be indebted to a person like me... a retired
actress.... But, good-bye...."
And she went away so quickly that I had not time even to say good-bye.
I am in Harkov.
As it would be useless to contend against my present mood and, indeed,
beyond my power, I have made up my mind that the last days of my life
shall at least be irreproachable externally. If I am unjust in regard to
my wife and daughter, which I fully recognize, I will try and do as she
wishes; since she wants me to go to Harkov, I go to Harkov. Besides, I
have become of late so indifferent to everything that it is really all the
same to me where I go, to Harkov, or to Paris, or to Berditchev.
I arrived here at midday, and have put up at the hotel not far from the
cathedral. The train was jolting, there were draughts, and now I am
sitting on my bed, holding my head and expecting tic douloureux. I ought
to have gone today to see some professors of my acquaintance, but I have
neither strength nor inclination.
The old corridor attendant comes in and asks whether I have brought my
bed-linen. I detain him for five minutes, and put several questions to him
about Gnekker, on whose account I have come here. The attendant turns out
to be a native of Harkov; he knows the town like the fingers of his hand,
but does not remember any household of the surname of Gnekker. I question
him about the estate—the same answer.
The clock in the corridor strikes one, then two, then three.... These last
months in which I am waiting for death seem much longer than the whole of
my life. And I have never before been so ready to resign myself to the
slowness of time as now. In the old days, when one sat in the station and
waited for a train, or presided in an examination-room, a quarter of an
hour would seem an eternity. Now I can sit all night on my bed without
moving, and quite unconcernedly reflect that tomorrow will be followed by
another night as long and colourless, and the day after tomorrow.
In the corridor it strikes five, six, seven.... It grows dark.
There is a dull pain in my cheek, the tic beginning. To occupy myself with
thoughts, I go back to my old point of view, when I was not so
indifferent, and ask myself why I, a distinguished man, a privy
councillor, am sitting in this little hotel room, on this bed with the
unfamiliar grey quilt. Why am I looking at that cheap tin washing-stand
and listening to the whirr of the wretched clock in the corridor? Is all
this in keeping with my fame and my lofty position? And I answer these
questions with a jeer. I am amused by the naivete with which I used in my
youth to exaggerate the value of renown and of the exceptional position
which celebrities are supposed to enjoy. I am famous, my name is
pronounced with reverence, my portrait has been both in the Niva
and in the Illustrated News of the World; I have read my biography
even in a German magazine. And what of all that? Here I am sitting utterly
alone in a strange town, on a strange bed, rubbing my aching cheek with my
hand.... Domestic worries, the hard-heartedness of creditors, the rudeness
of the railway servants, the inconveniences of the passport system, the
expensive and unwholesome food in the refreshment-rooms, the general
rudeness and coarseness in social intercourse—all this, and a great
deal more which would take too long to reckon up, affects me as much as
any working man who is famous only in his alley. In what way, does my
exceptional position find expression? Admitting that I am celebrated a
thousand times over, that I am a hero of whom my country is proud. They
publish bulletins of my illness in every paper, letters of sympathy come
to me by post from my colleagues, my pupils, the general public; but all
that does not prevent me from dying in a strange bed, in misery, in utter
loneliness. Of course, no one is to blame for that; but I in my
foolishness dislike my popularity. I feel as though it had cheated me.
At ten o'clock I fall asleep, and in spite of the tic I sleep soundly, and
should have gone on sleeping if I had not been awakened. Soon after one
came a sudden knock at the door.
"Who is there?"
"You might have waited till tomorrow," I say angrily, taking the telegram
from the attendant. "Now I shall not get to sleep again."
"I am sorry. Your light was burning, so I thought you were not asleep."
I tear open the telegram and look first at the signature. From my wife.
"What does she want?"
"Gnekker was secretly married to Liza yesterday. Return."
I read the telegram, and my dismay does not last long. I am dismayed, not
by what Liza and Gnekker have done, but by the indifference with which I
hear of their marriage. They say philosophers and the truly wise are
indifferent. It is false: indifference is the paralysis of the soul; it is
I go to bed again, and begin trying to think of something to occupy my
mind. What am I to think about? I feel as though everything had been
thought over already and there is nothing which could hold my attention
When daylight comes I sit up in bed with my arms round my knees, and to
pass the time I try to know myself. "Know thyself" is excellent and useful
advice; it is only a pity that the ancients never thought to indicate the
means of following this precept.
When I have wanted to understand somebody or myself I have considered, not
the actions, in which everything is relative, but the desires.
"Tell me what you want, and I will tell you what manner of man you are."
And now I examine myself: what do I want?
I want our wives, our children, our friends, our pupils, to love in us,
not our fame, not the brand and not the label, but to love us as ordinary
men. Anything else? I should like to have had helpers and successors.
Anything else? I should like to wake up in a hundred years' time and to
have just a peep out of one eye at what is happening in science. I should
have liked to have lived another ten years... What further? Why, nothing
further. I think and think, and can think of nothing more. And however
much I might think, and however far my thoughts might travel, it is clear
to me that there is nothing vital, nothing of great importance in my
desires. In my passion for science, in my desire to live, in this sitting
on a strange bed, and in this striving to know myself—in all the
thoughts, feelings, and ideas I form about everything, there is no common
bond to connect it all into one whole. Every feeling and every thought
exists apart in me; and in all my criticisms of science, the theatre,
literature, my pupils, and in all the pictures my imagination draws, even
the most skilful analyst could not find what is called a general idea, or
the god of a living man.
And if there is not that, then there is nothing.
In a state so poverty-stricken, a serious ailment, the fear of death, the
influences of circumstance and men were enough to turn upside down and
scatter in fragments all which I had once looked upon as my theory of
life, and in which I had seen the meaning and joy of my existence. So
there is nothing surprising in the fact that I have over-shadowed the last
months of my life with thoughts and feelings only worthy of a slave and
barbarian, and that now I am indifferent and take no heed of the dawn.
When a man has not in him what is loftier and mightier than all external
impressions a bad cold is really enough to upset his equilibrium and make
him begin to see an owl in every bird, to hear a dog howling in every
sound. And all his pessimism or optimism with his thoughts great and small
have at such times significance as symptoms and nothing more.
I am vanquished. If it is so, it is useless to think, it is useless to
talk. I will sit and wait in silence for what is to come.
In the morning the corridor attendant brings me tea and a copy of the
local newspaper. Mechanically I read the advertisements on the first page,
the leading article, the extracts from the newspapers and journals, the
chronicle of events.... In the latter I find, among other things, the
following paragraph: "Our distinguished savant, Professor Nikolay
Stepanovitch So-and-so, arrived yesterday in Harkov, and is staying in the
Apparently, illustrious names are created to live on their own account,
apart from those that bear them. Now my name is promenading tranquilly
about Harkov; in another three months, printed in gold letters on my
monument, it will shine bright as the sun itself, while I s hall be
already under the moss.
A light tap at the door. Somebody wants me.
"Who is there? Come in."
The door opens, and I step back surprised and hurriedly wrap my
dressing-gown round me. Before me stands Katya.
"How do you do?" she says, breathless with running upstairs. "You didn't
expect me? I have come here, too.... I have come, too!"
She sits down and goes on, hesitating and not looking at me.
"Why don't you speak to me? I have come, too... today.... I found out that
you were in this hotel, and have come to you."
"Very glad to see you," I say, shrugging my shoulders, "but I am
surprised. You seem to have dropped from the skies. What have you come
"Oh... I've simply come."
Silence. Suddenly she jumps up impulsively and comes to me.
"Nikolay Stepanovitch," she says, turning pale and pressing her hands on
her bosom—"Nikolay Stepanovitch, I cannot go on living like this! I
cannot! For God's sake tell me quickly, this minute, what I am to do! Tell
me, what am I to do?"
"What can I tell you?" I ask in perplexity. "I can do nothing."
"Tell me, I beseech you," she goes on, breathing hard and trembling all
over. "I swear that I cannot go on living like this. It's too much for
She sinks on a chair and begins sobbing. She flings her head back, wrings
her hands, taps with her feet; her hat falls off and hangs bobbing on its
elastic; her hair is ruffled.
"Help me! help me!" she implores me. "I cannot go on!"
She takes her handkerchief out of her travelling-bag, and with it pulls
out several letters, which fall from her lap to the floor. I pick them up,
and on one of them I recognize the handwriting of Mihail Fyodorovitch and
accidentally read a bit of a word "passionat..."
"There is nothing I can tell you, Katya," I say.
"Help me!" she sobs, clutching at my hand and kissing it. "You are my
father, you know, my only friend! You are clever, educated; you have lived
so long; you have been a teacher! Tell me, what am I to do?"
"Upon my word, Katya, I don't know...."
I am utterly at a loss and confused, touched by her sobs, and hardly able
"Let us have lunch, Katya," I say, with a forced smile. "Give over
And at once I add in a sinking voice:
"I shall soon be gone, Katya...."
"Only one word, only one word!" she weeps, stretching out her hands to me.
"What am I to do?"
"You are a queer girl, really..." I mutter. "I don't understand it! So
sensible, and all at once crying your eyes out...."
A silence follows. Katya straightens her hair, puts on her hat, then
crumples up the letters and stuffs them in her bag—and all this
deliberately, in silence. Her face, her bosom, and her gloves are wet with
tears, but her expression now is cold and forbidding.... I look at her,
and feel ashamed that I am happier than she. The absence of what my
philosophic colleagues call a general idea I have detected in myself only
just before death, in the decline of my days, while the soul of this poor
girl has known and will know no refuge all her life, all her life!
"Let us have lunch, Katya," I say.
"No, thank you," she answers coldly. Another minute passes in silence. "I
don't like Harkov," I say; "it's so grey here—such a grey town."
"Yes, perhaps.... It's ugly. I am here not for long, passing through. I am
going on today."
"To the Crimea... that is, to the Caucasus."
"Oh! For long?"
"I don't know."
Katya gets up, and, with a cold smile, holds out her hand without looking
I want to ask her, "Then, you won't be at my funeral?" but she does not
look at me; her hand is cold and, as it were, strange. I escort her to the
door in silence. She goes out, walks down the long corridor without
looking back; she knows that I am looking after her, and most likely she
will look back at the turn.
No, she did not look back. I've seen her black dress for the last time:
her steps have died away. Farewell, my treasure!
THE PRIVY COUNCILLOR
AT the beginning of April in 1870 my mother, Klavdia Arhipovna, the widow
of a lieutenant, received from her brother Ivan, a privy councillor in
Petersburg, a letter in which, among other things, this passage occurred:
"My liver trouble forces me to spend every summer abroad, and as I have
not at the moment the money in hand for a trip to Marienbad, it is very
possible, dear sister, that I may spend this summer with you at
On reading the letter my mother turned pale and began trembling all over;
then an expression of mingled tears and laughter came into her face. She
began crying and laughing. This conflict of tears and laughter always
reminds me of the flickering and spluttering of a brightly burning candle
when one sprinkles it with water. Reading the letter once more, mother
called together all the household, and in a voice broken with emotion
began explaining to us that there had been four Gundasov brothers: one
Gundasov had died as a baby; another had gone to the war, and he, too, was
dead; the third, without offence to him be it said, was an actor; the
"The fourth has risen far above us," my mother brought out tearfully. "My
own brother, we grew up together; and I am all of a tremble, all of a
tremble!... A privy councillor with the rank of a general! How shall I
meet him, my angel brother? What can I, a foolish, uneducated woman, talk
to him about? It's fifteen years since I've seen him! Andryushenka," my
mother turned to me, "you must rejoice, little stupid! It's a piece of
luck for you that God is sending him to us!"
After we had heard a detailed history of the Gundasovs, there followed a
fuss and bustle in the place such as I had been accustomed to see only
before Christmas and Easter. The sky above and the water in the river were
all that escaped; everything else was subjected to a merciless cleansing,
scrubbing, painting. If the sky had been lower and smaller and the river
had not flowed so swiftly, they would have scoured them, too, with
bath-brick and rubbed them, too, with tow. Our walls were as white as
snow, but they were whitewashed; the floors were bright and shining, but
they were washed every day. The cat Bobtail (as a small child I had cut
off a good quarter of his tail with the knife used for chopping the sugar,
and that was why he was called Bobtail) was carried off to the kitchen and
put in charge of Anisya; Fedka was told that if any of the dogs came near
the front-door "God would punish him." But no one was so badly treated as
the poor sofas, easy-chairs, and rugs! They had never, before been so
violently beaten as on this occasion in preparation for our visitor. My
pigeons took fright at the loud thud of the sticks, and were continually
flying up into the sky.
The tailor Spiridon, the only tailor in the whole district who ventured to
make for the gentry, came over from Novostroevka. He was a hard-working
capable man who did not drink and was not without a certain fancy and
feeling for form, but yet he was an atrocious tailor. His work was ruined
by hesitation.... The idea that his cut was not fashionable enough made
him alter everything half a dozen times, walk all the way to the town
simply to study the dandies, and in the end dress us in suits that even a
caricaturist would have called outre and grotesque. We cut a dash
in impossibly narrow trousers and in such short jackets that we always
felt quite abashed in the presence of young ladies.
This Spiridon spent a long time taking my measure. He measured me all over
lengthways and crossways, as though he meant to put hoops round me like a
barrel; then he spent a long time noting down my measurements with a thick
pencil on a bit of paper, and ticked off all the measurements with
triangular signs. When he had finished with me he set to work on my tutor,
Yegor Alexyevitch Pobyedimsky. My beloved tutor was then at the stage when
young men watch the growth of their moustache and are critical of their
clothes, and so you can imagine the devout awe with which Spiridon
approached him. Yegor Alexyevitch had to throw back his head, to straddle
his legs like an inverted V, first lift up his arms, then let them fall.
Spiridon measured him several times, walking round him during the process
like a love-sick pigeon round its mate, going down on one knee, bending
double.... My mother, weary, exhausted by her exertions and heated by
ironing, watched these lengthy proceedings, and said:
"Mind now, Spiridon, you will have to answer for it to God if you spoil
the cloth! And it will be the worse for you if you don't make them fit!"
