THE SCHOOLMISTRESS AND OTHER STORIES
AT half-past eight they drove out of the town.
The highroad was drya lovely April sun was shining warmlybut the snow wasstill lying in the ditches and in the woods. Winterdarklongand spitefulwas hardly over; spring had come all of a sudden. But neither the warmth nor thelanguid transparent woodswarmed by the breath of springnor the black flocksof birds flying over the huge puddles that were like lakesnor the marvelousfathomless skyinto which it seemed one would have gone away so joyfullypresented anything new or interesting to Marya Vassilyevna who was sitting inthe cart. For thirteen years she had been schoolmistressand there was noreckoning how many times during all those years she had been to the town for hersalary; and whether it were spring as nowor a rainy autumn eveningor winterit was all the same to herand she always -- invariably -- longed for one thingonlyto get to the end of her journey as quickly as could be.
She felt as though she had been living in that part of the country for agesand agesfor a hundred yearsand it seemed to her that she knew every stoneevery tree on the road from the town to her school. Her past was hereherpresent was hereand she could imagine no other future than the schooltheroad to the town and back againand again the school and again the road. . . .
She had got out of the habit of thinking of her past before she became aschoolmistressand had almost forgotten it. She had once had a father andmother; they had lived in Moscow in a big flat near the Red Gatebut of allthat life there was left in her memory only something vague and fluid like adream. Her father had died when she was ten years oldand her mother had diedsoon after. . . . She had a brotheran officer; at first they used to write toeach otherthen her brother had given up answering her lettershe had got outof the way of writing. Of her old belongingsall that was left was a photographof her motherbut it had grown dim from the dampness of the schooland nownothing could be seen but the hair and the eyebrows.
When they had driven a couple of milesold Semyonwho was drivingturnedround and said:
"They have caught a government clerk in the town. They have taken himaway. The story is that with some Germans he killed Alexeyevthe MayorinMoscow."
"Who told you that?"
"They were reading it in the paperin Ivan Ionov's tavern."
And again they were silent for a long time. Marya Vassilyevna thought of herschoolof the examination that was coming soonand of the girl and four boysshe was sending up for it. And just as she was thinking about the examinationshe was overtaken by a neighboring landowner called Hanov in a carriage withfour horsesthe very man who had been examiner in her school the year before.When he came up to her he recognized her and bowed.
"Good-morning" he said to her. "You are driving homeIsuppose."
This Hanova man of forty with a listless expression and a face that showedsigns of wearwas beginning to look oldbut was still handsome and admired bywomen. He lived in his big homestead aloneand was not in the service; andpeople used to say of him that he did nothing at home but walk up and down theroom whistlingor play chess with his old footman. People saidtoothat hedrank heavily. And indeed at the examination the year before the very papers hebrought with him smelt of wine and scent. He had been dressed all in new clotheson that occasionand Marya Vassilyevna thought him very attractiveand all thewhile she sat beside him she had felt embarrassed. She was accustomed to seefrigid and sensible examiners at the schoolwhile this one did not remember asingle prayeror know what to ask questions aboutand was exceedinglycourteous and delicategiving nothing but the highest marks.
"I am going to visit Bakvist" he went onaddressing MaryaVassilyevna"but I am told he is not at home."
They turned off the highroad into a by-road to the villageHanov leading theway and Semyon following. The four horses moved at a walking pacewith effortdragging the heavy carriage through the mud. Semyon tacked from side to sidekeeping to the edge of the roadat one time through a snowdriftat anotherthrough a pooloften jumping out of the cart and helping the horse. MaryaVassilyevna was still thinking about the schoolwondering whether thearithmetic questions at the examination would be difficult or easy. And she feltannoyed with the Zemstvo board at which she had found no one the day before. Howunbusiness-like! Here she had been asking them for the last two years to dismissthe watchmanwho did nothingwas rude to herand hit the schoolboys; but noone paid any attention. It was hard to find the president at the officeandwhen one did find him he would say with tears in his eyes that he hadn't amoment to spare; the inspector visited the school at most once in three yearsand knew nothing whatever about his workas he had been in the Excise DutiesDepartmentand had received the post of school inspector through influence. TheSchool Council met very rarelyand there was no knowing where it met; theschool guardian was an almost illiterate peasantthe head of a tanningbusinessunintelligentrudeand a great friend of the watchman's -- andgoodness knows to whom she could appeal with complaints or inquiries . . . .
"He really is handsome" she thoughtglancing at Hanov.
The road grew worse and worse. . . . They drove into the wood. Here there wasno room to turn roundthe wheels sank deeply inwater splashed and gurgledthrough themand sharp twigs struck them in the face.
"What a road!" said Hanovand he laughed.
The schoolmistress looked at him and could not understand why this queer manlived here. What could his moneyhis interesting appearancehis refinedbearing do for him herein this mudin this God-forsakendreary place? He gotno special advantages out of lifeand herelike Semyonwas driving at ajog-trot on an appalling road and enduring the same discomforts. Why live hereif one could live in Petersburg or abroad? And one would have thought it wouldbe nothing for a rich man like him to make a good road instead of this bad oneto avoid enduring this misery and seeing the despair on the faces of hiscoachman and Semyon; but he only laughedand apparently did not mindandwanted no better life. He was kindsoftnaiveand he did not understand thiscoarse lifejust as at the examination he did not know the prayers. Hesubscribed nothing to the schools but globesand genuinely regarded himself asa useful person and a prominent worker in the cause of popular education. Andwhat use were his globes here?
"Hold onVassilyevna!" said Semyon.
The cart lurched violently and was on the point of upsetting; something heavyrolled on to Marya Vassilyevna's feet -- it was her parcel of purchases. Therewas a steep ascent uphill through the clay; here in the winding ditches rivuletswere gurgling. The water seemed to have gnawed away the road; and how could oneget along here! The horses breathed hard. Hanov got out of his carriage andwalked at the side of the road in his long overcoat. He was hot.
"What a road!" he saidand laughed again. "It would soonsmash up one's carriage."
"Nobody obliges you to drive about in such weather" said Semyonsurlily. "You should stay at home."
"I am dull at homegrandfather. I don't like staying at home."
Beside old Semyon he looked graceful and vigorousbut yet in his walk therewas something just perceptible which betrayed in him a being already touched bydecayweakand on the road to ruin. And all at once there was a whiff ofspirits in the wood. Marya Vassilyevna was filled with dread and pity for thisman going to his ruin for no visible cause or reasonand it came into her mindthat if she had been his wife or sister she would have devoted her wh ole lifeto saving him from ruin. His wife! Life was so ordered that here he was livingin his great house aloneand she was living in a God-forsaken village aloneand yet for some reason the mere thought that he and she might be close to oneanother and equals seemed impossible and absurd. In realitylife was arrangedand human relations were complicated so utterly beyond all understanding thatwhen one thought about it one felt uncanny and one's heart sank.
"And it is beyond all understanding" she thought"why Godgives beautythis graciousnessand sadsweet eyes to weakunluckyuselesspeople -- why they are so charming."
"Here we must turn off to the right" said Hanovgetting into hiscarriage. "Good-by! I wish you all things good!"
And again she thought of her pupilsof the examinationof the watchmanofthe School Council; and when the wind brought the sound of the retreatingcarriage these thoughts were mingled with others. She longed to think ofbeautiful eyesof loveof the happiness which would never be. . . .
His wife? It was cold in the morningthere was no one to heat the stovethewatchman disappeared; the children came in as soon as it was lightbringing insnow and mud and making a noise: it was all so inconvenientso comfortless. Herabode consisted of one little room and the kitchen close by. Her head achedevery day after her workand after dinner she had heart-burn. She had tocollect money from the school-children for wood and for the watchmanand togive it to the school guardianand then to entreat him -- that overfedinsolent peasant -- for God's sake to send her wood. And at night she dreamed ofexaminationspeasantssnowdrifts. And this life was making her grow old andcoarsemaking her uglyangularand awkwardas though she were made of lead.She was always afraidand she would get up from her seat and not venture to sitdown in the presence of a member of the Zemstvo or the school guardian. And sheused formaldeferential expressions when she spoke of any one of them. And noone thought her attractiveand life was passing drearilywithout affectionwithout friendly sympathywithout interesting acquaintances. How awful it wouldhave been in her position if she had fallen in love!
Again a sharp ascent uphill. . . .
