Radilov by Ivan
the Russian By
An Extract from
For the autumn, woodcocks often take refuge in old gardens of lime-
trees. There are a good many such gardens among us, in the province of
Orel. Our forefathers, when they selected a place for habitation,
invariably marked out two acres of good ground for a fruit-garden, with
avenues of lime-trees. Within the last fifty, or seventy years at most,
these mansions—'noblemen's nests,' as they call them—have gradually
disappeared off the face of the earth; the houses are falling to
pieces, or have been sold for the building materials; the stone
outhouses have become piles of rubbish; the apple-trees are dead and
turned into firewood, the hedges and fences are pulled up. Only the
lime-trees grow in all their glory as before, and with ploughed fields
all round them, tell a tale to this light-hearted generation of 'our
fathers and brothers who have lived before us.'
A magnificent tree is such an old lime-tree…. Even the merciless axe
of the Russian peasant spares it. Its leaves are small, its powerful
limbs spread wide in all directions; there is perpetual shade under
Once, as I was wandering about the fields after partridges with
Yermolaï, I saw some way off a deserted garden, and turned into it. I
had hardly crossed its borders when a snipe rose up out of a bush with
a clatter. I fired my gun, and at the same instant, a few paces from
me, I heard a shriek; the frightened face of a young girl peeped out
for a second from behind the trees, and instantly disappeared. Yermolaï
ran up to me: 'Why are you shooting here? there is a landowner living
Before I had time to answer him, before my dog had had time to bring
me, with dignified importance, the bird I had shot, swift footsteps
were heard, and a tall man with moustaches came out of the thicket and
stopped, with an air of displeasure, before me. I made my apologies as
best I could, gave him my name, and offered him the bird that had been
killed on his domains.
'Very well,' he said to me with a smile; 'I will take your game, but
only on one condition: that you will stay and dine with us.'
I must confess I was not greatly delighted at his proposition, but it
was impossible to refuse.
'I am a landowner here, and your neighbour, Radilov; perhaps you have
heard of me?' continued my new acquaintance; 'to-day is Sunday, and we
shall be sure to have a decent dinner, otherwise I would not have
I made such a reply as one does make in such circumstances, and turned
to follow him. A little path that had lately been cleared soon led us
out of the grove of lime-trees; we came into the kitchen-garden.
Between the old apple-trees and gooseberry bushes were rows of curly
whitish-green cabbages; the hop twined its tendrils round high poles;
there were thick ranks of brown twigs tangled over with dried peas;
large flat pumpkins seemed rolling on the ground; cucumbers showed
yellow under their dusty angular leaves; tall nettles were waving along
the hedge; in two or three places grew clumps of tartar honeysuckle,
elder, and wild rose—the remnants of former flower-beds. Near a small
fish-pond, full of reddish and slimy water, we saw the well, surrounded
by puddles. Ducks were busily splashing and waddling about these
puddles; a dog blinking and twitching in every limb was gnawing a bone
in the meadow, where a piebald cow was lazily chewing the grass, from
time to time flicking its tail over its lean back. The little path
turned to one side; from behind thick willows and birches we caught
sight of a little grey old house, with a boarded roof and a winding
flight of steps. Radilov stopped short.
'But,' he said, with a good-humoured and direct look in my face,' on
second thoughts … perhaps you don't care to come and see me, after
all…. In that case—'
I did not allow him to finish, but assured him that, on the contrary,
it would be a great pleasure to me to dine with him.
'Well, you know best.'
We went into the house. A young man in a long coat of stout blue cloth
met us on the steps. Radilov at once told him to bring Yermolaï some
vodka; my huntsman made a respectful bow to the back of the munificent
host. From the hall, which was decorated with various parti-coloured
pictures and check curtains, we went into a small room—Radilov's
study. I took off my hunting accoutrements, and put my gun in a corner;
the young man in the long-skirted coat busily brushed me down.
'Well, now, let us go into the drawing-room.' said Radilov cordially.
'I will make you acquainted with my mother.'
I walked after him. In the drawing-room, in the sofa in the centre of
the room, was sitting an old lady of medium height, in a cinnamon-
coloured dress and a white cap, with a thinnish, kind old face, and a
timid, mournful expression.
'Here, mother, let me introduce to you our neighbour….'
The old lady got up and made me a bow, not letting go out of her
withered hands a fat worsted reticule that looked like a sack.
'Have you been long in our neighbourhood?' she asked, in a weak and
gentle voice, blinking her eyes.
'No, not long.'
'Do you intend to remain here long?'
'Till the winter, I think.'
The old lady said no more.
'And here,' interposed Radilov, indicating to me a tall and thin man,
whom I had not noticed on entering the drawing-room, 'is Fyodor
Miheitch. … Come, Fedya, give the visitor a specimen of your art. Why
have you hidden yourself away in that corner?'