Mother's words threw Spiridon first into a fever, then into a
perspiration, for he was convinced that he would not make them fit. He
received one rouble twenty kopecks for making my suit, and for
Pobyedimsky's two roubles, but we provided the cloth, the lining, and the
buttons. The price cannot be considered excessive, as Novostroevka was
about seven miles from us, and the tailor came to fit us four times. When
he came to try the things on and we squeezed ourselves into the tight
trousers and jackets adorned with basting threads, mother always frowned
contemptuously and expressed her surprise:
"Goodness knows what the fashions are coming to nowadays! I am positively
ashamed to look at them. If brother were not used to Petersburg I would
not get you fashionable clothes!"
Spiridon, relieved that the blame was thrown on the fashion and not on
him, shrugged his shoulders and sighed, as though to say:
"There's no help for it; it's the spirit of the age!"
The excitement with which we awaited the arrival of our guest can only be
compared with the strained suspense with which spiritualists wait from
minute to minute the appearance of a ghost. Mother went about with a sick
headache, and was continually melting into tears. I lost my appetite,
slept badly, and did not learn my lessons. Even in my dreams I was haunted
by an impatient longing to see a general—that is, a man with
epaulettes and an embroidered collar sticking up to his ears, and with a
naked sword in his hands, exactly like the one who hung over the sofa in
the drawing-room and glared with terrible black eyes at everybody who
dared to look at him. Pobyedimsky was the only one who felt himself in his
element. He was neither terrified nor delighted, and merely from time to
time, when he heard the history of the Gundasov family, said:
"Yes, it will be pleasant to have some one fresh to talk to."
My tutor was looked upon among us as an exceptional nature. He was a young
man of twenty, with a pimply face, shaggy locks, a low forehead, and an
unusually long nose. His nose was so big that when he wanted to look close
at anything he had to put his head on one side like a bird. To our
thinking, there was not a man in the province cleverer, more cultivated,
or more stylish. He had left the high-school in the class next to the top,
and had then entered a veterinary college, from which he was expelled
before the end of the first half-year. The reason of his expulsion he
carefully concealed, which enabled any one who wished to do so to look
upon my instructor as an injured and to some extent a mysterious person.
He spoke little, and only of intellectual subjects; he ate meat during the
fasts, and looked with contempt and condescension on the life going on
around him, which did not prevent him, however, from taking presents, such
as suits of clothes, from my mother, and drawing funny faces with red
teeth on my kites. Mother disliked him for his "pride," but stood in awe
of his cleverness.
Our visitor did not keep us long waiting. At the beginning of May two
wagon-loads of big boxes arrived from the station. These boxes looked so
majestic that the drivers instinctively took off their hats as they lifted
"There must be uniforms and gunpowder in those boxes," I thought.
Why "gunpowder"? Probably the conception of a general was closely
connected in my mind with cannons and gunpowder.
When I woke up on the morning of the tenth of May, nurse told me in a
whisper that "my uncle had come." I dressed rapidly, and, washing after a
fashion, flew out of my bedroom without saying my prayers. In the
vestibule I came upon a tall, solid gentleman with fashionable whiskers
and a foppish-looking overcoat. Half dead with devout awe, I went up to
him and, remembering the ceremonial mother had impressed upon me, I
scraped my foot before him, made a very low bow, and craned forward to
kiss his hand; but the gentleman did not allow me to kiss his hand: he
informed me that he was not my uncle, but my uncle's footman, Pyotr. The
appearance of this Pyotr, far better dressed than Pobyedimsky or me,
excited in me the utmost astonishment, which, to tell the truth, has
lasted to this day. Can such dignified, respectable people with stern and
intellectual faces really be footmen? And what for?
Pyotr told me that my uncle was in the garden with my mother. I rushed
into the garden.
Nature, knowing nothing of the history of the Gundasov family and the rank
of my uncle, felt far more at ease and unconstrained than I. There was a
clamour going on in the garden such as one only bears at fairs. Masses of
starlings flitting through the air and hopping about the walks were
noisily chattering as they hunted for cockchafers. There were swarms of
sparrows in the lilac-bushes, which threw their tender, fragrant blossoms
straight in one's face. Wherever one turned, from every direction came the
note of the golden oriole and the shrill cry of the hoopoe and the
red-legged falcon. At any other time I should have begun chasing
dragon-flies or throwing stones at a crow which was sitting on a low mound
under an aspen-tree, with his blunt beak turned away; but at that moment I
was in no mood for mischief. My heart was throbbing, and I felt a cold
sinking at my stomach; I was preparing myself to confront a gentleman with
epaulettes, with a naked sword, and with terrible eyes!
But imagine my disappointment! A dapper little foppish gentleman in white
silk trousers, with a white cap on his head, was walking beside my mother
in the garden. With his hands behind him and his head thrown back, every
now and then running on ahead of mother, he looked quite young. There was
so much life and movement in his whole figure that I could only detect the
treachery of age when I came close up behind and saw beneath his cap a
fringe of close-cropped silver hair. Instead of the staid dignity and
stolidity of a general, I saw an almost schoolboyish nimbleness; instead
of a collar sticking up to his ears, an ordinary light blue necktie.
Mother and my uncle were walking in the avenue talking together. I went
softly up to them from behind, and waited for one of them to look round.
"What a delightful place you have here, Klavdia!" said my uncle. "How
charming and lovely it is! Had I known before that you had such a charming
place, nothing would have induced me to go abroad all these years."
My uncle stooped down rapidly and sniffed at a tulip. Everything he saw
moved him to rapture and excitement, as though he had never been in a
garden on a sunny day before. The queer man moved about as though he were
on springs, and chattered incessantly, without allowing mother to utter a
single word. All of a sudden Pobyedimsky came into sight from behind an
elder-tree at the turn of the avenue. His appearance was so unexpected
that my uncle positively started and stepped back a pace. On this occasion
my tutor was attired in his best Inverness cape with sleeves, in which,
especially back-view, he looked remarkably like a windmill. He had a
solemn and majestic air. Pressing his hat to his bosom in Spanish style,
he took a step towards my uncle and made a bow such as a marquis makes in
a melodrama, bending forward, a little to one side.
"I have the honour to present myself to your high excellency," he said
aloud: "the teacher and instructor of your nephew, formerly a pupil of the
veterinary institute, and a nobleman by birth, Pobyedimsky!"
This politeness on the part of my tutor pleased my mother very much. She
gave a smile, and waited in thrilled suspense to hear what clever thing he
would say next; but my tutor, expecting his dignified address to be
answered with equal dignity—that is, that my uncle would say "H'm!"
like a general and hold out two fingers—was greatly confused and
abashed when the latter laughed genially and shook hands with him. He
muttered something incoherent, cleared his throat, and walked away.
"Come! isn't that charming?" laughed my uncle. "Just look! he has made his
little flourish and thinks he's a very clever fellow! I do like that—upon
my soul I do! What youthful aplomb, what life in that foolish flourish!
And what boy is this?" he asked, suddenly turning and looking at me.
"That is my Andryushenka," my mother introduced me, flushing crimson. "My
I made a scrape with my foot on the sand and dropped a low bow.
"A fine fellow... a fine fellow..." muttered my uncle, taking his hand
from my lips and stroking me on the head. "So your name is Andrusha? Yes,
yes.... H'm!... upon my soul!... Do you learn lessons?"
My mother, exaggerating and embellishing as all mothers do, began to
describe my achievements in the sciences and the excellence of my
behaviour, and I walked round my uncle and, following the ceremonial laid
down for me, I continued making low bows. Then my mother began throwing
out hints that with my remarkable abilities it would not be amiss for me
to get a government nomination to the cadet school; but at the point when
I was to have burst into tears and begged for my uncle's protection, my
uncle suddenly stopped and flung up his hands in amazement.
"My goo-oodness! What's that?" he asked.
Tatyana Ivanovna, the wife of our bailiff, Fyodor Petrovna, was coming
towards us. She was carrying a starched white petticoat and a long
ironing-board. As she passed us she looked shyly at the visitor through
her eyelashes and flushed crimson.
"Wonders will never cease..." my uncle filtered through his teeth, looking
after her with friendly interest. "You have a fresh surprise at every
step, sister... upon my soul!"
"She's a beauty..." said mother. "They chose her as a bride for Fyodor,
though she lived over seventy miles from here...."
Not every one would have called Tatyana a beauty. She was a plump little
woman of twenty, with black eyebrows and a graceful figure, always rosy
and attractive-looking, but in her face and in her whole person there was
not one striking feature, not one bold line to catch the eye, as though
nature had lacked inspiration and confidence when creating her. Tatyana
Ivanovna was shy, bashful, and modest in her behaviour; she moved softly
and smoothly, said little, seldom laughed, and her whole life was as
regular as her face and as flat as her smooth, tidy hair. My uncle screwed
up his eyes looking after her, and smiled. Mother looked intently at his
smiling face and grew serious.
"And so, brother, you've never married!" she sighed.
"No; I've not married."
"Why not?" asked mother softly.
"How can I tell you? It has happened so. In my youth I was too hard at
work, I had no time to live, and when I longed to live—I looked
round—and there I had fifty years on my back already. I was too
late! However, talking about it... is depressing."
My mother and my uncle both sighed at once and walked on, and I left them
and flew off to find my tutor, that I might share my impressions with him.
Pobyedimsky was standing in the middle of the yard, looking majestically
at the heavens.
"One can see he is a man of culture!" he said, twisting his head round. "I
hope we shall get on together."
An hour later mother came to us.
"I am in trouble, my dears!" she began, sighing. "You see brother has
brought a valet with him, and the valet, God bless him, is not one you can
put in the kitchen or in the hall; we must give him a room apart. I can't
think what I am to do! I tell you what, children, couldn't you move out
somewhere—to Fyodor's lodge, for instance—and give your room
to the valet? What do you say?"
We gave our ready consent, for living in the lodge was a great deal more
free than in the house, under mother's eye.
"It's a nuisance, and that's a fact!" said mother. "Brother says he won't
have dinner in the middle of the day, but between six and seven, as they
do in Petersburg. I am simply distracted with worry! By seven o'clock the
dinner will be done to rags in the oven. Really, men don't understand
anything about housekeeping, though they have so much intellect. Oh, dear!
we shall have to cook two dinners every day! You will have dinner at
midday as before, children, while your poor old mother has to wait till
seven, for the sake of her brother."
Then my mother heaved a deep sigh, bade me try and please my uncle, whose
coming was a piece of luck for me for which we must thank God, and hurried
off to the kitchen. Pobyedimsky and I moved into the lodge the same day.
We were installed in a room which formed the passage from the entry to the
Contrary to my expectations, life went on just as before, drearily and
monotonously, in spite of my uncle's arrival and our move into new
quarters. We were excused lessons "on account of the visitor."
Pobyedimsky, who never read anything or occupied himself in any way, spent
most of his time sitting on his bed, with his long nose thrust into the
air, thinking. Sometimes he would get up, try on his new suit, and sit
down again to relapse into contemplation and silence. Only one thing
worried him, the flies, which he used mercilessly to squash between his
hands. After dinner he usually "rested," and his snores were a cause of
annoyance to the whole household. I ran about the garden from morning to
night, or sat in the lodge sticking my kites together. For the first two
or three weeks we did not see my uncle often. For days together he sat in
his own room working, in spite of the flies and the heat. His
extraordinary capacity for sitting as though glued to his table produced
upon us the effect of an inexplicable conjuring trick. To us idlers,
knowing nothing of systematic work, his industry seemed simply miraculous.
Getting up at nine, he sat down to his table, and did not leave it till
dinner-time; after dinner he set to work again, and went on till late at
night. Whenever I peeped through the keyhole I invariably saw the same
thing: my uncle sitting at the table working. The work consisted in his
writing with one hand while he turned over the leaves of a book with the
other, and, strange to say, he kept moving all over—swinging his leg
as though it were a pendulum, whistling, and nodding his head in time. He
had an extremely careless and frivolous expression all the while, as
though he were not working, but playing at noughts and crosses. I always
saw him wearing a smart short jacket and a jauntily tied cravat, and he
always smelt, even through the keyhole, of delicate feminine perfumery. He
only left his room for dinner, but he ate little.
"I can't make brother out!" mother complained of him. "Every day we kill a
turkey and pigeons on purpose for him, I make a compote with my own
hands, and he eats a plateful of broth and a bit of meat the size of a
finger and gets up from the table. I begin begging him to eat; he comes
back and drinks a glass of milk. And what is there in that, in a glass of
milk? It's no better than washing up water! You may die of a diet like
that.... If I try to persuade him, he laughs and makes a joke of it....
No; he does not care for our fare, poor dear!"
We spent the evenings far more gaily than the days. As a rule, by the time
the sun was setting and long shadows were lying across the yard, we—that
is, Tatyana Ivanovna, Pobyedimsky, and I—were sitting on the steps
of the lodge. We did not talk till it grew quite dusk. And, indeed, what
is one to talk of when every subject has been talked over already? There
was only one thing new, my uncle's arrival, and even that subject was soon
exhausted. My tutor never took his eyes off Tatyana Ivanovna 's face, and
frequently heaved deep sighs.... At the time I did not understand those
sighs, and did not try to fathom their significance; now they explain a
great deal to me.
When the shadows merged into one thick mass of shade, the bailiff Fyodor
would come in from shooting or from the field. This Fyodor gave me the
impression of being a fierce and even a terrible man. The son of a
Russianized gipsy from Izyumskoe, swarthy-faced and curly-headed, with big
black eyes and a matted beard, he was never called among our Kotchuevko
peasants by any name but "The Devil." And, indeed, there was a great deal
of the gipsy about him apart from his appearance. He could not, for
instance, stay at home, and went off for days together into the country or
into the woods to shoot. He was gloomy, ill-humoured, taciturn, was afraid
of nobody, and refused to recognize any authority. He was rude to mother,
addressed me familiarly, and was contemptuous of Pobyedimsky's learning.