She had become a schoolmistress from necessitywithout feeling any vocationfor it; and she had never thought of a vocationof serving the cause ofenlightenment; and it always seemed to her that what was most important in herwork was not the childrennor enlightenmentbut the examinations. And whattime had she for thinking of vocationof serving the cause of enlightenment?Teachersbadly paid doctorsand their assistantswith their terribly hardworkhave not even the comfort of thinking that they are serving an idea or thepeopleas their heads are always stuffed with thoughts of their daily breadofwood for the fireof bad roadsof illnesses. It is a hard-workinganuninteresting lifeand only silentpatient cart-horses like Mary Vassilyevnacould put up with it for long; the livelynervousimpressionable people whotalked about vocation and serving the idea were soon weary of it and gave up thework.
Semyon kept picking out the driest and shortest wayfirst by a meadowthenby the backs of the village huts; but in one place the peasants would not letthem passin another it was the priest's land and they could not cross itinanother Ivan Ionov had bought a plot from the landowner and had dug a ditchround it. They kept having to turn back.
They reached Nizhneye Gorodistche. Near the tavern on the dung-strewn earthwhere the snow was still lyingthere stood wagons that had brought greatbottles of crude sulphuric acid. There were a great many people in the tavernall driversand there was a smell of vodkatobaccoand sheepskins. There wasa loud noise of conversation and the banging of the swing-door. Through the wallwithout ceasing for a momentcame the sound of a concertina being played in theshop. Marya Vassilyevna sat down and drank some teawhile at the next tablepeasants were drinking vodka and beerperspiring from the tea they had justswallowed and the stifling fumes of the tavern.
"I sayKuzma!" voices kept shouting in confusion. "What there!""The Lord bless us!" "Ivan DementyitchI can tell you that!""Look outold man!"
A little pock-marked man with a black beardwho was quite drunkwassuddenly surprised by something and began using bad language.
"What are you swearing atyou there?" Semyonwho was sitting someway offresponded angrily. "Don't you see the young lady?"
"The young lady!" someone mimicked in another corner.
"We meant nothing . . ." said the little man in confusion. "Ibeg your pardon. We pay with our money and the young lady with hers.Good-morning!"
"Good-morning" answered the schoolmistress.
"And we thank you most feelingly."
Marya Vassilyevna drank her tea with satisfactionand shetoobeganturning red like the peasantsand fell to thinking again about firewoodaboutthe watchman. . . .
"Stayold man" she heard from the next table"it's theschoolmistress from Vyazovye. . . . We know her; she's a good young lady."
"She's all right!"
The swing-door was continually bangingsome coming inothers going out.Marya Vassilyevna sat onthinking all the time of the same thingswhile theconcertina went on playing and playing. The patches of sunshine had been on thefloorthen they passed to the counterto the walland disappeared altogether;so by the sun it was past midday. The peasants at the next table were gettingready to go. The little mansomewhat unsteadilywent up to Marya Vassilyevnaand held out his hand to her; following his examplethe others shook handstooat partingand went out one after anotherand the swing-door squeaked andslammed nine times.
"Vassilyevnaget ready" Semyon called to her.
They set off. And again they went at a walking pace.
"A little while back they were building a school here in their NizhneyeGorodistche" said Semyonturning round. "It was a wicked thing thatwas done!"
"They say the president put a thousand in his pocketand the schoolguardian another thousand in hisand the teacher five hundred."
"The whole school only cost a thousand. It's wrong to slander peoplegrandfather. That's all nonsense."
"I don't know. . . I only tell you what folks say."
But it was clear that Semyon did not believe the schoolmistress. The peasantsdid not believe her. They always thought she received too large a salarytwenty-one roubles a month (five would have been enough)and that of the moneythat she collected from the children for the firewood and the watchman thegreater part she kept for herself. The guardian thought the same as the peasantsand he himself made a profit off the firewood and received payments from thepeasants for being a guardian -- without the knowledge of the authorities.
The forestthank God! was behind themand now it would be flatopen groundall the way to Vyazovyeand there was not far to go now. They had to cross theriver and then the railway lineand then Vyazovye was in sight.
"Where are you driving?" Marya Vassilyevna asked Semyon. "Takethe road to the right to the bridge."
"Whywe can go this way as well. It's not deep enough to matter."
"Mind you don't drown the horse."
"LookHanov is driving to the bridge" said Marya Vassilyevnaseeing the four horses far away to the right. "It is heI think."
"It is. So he didn't find Bakvist at home. What a pig-headed fellow heis. Lord have mercy upon us! He's driven over thereand what for? It's fullytwo miles nearer this way."
They reached the river. In the summer it was a little stream easily crossedby wading. It usually dried up in Augustbut nowafter the spring floodsitwas a river forty feet in breadthrapidmuddyand cold; on the bank and rightup to the water there were fresh tracks of wheelsso it had been crossed here.
"Go on!" shouted Semyon angrily and anxiouslytugging violently atthe reins and jerking his elbows as a bird does its wings. "Go on!"
The horse went on into the water up to his belly and stoppedbut at oncewent on again with an effortand Marya Vassilyevna was aware of a keenchilliness in her feet.
"Go on!" shetooshoutedgetting up. "Go on!"
They got out on the bank.
"Nice mess it isLord have mercy upon us!" muttered Semyonsetting straight the harness. "It's a perfect plague with this Zemstvo. . .."
Her shoes and goloshes were full of waterthe lower part of her dress and ofher coat and one sleeve were wet and dripping: the sugar and flour had got wetand that was worst of alland Marya Vassilyevna could only clasp her hands indespair and say:
OhSemyonSemyon! How tiresome you are really! . . ."
The barrier was down at the railway crossing. A train was coming out of thestation. Marya Vassilyevna stood at the crossing waiting till it should passand shivering all over with cold. Vyazovye was in sight nowand the school withthe green roofand the church with its crosses flashing in the evening sun: andthe station windows flashed tooand a pink smoke rose from the engine . . . andit seemed to her that everything was trembling with cold.
Here was the train; the windows reflected the gleaming light like the crosseson the church: it made her eyes ache to look at them. On the little platformbetween two first-class carriages a lady was standingand Marya Vassilyevnaglanced at her as she passed. Her mother! What a resemblance! Her mother had hadjust such luxuriant hairjust such a brow and bend of the head. And withamazing distinctnessfor the first time in those thirteen yearsthere rosebefore her mind a vivid picture of her motherher fatherher brothertheirflat in Moscowthe aquarium with little fisheverything to the tiniest detail;she heard the sound of the pianoher father's voice; she felt as she had beenthenyounggood-lookingwell-dressedin a bright warm room among her ownpeople. A feeling of joy and happiness suddenly came over hershe pressed herhands to her temples in an ecstacyand called softlybeseechingly:
And she began cryingshe did not know why. Just at that instant Hanov droveup with his team of four horsesand seeing him she imagined happiness such asshe had never hadand smiled and nodded to him as an equal and a friendand itseemed to her that her happinessher triumphwas glowing in the sky and on allsidesin the windows and on the trees. Her father and mother had never diedshe had never been a schoolmistressit was a longtediousstrange dreamandnow she had awakened. . . .
And at once it all vanished. The barrier was slowly raised. MaryaVassilyevnashivering and numb with coldgot into the cart. The carriage withthe four horses crossed the railway line; Semyon followed it. The signalman tookoff his cap.
"And here is Vyazovye. Here we are."
A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN
A MEDICAL student called Mayerand a pupil of the Moscow School of PaintingSculptureand Architecture called Rybnikovwent one evening to see theirfriend Vassilyeva law studentand suggested that he should go with them to S.Street. For a long time Vassilyev would not consent to gobut in the end he puton his greatcoat and went with them.
He knew nothing of fallen women except by hearsay and from booksand he hadnever in his life been in the houses in which they live. He knew that there areimmoral women whounder the pressure of fatal circumstances -- environmentbadeducationpovertyand so on -- are forced to sell their honor for money. Theyknow nothing of pure lovehave no childrenhave no civil rights; their mothersand sisters weep over them as though they were deadscience treats of them asan evilmen address them with contemptuous familiarity. But in spite of allthatthey do not lose the semblance and image of God. They all acknowledgetheir sin and hope for salvation. Of the means that lead to salvation they canavail themselves to the fullest extent. Societyit is truewill not forgivepeople their pastbut in the sight of God St. Mary of Egypt is no lower thanthe other saints. When it had happened to Vassilyev in the street to recognize afallen woman as suchby her dress or her mannersor to see a picture of one ina comic paperhe always remembered a story he had once read: a young manpureand self-sacrificingloves a fallen woman and urges her to become his wife;sheconsidering herself unworthy of such happinesstakes poison.
Vassilyev lived in one of the side streets turning out of Tverskoy Boulevard.When he came out of the house with his two friends it was about eleven o'clock.The first snow had not long fallenand all nature was under the spell of thefresh snow. There was the smell of snow in the airthe snow crunched softlyunder the feet; the earththe roofsthe treesthe seats on the boulevardeverything was softwhiteyoungand this made the houses look quite differentfrom the day before; the street lamps burned more brightlythe air was moretransparentthe carriages rumbled with a deeper noteand with the freshlightfrosty air a feeling stirred in the soul akin to the whiteyouthfulfeathery snow. "Against my will an unknown force" hummed the medicalstudent in his agreeable tenor"has led me to these mournful shores."