Fyodor Miheitch got up at once from his chair, fetched a wretched
little fiddle from the window, took the bow—not by the end, as is
usual, but by the middle—put the fiddle to his chest, shut his eyes,
and fell to dancing, singing a song, and scraping on the strings. He
looked about seventy; a thin nankin overcoat flapped pathetically about
his dry and bony limbs. He danced, at times skipping boldly, and then
dropping his little bald head with his scraggy neck stretched out as if
he were dying, stamping his feet on the ground, and sometimes bending
his knees with obvious difficulty. A voice cracked with age came from
his toothless mouth.
Radilov must have guessed from the expression of my face that Fedya's
'art' did not give me much pleasure.
'Very good, old man, that's enough,' he said. 'You can go and refresh
Fyodor Miheitch at once laid down the fiddle on the window-sill, bowed
first to me as the guest, then to the old lady, then to Radilov, and
'He too was a landowner,' my new friend continued, 'and a rich one too,
but he ruined himself—so he lives now with me…. But in his day he
was considered the most dashing fellow in the province; he eloped with
two married ladies; he used to keep singers, and sang himself, and
danced like a master…. But won't you take some vodka? dinner is just
A young girl, the same that I had caught a glimpse of in the garden,
came into the room.
'And here is Olga!' observed Radilov, slightly turning his head; 'let
me present you…. Well, let us go into dinner.'
We went in and sat down to the table. While we were coming out of the
drawing-room and taking our seats, Fyodor Miheitch, whose eyes were
bright and his nose rather red after his 'refreshment,' sang 'Raise the
cry of Victory.' They laid a separate cover for him in a corner on a
little table without a table-napkin. The poor old man could not boast
of very nice habits, and so they always kept him at some distance from
society. He crossed himself, sighed, and began to eat like a shark. The
dinner was in reality not bad, and in honour of Sunday was accompanied,
of course, with shaking jelly and Spanish puffs of pastry. At the table
Radilov, who had served ten years in an infantry regiment and had been
in Turkey, fell to telling anecdotes; I listened to him with attention,
and secretly watched Olga. She was not very pretty; but the tranquil
and resolute expression of her face, her broad, white brow, her thick
hair, and especially her brown eyes—not large, but clear, sensible and
lively—would have made an impression on anyone in my place. She seemed
to be following every word Radilov uttered—not so much sympathy as
passionate attention was expressed on her face. Radilov in years might
have been her father; he called her by her Christian name, but I
guessed at once that she was not his daughter. In the course of
conversation he referred to his deceased wife—'her sister,' he added,
indicating Olga. She blushed quickly and dropped her eyes. Radilov
paused a moment and then changed the subject. The old lady did not
utter a word during the whole of dinner; she ate scarcely anything
herself, and did not press me to partake. Her features had an air of
timorous and hopeless expectation, that melancholy of old age which it
pierces one's heart to look upon. At the end of dinner Fyodor Miheitch
was beginning to 'celebrate' the hosts and guests, but Radilov looked
at me and asked him to be quiet; the old man passed his hand over his
lips, began to blink, bowed, and sat down again, but only on the very
edge of his chair. After dinner I returned with Radilov to his study.
In people who are constantly and intensely preoccupied with one idea,
or one emotion, there is something in common, a kind of external
resemblance in manner, however different may be their qualities, their
abilities, their position in society, and their education. The more I
watched Radilov, the more I felt that he belonged to the class of such
people. He talked of husbandry, of the crops, of the war, of the gossip
of the district and the approaching elections; he talked without
constraint, and even with interest; but suddenly he would sigh and drop
into a chair, and pass his hand over his face, like a man wearied out
by a tedious task. His whole nature—a good and warm-hearted one too—
seemed saturated through, steeped in some one feeling. I was amazed by
the fact that I could not discover in him either a passion for eating,
nor for wine, nor for sport, nor for Kursk nightingales, nor for
epileptic pigeons, nor for Russian literature, nor for trotting-hacks,
nor for Hungarian coats, nor for cards, nor billiards, nor for dances,
nor trips to the provincial town or the capital, nor for paper-
factories and beet-sugar refineries, nor for painted pavilions, nor for
tea, nor for trace-horses trained to hold their heads askew, nor even
for fat coachmen belted under their very armpits—those magnificent
coachmen whose eyes, for some mysterious reason, seem rolling and
starting out of their heads at every movement…. 'What sort of
landowner is this, then?' I thought. At the same time he did not in the
least pose as a gloomy man discontented with his destiny; on the
contrary, he seemed full of indiscrimating good-will, cordial and even
offensive readiness to become intimate with every one he came across.