All this we forgave him, looking upon him as a hot-tempered and nervous
man; mother liked him because, in spite of his gipsy nature, he was
ideally honest and industrious. He loved his Tatyana Ivanovna
passionately, like a gipsy, but this love took in him a gloomy form, as
though it cost him suffering. He was never affectionate to his wife in our
presence, but simply rolled his eyes angrily at her and twisted his mouth.
When he came in from the fields he would noisily and angrily put down his
gun, would come out to us on the steps, and sit down beside his wife.
After resting a little, he would ask his wife a few questions about
household matters, and then sink into silence.
"Let us sing," I would suggest.
My tutor would tune his guitar, and in a deep deacon's bass strike up "In
the midst of the valley." We would begin singing. My tutor took the bass,
Fyodor sang in a hardly audible tenor, while I sang soprano in unison with
When the whole sky was covered with stars and the frogs had left off
croaking, they would bring in our supper from the kitchen. We went into
the lodge and sat down to the meal. My tutor and the gipsy ate greedily,
with such a sound that it was hard to tell whether it was the bones
crunching or their jaws, and Tatyana Ivanovna and I scarcely succeeded in
getting our share. After supper the lodge was plunged in deep sleep.
One evening, it was at the end of May, we were sitting on the steps,
waiting for supper. A shadow suddenly fell across us, and Gundasov stood
before us as though he had sprung out of the earth. He looked at us for a
long time, then clasped his hands and laughed gaily.
"An idyll!" he said. "They sing and dream in the moonlight! It's charming,
upon my soul! May I sit down and dream with you?"
We looked at one another and said nothing. My uncle sat down on the bottom
step, yawned, and looked at the sky. A silence followed. Pobyedimsky, who
had for a long time been wanting to talk to somebody fresh, was delighted
at the opportunity, and was the first to break the silence. He had only
one subject for intellectual conversation, the epizootic diseases. It
sometimes happens that after one has been in an immense crowd, only some
one countenance of the thousands remains long imprinted on the memory; in
the same way, of all that Pobyedimsky had heard, during his six months at
the veterinary institute, he remembered only one passage:
"The epizootics do immense damage to the stock of the country. It is the
duty of society to work hand in hand with the government in waging war
Before saying this to Gundasov, my tutor cleared his throat three times,
and several times, in his excitement, wrapped himself up in his Inverness.
On hearing about the epizootics, my uncle looked intently at my tutor and
made a sound between a snort and a laugh.
"Upon my soul, that's charming!" he said, scrutinizing us as though we
were mannequins. "This is actually life.... This is really what reality is
bound to be. Why are you silent, Pelagea Ivanovna?" he said, addressing
She coughed, overcome with confusion.
"Talk, my friends, sing... play!... Don't lose time. You know, time, the
rascal, runs away and waits for no man! Upon my soul, before you have time
to look round, old age is upon you.... Then it is too late to live! That's
how it is, Pelagea Ivanovna.... We mustn't sit still and be silent...."
At that point supper was brought out from the kitchen. Uncle went into the
lodge with us, and to keep us company ate five curd fritters and the wing
of a duck. He ate and looked at us. He was touched and delighted by us
all. Whatever silly nonsense my precious tutor talked, and whatever
Tatyana Ivanovna did, he thought charming and delightful. When after
supper Tatyana Ivanovna sat quietly down and took up her knitting, he kept
his eyes fixed on her fingers and chatted away without ceasing.
"Make all the haste you can to live, my friends..." he said. "God forbid
you should sacrifice the present for the future! There is youth, health,
fire in the present; the future is smoke and deception! As soon as you are
twenty begin to live."
Tatyana Ivanovna dropped a knitting-needle. My uncle jumped up, picked up
the needle, and handed it to Tatyana Ivanovna with a bow, and for the
first time in my life I learnt that there were people in the world more
refined than Pobyedimsky.
"Yes..." my uncle went on, "love, marry, do silly things. Foolishness is a
great deal more living and healthy than our straining and striving after
My uncle talked a great deal, so much that he bored us; I sat on a box
listening to him and dropping to sleep. It distressed me that he did not
once all the evening pay attention to me. He left the lodge at two
o'clock, when, overcome with drowsiness, I was sound asleep.
From that time forth my uncle took to coming to the lodge every evening.
He sang with us, had supper with us, and always stayed on till two o'clock
in the morning, chatting incessantly, always about the same subject. His
evening and night work was given up, and by the end of June, when the
privy councillor had learned to eat mother's turkey and compote,
his work by day was abandoned too. My uncle tore himself away from his
table and plunged into "life." In the daytime he walked up and down the
garden, he whistled to the workmen and hindered them from working, making
them tell him their various histories. When his eye fell on Tatyana
Ivanovna he ran up to her, and, if she were carrying anything, offered his
assistance, which embarrassed her dreadfully.
As the summer advanced my uncle grew more and more frivolous, volatile,
and careless. Pobyedimsky was completely disillusioned in regard to him.
"He is too one-sided," he said. "There is nothing to show that he is in
the very foremost ranks of the service. And he doesn't even know how to
talk. At every word it's 'upon my soul.' No, I don't like him!"
From the time that my uncle began visiting the lodge there was a
noticeable change both in Fyodor and my tutor. Fyodor gave up going out
shooting, came home early, sat more taciturn than ever, and stared with
particular ill-humour at his wife. In my uncle's presence my tutor gave up
talking about epizootics, frowned, and even laughed sarcastically.
"Here comes our little bantam cock!" he growled on one occasion when my
uncle was coming into the lodge.
I put down this change in them both to their being offended with my uncle.
My absent-minded uncle mixed up their names, and to the very day of his
departure failed to distinguish which was my tutor and which was Tatyana
Ivanovna's husband. Tatyana Ivanovna herself he sometimes called Nastasya,
sometimes Pelagea, and sometimes Yevdokia. Touched and delighted by us, he
laughed and behaved exactly as though in the company of small children....
All this, of course, might well offend young men. It was not a case of
offended pride, however, but, as I realize now, subtler feelings.
I remember one evening I was sitting on the box struggling with sleep. My
eyelids felt glued together and my body, tired out by running about all
day, drooped sideways. But I struggled against sleep and tried to look on.
It was about midnight. Tatyana Ivanovna, rosy and unassuming as always,
was sitting at a little table sewing at her husband's shirt. Fyodor,
sullen and gloomy, was staring at her from one corner, and in the other
sat Pobyedimsky, snorting angrily and retreating into the high collar of
his shirt. My uncle was walking up and down the room thinking. Silence
reigned; nothing was to be heard but the rustling of the linen in Tatyana
Ivanovna's hands. Suddenly my uncle stood still before Tatyana Ivanovna,
"You are all so young, so fresh, so nice, you live so peacefully in this
quiet place, that I envy you. I have become attached to your way of life
here; my heart aches when I remember I have to go away.... You may believe
in my sincerity!"
Sleep closed my eyes and I lost myself. When some sound waked me, my uncle
was standing before Tatyana Ivanovna, looking at her with a softened
expression. His cheeks were flushed.
"My life has been wasted," he said. "I have not lived! Your young face
makes me think of my own lost youth, and I should be ready to sit here
watching you to the day of my death. It would be a pleasure to me to take
you with me to Petersburg."
"What for?" Fyodor asked in a husky voice.
"I should put her under a glass case on my work-table. I should admire her
and show her to other people. You know, Pelagea Ivanovna, we have no women
like you there. Among us there is wealth, distinction, sometimes beauty,
but we have not this true sort of life, this healthy serenity...."
My uncle sat down facing Tatyana Ivanovna and took her by the hand.
"So you won't come with me to Petersburg?" he laughed. "In that case give
me your little hand.... A charming little hand!... You won't give it?
Come, you miser! let me kiss it, anyway...."
At that moment there was the scrape of a chair. Fyodor jumped up, and with
heavy, measured steps went up to his wife. His face was pale, grey, and
quivering. He brought his fist down on the table with a bang, and said in
a hollow voice:
"I won't allow it!"
At the same moment Pobyedimsky jumped up from his chair. He, too, pale and
angry, went up to Tatyana Ivanovna, and he, too, struck the table with his
"I... I won't allow it!" he said.
"What, what's the matter?" asked my uncle in surprise.
"I won't allow it!" repeated Fyodor, banging on the table.
My uncle jumped up and blinked nervously. He tried to speak, but in his
amazement and alarm could not utter a word; with an embarrassed smile, he
shuffled out of the lodge with the hurried step of an old man, leaving his
hat behind. When, a little later, my mother ran into the lodge, Fyodor and
Pobyedimsky were still hammering on the table like blacksmiths and
repeating, "I won't allow it!"
"What has happened here?" asked mother. "Why has my brother been taken
ill? What's the matter?"
Looking at Tatyana's pale, frightened face and at her infuriated husband,
mother probably guessed what was the matter. She sighed and shook her
"Come! give over banging on the table!" she said. "Leave off, Fyodor! And
why are you thumping, Yegor Alexyevitch? What have you got to do with it?"
Pobyedimsky was startled and confused. Fyodor looked intently at him, then
at his wife, and began walking about the room. When mother had gone out of
the lodge, I saw what for long afterwards I looked upon as a dream. I saw
Fyodor seize my tutor, lift him up in the air, and thrust him out of the
When I woke up in the morning my tutor's bed was empty. To my question
where he was nurse told me in a whisper that he had been taken off early
in the morning to the hospital, as his arm was broken. Distressed at this
intelligence and remembering the scene of the previous evening, I went out
of doors. It was a grey day. The sky was covered with storm-clouds and
there was a wind blowing dust, bits of paper, and feathers along the
ground.... It felt as though rain were coming. There was a look of boredom
in the servants and in the animals. When I went into the house I was told
not to make such a noise with my feet, as mother was ill and in bed with a
migraine. What was I to do? I went outside the gate, sat down on the
little bench there, and fell to trying to discover the meaning of what I
had seen and heard the day before. From our gate there was a road which,
passing the forge and the pool which never dried up, ran into the main
road. I looked at the telegraph-posts, about which clouds of dust were
whirling, and at the sleepy birds sitting on the wires, and I suddenly
felt so dreary that I began to cry.
A dusty wagonette crammed full of townspeople, probably going to visit the
shrine, drove by along the main road. The wagonette was hardly out of
sight when a light chaise with a pair of horses came into view. In it was
Akim Nikititch, the police inspector, standing up and holding on to the
coachman's belt. To my great surprise, the chaise turned into our road and
flew by me in at the gate. While I was puzzling why the police inspector
had come to see us, I heard a noise, and a carriage with three horses came
into sight on the road. In the carriage stood the police captain,
directing his coachman towards our gate.
"And why is he coming?" I thought, looking at the dusty police captain.
"Most probably Pobyedimsky has complained of Fyodor to him, and they have
come to take him to prison."
But the mystery was not so easily solved. The police inspector and the
police captain were only the first instalment, for five minutes had
scarcely passed when a coach drove in at our gate. It dashed by me so
swiftly that I could only get a glimpse of a red beard.
Lost in conjecture and full of misgivings, I ran to the house. In the
passage first of all I saw mother; she was pale and looking with horror
towards the door, from which came the sounds of men's voices. The visitors
had taken her by surprise in the very throes of migraine.
"Who has come, mother?" I asked.
"Sister," I heard my uncle's voice, "will you send in something to eat for
the governor and me?"
"It is easy to say 'something to eat,'" whispered my mother, numb with
horror. "What have I time to get ready now? I am put to shame in my old
Mother clutched at her head and ran into the kitchen. The governor's
sudden visit stirred and overwhelmed the whole household. A ferocious
slaughter followed. A dozen fowls, five turkeys, eight ducks, were killed,
and in the fluster the old gander, the progenitor of our whole flock of
geese and a great favourite of mother's, was beheaded. The coachmen and
the cook seemed frenzied, and slaughtered birds at random, without
distinction of age or breed. For the sake of some wretched sauce a pair of
valuable pigeons, as dear to me as the gander was to mother, were
sacrificed. It was a long while before I could forgive the governor their
In the evening, when the governor and his suite, after a sumptuous dinner,
had got into their carriages and driven away, I went into the house to
look at the remains of the feast. Glancing into the drawing-room from the
passage, I saw my uncle and my mother. My uncle, with his hands behind his
back, was walking nervously up and down close to the wall, shrugging his
shoulders. Mother, exhausted and looking much thinner, was sitting on the
sofa and watching his movements with heavy eyes.
"Excuse me, sister, but this won't do at all," my uncle grumbled,
wrinkling up his face. "I introduced the governor to you, and you didn't
offer to shake hands. You covered him with confusion, poor fellow! No,
that won't do.... Simplicity is a very good thing, but there must be
limits to it.... Upon my soul! And then that dinner! How can one give
people such things? What was that mess, for instance, that they served for
the fourth course?"
"That was duck with sweet sauce..." mother answered softly.
"Duck! Forgive me, sister, but... but here I've got heartburn! I am ill!"
My uncle made a sour, tearful face, and went on:
"It was the devil sent that governor! As though I wanted his visit!
Pff!... heartburn! I can't work or sleep... I am completely out of
sorts.... And I can't understand how you can live here without anything to
do... in this boredom! Here I've got a pain coming under my
My uncle frowned, and walked about more rapidly than ever.
"Brother," my mother inquired softly, "what would it cost to go abroad?"
"At least three thousand..." my uncle answered in a tearful voice. "I
would go, but where am I to get it? I haven't a farthing. Pff!...
My uncle stopped to look dejectedly at the grey, overcast prospect from
the window, and began pacing to and fro again.
A silence followed.... Mother looked a long while at the ikon, pondering
something, then she began crying, and said:
"I'll give you the three thousand, brother...."
Three days later the majestic boxes went off to the station, and the privy
councillor drove off after them. As he said good-bye to mother he shed
tears, and it was a long time before he took his lips from her hands, but
when he got into his carriage his face beamed with childlike pleasure....
Radiant and happy, he settled himself comfortably, kissed his hand to my
mother, who was crying, and all at once his eye was caught by me. A look
of the utmost astonishment came into his face.
"What boy is this?" he asked.