"Behold the mill . . ." the artist seconded him"in ruinsnow. . . ."
"Behold the mill . . . in ruins now" the medical student repeatedraising his eyebrows and shaking his head mournfully.
He pausedrubbed his foreheadtrying to remember the wordsand then sangaloudso well that passers-by looked round:
"Here in old days when I was free
The three of them went into a restaurant andwithout taking off theirgreatcoatsdrank a couple of glasses of vodka each. Before drinking the secondglassVassilyev noticed a bit of cork in his vodkaraised the glass to hiseyesand gazed into it for a long timescrewing up his shortsighted eyes. Themedical student did not understand his expressionand said:
"Comewhy look at it? No philosophizingplease. Vodka is given us tobe drunksturgeon to be eatenwomen to be visitedsnow to be walked upon. Forone evening anyway live like a human being!"
"But I haven't said anything . . ." said Vassilyevlaughing."Am I refusing to?"
There was a warmth inside him from the vodka. He looked with softenedfeelings at his friendsadmired them and envied them. In these stronghealthycheerful people how wonderfully balanced everything ishow finished and smoothis everything in their minds and souls! They singand have a passion for thetheatreand drawand talk a great dealand drinkand they don't haveheadaches the day after; they are both poetical and debauchedboth soft andhard; they can worktooand be indignantand laugh without reasonand talknonsense; they are warmhonestself-sacrificingand as men are in no wayinferior to himselfVassilyevwho watched over every step he took and everyword he utteredwho was fastidious and cautiousand ready to raise everytrifle to the level of a problem. And he longed for one evening to live as hisfriends didto open outto let himself loose from his own control. If vodkahad to be drunkhe would drink itthough his head would be splitting nextmorning. If he were taken to the women he would go. He would laughplay thefoolgaily respond to the passing advances of strangers in the street. . . .
He went out of the restaurant laughing. He liked his friends -- one in acrushed broad-brimmed hatwith an affectation of artistic untidiness; the otherin a sealskin capa man not poorthough he affected to belong to the Bohemiaof learning. He liked the snowthe pale street lampsthe sharp black tracksleft in the first snow by the feet of the passers-by. He liked the airandespecially that limpidtendernaiveas it were virginal tonewhich can beseen in nature only twice in the year -- when everything is covered with snowand in spring on bright days and moonlight evenings when the ice breaks on theriver.
"Against my will an unknown force
Has led me to these mournful shores"
he hummed in an undertone.
And the tune for some reason haunted him and his friends all the wayand allthree of them hummed it mechanicallynot in time with one another.
Vassilyev's imagination was picturing howin another ten minuteshe and hisfriends would knock at a door; how by little dark passages and dark rooms theywould steal in to the women; howtaking advantage of the darknesshe wouldstrike a matchwould light up and see the face of a martyr and a guilty smile.The unknownfair or darkwould certainly have her hair down and be wearing awhite dressing-jacket; she would be panic-stricken by the lightwould befearfully confusedand would say: "For God's sakewhat are you doing! Putit out!" It would all be dreadfulbut interesting and new.
The friends turned out of Trubnoy Square into Gratchevkaand soon reachedthe side street which Vassilyev only knew by reputation. Seeing two rows ofhouses with brightly lighted windows and wide-open doorsand hearing gaystrains of pianos and violinssounds which floated out from every door andmingled in a strange chaosas though an unseen orchestra were tuning up in thedarkness above the roofsVassilyev was surprised and said:
"What a lot of houses!"
"That's nothing" said the medical student. "In London thereare ten times as many. There are about a hundred thousand such womenthere."
The cabmen were sitting on their boxes as calmly and indifferently as in anyother side street; the same passers-by were walking along the pavement as inother streets. No one was hurryingno one was hiding his face in hiscoat-collarno one shook his head reproachfully. . . . And in this indifferenceto the noisy chaos of pianos and violinsto the bright windows and wide-opendoorsthere was a feeling of something very openinsolentrecklessanddevil-may-care. Probably it was as gay and noisy at the slave-markets in theirdayand people's faces and movements showed the same indifference.
"Let us begin from the beginning" said the artist.
The friends went into a narrow passage lighted by a lamp with a reflector.When they opened the door a man in a black coatwith an unshaven face like aflunkey'sand sleepy-looking eyesgot up lazily from a yellow sofa in thehall. The place smelt like a laundry with an odor of vinegar in addition. A doorfrom the hall led into a brightly lighted room. The medical student and theartist stopped at this door andcraning their neckspeeped into the room.
"Buona serasignoririgolleto -- hugenotti -- traviata!" beganthe artistwith a theatrical bow.
"Havanna -- tarakano -- pistoleto!" said the medical studentpressing his cap to his breast and bowing low.
Vassilyev was standing behind them. He would have liked to make a theatricalbow and say something sillytoobut he only smiledfelt an awkwardness thatwas like shameand waited impatiently for what would happen next.
A little fair girl of seventeen or eighteenwith short hairin a shortlight-blue frock with a bunch of white ribbon on her bosomappeared in thedoorway.
"Why do you stand at the door?" she said. "Take off your coatsand come into the drawing-room."
The medical student and the artiststill talking Italianwent into thedrawing-room. Vassilyev followed them irresolutely.
"Gentlementake off your coats!" the flunkey said sternly;"you can't go in like that."
In the drawing-room there wasbesides the girlanother womanvery stoutand tallwith a foreign face and bare arms. She was sitting near the pianolaying out a game of patience on her lap. She took no notice whatever of thevisitors.
"Where are the other young ladies?" asked the medical student.
"They are having their tea" said the fair girl."Stepan" she called"go and tell the young ladies some studentshave come!"
A little later a third young lady came into the room. She was wearing abright red dress with blue stripes. Her face was painted thickly andunskillfullyher brow was hidden under her hairand there was an unblinkingfrightened stare in her eyes. As she came inshe began at once singing somesong in a coarsepowerful contralto. After her a fourth appearedand after hera fifth. . . .
In all this Vassilyev saw nothing new or interesting. It seemed to him thatthat roomthe pianothe looking-glass in its cheap gilt framethe bunch ofwhite ribbonthe dress with the blue stripesand the blank indifferent faceshe had seen before and more than once. Of the darknessthe silencethesecrecythe guilty smileof all that he had expected to meet here and haddreadedhe saw no trace.
Everything was ordinaryprosaicand uninteresting. Only one thing faintlystirred his curiosity -- the terribleas it were intentionally designedbadtaste which was visible in the cornicesin the absurd picturesin the dressesin the bunch of ribbons. There was something characteristic and peculiar in thisbad taste.
"How poor and stupid it all is!" thought Vassilyev. "What isthere in all this trumpery I see now that can tempt a normal man and excite himto commit the horrible sin of buying a human being for a rouble? I understandany sin for the sake of splendorbeautygracepassiontaste; but what isthere here? What is there here worth sinning for? But . . . one mustn'tthink!"
"Beardytreat me to some porter!" said the fair girladdressinghim.
Vassilyev was at once overcome with confusion.
"With pleasure" he saidbowing politely. "Only excuse memadamI . . . I won't drink with you. I don't drink.
Five minutes later the friends went off into another house.
"Why did you ask for porter?" said the medical student angrily."What a millionaire! You have thrown away six roubles for no reasonwhatever -- simply waste!"
"If she wants itwhy not let her have the pleasure?" saidVassilyevjustifying himself.
"You did not give pleasure to herbut to the 'Madam.' They are told toask the visitors to stand them treat because it is a profit to the keeper."
"Behold the mill . . ." hummed the artist"in ruins now. . .."
Going into the next housethe friends stopped in the hall and did not gointo the drawing-room. Hereas in the first housea figure in a black coatwith a sleepy face like a flunkey'sgot up from a sofa in the hall. Looking atthis flunkeyat his face and his shabby black coatVassilyev thought:"What must an ordinary simple Russian have gone through before fate flunghim down as a flunkey here? Where had he been before and what had he done? Whatwas awaiting him? Was he married? Where was his motherand did she know that hewas a servant here?" And Vassilyev could not help particularly noticing theflunkey in each house. In one of the houses -- he thought it was the fourth --there was a little sparefrail-looking flunkey with a watch-chain on hiswaistcoat. He was reading a newspaperand took no notice of them when they wentin. Looking at his face Vassilyevfor some reasonthought that a man with sucha face might stealmight murdermight bear false witness. But the face wasreally interesting: a big foreheadgray eyesa little flattened nosethincompressed lipsand a blankly stupid and at the same time insolent expressionlike that of a young harrier overtaking a hare. Vassilyev thought it would benice to touch this man's hairto see whether it was soft or coarse. It must becoarse like a dog's.