In reality you felt at the same time that he could not be friends, nor
be really intimate with anyone, and that he could not be so, not
because in general he was independent of other people, but because his
whole being was for a time turned inwards upon himself. Looking at
Radilov, I could never imagine him happy either now or at any time. He,
too, was not handsome; but in his eyes, his smile, his whole being,
there was a something, mysterious and extremely attractive—yes,
mysterious is just what it was. So that you felt you would like to know
him better, to get to love him. Of course, at times the landowner and
the man of the steppes peeped out in him; but all the same he was a
We were beginning to talk about the new marshal of the district, when
suddenly we heard Olga's voice at the door: 'Tea is ready.' We went
into the drawing-room. Fyodor Miheitch was sitting as before in his
corner between the little window and the door, his legs curled up under
him. Radilov's mother was knitting a stocking. From the opened windows
came a breath of autumn freshness and the scent of apples. Olga was
busy pouring out tea. I looked at her now with more attention than at
dinner. Like provincial girls as a rule, she spoke very little, but at
any rate I did not notice in her any of their anxiety to say something
fine, together with their painful consciousness of stupidity and
helplessness; she did not sigh as though from the burden of unutterable
emotions, nor cast up her eyes, nor smile vaguely and dreamily. Her
look expressed tranquil self-possession, like a man who is taking
breath after great happiness or great excitement. Her carriage and her
movements were resolute and free. I liked her very much.
I fell again into conversation with Radilov. I don't recollect what
brought us to the familiar observation that often the most
insignificant things produce more effect on people than the most
'Yes,' Radilov agreed, 'I have experienced that in my own case. I, as
you know, have been married. It was not for long—three years; my wife
died in child-birth. I thought that I should not survive her; I was
fearfully miserable, broken down, but I could not weep—I wandered
about like one possessed. They decked her out, as they always do, and
laid her on a table—in this very room. The priest came, the deacons
came, began to sing, to pray, and to burn incense; I bowed to the
ground, and hardly shed a tear. My heart seemed turned to stone—and my
head too—I was heavy all over. So passed my first day. Would you
believe it? I even slept in the night. The next morning I went in to
look at my wife: it was summer-time, the sunshine fell upon her from
head to foot, and it was so bright. Suddenly I saw …' (here Radilov
gave an involuntary shudder) 'what do you think? One of her eyes was
not quite shut, and on this eye a fly was moving…. I fell down in a
heap, and when I came to myself, I began to weep and weep … I could
not stop myself….'
Radilov was silent. I looked at him, then at Olga…. I can never
forget the expression of her face. The old lady had laid the stocking
down on her knees, and taken a handkerchief out of her reticule; she
was stealthily wiping away her tears. Fyodor Miheitch suddenly got up,
seized his fiddle, and in a wild and hoarse voice began to sing a song.
He wanted doubtless to restore our spirits; but we all shuddered at his
first note, and Radilov asked him to be quiet.
'Still what is past, is past,' he continued; 'we cannot recall the
past, and in the end … all is for the best in this world below, as I
think Voltaire said,' he added hurriedly.
'Yes,' I replied, 'of course. Besides, every trouble can be endured,
and there is no position so terrible that there is no escape from it.'
'Do you think so?' said Radilov. 'Well, perhaps you are right. I
recollect I lay once in the hospital in Turkey half dead; I had typhus
fever. Well, our quarters were nothing to boast of—of course, in time
of war—and we had to thank God for what we had! Suddenly they bring in
more sick—where are they to put them? The doctor goes here and there—
there is no room left. So he comes up to me and asks the attendant, "Is
he alive?" He answers, "He was alive this morning." The doctor bends
down, listens; I am breathing. The good man could not help saying,
"Well, what an absurd constitution; the man's dying; he's certain to
die, and he keeps hanging on, lingering, taking up space for nothing,
and keeping out others." Well, I thought to myself, "So you are in a bad
way, Mihal Mihalitch…." And, after all, I got well, and am alive till
now, as you may see for yourself. You are right, to be sure.'
'In any case I am right,' I replied; 'even if you had died, you would
just the same have escaped from your horrible position.'
'Of course, of course,' he added, with a violent blow of his fist on
the table. 'One has only to come to a decision…. What is the use of
being in a horrible position?… What is the good of delaying,
Olga rose quickly and went out into the garden.
'Well, Fedya, a dance!' cried Radilov.
Fedya jumped up and walked about the room with that artificial and
peculiar motion which is affected by the man who plays the part of a
goat with a tame bear. He sang meanwhile, 'While at our Gates….'
The rattle of a racing droshky sounded in the drive, and in a few
minutes a tall, broad-shouldered and stoutly made man, the peasant
proprietor, Ovsyanikov, came into the room.
But Ovsyanikov is such a remarkable and original personage that, with
the reader's permission, we will put off speaking about him till the
next sketch. And now I will only add for myself that the next day I
started off hunting at earliest dawn with Yermolaï, and returned home
after the day's sport was over … that a week later I went again to
Radilov's, but did not find him or Olga at home, and within a fortnight
I learned that he had suddenly disappeared, left his mother, and gone
away somewhere with his sister-in-law. The whole province was excited,
and talked about this event, and I only then completely understood the
expression of Olga's face while Radilov was telling us his story. It
was breathing, not with sympathetic suffering only: it was burning with
Before leaving the country I called on old Madame Radilov. I found her
in the drawing-room; she was playing cards with Fyodor Miheitch.
'Have you news of your son?' I asked her at last.
The old lady began to weep. I made no more inquiries about Radilov.