My mother, who had declared my uncle's coming was a piece of luck for
which I must thank God, was bitterly mortified at this question. I was in
no mood for questions. I looked at my uncle's happy face, and for some
reason I felt fearfully sorry for him. I could not resist jumping up to
the carriage and hugging that frivolous man, weak as all men are. Looking
into his face and wanting to say something pleasant, I asked:
"Uncle, have you ever been in a battle?"
"Ah, the dear boy..." laughed my uncle, kissing me. "A charming boy, upon
my soul! How natural, how living it all is, upon my soul!..."
The carriage set off.... I looked after him, and long afterwards that
farewell "upon my soul" was ringing in my ears.
THE MAN IN A CASE
AT the furthest end of the village of Mironositskoe some belated sportsmen
lodged for the night in the elder Prokofy's barn. There were two of them,
the veterinary surgeon Ivan Ivanovitch and the schoolmaster Burkin. Ivan
Ivanovitch had a rather strange double-barrelled surname—Tchimsha-Himalaisky—which
did not suit him at all, and he was called simply Ivan Ivanovitch all over
the province. He lived at a stud-farm near the town, and had come out
shooting now to get a breath of fresh air. Burkin, the high-school
teacher, stayed every summer at Count P——-'s, and had been
thoroughly at home in this district for years.
They did not sleep. Ivan Ivanovitch, a tall, lean old fellow with long
moustaches, was sitting outside the door, smoking a pipe in the moonlight.
Burkin was lying within on the hay, and could not be seen in the darkness.
They were telling each other all sorts of stories. Among other things,
they spoke of the fact that the elder's wife, Mavra, a healthy and by no
means stupid woman, had never been beyond her native village, had never
seen a town nor a railway in her life, and had spent the last ten years
sitting behind the stove, and only at night going out into the street.
"What is there wonderful in that!" said Burkin. "There are plenty of
people in the world, solitary by temperament, who try to retreat into
their shell like a hermit crab or a snail. Perhaps it is an instance of
atavism, a return to the period when the ancestor of man was not yet a
social animal and lived alone in his den, or perhaps it is only one of the
diversities of human character—who knows? I am not a natural science
man, and it is not my business to settle such questions; I only mean to
say that people like Mavra are not uncommon. There is no need to look far;
two months ago a man called Byelikov, a colleague of mine, the Greek
master, died in our town. You have heard of him, no doubt. He was
remarkable for always wearing goloshes and a warm wadded coat, and
carrying an umbrella even in the very finest weather. And his umbrella was
in a case, and his watch was in a case made of grey chamois leather, and
when he took out his penknife to sharpen his pencil, his penknife, too,
was in a little case; and his face seemed to be in a case too, because he
always hid it in his turned-up collar. He wore dark spectacles and flannel
vests, stuffed up his ears with cotton-wool, and when he got into a cab
always told the driver to put up the hood. In short, the man displayed a
constant and insurmountable impulse to wrap himself in a covering, to make
himself, so to speak, a case which would isolate him and protect him from
external influences. Reality irritated him, frightened him, kept him in
continual agitation, and, perhaps to justify his timidity, his aversion
for the actual, he always praised the past and what had never existed; and
even the classical languages which he taught were in reality for him
goloshes and umbrellas in which he sheltered himself from real life.
"'Oh, how sonorous, how beautiful is the Greek language!' he would say,
with a sugary expression; and as though to prove his words he would screw
up his eyes and, raising his finger, would pronounce 'Anthropos!'
"And Byelikov tried to hide his thoughts also in a case. The only things
that were clear to his mind were government circulars and newspaper
articles in which something was forbidden. When some proclamation
prohibited the boys from going out in the streets after nine o'clock in
the evening, or some article declared carnal love unlawful, it was to his
mind clear and definite; it was forbidden, and that was enough. For him
there was always a doubtful element, something vague and not fully
expressed, in any sanction or permission. When a dramatic club or a
reading-room or a tea-shop was licensed in the town, he would shake his
head and say softly:
"It is all right, of course; it is all very nice, but I hope it won't lead
"Every sort of breach of order, deviation or departure from rule,
depressed him, though one would have thought it was no business of his. If
one of his colleagues was late for church or if rumours reached him of
some prank of the high-school boys, or one of the mistresses was seen late
in the evening in the company of an officer, he was much disturbed, and
said he hoped that nothing would come of it. At the teachers' meetings he
simply oppressed us with his caution, his circumspection, and his
characteristic reflection on the ill-behaviour of the young people in both
male and female high-schools, the uproar in the classes.
"Oh, he hoped it would not reach the ears of the authorities; oh, he hoped
nothing would come of it; and he thought it would be a very good thing if
Petrov were expelled from the second class and Yegorov from the fourth.
And, do you know, by his sighs, his despondency, his black spectacles on
his pale little face, a little face like a pole-cat's, you know, he
crushed us all, and we gave way, reduced Petrov's and Yegorov's marks for
conduct, kept them in, and in the end expelled them both. He had a strange
habit of visiting our lodgings. He would come to a teacher's, would sit
down, and remain silent, as though he were carefully inspecting something.
He would sit like this in silence for an hour or two and then go away.
This he called 'maintaining good relations with his colleagues'; and it
was obvious that coming to see us and sitting there was tiresome to him,
and that he came to see us simply because he considered it his duty as our
colleague. We teachers were afraid of him. And even the headmaster was
afraid of him. Would you believe it, our teachers were all intellectual,
right-minded people, brought up on Turgenev and Shtchedrin, yet this
little chap, who always went about with goloshes and an umbrella, had the
whole high-school under his thumb for fifteen long years! High-school,
indeed—he had the whole town under his thumb! Our ladies did not get
up private theatricals on Saturdays for fear he should hear of it, and the
clergy dared not eat meat or play cards in his presence. Under the
influence of people like Byelikov we have got into the way of being afraid
of everything in our town for the last ten or fifteen years. They are
afraid to speak aloud, afraid to send letters, afraid to make
acquaintances, afraid to read books, afraid to help the poor, to teach
people to read and write...."
Ivan Ivanovitch cleared his throat, meaning to say something, but first
lighted his pipe, g azed at the moon, and then said, with pauses:
"Yes, intellectual, right minded people read Shtchedrin and Turgenev,
Buckle, and all the rest of them, yet they knocked under and put up with
it... that's just how it is."
"Byelikov lived in the same house as I did," Burkin went on, "on the same
storey, his door facing mine; we often saw each other, and I knew how he
lived when he was at home. And at home it was the same story:
dressing-gown, nightcap, blinds, bolts, a perfect succession of
prohibitions and restrictions of all sorts, and—'Oh, I hope nothing
will come of it!' Lenten fare was bad for him, yet he could not eat meat,
as people might perhaps say Byelikov did not keep the fasts, and he ate
freshwater fish with butter—not a Lenten dish, yet one could not say
that it was meat. He did not keep a female servant for fear people might
think evil of him, but had as cook an old man of sixty, called Afanasy,
half-witted and given to tippling, who had once been an officer's servant
and could cook after a fashion. This Afanasy was usually standing at the
door with his arms folded; with a deep sigh, he would mutter always the
"'There are plenty of them about nowadays!'
"Byelikov had a little bedroom like a box; his bed had curtains. When he
went to bed he covered his head over; it was hot and stuffy; the wind
battered on the closed doors; there was a droning noise in the stove and a
sound of sighs from the kitchen—ominous sighs.... And he felt
frightened under the bed-clothes. He was afraid that something might
happen, that Afanasy might murder him, that thieves might break in, and so
he had troubled dreams all night, and in the morning, when we went
together to the high-school, he was depressed and pale, and it was evident
that the high-school full of people excited dread and aversion in his
whole being, and that to walk beside me was irksome to a man of his
"'They make a great noise in our classes,' he used to say, as though
trying to find an explanation for his depression. 'It's beyond anything.'
"And the Greek master, this man in a case—would you believe it?—almost
Ivan Ivanovitch glanced quickly into the barn, and said:
"You are joking!"
"Yes, strange as it seems, he almost got married. A new teacher of history
and geography, Milhail Savvitch Kovalenko, a Little Russian, was
appointed. He came, not alone, but with his sister Varinka. He was a tall,
dark young man with huge hands, and one could see from his face that he
had a bass voice, and, in fact, he had a voice that seemed to come out of
a barrel—'boom, boom, boom!' And she was not so young, about thirty,
but she, too, was tall, well-made, with black eyebrows and red cheeks—in
fact, she was a regular sugar-plum, and so sprightly, so noisy; she was
always singing Little Russian songs and laughing. For the least thing she
would go off into a ringing laugh—'Ha-ha-ha!' We made our first
thorough acquaintance with the Kovalenkos at the headmaster's name-day
party. Among the glum and intensely bored teachers who came even to the
name-day party as a duty we suddenly saw a new Aphrodite risen from the
waves; she walked with her arms akimbo, laughed, sang, danced.... She sang
with feeling 'The Winds do Blow,' then another song, and another, and she
fascinated us all—all, even Byelikov. He sat down by her and said
with a honeyed smile:
"'The Little Russian reminds one of the ancient Greek in its softness and
"That flattered her, and she began telling him with feeling and
earnestness that they had a farm in the Gadyatchsky district, and that her
mamma lived at the farm, and that they had such pears, such melons, such
kabaks! The Little Russians call pumpkins kabaks (i.e.,
pothouses), while their pothouses they call shinki, and they make a
beetroot soup with tomatoes and aubergines in it, 'which was so nice—awfully
"We listened and listened, and suddenly the same idea dawned upon us all:
"'It would be a good thing to make a match of it,' the headmaster's wife
said to me softly.
"We all for some reason recalled the fact that our friend Byelikov was not
married, and it now seemed to us strange that we had hitherto failed to
observe, and had in fact completely lost sight of, a detail so important
in his life. What was his attitude to woman? How had he settled this vital
question for himself? This had not interested us in the least till then;
perhaps we had not even admitted the idea that a man who went out in all
weathers in goloshes and slept under curtains could be in love.
"'He is a good deal over forty and she is thirty,' the headmaster's wife
went on, developing her idea. 'I believe she would marry him.'
"All sorts of things are done in the provinces through boredom, all sorts
of unnecessary and nonsensical things! And that is because what is
necessary is not done at all. What need was there for instance, for us to
make a match for this Byelikov, whom one could not even imagine married?
The headmaster's wife, the inspector's wife, and all our high-school
ladies, grew livelier and even better-looking, as though they had suddenly
found a new object in life. The headmaster's wife would take a box at the
theatre, and we beheld sitting in her box Varinka, with such a fan,
beaming and happy, and beside her Byelikov, a little bent figure, looking
as though he had been extracted from his house by pincers. I would give an
evening party, and the ladies would insist on my inviting Byelikov and
Varinka. In short, the machine was set in motion. It appeared that Varinka
was not averse to matrimony. She had not a very cheerful life with her
brother; they could do nothing but quarrel and scold one another from
morning till night. Here is a scene, for instance. Kovalenko would be
coming along the street, a tall, sturdy young ruffian, in an embroidered
shirt, his love-locks falling on his forehead under his cap, in one hand a
bundle of books, in the other a thick knotted stick, followed by his
sister, also with books in her hand.
"'But you haven't read it, Mihalik!' she would be arguing loudly. 'I tell
you, I swear you have not read it at all!'
"'And I tell you I have read it,' cries Kovalenko, thumping his stick on
"'Oh, my goodness, Mihalik! why are you so cross? We are arguing about
"'I tell you that I have read it!' Kovalenko would shout, more loudly than
"And at home, if there was an outsider present, there was sure to be a
skirmish. Such a life must have been wearisome, and of course she must
have longed for a home of her own. Besides, there was her age to be
considered; there was no time left to pick and choose; it was a case of
marrying anybody, even a Greek master. And, indeed, most of our young
ladies don't mind whom they marry so long as they do get married. However
that may be, Varinka began to show an unmistakable partiality for
"And Byelikov? He used to visit Kovalenko just as he did us. He would
arrive, sit down, and remain silent. He would sit quiet, and Varinka would
sing to him 'The Winds do Blow,' or would look pensively at him with her
dark eyes, or would suddenly go off into a peal—'Ha-ha-ha!'
"Suggestion plays a great part in love affairs, and still more in getting
married. Everybody—both his colleagues and the ladies—began
assuring Byelikov that he ought to get married, that there was nothing
left for him in life but to get married; we all congratulated him, with
solemn countenances delivered ourselves of various platitudes, such as
'Marriage is a serious step.' Besides, Varinka was good-looking and
interesting; she was the daughter of a civil councillor, and had a farm;
and what was more, she was the first woman who had been warm and friendly
in her manner to him. His head was turned, and he decided that he really
ought to get married."
"Well, at that point you ought to have taken away his goloshes and
umbrella," said Ivan Ivanovitch.
"Only fancy! that turned out to be impossible. He put Varinka's portrait
on his table, kept coming to see me and talking about Varinka, and home
life, saying marriage was a serious step. He was frequently at
Kovalenko's, but he did not alter his manner of life in the least; on the
contrary, indeed, his determination to get married seemed to have a
depressing effect on him. He grew thinner and paler, and seemed to retreat
further and further into his case.
"'I like Varvara Savvishna,' he used to say to me, with a faint and wry
smile, 'and I know that every one ought to get married, but... you know
all this has happened so suddenly.... One must think a little.'
"'What is there to think over?' I used to say to him. 'Get married—that
"'No; marriage is a serious step. One must first weigh the duties before
one, the responsibilities... that nothing may go wrong afterwards. It
worries me so much that I don't sleep at night. And I must confess I am
afraid: her brother and she have a strange way of thinking; they look at
things strangely, you know, and her disposition is very impetuous. One may
get married, and then, there is no knowing, one may find oneself in an
"And he did not make an offer; he kept putting it off, to the great
vexation of the headmaster's wife and all our ladies; he went on weighing
his future duties and responsibilities, and meanwhile he went for a walk
with Varinka almost every day—possibly he thought that this was
necessary in his position—and came to see me to talk about family
life. And in all probability in the end he would have proposed to her, and
would have made one of those unnecessary, stupid marriages such as are
made by thousands among us from being bored and having nothing to do, if
it had not been for a kolossalische scandal. I must mention that
Varinka's brother, Kovalenko, detested Byelikov from the first day of
their acquaintance, and could not endure him.