Having drunk two glasses of porterthe artist became suddenly tipsy and grewunnaturally lively.
"Let's go to another!" he said peremptorilywaving his hands."I will take you to the best one."
When he had brought his fri ends to the house which in his opinion was thebesthe declared his firm intention of dancing a quadrille. The medical studentgrumbled something about their having to pay the musicians a roublebut agreedto be his _vis-a-vis_. They began dancing.
It was just as nasty in the best house as in the worst. Here there were justthe same looking-glasses and picturesthe same styles of coiffure and dress.Looking round at the furnishing of the rooms and the costumesVassilyevrealized that this was not lack of tastebut something that might be called thetasteand even the styleof S. Streetwhich could not be foundelsewhere--something intentional in its uglinessnot accidentalbut elaboratedin the course of years. After he had been in eight houses he was no longersurprised at the color of the dressesat the long trainsthe gaudy ribbonsthe sailor dressesand the thick purplish rouge on the cheeks; he saw that itall had to be like thisthat if a single one of the women had been dressed likea human beingor if there had been one decent engraving on the wallthegeneral tone of the whole street would have suffered.
"How unskillfully they sell themselves!" he thought. "How canthey fail to understand that vice is only alluring when it is beautiful andhiddenwhen it wears the mask of virtue? Modest black dressespale facesmournful smilesand darkness would be far more effective than this clumsytawdriness. Stupid things! If they don't understand it of themselvestheirvisitors might surely have taught them. . . ."
A young lady in a Polish dress edged with white fur came up to him and satdown beside him.
"You nice dark manwhy aren't you dancing?" she asked. "Whyare you so dull?"
"Because it is dull."
"Treat me to some Lafitte. Then it won't be dull."
Vassilyev made no answer. He was silent for a littleand then asked:
"What time do you get to sleep?"
"At six o'clock."
"And what time do you get up?"
"Sometimes at two and sometimes at three."
"And what do you do when you get up?"
"We have coffeeand at six o'clock we have dinner."
"And what do you have for dinner?"
"Usually soupbeefsteakand dessert. Our madam keeps the girls well.But why do you ask all this?"
"Ohjust to talk. . . ."
Vassilyev longed to talk to the young lady about many things. He felt anintense desire to find out where she came fromwhether her parents were livingand whether they knew that she was here; how she had come into this house;whether she were cheerful and satisfiedor sad and oppressed by gloomythoughts; whether she hoped some day to get out of her present position. . . .But he could not think how to begin or in what shape to put his questions so asnot to seem impertinent. He thought for a long timeand asked:
"How old are you?"
"Eighty" the young lady jestedlooking with a laugh at the anticsof the artist as he danced.
All at once she burst out laughing at somethingand uttered a long cynicalsentence loud enough to be heard by everyone. Vassilyev was aghastand notknowing how to lookgave a constrained smile. He was the only one who smiled;all the othershis friendsthe musiciansthe womendid not even glancetowards his neighborbut seemed not to have heard her.
"Stand me some Lafitte" his neighbor said again.
Vassilyev felt a repulsion for her white fur and for her voiceand walkedaway from her. It seemed to him hot and stiflingand his heart began throbbingslowly but violentlylike a hammer -- one! two! three!
"Let us go away!" he saidpulling the artist by his sleeve.
"Wait a little; let me finish."
While the artist and the medical student were finishing the quadrilletoavoid looking at the womenVassilyev scrutinized the musicians. Arespectable-looking old man in spectaclesrather like Marshal Bazainewasplaying the piano; a young man with a fair bearddressed in the latest fashionwas playing the violin. The young man had a face that did not look stupid norexhaustedbut intelligentyouthfuland fresh. He was dressed fancifully andwith taste; he played with feeling. It was a mystery how he and therespectable-looking old man had come here. How was it they were not ashamed tosit here? What were they thinking about when they looked at the women?
If the violin and the piano had been played by men in ragslooking hungrygloomydrunkenwith dissipated or stupid facesthen one could have understoodtheir presenceperhaps. As it wasVassilyev could not understand it at all. Herecalled the story of the fallen woman he had once readand he thought now thatthat human figure with the guilty smile had nothing in common with what he wasseeing now. It seemed to him that he was seeing not fallen womenbut somedifferent world quite apartalien to him and incomprehensible; if he had seenthis world before on the stageor read of it in a bookhe would not havebelieved in it. . . .
The woman with the white fur burst out laughing again and uttered a loathsomesentence in a loud voice. A feeling of disgust took possession of him. Heflushed crimson and went out of the room.
"Wait a minutewe are coming too!" the artist shouted to him.
"While we were dancing" said the medical studentas they allthree went out into the street"I had a conversation with my partner. Wetalked about her first romance. Hethe herowas an accountant at Smolensk witha wife and five children. She was seventeenand she lived with her papa andmammawho sold soap and candles."
"How did he win her heart?" asked Vassilyev.
"By spending fifty roubles on underclothes for her. What next!"
"So he knew how to get his partner's story out of her" thoughtVassilyev about the medical student. "But I don't know how to."
"I sayI am going home!" he said.
"Because I don't know how to behave here. BesidesI am boreddisgusted. What is there amusing in it? If they were human beings -- but theyare savages and animals. I am going; do as you like."
"ComeGrishaGrigorydarling. . ." said the artist in a tearfulvoicehugging Vassilyev"come along! Let's go to one more together anddamnation take them! . . . Please doGrisha!"
They persuaded Vassilyev and led him up a staircase. In the carpet and thegilt banistersin the porter who opened the doorand in the panels thatdecorated the hallthe same S. Street style was apparentbut carried to agreater perfectionmore imposing.
"I really will go home!" said Vassilyev as he was taking off hiscoat.
"Comecomedear boy" said the artistand he kissed him on theneck. "Don't be tiresome. . . . Gri-gribe a good comrade! We cametogetherwe will go back together. What a beast you arereally!"
"I can wait for you in the street. I think it's loathsomereally!"
"ComecomeGrisha. . . . If it is loathsomeyou can observe it! Doyou understand? You can observe!"
"One must take an objective view of things" said the medicalstudent gravely.
Vassilyev went into the drawing-room and sat down. There were a number ofvisitors in the room besides him and his friends: two infantry officersa baldgray-haired gentleman in spectaclestwo beardless youths from the institute ofland-surveyingand a very tipsy man who looked like an actor. All the youngladies were taken up with these visitors and paid no attention to Vassilyev.
Only one of themdressed _a la Aida_ glanced sideways at himsmiledandsaidyawning: "A dark one has come. . . ."
Vassilyev's heart was throbbing and his face burned. He felt ashamed beforethese visitors of his presence hereand he felt disgusted and miserable. He wastormented by the thought that hea decent and loving man (such as he hadhitherto considered himself)hated these women and felt nothing but repulsiontowards them. He felt pity neither for the women nor the musicians nor theflunkeys.
"It is because I am not trying to understand them" he thought."They are all more like animals than human beingsbut of course they arehuman beings all the samethey have souls. One must understand them and thenjudge. . . ."
"Grishadon't gowait for us" the artist shouted to him anddisappeared.
The medical student disappeared soon after.
"Yesone must make an effort to understandone mustn't be like this. .." Vassilyev went on thinking.
And he began gazing at each of the women with strained attentionlooking fora guilty smile. But either he did not know how to read their facesor not oneof these women felt herself to be guilty; he read on every face nothing but ablank expression of everyday vulgar boredom and complacency. Stupid facesstupid smilesharshstupid voicesinsolent movementsand nothing else.Apparently each of them had in the past a romance with an accountant based onunderclothes for fifty roublesand looked for no other charm in the present butcoffeea dinner of three courseswinesquadrillessleeping till two in theafternoon. . . .
Finding no guilty smileVassilyev began to look whether there was not oneintelligent face. And his attention was caught by one palerather sleepyexhausted-looking face. . . . It was a dark womannot very youngwearing adress covered with spangles; she was sitting in an easy-chairlooking at thefloor lost in thought. Vassilyev walked from one corner of the room to theotherandas though casuallysat down beside her.
"I must begin with something trivial" he thought"and passto what is serious. . . ."
"What a pretty dress you have" and with his finger he touched thegold fringe of her fichu.
"Ohis it? . . ." said the dark woman listlessly.
"What province do you come from?"
"I? From a distance. . . . From Tchernigov."
"A fine province. It's nice there."
"Any place seems nice when one is not in it."
"It's a pity I cannot describe nature" thought Vassilyev. "Imight touch her by a description of nature in Tchernigov. No doubt she loves theplace if she has been born there."
"Are you dull here?" he asked.
"Of course I am dull."
"Why don't you go away from here if you are dull?"
"Where should I go to? Go begging or what?"
"Begging would be easier than living here."
How do you know that? Have you begged?"
"Yeswhen I hadn't the money to study. Even if I hadn't anyone couldunderstand that. A beggar is anyway a free manand you are a slave."
The dark woman stretchedand watched with sleepy eyes the footman who wasbringing a trayful of glasses and seltzer water.
"Stand me a glass of porter" she saidand yawned again.
"Porter" thought Vassilyev. "And what if your brother ormother walked in at this moment? What would you say? And what would they say?There would be porter thenI imagine. . . ."
All at once there was the sound of weeping. From the adjoining roomfromwhich the footman had brought the seltzer watera fair man with a red face andangry eyes ran in quickly. He was followed by the tallstout "madam"who was shouting in a shrill voice:
"Nobody has given you leave to slap girls on the cheeks! We havevisitors better than youand they don't fight! Impostor!"
A hubbub arose. Vassilyev was frightened and turned pale. In the next roomthere was the sound of bittergenuine weepingas though of someone insulted.And he realized that there were real people living here wholike peopleeverywhere elsefelt insultedsufferedweptand cried for help. The feelingof oppressive hate and disgust gave way to an acute feeling of pity and angeragainst the aggressor. He rushed into the room where there was weeping. Acrossrows of bottles on a marble-top table he distinguished a suffering facewetwith tearsstretched out his hands towards that facetook a step towards thetablebut at once drew back in horror. The weeping girl was drunk.
As he made his way though the noisy crowd gathered about the fair manhisheart sank and he felt frightened like a child; and it seemed to him that inthis alienincomprehensible world people wanted to pursue himto beat himtopelt him with filthy words. . . . He tore down his coat from the hatstand andran headlong downstairs.
Leaning against the fencehe stood near the house waiting for his friends tocome out. The sounds of the pianos and violinsgayrecklessinsolentandmournfulmingled in the air in a sort of chaosand this tangle of soundsseemed again like an unseen orchestra tuning up on the roofs. If one lookedupwards into the darknessthe black background was all spangled with whitemoving spots: it was snow falling. As the snowflakes came into the light theyfloated round lazily in the air like downand still more lazily fell to theground. The snowflakes whirled thickly round Vassilyev and hung upon his beardhis eyelasheshis eyebrows. . . . The cabmenthe horsesand the passers-bywere white.
"And how can the snow fall in this street!" thought Vassilyev."Damnation take these houses!"
His legs seemed to be giving way from fatiguesimply from having run downthe stairs; he gasped for breath as though he had been climbing uphillhisheart beat so loudly that he could hear it. He was consumed by a desire to getout of the street as quickly as possible and to go homebut even stronger washis desire to wait for his companions and vent upon them his oppressive feeling.
There was much he did not understand in these housesthe souls of ruinedwomen were a mystery to him as before; but it was clear to him that the thingwas far worse than could have been believed. If that sinful woman who hadpoisoned herself was called fallenit was difficult to find a fitting name forall these who were dancing now to this tangle of sound and uttering longloathsome sentences. They were not on the road to ruinbut ruined.
"There is vice" he thought"but neither consciousness of sinnor hope of salvation. They are sold and boughtsteeped in wine andabominationswhile theylike sheepare stupidindifferentand don'tunderstand. My God! My God!"
It was clear to himtoothat everything that is called human dignitypersonal rightsthe Divine image and semblancewere defiled to their veryfoundations -- "to the very marrow" as drunkards say -- and that notonly the street and the stupid women were responsible for it.
A group of studentswhite with snowpassed him laughing and talking gaily;onea tall thin fellowstoppedglanced into Vassilyev's faceand said in adrunken voice:
"One of us! A bit onold man? Aha-ha! Never mindhave a good time!Don't be down-heartedold chap!"
He took Vassilyev by the shoulder and pressed his cold wet mustache againsthis cheekthen he slippedstaggeredandwaving both handscried:
"Hold on! Don't upset!"
And laughinghe ran to overtake his companions.
Through the noise came the sound of the artist's voice:
"Don't you dare to hit the women! I won't let youdamnation take you!You scoundrels!"
The medical student appeared in the doorway. He looked from side to sideandseeing Vassilyevsaid in an agitated voice:
"You here! I tell you it's really impossible to go anywhere with Yegor!What a fellow he is! I don't understand him! He has got up a scene! Do you hear?Yegor!" he shouted at the door. Yegor!"
"I won't allow you to hit women!" the artist's piercing voicesounded from above. Something heavy and lumbering rolled down the stairs. It wasthe artist falling headlong. Evidently he had been pushed downstairs.
He picked himself up from the groundshook his hatandwith an angry andindignant facebrandished his fist towards the top of the stairs and shouted:
"Scoundrels! Torturers! Bloodsuckers! I won't allow you to hit them! Tohit a weakdrunken woman! Ohyou brutes! . . ."
"Yegor! . . . ComeYegor! . . ." the medical student beganimploring him. "I give you my word of honor I'll never come with you again.On my word of honor I won't!"
Little by little the artist was pacified and the friends went homewards.
"Against my will an unknown force" hummed the medical student"has led me to these mournful shores."
"Behold t he mill" the artist chimed in a little later"inruins now. What a lot of snowHoly Mother! Grishawhy did you go? You are afunka regular old woman."
Vassilyev walked behind his companionslooked at their backsand thought:
"One of two things: either we only fancy prostitution is an eviland weexaggerate it; orif prostitution really is as great an evil as is generallyassumedthese dear friends of mine are as much slaveownersviolatorsandmurderersas the inhabitants of Syria and Cairothat are described in the'Neva.' Now they are singinglaughingtalking sensebut haven't they justbeen exploiting hungerignoranceand stupidity? They have -- I have been awitness of it. What is the use of their humanitytheir medicinetheirpainting? The scienceartand lofty sentiments of these soul-destroyers remindme of the piece of bacon in the story. Two brigands murdered a beggar in aforest; they began sharing his clothes between themand found in his wallet apiece of bacon. 'Well found' said one of them'let us have a bit.' 'What doyou mean? How can you?' cried the other in horror. 'Have you forgotten thatto-day is Wednesday?' And they would not eat it. After murdering a mantheycame out of the forest in the firm conviction that they were keeping the fast.In the same way these menafter buying womengo their way imagining that theyare artists and men of science. . . ."
"Listen!" he said sharply and angrily. "Why do you come here?Is it possible -- is it possible you don't understand how horrible it is? Yourmedical books tell you that every one of these women dies prematurely ofconsumption or something; art tells you that morally they are dead even earlier.Every one of them dies because she has in her time to entertain five hundred menon an averagelet us say. Each one of them is killed by five hundred men. Youare among those five hundred! If each of you in the course of your lives visitsthis place or others like it two hundred and fifty timesit follows that onewoman is killed for every two of you! Can't you understand that? Isn't ithorrible to murdertwo of youthree of youfive of youa foolishhungrywoman! Ah! isn't it awfulmy God!"
"I knew it would end like that" the artist said frowning. "Weought not to have gone with this fool and ass! You imagine you have grandnotions in your head nowideasdon't you? Noit's the devil knows whatbutnot ideas. You are looking at me now with hatred and repulsionbut I tell youit's better you should set up twenty more houses like those than look like that.There's more vice in your expression than in the whole street! Come alongVolodyalet him go to the devil! He's a fool and an assand that's all. . .."
"We human beings do murder each other" said the medical student."It's immoralof coursebut philosophizing doesn't help it.Good-by!"
At Trubnoy Square the friends said good-by and parted. When he was leftaloneVassilyev strode rapidly along the boulevard. He felt frightened of thedarknessof the snow which was falling in heavy flakes on the groundandseemed as though it would cover up the whole world; he felt frightened of thestreet lamps shining with pale light through the clouds of snow. His soul waspossessed by an unaccountablefaint-hearted terror. Passers-by came towards himfrom time to timebut he timidly moved to one side; it seemed to him thatwomennone but womenwere coming from all sides and staring at him. . . .
"It's beginning" he thought"I am going to have abreakdown."
At home he lay on his bed and saidshuddering all over: "They arealive! Alive! My Godthose women are alive!"
He encouraged his imagination in all sorts of ways to picture himself thebrother of a fallen womanor her father; then a fallen woman herselfwith herpainted cheeks; and it all moved him to horror.