"'I don't understand,' he used to say to us, shrugging his shoulders—'I
don't understand how you can put up with that sneak, that nasty phiz. Ugh!
how can you live here! The atmosphere is stifling and unclean! Do you call
yourselves schoolmasters, teachers? You are paltry government clerks. You
keep, not a temple of science, but a department for red tape and loyal
behaviour, and it smells as sour as a police-station. No, my friends; I
will stay with you for a while, and then I will go to my farm and there
catch crabs and teach the Little Russians. I shall go, and you can stay
here with your Judas—damn his soul!'
"Or he would laugh till he cried, first in a loud bass, then in a shrill,
thin laugh, and ask me, waving his hands:
"'What does he sit here for? What does he want? He sits and stares.'
"He even gave Byelikov a nickname, 'The Spider.' And it will readily be
understood that we avoided talking to him of his sister's being about to
marry 'The Spider.'
"And on one occasion, when the headmaster's wife hinted to him what a good
thing it would be to secure his sister's future with such a reliable,
universally respected man as Byelikov, he frowned and muttered:
"'It's not my business; let her marry a reptile if she likes. I don't like
meddling in other people's affairs.'
"Now hear what happened next. Some mischievous person drew a caricature of
Byelikov walking along in his goloshes with his trousers tucked up, under
his umbrella, with Varinka on his arm; below, the inscription 'Anthropos
in love.' The expression was caught to a marvel, you know. The artist must
have worked for more than one night, for the teachers of both the boys'
and girls' high-schools, the teachers of the seminary, the government
officials, all received a copy. Byelikov received one, too. The caricature
made a very painful impression on him.
"We went out together; it was the first of May, a Sunday, and all of us,
the boys and the teachers, had agreed to meet at the high-school and then
to go for a walk together to a wood beyond the town. We set off, and he
was green in the face and gloomier than a storm-cloud.
"'What wicked, ill-natured people there are!' he said, and his lips
"I felt really sorry for him. We were walking along, and all of a sudden—would
you believe it?—Kovalenko came bowling along on a bicycle, and after
him, also on a bicycle, Varinka, flushed and exhausted, but good-humoured
"'We are going on ahead,' she called. 'What lovely weather! Awfully
"And they both disappeared from our sight. Byelikov turned white instead
of green, and seemed petrified. He stopped short and stared at me....
"'What is the meaning of it? Tell me, please!' he asked. 'Can my eyes have
deceived me? Is it the proper thing for high-school masters and ladies to
"'What is there improper about it?' I said. 'Let them ride and enjoy
"'But how can that be?' he cried, amazed at my calm. 'What are you
"And he was so shocked that he was unwilling to go on, and returned home.
"Next day he was continually twitching and nervously rubbing his hands,
and it was evident from his face that he was unwell. And he left before
his work was over, for the first time in his life. And he ate no dinner.
Towards evening he wrapped himself up warmly, though it was quite warm
weather, and sallied out to the Kovalenkos'. Varinka was out; he found her
"'Pray sit down,' Kovalenko said coldly, with a frown. His face looked
sleepy; he had just had a nap after dinner, and was in a very bad humour.
"Byelikov sat in silence for ten minutes, and then began:
"'I have come to see you to relieve my mind. I am very, very much
troubled. Some scurrilous fellow has drawn an absurd caricature of me and
another person, in whom we are both deeply interested. I regard it as a
duty to assure you that I have had no hand in it.... I have given no sort
of ground for such ridicule—on the contrary, I have always behaved
in every way like a gentleman.'
"Kovalenko sat sulky and silent. Byelikov waited a little, and went on
slowly in a mournful voice:
"'And I have something else to say to you. I have been in the service for
years, while you have only lately entered it, and I consider it my duty as
an older colleague to give you a warning. You ride on a bicycle, and that
pastime is utterly unsuitable for an educator of youth.'
"'Why so?' asked Kovalenko in his bass.
"'Surely that needs no explanation, Mihail Savvitch—surely you can
understand that? If the teacher rides a bicycle, what can you expect the
pupils to do? You will have them walking on their heads next! And so long
as there is no formal permission to do so, it is out of the question. I
was horrified yesterday! When I saw your sister everything seemed dancing
before my eyes. A lady or a young girl on a bicycle—it's awful!'
"'What is it you want exactly?'
"'All I want is to warn you, Mihail Savvitch. You are a young man, you
have a future before you, you must be very, very careful in your
behaviour, and you are so careless—oh, so careless! You go about in
an embroidered shirt, are constantly seen in the street carrying books,
and now the bicycle, too. The headmaster will learn that you and your
sister ride the bicycle, and then it will reach the higher authorities....
Will that be a good thing?'
"'It's no business of anybody else if my sister and I do bicycle!' said
Kovalenko, and he turned crimson. 'And damnation take any one who meddles
in my private affairs!'
"Byelikov turned pale and got up.
"'If you speak to me in that tone I cannot continue,' he said. 'And I beg
you never to express yourself like that about our superiors in my
presence; you ought to be respectful to the authorities.'
"'Why, have I said any harm of the authorities?' asked Kovalenko, looking
at him wrathfully. 'Please leave me alone. I am an honest man, and do not
care to talk to a gentleman like you. I don't like sneaks!'
"Byelikov flew into a nervous flutter, and began hurriedly putting on his
coat, with an expression of horror on his face. It was the first time in
his life he had been spoken to so rudely.
"'You can say what you please,' he said, as he went out from the entry to
the landing on the staircase. 'I ought only to warn you: possibly some on
e may have overheard us, and that our conversation may not be
misunderstood and harm come of it, I shall be compelled to inform our
headmaster of our conversation... in its main features. I am bound to do
"'Inform him? You can go and make your report!'
"Kovalenko seized him from behind by the collar and gave him a push, and
Byelikov rolled downstairs, thudding with his goloshes. The staircase was
high and steep, but he rolled to the bottom unhurt, got up, and touched
his nose to see whether his spectacles were all right. But just as he was
falling down the stairs Varinka came in, and with her two ladies; they
stood below staring, and to Byelikov this was more terrible than anything.
I believe he would rather have broken his neck or both legs than have been
an object of ridicule. 'Why, now the whole town would hear of it; it would
come to the headmaster's ears, would reach the higher authorities—oh,
it might lead to something! There would be another caricature, and it
would all end in his being asked to resign his post....
"When he got up, Varinka recognized him, and, looking at his ridiculous
face, his crumpled overcoat, and his goloshes, not understanding what had
happened and supposing that he had slipped down by accident, could not
restrain herself, and laughed loud enough to be heard by all the flats:
"And this pealing, ringing 'Ha-ha-ha!' was the last straw that put an end
to everything: to the proposed match and to Byelikov's earthly existence.
He did not hear what Varinka said to him; he saw nothing. On reaching
home, the first thing he did was to remove her portrait from the table;
then he went to bed, and he never got up again.
"Three days later Afanasy came to me and asked whether we should not send
for the doctor, as there was something wrong with his master. I went in to
Byelikov. He lay silent behind the curtain, covered with a quilt; if one
asked him a question, he said 'Yes' or 'No' and not another sound. He lay
there while Afanasy, gloomy and scowling, hovered about him, sighing
heavily, and smelling like a pothouse.
"A month later Byelikov died. We all went to his funeral—that is,
both the high-schools and the seminary. Now when he was lying in his
coffin his expression was mild, agreeable, even cheerful, as though he
were glad that he had at last been put into a case which he would never
leave again. Yes, he had attained his ideal! And, as though in his honour,
it was dull, rainy weather on the day of his funeral, and we all wore
goloshes and took our umbrellas. Varinka, too, was at the funeral, and
when the coffin was lowered into the grave she burst into tears. I have
noticed that Little Russian women are always laughing or crying—no
"One must confess that to bury people like Byelikov is a great pleasure.
As we were returning from the cemetery we wore discreet Lenten faces; no
one wanted to display this feeling of pleasure—a feeling like that
we had experienced long, long ago as children when our elders had gone out
and we ran about the garden for an hour or two, enjoying complete freedom.
Ah, freedom, freedom! The merest hint, the faintest hope of its
possibility gives wings to the soul, does it not?
"We returned from the cemetery in a good humour. But not more than a week
had passed before life went on as in the past, as gloomy, oppressive, and
senseless—a life not forbidden by government prohibition, but not
fully permitted, either: it was no better. And, indeed, though we had
buried Byelikov, how many such men in cases were left, how many more of
them there will be!"
"That's just how it is," said Ivan Ivanovitch and he lighted his pipe.
"How many more of them there will be!" repeated Burkin.
The schoolmaster came out of the barn. He was a short, stout man,
completely bald, with a black beard down to his waist. The two dogs came
out with him.
"What a moon!" he said, looking upwards.
It was midnight. On the right could be seen the whole village, a long
street stretching far away for four miles. All was buried in deep silent
slumber; not a movement, not a sound; one could hardly believe that nature
could be so still. When on a moonlight night you see a broad village
street, with its cottages, haystacks, and slumbering willows, a feeling of
calm comes over the soul; in this peace, wrapped away from care, toil, and
sorrow in the darkness of night, it is mild, melancholy, beautiful, and it
seems as though the stars look down upon it kindly and with tenderness,
and as though there were no evil on earth and all were well. On the left
the open country began from the end of the village; it could be seen
stretching far away to the horizon, and there was no movement, no sound in
that whole expanse bathed in moonlight.
"Yes, that is just how it is," repeated Ivan Ivanovitch; "and isn't our
living in town, airless and crowded, our writing useless papers, our
playing vint—isn't that all a sort of case for us? And our
spending our whole lives among trivial, fussy men and silly, idle women,
our talking and our listening to all sorts of nonsense—isn't that a
case for us, too? If you like, I will tell you a very edifying story."
"No; it's time we were asleep," said Burkin. "Tell it tomorrow."
They went into the barn and lay down on the hay. And they were both
covered up and beginning to doze when they suddenly heard light footsteps—patter,
patter.... Some one was walking not far from the barn, walking a little
and stopping, and a minute later, patter, patter again.... The dogs began
"That's Mavra," said Burkin.
The footsteps died away.
"You see and hear that they lie," said Ivan Ivanovitch, turning over on
the other side, "and they call you a fool for putting up with their lying.
You endure insult and humiliation, and dare not openly say that you are on
the side of the honest and the free, and you lie and smile yourself; and
all that for the sake of a crust of bread, for the sake of a warm corner,
for the sake of a wretched little worthless rank in the service. No, one
can't go on living like this."
"Well, you are off on another tack now, Ivan Ivanovitch," said the
schoolmaster. "Let us go to sleep!"
And ten minutes later Burkin was asleep. But Ivan Ivanovitch kept sighing
and turning over from side to side; then he got up, went outside again,
and, sitting in the doorway, lighted his pipe.
THE whole sky had been overcast with rain-clouds from early morning; it
was a still day, not hot, but heavy, as it is in grey dull weather when
the clouds have been hanging over the country for a long while, when one
expects rain and it does not come. Ivan Ivanovitch, the veterinary
surgeon, and Burkin, the high-school teacher, were already tired from
walking, and the fields seemed to them endless. Far ahead of them they
could just see the windmills of the village of Mironositskoe; on the right
stretched a row of hillocks which disappeared in the distance behind the
village, and they both knew that this was the bank of the river, that
there were meadows, green willows, homesteads there, and that if one stood
on one of the hillocks one could see from it the same vast plain,
telegraph-wires, and a train which in the distance looked like a crawling
caterpillar, and that in clear weather one could even see the town. Now,
in still weather, when all nature seemed mild and dreamy, Ivan Ivanovitch
and Burkin were filled with love of that countryside, and both thought how
great, how beautiful a land it was.
"Last time we were in Prokofy's barn," said Burkin, "you were about to
tell me a story."
"Yes; I meant to tell you about my brother."
Ivan Ivanovitch heaved a deep sigh and lighted a pipe to begin to tell his
story, but just at that moment the rain began. And five minutes later
heavy rain came down, covering the sky, and it was hard to tell when it
would be over. Ivan Ivanovitch and Burkin stopped in hesitation; the dogs,
already drenched, stood with their tails between their legs gazing at them
"We must take shelter somewhere," said Burkin. "Let us go to Alehin's;
it's close by."
They turned aside and walked through mown fields, sometimes going straight
forward, sometimes turning to the right, till they came out on the road.
Soon they saw poplars, a garden, then the red roofs of barns; there was a
gleam of the river, and the view opened on to a broad expanse of water
with a windmill and a white bath-house: this was Sofino, where Alehin
The watermill was at work, drowning the sound of the rain; the dam was
shaking. Here wet horses with drooping heads were standing near their
carts, and men were walking about covered with sacks. It was damp, muddy,
and desolate; the water looked cold and malignant. Ivan Ivanovitch and
Burkin were already conscious of a feeling of wetness, messiness, and
discomfort all over; their feet were heavy with mud, and when, crossing
the dam, they went up to the barns, they were silent, as though they were
angry with one another.
In one of the barns there was the sound of a winnowing machine, the door
was open, and clouds of dust were coming from it. In the doorway was
standing Alehin himself, a man of forty, tall and stout, with long hair,
more like a professor or an artist than a landowner. He had on a white
shirt that badly needed washing, a rope for a belt, drawers instead of
trousers, and his boots, too, were plastered up with mud and straw. His
eyes and nose were black with dust. He recognized Ivan Ivanovitch and
Burkin, and was apparently much delighted to see them.
"Go into the house, gentlemen," he said, smiling; "I'll come directly,
It was a big two-storeyed house. Alehin lived in the lower storey, with
arched ceilings and little windows, where the bailiffs had once lived;
here everything was plain, and there was a smell of rye bread, cheap
vodka, and harness. He went upstairs into the best rooms only on rare
occasions, when visitors came. Ivan Ivanovitch and Burkin were met in the
house by a maid-servant, a young woman so beautiful that they both stood
still and looked at one another.