It seemed to him that he must settle the question at once at all costsandthat this question was not one that did not concern himbut was his ownpersonal problem. He made an immense effortrepressed his despairandsittingon the bedholding his head in his handsbegan thinking how one could save allthe women he had seen that day. The method for attacking problems of all kindswasas he was an educated manwell known to him. Andhowever excited he washe strictly adhered to that method. He recalled the history of the problem andits literatureand for a quarter of an hour he paced from one end of the roomto the other trying to remember all the methods practiced at the present timefor saving women. He had very many good friends and acquaintances who lived inlodgings in Petersburg. . . . Among them were a good many honest andself-sacrificing men. Some of them had attempted to save women. . . .
"All these not very numerous attempts" thought Vassilyev"can be divided into three groups. Someafter buying the woman out of thebrotheltook a room for herbought her a sewing-machineand she became asemptress. And whether he wanted to or notafter having bought her out he madeher his mistress; then when he had taken his degreehe went away and handed herinto the keeping of some other decent man as though she were a thing. And thefallen woman remained a fallen woman. Othersafter buying her outtook alodging apart for herbought the inevitable sewing-machineand tried teachingher to readpreaching at her and giving her books. The woman lived and sewed aslong as it was interesting and a novelty to herthen getting boredbeganreceiving men on the slyor ran away and went back where she could sleep tillthree o'clockdrink coffeeand have good dinners. The third classthe mostardent and self-sacrificinghad taken a boldresolute step. They had marriedthem. And when the insolent and spoiltor stupid and crushed animal became awifethe head of a householdand afterwards a motherit turned her wholeexistence and attitude to life upside downso that it was hard to recognize thefallen woman afterwards in the wife and the mother. Yesmarriage was the bestand perhaps the only means."
"But it is impossible!" Vassilyev said aloudand he sank upon hisbed. "Ito begin withcould not marry one! To do that one must be a saintand be unable to feel hatred or repulsion. But supposing that Ithe medicalstudentand the artist mastered ourselves and did marry them -- suppose theywere all married. What would be the result? The result would be that while herein Moscow they were being marriedsome Smolensk accountant would be debauchinganother lotand that lot would be streaming here to fill the vacant placestogether with others from SaratovNizhni-NovgorodWarsaw. . . . And what isone to do with the hundred thousand in London? What's one to do with those inHamburg?"
The lamp in which the oil had burnt down began to smoke. Vassilyev did notnotice it. He began pacing to and fro againstill thinking. Now he put thequestion differently: what must be done that fallen women should not be needed?For thatit was essential that the men who buy them and do them to death shouldfeel all the immorality of their share in enslaving them and should behorrified. One must save the men.
"One won't do anything by art and sciencethat is clear . . ."thought Vassilyev. "The only way out of it is missionary work."
And he began to dream how he would the next evening stand at the corner ofthe street and say to every passer-by: "Where are you going and what for?Have some fear of God!"
He would turn to the apathetic cabmen and say to them: "Why are youstaying here? Why aren't you revolted? Why aren't you indignant? I suppose youbelieve in God and know that it is a sinthat people go to hell for it? Whydon't you speak? It is true that they are strangers to youbut you know eventhey have fathersbrothers like yourselves. . . ."
One of Vassilyev's friends had once said of him that he was a talented man.There are all sorts of talents -- talent for writingtalent for the stagetalent for art; but he had a peculi ar talent -- a talent for _humanity_. Hepossessed an extraordinarily fine delicate scent for pain in general. As a goodactor reflects in himself the movements and voice of othersso Vassilyev couldreflect in his soul the sufferings of others. When he saw tearshe wept; besidea sick manhe felt sick himself and moaned; if he saw an act of violencehefelt as though he himself were the victim of ithe was frightened as a childand in his fright ran to help. The pain of others worked on his nervesexcitedhimroused him to a state of frenzyand so on.
Whether this friend were right I don't knowbut what Vassilyev experiencedwhen he thought this question was settled was something like inspiration. Hecried and laughedspoke aloud the words that he should say next dayfelt afervent love for those who would listen to him and would stand beside him at thecorner of the street to preach; he sat down to write lettersmade vows tohimself. . . .
All this was like inspiration also from the fact that it did not last long.Vassilyev was soon tired. The cases in Londonin Hamburgin Warsawweighedupon him by their mass as a mountain weighs upon the earth; he felt dispiritedbewilderedin the face of this mass; he remembered that he had not a gift forwordsthat he was cowardly and timidthat indifferent people would not bewilling to listen and understand hima law student in his third yeara timidand insignificant person; that genuine missionary work included not onlyteaching but deeds. . .
When it was daylight and carriages were already beginning to rumble in thestreetVassilyev was lying motionless on the sofastaring into space. He wasno longer thinking of the womennor of the mennor of missionary work. Hiswhole attention was turned upon the spiritual agony which was torturing him. Itwas a dullvagueundefined anguish akin to miseryto an extreme form ofterror and to despair. He could point to the place where the pain wasin hisbreast under his heart; but he could not compare it with anything. In the pasthe had had acute toothachehe had had pleurisy and neuralgiabut all that wasinsignificant compared with this spiritual anguish. In the presence of that painlife seemed loathsome. The dissertationthe excellent work he had writtenalreadythe people he lovedthe salvation of fallen women -- everything thatonly the day before he had cared about or been indifferent tonow when hethought of them irritated him in the same way as the noise of the carriagesthescurrying footsteps of the waiters in the passagethe daylight. . . . If atthat moment someone had performed a great deed of mercy or had committed arevolting outragehe would have felt the same repulsion for both actions. Ofall the thoughts that strayed through his mind only two did not irritate him:one was that at every moment he had the power to kill himselfthe other thatthis agony would not last more than three days. This last he knew by experience.
After lying for a while he got up andwringing his handswalked about theroomnot as usual from corner to cornerbut round the room beside the walls.As he passed he glanced at himself in the looking-glass. His face looked paleand sunkenhis temples looked hollowhis eyes were biggerdarkermorestaringas though they belonged to someone elseand they had an expression ofinsufferable mental agony.
At midday the artist knocked at the door.
"Grigoryare you at home?" he asked.
Getting no answerhe stood for a minuteponderedand answered himself inLittle Russian: "Nay. The confounded fellow has gone to theUniversity."
And he went away. Vassilyev lay down on the bed andthrusting his head underthe pillowbegan crying with agonyand the more freely his tears flowed themore terrible his mental anguish became. As it began to get darkhe thought ofthe agonizing night awaiting himand was overcome by a horrible despair. Hedressed quicklyran out of his roomandleaving his door wide openfor noobject or reasonwent out into the street. Without asking himself where heshould gohe walked quickly along Sadovoy Street.
Snow was falling as heavily as the day before; it was thawing. Thrusting hishands into his sleevesshuddering and frightened at the noisesat thetrambellsand at the passers-byVassilyev walked along Sadovoy Street as faras Suharev Tower; then to the Red Gate; from there he turned off to BasmannyaStreet. He went into a tavern and drank off a big glass of vodkabut that didnot make him feel better. When he reached Razgulya he turned to the rightandstrode along side streets in which he had never been before in his life. Hereached the old bridge by which the Yauza runs gurglingand from which one cansee long rows of lights in the windows of the Red Barracks. To distract hisspiritual anguish by some new sensation or some other painVassilyevnotknowing what to docrying and shudderingundid his greatcoat and jacket andexposed his bare chest to the wet snow and the wind. But that did not lessen hissuffering either. Then he bent down over the rail of the bridge and looked downinto the blackyeasty Yauzaand he longed to plunge down head foremost; notfrom loathing for lifenot for the sake of suicidebut in order to bruisehimself at leastand by one pain to ease the other. But the black waterthedarknessthe deserted banks covered with snow were terrifying. He shivered andwalked on. He walked up and down by the Red Barracksthen turned back and wentdown to a copsefrom the copse back to the bridge again
"Nohomehome!" he thought. "At home I believe it's better.. ."
And he went back. When he reached home he pulled off his wet coat and capbegan pacing round the roomand went on pacing round and round without stoppingtill morning.
When next morning the artist and the medical student went in to himhe wasmoving about the room with his shirt tornbiting his hands and moaning withpain.
"For God's sake!" he sobbed when he saw his friends"take mewhere you pleasedo what you can; but for God's sakesave me quickly! I shallkill myself!"
The artist turned pale and was helpless. The medical studenttooalmostshed tearsbut considering that doctors ought to be cool and composed in everyemergency said coldly:
"It's a nervous breakdown. But it's nothing. Let us go at once to thedoctor."
"Wherever you likeonly for God's sakemake haste"
"Don't excite yourself. You must try and control yourself."
The artist and the medical student with trembling hands put Vassilyev's coatand hat on and led him out into the street.
"Mihail Sergeyitch has been wanting to make your acquaintance for a longtime" the medical student said on the way. "He is a very nice man andthoroughly good at his work. He took his degree in 1882and he has an immensepractice already. He treats students as though he were one himself."
"Make hastemake haste! . . ." Vassilyev urged.
Mihail Sergeyitcha stoutfair-haired doctorreceived the friends withpoliteness and frigid dignityand smiled only on one side of his face.
"Rybnikov and Mayer have spoken to me of your illness already" hesaid. "Very glad to be of service to you. Well? Sit downI beg. . .."
He made Vassilyev sit down in a big armchair near the tableand moved a boxof cigarettes towards him.
"Now then!" he beganstroking his knees. "Let us get to work.. . . How old are you?"
He asked questions and the medical student answered them. He asked whetherVassilyev's father had suffered from certain special diseaseswhether he drankto excesswhether he were remarkable for cruelty or any peculiarities. He madesimilar inquiries about his grandfathermothersistersand brothers. Onlearning that his mother had a beautiful voice and sometimes acted on the stagehe grew more animated at onceand asked:
"Excuse mebut don't you rememberperhapsyour mother had a passionfor the stage?"
Twenty minutes passed. Vassilyev was annoyed by the way the docto r keptstroking his knees and talking of the same thing.
"So far as I understand your questionsdoctor" he said"youwant to know whether my illness is hereditary or not. It is not."
The doctor proceeded to ask Vassilyev whether he had had any secret vices asa boyor had received injuries to his head; whether he had had any aberrationsany peculiaritiesor exceptional propensities. Half the questions usually askedby doctors of their patients can be left unanswered without the slightest illeffect on the healthbut Mihail Sergeyitchthe medical studentand the artistall looked as though if Vassilyev failed to answer one question all would belost. As he received answersthe doctor for some reason noted them down on aslip of paper. On learning that Vassilyev had taken his degree in naturalscienceand was now studying lawthe doctor pondered.
"He wrote a first-rate piece of original work last year. . ."said the medical student.
"I beg your pardonbut don't interrupt me; you prevent me fromconcentrating" said the doctorand he smiled on one side of his face."Thoughof coursethat does enter into the diagnosis. Intenseintellectual worknervous exhaustion. . . . Yesyes. . . . And do you drinkvodka?" he saidaddressing Vassilyev.
Another twenty minutes passed. The medical student began telling the doctorin a low voice his opinion as to the immediate cause of the attackanddescribed how the day before yesterday the artistVassilyevand he had visitedS. Street.
The indifferentreservedand frigid tone in which his friends and thedoctor spoke of the women and that miserable street struck Vassilyev as strangein the extreme. . . .
"Doctortell me one thing only" he saidcontrolling himself soas not to speak rudely. "Is prostitution an evil or not?"
"My dear fellowwho disputes it?" said the doctorwith anexpression that suggested that he had settled all such questions for himselflong ago. "Who disputes it?"
"You are a mental doctoraren't you?" Vassilyev asked curtly.
"Yesa mental doctor."
"Perhaps all of you are right!" said Vassilyevgetting up andbeginning to walk from one end of the room to the other. "Perhaps! But itall seems marvelous to me! That I should have taken my degree in two facultiesyou look upon as a great achievement; because I have written a work which inthree years will be thrown aside and forgottenI am praised up to the skies;but because I cannot speak of fallen women as unconcernedly as of these chairsI am being examined by a doctorI am called madI am pitied!"
Vassilyev for some reason felt all at once unutterably sorry for himselfandhis companionsand all the people he had seen two days beforeand for thedoctor; he burst into tears and sank into a chair.
His friends looked inquiringly at the doctor. The latterwith the air ofcompletely comprehending the tears and the despairof feeling himself aspecialist in that linewent up to Vassilyev andwithout a wordgave him somemedicine to drink; and thenwhen he was calmerundressed him and began toinvestigate the degree of sensibility of the skinthe reflex action of thekneesand so on.
And Vassilyev felt easier. When he came out from the doctor's he wasbeginning to feel ashamed; the rattle of the carriages no longer irritated himand the load at his heart grew lighter and lighter as though it were meltingaway. He had two prescriptions in his hand: one was for bromideone was formorphia. . . . He had taken all these remedies before.
In the street he stood still andsaying good-by to his friendsdraggedhimself languidly to the University.
"To whom shall I tell my grief?"
THE twilight of evening. Big flakes of wet snow are whirling lazily about thestreet lampswhich have just been lightedand lying in a thin soft layer onroofshorses' backsshoulderscaps. Iona Potapovthe sledge-driveris allwhite like a ghost. He sits on the box without stirringbent as double as theliving body can be bent. If a regular snowdrift fell on him it seems as thougheven then he would not think it necessary to shake it off. . . . His little mareis white and motionless too. Her stillnessthe angularity of her linesand thestick-like straightness of her legs make her look like a halfpenny gingerbreadhorse. She is probably lost in thought. Anyone who has been torn away from theploughfrom the familiar gray landscapesand cast into this sloughfull ofmonstrous lightsof unceasing uproar and hurrying peopleis bound to think.
It is a long time since Iona and his nag have budged. They came out of theyard before dinnertime and not a single fare yet. But now the shades of eveningare falling on the town. The pale light of the street lamps changes to a vividcolorand the bustle of the street grows noisier.
"Sledge to Vyborgskaya!" Iona hears. "Sledge!"
Iona startsand through his snow-plastered eyelashes sees an officer in amilitary overcoat with a hood over his head.
"To Vyborgskaya" repeats the officer. "Are you asleep? ToVyborgskaya!"
In token of assent Iona gives a tug at the reins which sends cakes of snowflying from the horse's back and shoulders. The officer gets into the sledge.The sledge-driver clicks to the horsecranes his neck like a swanrises in hisseatand more from habit than necessity brandishes his whip. The mare cranesher necktoocrooks her stick-like legsand hesitatingly sets of. . . .
"Where are you shovingyou devil?" Iona immediately hears shoutsfrom the dark mass shifting to and fro before him. "Where the devil are yougoing? Keep to the r-right!"
"You don't know how to drive! Keep to the right" says the officerangrily.
A coachman driving a carriage swears at him; a pedestrian crossing the roadand brushing the horse's nose with his shoulder looks at him angrily and shakesthe snow off his sleeve. Iona fidgets on the box as though he were sitting onthornsjerks his elbowsand turns his eyes about like one possessed as thoughhe did not know where he was or why he was there.
"What rascals they all are!" says the officer jocosely. "Theyare simply doing their best to run up against you or fall under the horse'sfeet. They must be doing it on purpose."
Iona looks as his fare and moves his lips. . . . Apparently he means to saysomethingbut nothing comes but a sniff.
"What?" inquires the officer.
Iona gives a wry smileand straining his throatbrings out huskily:"My son . . . er . . . my son died this weeksir."
"H'm! What did he die of?"
Iona turns his whole body round to his fareand says:
"Who can tell! It must have been from fever. . . . He lay three days inthe hospital and then he died. . . . God's will."
"Turn roundyou devil!" comes out of the darkness. "Have yougone crackedyou old dog? Look where you are going!"
"Drive on! drive on! . . ." says the officer. "We shan't getthere till to-morrow going on like this. Hurry up!"
The sledge-driver cranes his neck againrises in his seatand with heavygrace swings his whip. Several times he looks round at the officerbut thelatter keeps his eyes shut and is apparently disinclined to listen. Putting hisfare down at VyborgskayaIona stops by a restaurantand again sits huddled upon the box. . . . Again the wet snow paints him and his horse white. One hourpassesand then another. . . .
Three young mentwo tall and thinone short and hunchbackedcome uprailing at each other and loudly stamping on the pavement with their goloshes.
"Cabbyto the Police Bridge!" the hunchback cries in a crackedvoice. "The three of us. . . twenty kopecks!"
Iona tugs at the reins and clicks to his horse. Twenty kopecks is not a fairpricebut he has no thoughts for that. Whether it is a rouble or whether it isfive kopecks does not matter to him now so long as he has a fare. . . . Thethree young menshoving each other and using bad languagego up to the sledgeand all three try to sit down at once. The question remains to be settled: Whichare to sit down and which one is to stand? After a long altercationill-temperand abusethey come to the conclusion that the hunchback must stand because heis the shortest.
"Welldrive on" says the hunchback in his cracked voicesettlinghimself and breathing down Iona's neck. "Cut along! What a cap you've gotmy friend! You wouldn't find a worse one in all Petersburg. . . ."
"He-he! . . . he-he! . . ." laughs Iona. "It's nothing toboast of!"