"You can't imagine how delighted I am to see you, my friends," said
Alehin, going into the hall with them. "It is a surprise! Pelagea," he
said, addressing the girl, "give our visitors something to change into.
And, by the way, I will change too. Only I must first go and wash, for I
almost think I have not washed since spring. Wouldn't you like to come
into the bath-house? and meanwhile they will get things ready here."
Beautiful Pelagea, looking so refined and soft, brought them towels and
soap, and Alehin went to the bath-house with his guests.
"It's a long time since I had a wash," he said, undressing. "I have got a
nice bath-house, as you see—my father built it—but I somehow
never have time to wash."
He sat down on the steps and soaped his long hair and his neck, and the
water round him turned brown.
"Yes, I must say," said Ivan Ivanovitch meaningly, looking at his head.
"It's a long time since I washed..." said Alehin with embarrassment,
giving himself a second soaping, and the water near him turned dark blue,
Ivan Ivanovitch went outside, plunged into the water with a loud splash,
and swam in the rain, flinging his arms out wide. He stirred the water
into waves which set the white lilies bobbing up and down; he swam to the
very middle of the millpond and dived, and came up a minute later in
another place, and swam on, and kept on diving, trying to touch the
"Oh, my goodness!" he repeated continually, enjoying himself thoroughly.
"Oh, my goodness!" He swam to the mill, talked to the peasants there, then
returned and lay on his back in the middle of the pond, turning his face
to the rain. Burkin and Alehin were dressed and ready to go, but he still
went on swimming and diving. "Oh, my goodness!..." he said. "Oh, Lord,
have mercy on me!..."
"That's enough!" Burkin shouted to him.
They went back to the house. And only when the lamp was lighted in the big
drawing-room upstairs, and Burkin and Ivan Ivanovitch, attired in silk
dressing-gowns and warm slippers, were sitting in arm-chairs; and Alehin,
washed and combed, in a new coat, was walking about the drawing-room,
evidently enjoying the feeling of warmth, cleanliness, dry clothes, and
light shoes; and when lovely Pelagea, stepping noiselessly on the carpet
and smiling softly, handed tea and jam on a tray—only then Ivan
Ivanovitch began on his story, and it seemed as though not only Burkin and
Alehin were listening, but also the ladies, young and old, and the
officers who looked down upon them sternly and calmly from their gold
"There are two of us brothers," he began—"I, Ivan Ivanovitch, and my
brother, Nikolay Ivanovitch, two years younger. I went in for a learned
profession and became a veterinary surgeon, while Nikolay sat in a
government office from the time he was nineteen. Our father,
Tchimsha-Himalaisky, was a kantonist, but he rose to be an officer and
left us a little estate and the rank of nobility. After his death the
little estate went in debts and legal expenses; but, anyway, we had spent
our childhood running wild in the country. Like peasant children, we
passed our days and nights in the fields and the woods, looked after
horses, stripped the bark off the trees, fished, and so on.... And, you
know, whoever has once in his life caught perch or has seen the migrating
of the thrushes in autumn, watched how they float in flocks over the
village on bright, cool days, he will never be a real townsman, and will
have a yearning for freedom to the day of his death. My brother was
miserable in the government office. Years passed by, and he went on
sitting in the same place, went on writing the same papers and thinking of
one and the same thing—how to get into the country. And this
yearning by degrees passed into a definite desire, into a dream of buying
himself a little farm somewhere on the banks of a river or a lake.
"He was a gentle, good-natured fellow, and I was fond of him, but I never
sympathized with this desire to shut himself up for the rest of his life
in a little farm of his own. It's the correct thing to say that a man
needs no more than six feet of earth. But six feet is what a corpse needs,
not a man. And they say, too, now, that if our intellectual classes are
attracted to the land and yearn for a farm, it's a good thing. But these
farms are just the same as six feet of earth. To retreat from town, from
the struggle, from the bustle of life, to retreat and bury oneself in
one's farm—it's not life, it's egoism, laziness, it's monasticism of
a sort, but monasticism without good works. A man does not need six feet
of earth or a farm, but the whole globe, all nature, where he can have
room to display all the qualities and peculiarities of his free spirit.
"My brother Nikolay, sitting in his government office, dreamed of how he
would eat his own cabbages, which would fill the whole yard with such a
savoury smell, take his meals on the green grass, sleep in the sun, sit
for whole hours on the seat by the gate gazing at the fields and the
forest. Gardening books and the agricultural hints in calendars were his
delight, his favourite spiritual sustenance; he enjoyed reading
newspapers, too, but the only things he read in them were the
advertisements of so many acres of arable land and a grass meadow with
farm-houses and buildings, a river, a garden, a mill and millponds, for
sale. And his imagination pictured the garden-paths, flowers and fruit,
starling cotes, the carp in the pond, and all that sort of thing, you
know. These imaginary pictures were of different kinds according to the
advertisements which he came across, but for some reason in every one of
them he had always to have gooseberries. He could not imagine a homestead,
he could not picture an idyllic nook, without gooseberries.
"'Country life has its conveniences,' he would sometimes say. 'You sit on
the verandah and you drink tea, while your ducks swim on the pond, there
is a delicious smell everywhere, and... and the gooseberries are growing.'
"He used to draw a map of his property, and in every map there were the
same things—(a) house for the family, (b) servants' quarters, (c)
kitchen-garden, (d) gooseberry-bushes. He lived parsimoniously, was frugal
in food and drink, his clothes were beyond description; he looked like a
beggar, but kept on saving and putting money in the bank. He grew
fearfully avaricious. I did not like to look at him, and I used to give
him something and send him presents for Christmas and Easter, but he used
to save that too. Once a man is absorbed by an idea there is no doing
anything with him.
"Years passed: he was transferred to another province. He was over forty,
and he was still reading the advertisements in the papers and saving up.
Then I heard he was married. Still with the same object of buying a farm
and having gooseberries, he married an elderly and ugly widow without a
trace of feeling for her, simply because she had filthy lucre. He went on
living frugally after marrying her, and kept her short of food, while he
put her money in the bank in his name.
"Her first husband had been a postmaster, and with him she was accustomed
to pies and home-made wines, while with her second husband she did not get
enough black bread; she began to pine away with this sort of life, and
three years later she gave up her soul to God. And I need hardly say that
my brother never for one moment imagined that he was responsible for her
death. Money, like vodka, makes a man queer. In our town there was a
merchant who, before he died, ordered a plateful of honey and ate up all
his money and lottery tickets with the honey, so that no one might get the
benefit of it. While I was inspecting cattle at a railway-station, a
cattle-dealer fell under an engine and had his leg cut off. We carried him
into the waiting-room, the blood was flowing—it was a horrible thing—and
he kept asking them to look for his leg and was very much worried about
it; there were twenty roubles in the boot on the leg that had been cut
off, and he was afraid they would be lost."
"That's a story from a different opera," said Burkin.
"After his wife's death," Ivan Ivanovitch went on, after thinking for half
a minute, "my brother began looking out for an estate for himself. Of
course, you may look about for five years and yet end by making a mistake,
and buying something quite different from what you have dreamed of. My
brother Nikolay bought through an agent a mortgaged estate of three
hundred and thirty acres, with a house for the family, with servants'
quarters, with a park, but with no orchard, no gooseberry-bushes, and no
duck-pond; there was a river, but the water in it was the colour of
coffee, because on one side of the estate there was a brickyard and on the
other a factory for burning bones. But Nikolay Ivanovitch did not grieve
much; he ordered twenty gooseberry-bushes, planted them, and began living
as a country gentleman.
"Last year I went to pay him a visit. I thought I would go and see what it
was like. In his letters my brother called his estate 'Tchumbaroklov
Waste, alias Himalaiskoe.' I reached 'alias Himalaiskoe' in the afternoon.
It was hot. Everywhere there were ditches, fences, hedges, fir-trees
planted in rows, and there was no knowing how to get to the yard, where to
put one's horse. I went up to the house, and was met by a fat red dog that
looked like a pig. It wanted to bark, but it was too lazy. The cook, a
fat, barefooted woman, came out of the kitchen, and she, too, looked like
a pig, and said that her master was resting after dinner. I went in to see
my brother. He was sitting up in bed with a quilt over his legs; he had
grown older, fatter, wrinkled; his cheeks, his nose, and his mouth all
stuck out—he looked as though he might begin grunting into the quilt
at any moment.
"We embraced each other, and shed tears of joy and of sadness at the
thought that we had once been young and now were both grey-headed and near
the grave. He dressed, and led me out to show me the estate.
"'Well, how are you getting on here?' I asked.
"'Oh, all right, thank God; I am getting on very well.'
"He was no more a poor timid clerk, but a real landowner, a gentleman. He
was already accustomed to it, had grown used to it, and liked it. He ate a
great deal, went to the bath-house, was growing stout, was already at law
with the village commune and both factories, and was very much offended
when the peasants did not call him 'Your Honour.' And he concerned himself
with the salvation of his soul in a substantial, gentlemanly manner, and
performed deeds of charity, not simply, but with an air of consequence.
And what deeds of charity! He treated the peasants for every sort of
disease with soda and castor oil, and on his name-day had a thanksgiving
service in the middle of the village, and then treated the peasants to a
gallon of vodka—he thought that was the thing to do. Oh, those
horrible gallons of vodka! One day the fat landowner hauls the peasants up
before the district captain for trespass, and next day, in honour of a
holiday, treats them to a gallon of vodka, and they drink and shout
'Hurrah!' and when they are drunk bow down to his feet. A change of life
for the better, and being well-fed and idle develop in a Russian the most
insolent self-conceit. Nikolay Ivanovitch, who at one time in the
government office was afraid to have any views of his own, now could say
nothing that was not gospel truth, and uttered such truths in the tone of
a prime minister. 'Education is essential, but for the peasants it is
premature.' 'Corporal punishment is harmful as a rule, but in some cases
it is necessary and there is nothing to take its place.'
"'I know the peasants and understand how to treat them,' he would say.
'The peasants like me. I need only to hold up my little finger and the
peasants will do anything I like.'
"And all this, observe, was uttered with a wise, benevolent smile. He
repeated twenty times over 'We noblemen,' 'I as a noble'; obviously he did
not remember that our grandfather was a peasant, and our father a soldier.
Even our surname Tchimsha-Himalaisky, in reality so incongruous, seemed to
him now melodious, distinguished, and very agreeable.
"But the point just now is not he, but myself. I want to tell you about
the change that took place in me during the brief hours I spent at his
country place. In the evening, when we were drinking tea, the cook put on
the table a plateful of gooseberries. They were not bought, but his own
gooseberries, gathered for the first time since the bushes were planted.
Nikolay Ivanovitch laughed and looked for a minute in silence at the
gooseberries, with tears in his eyes; he could not speak for excitement.
Then he put one gooseberry in his mouth, looked at me with the triumph of
a child who has at last received his favourite toy, and said:
"And he ate them greedily, continually repeating, 'Ah, how delicious! Do
"They were sour and unripe, but, as Pushkin says:
"'Dearer to us the falsehood that exalts
Than hosts of baser truths.'
"I saw a happy man whose cherished dream was so obviously fulfilled, who
had attained his object in life, who had gained what he wanted, who was
satisfied with his fate and himself. There is always, for some reason, an
element of sadness mingled with my thoughts of human happiness, and, on
this occasion, at the sight of a happy man I was overcome by an oppressive
feeling that was close upon despair. It was particularly oppressive at
night. A bed was made up for me in the room next to my brother's bedroom,
and I could hear that he was awake, and that he kept getting up and going
to the plate of gooseberries and taking one. I reflected how many
satisfied, happy people there really are! 'What a suffocating force it is!
You look at life: the insolence and idleness of the strong, the ignorance
and brutishness of the weak, incredible poverty all about us,
overcrowding, degeneration, drunkenness, hypocrisy, lying.... Yet all is
calm and stillness in the houses and in the streets; of the fifty thousand
living in a town, there is not one who would cry out, who would give vent
to his indignation aloud. We see the people going to market for
provisions, eating by day, sleeping by night, talking their silly
nonsense, getting married, growing old, serenely escorting their dead to
the cemetery; but we do not see and we do not hear those who suffer, and
what is terrible in life goes on somewhere behind the scenes....
Everything is quiet and peaceful, and nothing protests but mute
statistics: so many people gone out of their minds, so many gallons of
vodka drunk, so many children dead from malnutrition.... And this order of
things is evidently necessary; evidently the happy man only feels at ease
because the unhappy bear their burdens in silence, and without that
silence happiness would be impossible. It's a case of general hypnotism.
There ought to be behind the door of every happy, contented man some one
standing with a hammer continually reminding him with a tap that there are
unhappy people; that however happy he may be, life will show him her laws
sooner or later, trouble will come for him—disease, poverty, losses,
and no one will see or hear, just as now he neither sees nor hears others.
But there is no man with a hammer; the happy man lives at his ease, and
trivial daily cares faintly agitate him like the wind in the aspen-tree—and
all goes well.
"That night I realized that I, too, was happy and contented," Ivan
Ivanovitch went on, getting up. "I, too, at dinner and at the hunt liked
to lay down the law on life and religion, and the way to manage the
peasantry. I, too, used to say that science was light, that culture was
essential, but for the simple people reading and writing was enough for
the time. Freedom is a blessing, I used to say; we can no more do without
it than without air, but we must wait a little. Yes, I used to talk like
that, and now I ask, 'For what reason are we to wait?'" asked Ivan
Ivanovitch, looking angrily at Burkin. "Why wait, I ask you? What grounds
have we for waiting? I shall be told, it can't be done all at once; every
idea takes shape in life gradually, in its due time. But who is it says
that? Where is the proof that it's right? You will fall back upon the
natural order of things, the uniformity of phenomena; but is there order
and uniformity in the fact that I, a living, thinking man, stand over a
chasm and wait for it to close of itself, or to fill up with mud at the
very time when perhaps I might leap over it or build a bridge across it?
And again, wait for the sake of what? Wait till there's no strength to
live? And meanwhile one must live, and one wants to live!
"I went away from my brother's early in the morning, and ever since then
it has been unbearable for me to be in town. I am oppressed by its peace
and quiet; I am afraid to look at the windows, for there is no spectacle
more painful to me now than the sight of a happy family sitting round the
table drinking tea. I am old and am not fit for the struggle; I am not
even capable of hatred; I can only grieve inwardly, feel irritated and
vexed; but at night my head is hot from the rush of ideas, and I cannot
sleep.... Ah, if I were young!"
Ivan Ivanovitch walked backwards and forwards in excitement, and repeated:
"If I were young!"
He suddenly went up to Alehin and began pressing first one of his hands
and then the other.
"Pavel Konstantinovitch," he said in an imploring voice, "don't be calm
and contented, don't let yourself be put to sleep! While you are young,
strong, confident, be not weary in well-doing! There is no happiness, and
there ought not to be; but if there is a meaning and an object in life,
that meaning and object is not our happiness, but something greater and
more rational. Do good!"
And all this Ivan Ivanovitch said with a pitiful, imploring smile, as
though he were asking him a personal favour.
Then all three sat in arm-chairs at different ends of the drawing-room and
were silent. Ivan Ivanovitch's story had not satisfied either Burkin or
Alehin. When the generals and ladies gazed down from their gilt frames,
looking in the dusk as though they were alive, it was dreary to listen to
the story of the poor clerk who ate gooseberries. They felt inclined, for
some reason, to talk about elegant people, about women. And their sitting
in the drawing-room where everything—the chandeliers in their
covers, the arm-chairs, and the carpet under their feet—reminded
them that those very people who were now looking down from their frames
had once moved about, sat, drunk tea in this room, and the fact that
lovely Pelagea was moving noiselessly about was better than any story.
Alehin was fearfully sleepy; he had got up early, before three o'clock in
the morning, to look after his work, and now his eyes were closing; but he
was afraid his visitors might tell some interesting story after he had
gone, and he lingered on. He did not go into the question whether what
Ivan Ivanovitch had just said was right and true. His visitors did not
talk of groats, nor of hay, nor of tar, but of something that had no
direct bearing on his life, and he was glad and wanted them to go on.
"It's bed-time, though," said Burkin, getting up. "Allow me to wish you
Alehin said good-night and went downstairs to his own domain, while the
visitors remained upstairs. They were both taken for the night to a big
room where there stood two old wooden beds decorated with carvings, and in
the corner was an ivory crucifix. The big cool beds, which had been made
by the lovely Pelagea, smelt agreeably of clean linen.
Ivan Ivanovitch undressed in silence and got into bed.
"Lord forgive us sinners!" he said, and put his head under the quilt.
His pipe lying on the table smelt strongly of stale tobacco, and Burkin
could not sleep for a long while, and kept wondering where the oppressive
smell came from.
The rain was pattering on the window-panes all night.
AT lunch next day there were very nice pies, crayfish, and mutton cutlets;
and while we were eating, Nikanor, the cook, came up to ask what the
visitors would like for dinner. He was a man of medium height, with a
puffy face and little eyes; he was close-shaven, and it looked as though
his moustaches had not been shaved, but had been pulled out by the roots.
Alehin told us that the beautiful Pelagea was in love with this cook. As
he drank and was of a violent character, she did not want to marry him,
but was willing to live with him without. He was very devout, and his
religious convictions would not allow him to "live in sin"; he insisted on
her marrying him, and would consent to nothing else, and when he was drunk
he used to abuse her and even beat her. Whenever he got drunk she used to
hide upstairs and sob, and on such occasions Alehin and the servants
stayed in the house to be ready to defend her in case of necessity.
We began talking about love.
"How love is born," said Alehin, "why Pelagea does not love somebody more
like herself in her spiritual and external qualities, and why she fell in
love with Nikanor, that ugly snout—we all call him 'The Snout'—how
far questions of personal happiness are of consequence in love—all
that is known; one can take what view one likes of it. So far only one
incontestable truth has been uttered about love: 'This is a great
mystery.' Everything else that has been written or said about love is not
a conclusion, but only a statement of questions which have remained
unanswered. The explanation which would seem to fit one case does not
apply in a dozen others, and the very best thing, to my mind, would be to
explain every case individually without attempting to generalize. We
ought, as the doctors say, to individualize each case."
"Perfectly true," Burkin assented.
"We Russians of the educated class have a partiality for these questions
that remain unanswered. Love is usually poeticized, decorated with roses,
nightingales; we Russians decorate our loves with these momentous
questions, and select the most uninteresting of them, too. In Moscow, when
I was a student, I had a friend who shared my life, a charming lady, and
every time I took her in my arms she was thinking what I would allow her a
month for housekeeping and what was the price of beef a pound. In the same
way, when we are in love we are never tired of asking ourselves questions:
whether it is honourable or dishonourable, sensible or stupid, what this
love is leading up to, and so on. Whether it is a good thing or not I
don't know, but that it is in the way, unsatisfactory, and irritating, I
It looked as though he wanted to tell some story. People who lead a
solitary existence always have something in their hearts which they are
eager to talk about. In town bachelors visit the baths and the restaurants
on purpose to talk, and sometimes tell the most interesting things to bath
attendants and waiters; in the country, as a rule, they unbosom themselves
to their guests. Now from the window we could see a grey sky, trees
drenched in the rain; in such weather we could go nowhere, and there was
nothing for us to do but to tell stories and to listen.
"I have lived at Sofino and been farming for a long time," Alehin began,
"ever since I left the University. I am an idle gentleman by education, a
studious person by disposition; but there was a big debt owing on the
estate when I came here, and as my father was in debt partly because he
had spent so much on my education, I resolved not to go away, but to work
till I paid off the debt. I made up my mind to this and set to work, not,
I must confess, without some repugnance. The land here does not yield
much, and if one is not to farm at a loss one must employ serf labour or
hired labourers, which is almost the same thing, or put it on a peasant
footing—that is, work the fields oneself and with one's family.
There is no middle path. But in those days I did not go into such
subtleties. I did not leave a clod of earth unturned; I gathered together
all the peasants, men and women, from the neighbouring villages; the work
went on at a tremendous pace. I myself ploughed and sowed and reaped, and
was bored doing it, and frowned with disgust, like a village cat driven by
hunger to eat cucumbers in the kitchen-garden. My body ached, and I slept
as I walked. At first it seemed to me that I could easily reconcile this
life of toil with my cultured habits; to do so, I thought, all that is
necessary is to maintain a certain external order in life. I established
myself upstairs here in the best rooms, and ordered them to bring me there
coffee and liquor after lunch and dinner, and when I went to bed I read
every night the Yyesnik Evropi. But one day our priest, Father
Ivan, came and drank up all my liquor at one sitting; and the Yyesnik
Evropi went to the priest's daughters; as in the summer, especially at
the haymaking, I did not succeed in getting to my bed at all, and slept in
the sledge in the barn, or somewhere in the forester's lodge, what chance
was there of reading? Little by little I moved downstairs, began dining in
the servants' kitchen, and of my former luxury nothing is left but the
servants who were in my father's service, and whom it would be painful to
"In the first years I was elected here an honourary justice of the peace.
I used to have to go to the town and take part in the sessions of the
congress and of the circuit court, and this was a pleasant change for me.
When you live here for two or three months without a break, especially in
the winter, you begin at last to pine for a black coat. And in the circuit
court there were frock-coats, and uniforms, and dress-coats, too, all
lawyers, men who have received a general education; I had some one to talk
to. After sleeping in the sledge and dining in the kitchen, to sit in an
arm-chair in clean linen, in thin boots, with a chain on one's waistcoat,
is such luxury!
"I received a warm welcome in the town. I made friends eagerly. And of all
my acquaintanceships the most intimate and, to tell the truth, the most
agreeable to me was my acquaintance with Luganovitch, the vice-president
of the circuit court. You both know him: a most charming personality. It
all happened just after a celebrated case of incendiarism; the preliminary
investigation lasted two days; we were exhausted. Luganovitch looked at me
"'Look here, come round to dinner with me.'
"This was unexpected, as I knew Luganovitch very little, only officially,
and I had never been to his house. I only just went to my hotel room to
change and went off to dinner. And here it was my lot to meet Anna
Alexyevna, Luganovitch's wife. At that time she was still very young, not
more than twenty-two, and her first baby had been born just six months
before. It is all a thing of the past; and now I should find it difficult
to define what there was so exceptional in her, what it was in her
attracted me so much; at the time, at dinner, it was all perfectly clear
to me. I saw a lovely young, good, intelligent, fascinating woman, such as
I had never met before; and I felt her at once some one close and already
familiar, as though that face, those cordial, intelligent eyes, I had seen
somewhere in my childhood, in the album which lay on my mother's chest of
"Four Jews were charged with being incendiaries, were regarded as a gang
of robbers, and, to my mind, quite groundlessly. At dinner I was very much
excited, I was uncomfortable, and I don't know what I said, but Anna
Alexyevna kept shaking her head and saying to her husband:
"'Dmitry, how is this?'
"Luganovitch is a good-natured man, one of those simple-hearted people who
firmly maintain the opinion that once a man is charged before a court he
is guilty, and to express doubt of the correctness of a sentence cannot be
done except in legal form on paper, and not at dinner and in private
"'You and I did not set fire to the place,' he said softly, 'and you see
we are not condemned, and not in prison.'
"And both husband and wife tried to make me eat and drink as much as
possible. From some trifling details, from the way they made the coffee
together, for instance, and from the way they understood each other at
half a word, I could gather that they lived in harmony and comfort, and
that they were glad of a visitor. After dinner they played a duet on the
piano; then it got dark, and I went home. That was at the beginning of
"After that I spent the whole summer at Sofino without a break, and I had
no time to think of the town, either, but the memory of the graceful
fair-haired woman remained in my mind all those days; I did not think of
her, but it was as though her light shadow were lying on my heart.
"In the late autumn there was a theatrical performance for some charitable
object in the town. I went into the governor's box (I was invited to go
there in the interval); I looked, and there was Anna Alexyevna sitting
beside the governor's wife; and again the same irresistible, thrilling
impression of beauty and sweet, caressing eyes, and again the same feeling
of nearness. We sat side by side, then went to the foyer.
"'You've grown thinner,' she said; 'have you been ill?'
"'Yes, I've had rheumatism in my shoulder, and in rainy weather I can't
"'You look dispirited. In the spring, when you came to dinner, you were
younger, more confident. You were full of eagerness, and talked a great
deal then; you were very interesting, and I really must confess I was a
little carried away by you. For some reason you often came back to my
memory during the summer, and when I was getting ready for the theatre
today I thought I should see you.'
"And she laughed.
"'But you look dispirited today,' she repeated; 'it makes you seem older.'
"The next day I lunched at the Luganovitchs'. After lunch they drove out
to their summer villa, in order to make arrangements there for the winter,
and I went with them. I returned with them to the town, and at midnight
drank tea with them in quiet domestic surroundings, while the fire glowed,
and the young mother kept going to see if her baby girl was asleep. And
after that, every time I went to town I never failed to visit the
Luganovitchs. They grew used to me, and I grew used to them. As a rule I
went in unannounced, as though I were one of the family.
"'Who is there?' I would hear from a faraway room, in the drawling voice
that seemed to me so lovely.
"'It is Pavel Konstantinovitch,' answered the maid or the nurs e.
"Anna Alexyevna would come out to me with an anxious face, and would ask
"'Why is it so long since you have been? Has anything happened?'
"Her eyes, the elegant refined hand she gave me, her indoor dress, the way
she did her hair, her voice, her step, always produced the same impression
on me of something new and extraordinary in my life, and very important.
We talked together for hours, were silent, thinking each our own thoughts,
or she played for hours to me on the piano. If there were no one at home I
stayed and waited, talked to the nurse, played with the child, or lay on
the sofa in the study and read; and when Anna Alexyevna came back I met
her in the hall, took all her parcels from her, and for some reason I
carried those parcels every time with as much love, with as much
solemnity, as a boy.
"There is a proverb that if a peasant woman has no troubles she will buy a
pig. The Luganovitchs had no troubles, so they made friends with me. If I
did not come to the town I must be ill or something must have happened to
me, and both of them were extremely anxious. They were worried that I, an
educated man with a knowledge of languages, should, instead of devoting
myself to science or literary work, live in the country, rush round like a
squirrel in a rage, work hard with never a penny to show for it. They
fancied that I was unhappy, and that I only talked, laughed, and ate to
conceal my sufferings, and even at cheerful moments when I felt happy I
was aware of their searching eyes fixed upon me. They were particularly
touching when I really was depressed, when I was being worried by some
creditor or had not money enough to pay interest on the proper day. The
two of them, husband and wife, would whisper together at the window; then
he would come to me and say with a grave face:
"'If you really are in need of money at the moment, Pavel
Konstantinovitch, my wife and I beg you not to hesitate to borrow from
"And he would blush to his ears with emotion. And it would happen that,
after whispering in the same way at the window, he would come up to me,
with red ears, and say:
"'My wife and I earnestly beg you to accept this present.'
"And he would give me studs, a cigar-case, or a lamp, and I would send
them game, butter, and flowers from the country. They both, by the way,
had considerable means of their own. In early days I often borrowed money,
and was not very particular about it—borrowed wherever I could—but
nothing in the world would have induced me to borrow from the
Luganovitchs. But why talk of it?
"I was unhappy. At home, in the fields, in the barn, I thought of her; I
tried to understand the mystery of a beautiful, intelligent young woman's
marrying some one so uninteresting, almost an old man (her husband was
over forty), and having children by him; to understand the mystery of this
uninteresting, good, simple-hearted man, who argued with such wearisome
good sense, at balls and evening parties kept near the more solid people,
looking listless and superfluous, with a submissive, uninterested
expression, as though he had been brought there for sale, who yet believed
in his right to be happy, to have children by her; and I kept trying to
understand why she had met him first and not me, and why such a terrible
mistake in our lives need have happened.
"And when I went to the town I saw every time from her eyes that she was
expecting me, and she would confess to me herself that she had had a
peculiar feeling all that day and had guessed that I should come. We
talked a long time, and were silent, yet we did not confess our love to
each other, but timidly and jealously concealed it. We were afraid of
everything that might reveal our secret to ourselves. I loved her
tenderly, deeply, but I reflected and kept asking myself what our love
could lead to if we had not the strength to fight against it. It seemed to
be incredible that my gentle, sad love could all at once coarsely break up
the even tenor of the life of her husband, her children, and all the
household in which I was so loved and trusted. Would it be honourable? She
would go away with me, but where? Where could I take her? It would have
been a different matter if I had had a beautiful, interesting life—if,
for instance, I had been struggling for the emancipation of my country, or
had been a celebrated man of science, an artist or a painter; but as it
was it would mean taking her from one everyday humdrum life to another as
humdrum or perhaps more so. And how long would our happiness last? What
would happen to her in case I was ill, in case I died, or if we simply
grew cold to one another?
"And she apparently reasoned in the same way. She thought of her husband,
her children, and of her mother, who loved the husband like a son. If she
abandoned herself to her feelings she would have to lie, or else to tell
the truth, and in her position either would have been equally terrible and
inconvenient. And she was tormented by the question whether her love would
bring me happiness—would she not complicate my life, which, as it
was, was hard enough and full of all sorts of trouble? She fancied she was
not young enough for me, that she was not industrious nor energetic enough
to begin a new life, and she often talked to her husband of the importance
of my marrying a girl of intelligence and merit who would be a capable
housewife and a help to me—and she would immediately add that it
would be difficult to find such a girl in the whole town.
"Meanwhile the years were passing. Anna Alexyevna already had two
children. When I arrived at the Luganovitchs' the servants smiled
cordially, the children shouted that Uncle Pavel Konstantinovitch had
come, and hung on my neck; every one was overjoyed. They did not
understand what was passing in my soul, and thought that I, too, was
happy. Every one looked on me as a noble being. And grown-ups and children
alike felt that a noble being was walking about their rooms, and that gave
a peculiar charm to their manner towards me, as though in my presence
their life, too, was purer and more beautiful. Anna Alexyevna and I used
to go to the theatre together, always walking there; we used to sit side
by side in the stalls, our shoulders touching. I would take the
opera-glass from her hands without a word, and feel at that minute that
she was near me, that she was mine, that we could not live without each
other; but by some strange misunderstanding, when we came out of the
theatre we always said good-bye and parted as though we were strangers.
Goodness knows what people were saying about us in the town already, but
there was not a word of truth in it all!
"In the latter years Anna Alexyevna took to going away for frequent visits
to her mother or to her sister; she began to suffer from low spirits, she
began to recognize that her life was spoilt and unsatisfied, and at times
she did not care to see her husband nor her children. She was already
being treated for neurasthenia.
"We were silent and still silent, and in the presence of outsiders she
displayed a strange irritation in regard to me; whatever I talked about,
she disagreed with me, and if I had an argument she sided with my
opponent. If I dropped anything, she would say coldly:
"'I congratulate you.'
"If I forgot to take the opera-glass when we were going to the theatre,
she would say afterwards:
"'I knew you would forget it.'
"Luckily or unluckily, there is nothing in our lives that does not end
sooner or later. The time of parting came, as Luganovitch was appointed
president in one of the western provinces. They had to sell their
furniture, their horses, their summer villa. When they drove out to the
villa, and afterwards looked back as they were going away, to look for the
last time at the garden, at the green roof, every one was sad, and I
realized that I had to say goodbye not only to the villa. It was arranged
that at the end of August we should see Anna Alexyevna off to the Crimea,
where the doctors were sending her, and that a little later Luganovitch
and the children would set off for the western province.
"We were a great crowd to see Anna Alexyevna off. When she had said
good-bye to her husband and her children and there was only a minute left
before the third bell, I ran into her compartment to put a basket, which
she had almost forgotten, on the rack, and I had to say good-bye. When our
eyes met in the compartment our spiritual fortitude deserted us both; I
took her in my arms, she pressed her face to my breast, and tears flowed
from her eyes. Kissing her face, her shoulders, her hands wet with tears—oh,
how unhappy we were!—I confessed my love for her, and with a burning
pain in my heart I realized how unnecessary, how petty, and how deceptive
all that had hindered us from loving was. I understood that when you love
you must either, in your reasonings about that love, start from what is
highest, from what is more important than happiness or unhappiness, sin or
virtue in their accepted meaning, or you must not reason at all.
"I kissed her for the last time, pressed her hand, and parted for ever.
The train had already started. I went into the next compartment—it
was empty—and until I reached the next station I sat there crying.
Then I walked home to Sofino...."
While Alehin was telling his story, the rain left off and the sun came
out. Burkin and Ivan Ivanovitch went out on the balcony, from which there
was a beautiful view over the garden and the mill-pond, which was shining
now in the sunshine like a mirror. They admired it, and at the same time
they were sorry that this man with the kind, clever eyes, who had told
them this story with such genuine feeling, should be rushing round and
round this huge estate like a squirrel on a wheel instead of devoting
himself to science or something else which would have made his life more
pleasant; and they thought what a sorrowful face Anna Alexyevna must have
had when he said good-bye to her in the railway-carriage and kissed her
face and shoulders. Both of them had met her in the town, and Burkin knew
her and thought her beautiful.
THE LOTTERY TICKET
IVAN DMITRITCH, a middle-class man who lived with his family on an income
of twelve hundred a year and was very well satisfied with his lot, sat
down on the sofa after supper and began reading the newspaper.
"I forgot to look at the newspaper today," his wife said to him as she
cleared the table. "Look and see whether the list of drawings is there."
"Yes, it is," said Ivan Dmitritch; "but hasn't your ticket lapsed?"
"No; I took the interest on Tuesday."
"What is the number?"
"Series 9,499, number 26."
"All right... we will look... 9,499 and 26."
Ivan Dmitritch had no faith in lottery luck, and would not, as a rule,
have consented to look at the lists of winning numbers, but now, as he had
nothing else to do and as the newspaper was before his eyes, he passed his
finger downwards along the column of numbers. And immediately, as though
in mockery of his scepticism, no further than the second line from the
top, his eye was caught by the figure 9,499! Unable to believe his eyes,
he hurriedly dropped the paper on his knees without looking to see the
number of the ticket, and, just as though some one had given him a douche
of cold water, he felt an agreeable chill in the pit of the stomach;
tingling and terrible and sweet!
"Masha, 9,499 is there!" he said in a hollow voice.
His wife looked at his astonished and panic-stricken face, and realized
that he was not joking.
"9,499?" she asked, turning pale and dropping the folded tablecloth on the
"Yes, yes... it really is there!"
"And the number of the ticket?"
"Oh, yes! There's the number of the ticket too. But stay... wait! No, I
say! Anyway, the number of our series is there! Anyway, you
Looking at his wife, Ivan Dmitritch gave a broad, senseless smile, like a
baby when a bright object is shown it. His wife smiled too; it was as
pleasant to her as to him that he only mentioned the series, and did not
try to find out the number of the winning ticket. To torment and tantalize
oneself with hopes of possible fortune is so sweet, so thrilling!
"It is our series," said Ivan Dmitritch, after a long silence. "So there
is a probability that we have won. It's only a probability, but there it
"Well, now look!"
"Wait a little. We have plenty of time to be disappointed. It's on the
second line from the top, so the prize is seventy-five thousand. That's
not money, but power, capital! And in a minute I shall look at the list,
and there—26! Eh? I say, what if we really have won?"
The husband and wife began laughing and staring at one another in silence.
The possibility of winning bewildered them; they could not have said,
could not have dreamed, what they both needed that seventy-five thousand
for, what they would buy, where they would go. They thought only of the
figures 9,499 and 75,000 and pictured them in their imagination, while
somehow they could not think of the happiness itself which was so
Ivan Dmitritch, holding the paper in his hand, walked several times from
corner to corner, and only when he had recovered from the first impression
began dreaming a little.
"And if we have won," he said—"why, it will be a new life, it will
be a transformation! The ticket is yours, but if it were mine I should,
first of all, of course, spend twenty-five thousand on real property in
the shape of an estate; ten thousand on immediate expenses, new
furnishing... travelling... paying debts, and so on.... The other forty
thousand I would put in the bank and get interest on it."
"Yes, an estate, that would be nice," said his wife, sitting down and
dropping her hands in her lap.
"Somewhere in the Tula or Oryol provinces.... In the first place we
shouldn't need a summer villa, and besides, it would always bring in an
And pictures came crowding on his imagination, each more gracious and
poetical than the last. And in all these pictures he saw himself well-fed,
serene, healthy, felt warm, even hot! Here, after eating a summer soup,
cold as ice, he lay on his back on the burning sand close to a stream or
in the garden under a lime-tree.... It is hot.... His little boy and girl
are crawling about near him, digging in the sand or catching ladybirds in
the grass. He dozes sweetly, thinking of nothing, and feeling all over
that he need not go to the office today, tomorrow, or the day after. Or,
tired of lying still, he goes to the hayfield, or to the forest for
mushrooms, or watches the peasants catching fish with a net. When the sun
sets he takes a towel and soap and saunters to the bathing-shed, where he
undresses at his leisure, slowly rubs his bare chest with his hands, and
goes into the water. And in the water, near the opaque soapy circles,
little fish flit to and fro and green water-weeds nod their heads. After
bathing there is tea with cream and milk rolls.... In the evening a walk
or vint with the neighbours.
"Yes, it would be nice to buy an estate," said his wife, also dreaming,
and from her face it was evident that she was enchanted by her thoughts.
Ivan Dmitritch pictured to himself autumn with its rains, its cold
evenings, and its St. Martin's summer. At that season he would have to
take longer walks about the garden and beside the river, so as to get
thoroughly chilled, and then drink a big glass of vodka and eat a salted
mushroom or a soused cucumber, and then—drink another.... The
children would come running from the kitchen-garden, bringing a carrot and
a radish smelling of fresh earth.... And then, he would lie stretched full
length on the sofa, and in leisurely fashion turn over the pages of some
illustrated magazine, or, covering his face with it and unbuttoning his
waistcoat, give himself up to slumber.
The St. Martin's summer is followed by cloudy, gloomy weather. It rains
day and night, the bare trees weep, the wind is damp and cold. The dogs,
the horses, the fowls—all are wet, depressed, downcast. There is
nowhere to walk; one can't go out for days together; one has to pace up
and down the room, looking despondently at the grey window. It is dreary!
Ivan Dmitritch stopped and looked at his wife.
"I should go abroad, you know, Masha," he said.
And he began thinking how nice it would be in late autumn to go abroad
somewhere to the South of France... to Italy.... to India!
"I should certainly go abroad too," his wife said. "But look at the number
of the ticket!"
He walked about the room and went on thinking. It occurred to him: what if
his wife really did go abroad? It is pleasant to travel alone, or in the
society of light, careless women who live in the present, and not such as
think and talk all the journey about nothing but their children, sigh, and
tremble with dismay over every farthing. Ivan Dmitritch imagined his wife
in the train with a multitude of parcels, baskets, and bags; she would be
sighing over something, complaining that the train made her head ache,
that she had spent so much money.... At the stations he would continually
be having to run for boiling water, bread and butter.... She wouldn't have
dinner because of its being too dear....
"She would begrudge me every farthing," he thought, with a glance at his
wife. "The lottery ticket is hers, not mine! Besides, what is the use of
her going abroad? What does she want there? She would shut herself up in
the hotel, and not let me out of her sight.... I know!"
And for the first time in his life his mind dwelt on the fact that his
wife had grown elderly and plain, and that she was saturated through and
through with the smell of cooking, while he was still young, fresh, and
healthy, and might well have got married again.
"Of course, all that is silly nonsense," he thought; "but... why should
she go abroad? What would she make of it? And yet she would go, of
course.... I can fancy... In reality it is all one to her, whether it is
Naples or Klin. She would only be in my way. I should be dependent upon
her. I can fancy how, like a regular woman, she will lock the money up as
soon as she gets it.... She will hide it from me.... She will look after
her relations and grudge me every farthing."
Ivan Dmitritch thought of her relations. All those wretched brothers and
sisters and aunts and uncles would come crawling about as soon as they
heard of the winning ticket, would begin whining like beggars, and fawning
upon them with oily, hypocritical smiles. Wretched, detestable people! If
they were given anything, they would ask for more; while if they were
refused, they would swear at them, slander them, and wish them every kind
Ivan Dmitritch remembered his own relations, and their faces, at which he
had looked impartially in the past, struck him now as repulsive and
"They are such reptiles!" he thought.
And his wife's face, too, struck him as repulsive and hateful. Anger
surged up in his heart against her, and he thought malignantly:
"She knows nothing about money, and so she is stingy. If she won it she
would give me a hundred roubles, and put the rest away under lock and
And he looked at his wife, not with a smile now, but with hatred. She
glanced at him too, and also with hatred and anger. She had her own
daydreams, her own plans, her own reflections; she understood perfectly
well what her husband's dreams were. She knew who would be the first to
try and grab her winnings.
"It's very nice making daydreams at other people's expense!" is what her
eyes expressed. "No, don't you dare!"
Her husband understood her look; hatred began stirring again in his
breast, and in order to annoy his wife he glanced quickly, to spite her at
the fourth page on the newspaper and read out triumphantly:
"Series 9,499, number 46! Not 26!"
Hatred and hope both disappeared at once, and it began immediately to seem
to Ivan Dmitritch and his wife that their rooms were dark and small and
low-pitched, that the supper they had been eating was not doing them good,
but lying heavy on their stomachs, that the evenings were long and
"What the devil's the meaning of it?" said Ivan Dmitritch, beginning to be
ill-humoured. "Wherever one steps there are bits of paper under one's
feet, crumbs, husks. The rooms are never swept! One is simply forced to go
out. Damnation take my soul entirely! I shall go and hang myself on the