"Wellthennothing to boast ofdrive on! Are you going to drive likethis all the way? Eh? Shall I give you one in the neck?"
"My head aches" says one of the tall ones. "At the Dukmasovs'yesterday Vaska and I drank four bottles of brandy between us."
"I can't make out why you talk such stuff" says the other tall oneangrily. "You lie like a brute."
"Strike me deadit's the truth! . . ."
"It's about as true as that a louse coughs."
"He-he!" grins Iona. "Me-er-ry gentlemen!"
"Tfoo! the devil take you!" cries the hunchback indignantly."Will you get onyou old plagueor won't you? Is that the way to drive?Give her one with the whip. Hang it allgive it her well."
Iona feels behind his back the jolting person and quivering voice of thehunchback. He hears abuse addressed to himhe sees peopleand the feeling ofloneliness begins little by little to be less heavy on his heart. The hunchbackswears at himtill he chokes over some elaborately whimsical string of epithetsand is overpowered by his cough. His tall companions begin talking of a certainNadyezhda Petrovna. Iona looks round at them. Waiting till there is a briefpausehe looks round once more and says:
"This week . . . er. . . my. . . er. . . son died!"
"We shall all die. . ." says the hunchback with a sighwipinghis lips after coughing. "Comedrive on! drive on! My friendsI simplycannot stand crawling like this! When will he get us there?"
"Wellyou give him a little encouragement . . . one in the neck!"
"Do you hearyou old plague? I'll make you smart. If one stands onceremony with fellows like you one may as well walk. Do you hearyou olddragon? Or don't you care a hang what we say? "
And Iona hears rather than feels a slap on the back of his neck.
"He-he! . . . " he laughs. "Merry gentlemen . . . . God giveyou health!"
"Cabmanare you married?" asks one of the tall ones.
"I? He he! Me-er-ry gentlemen. The only wife for me now is the dampearth. . . . He-ho-ho!. . . .The grave that is! . . . Here my son's dead and Iam alive. . . . It's a strange thingdeath has come in at the wrong door. . . .Instead of coming for me it went for my son. . . ."
And Iona turns round to tell them how his son diedbut at that point thehunchback gives a faint sigh and announces thatthank God! they have arrived atlast. After taking his twenty kopecksIona gazes for a long while after therevelerswho disappear into a dark entry. Again he is alone and again there issilence for him. . . . The misery which has been for a brief space eased comesback again and tears his heart more cruelly than ever. With a look of anxietyand suffering Iona's eyes stray restlessly among the crowds moving to and fro onboth sides of the street: can he not find among those thousands someone who willlisten to him? But the crowds flit by heedless of him and his misery. . . . Hismisery is immensebeyond all bounds. If Iona's heart were to burst and hismisery to flow outit would flood the whole worldit seemsbut yet it is notseen. It has found a hiding-place in such an insignificant shell that one wouldnot have found it with a candle by daylight. . . .
Iona sees a house-porter with a parcel and makes up his mind to address him.
"What time will it befriend?" he asks.
"Going on for ten. . . . Why have you stopped here? Drive on!"
Iona drives a few paces awaybends himself doubleand gives himself up tohis misery. He feels it is no good to appeal to people. But before five minuteshave passed he draws himself upshakes his head as though he feels a sharppainand tugs at the reins. . . . He can bear it no longer.
"Back to the yard!" he thinks. "To the yard!"
And his little mareas though she knew his thoughtsfalls to trotting. Anhour and a half later Iona is sitting by a big dirty stove. On the stoveon thefloorand on the benches are people snoring. The air is full of smells andstuffiness. Iona looks at the sleeping figuresscratches himselfand regretsthat he has come home so early. . . .
"I have not earned enough to pay for the oatseven" he thinks."That's why I am so miserable. A man who knows how to do his work. . .who has had enough to eatand whose horse has had enough to eatis always atease. . . ."
In one of the corners a young cabman gets upclears his throat sleepilyandmakes for the water-bucket.
"Want a drink?" Iona asks him.
"May it do you good. . . . But my son is deadmate. . . . Do you hear?This week in the hospital. . . . It's a queer business. . . ."
Iona looks to see the effect produced by his wordsbut he sees nothing. Theyoung man has covered his head over and is already asleep. The old man sighs andscratches himself. . . . Just as the young man had been thirsty for waterhethirsts for speech. His son will soon have been dead a weekand he has notreally talked to anybody yet . . . . He wants to talk of it properlywithdeliberation. . . . He wants to tell how his son was taken illhow he sufferedwhat he said before he diedhow he died. . . . He wants to describe thefuneraland how he went to the hospital to get his son's clothes. He still hashis daughter Anisya in the country. . . . And he wants to talk about her too. .. . Yeshe has plenty to talk about now. His listener ought to sigh and exclaimand lament. . . . It would be even better to talk to women. Though they aresilly creaturesthey blubber at the first word.
"Let's go out and have a look at the mare" Iona thinks."There is always time for sleep. . . . You'll have sleep enoughno fear. .. ."
He puts on his coat and goes into the stables where his mare is standing. Hethinks about oatsabout hayabout the weather. . . . He cannot think about hisson when he is alone. . . . To talk about him with someone is possiblebut tothink of him and picture him is insufferable anguish. . . .
"Are you munching?" Iona asks his mareseeing her shining eyes."Theremunch awaymunch away. . . . Since we have not earned enough foroatswe will eat hay. . . . Yes. . . I have grown too old to drive. . . . Myson ought to be drivingnot I. . . . He was a real cabman. . . . He ought tohave lived. . . ."
Iona is silent for a whileand then he goes on:
"That's how it isold girl. . . . Kuzma Ionitch is gone. . . . He saidgood-by to me. . . . He went and died for no reason. . . . Nowsuppose you hada little coltand you were own mother to that little colt. . . . And all atonce that same little colt went and died. . . . You'd be sorrywouldn't you? .. ."
The little mare muncheslistensand breathes on her master's hands. Iona iscarried away and tells her all about it.
A WAYFARER'S STORY
IN the year in which my story begins I had a job at a little station on oneof our southwestern railways. Whether I had a gay or a dull life at the stationyou can judge from the fact that for fifteen miles round there was not one humanhabitationnot one womannot one decent tavern; and in those days I was youngstronghot-headedgiddyand foolish. The only distraction I could possiblyfind was in the windows of the passenger trainsand in the vile vodka which theJews drugged with thorn-apple. Sometimes there would be a glimpse of a woman'shead at a carriage windowand one would stand like a statue without breathingand stare at it until the train turned into an almost invisible speck; or onewould drink all one could of the loathsome vodka till one was stupefied and didnot feel the passing of the long hours and days. Upon mea native of the norththe steppe produced the effect of a deserted Tatar cemetery. In the summerthe steppe with its solemn calmthe monotonous chur of the grasshoppersthetransparent moonlight from which one could not hidereduced me to listlessmelancholy; and in the winter the irreproachable whiteness of the steppeitscold distancelong nightsand howling wolves oppressed me like a heavynightmare. There were several people living at the station: my wife and Iadeaf and scrofulous telegraph clerkand three watchmen. My assistanta youngman who was in consumptionused to go for treatment to the townwhere hestayed for months at a timeleaving his duties to me together with the right ofpocketing his salary. I had no childrenno cake would have tempted visitors tocome and see meand I could only visit other officials on the lineand that nooftener than once a month.
I remember my wife and I saw the New Year in. We sat at tablechewed lazilyand heard the deaf telegraph clerk monotonously tapping on his apparatus in thenext room. I had already drunk five glasses of drugged vodkaandpropping myheavy head on my fistthought of my overpowering boredom from which there wasno escapewhile my wife sat beside me and did not take her eyes off me. Shelooked at me as no one can look but a woman who has nothing in this world but ahandsome husband. She loved me madlyslavishlyand not merely my good looksor my soulbut my sinsmy ill-humor and boredomand even my cruelty whenindrunken furynot knowing how to vent my ill-humorI tormented her withreproaches.
In spite of the boredom which was consuming mewe were preparing to see theNew Year in with exceptional festivenessand were awaiting midnight with someimpatience. The fact iswe had in reserve two bottles of champagnethe realthingwith the label of Veuve Clicquot; this treasure I had won the previousautumn in a bet with the station-master of D. when I was drinking with him at achristening. It sometimes happens during a lesson in mathematicswhen the veryair is still with boredoma butterfly flutters into the class-room; the boystoss their heads and begin watching its flight with interestas though they sawbefore them not a butterfly but something new and strange; in the same wayordinary champagnechancing to come into our dreary stationroused us. We satin silence looking alternately at the clock and at the bottles.
When the hands pointed to five minutes to twelve I slowly began uncorking abottle. I don't know whether I was affected by the vodkaor whether the bottlewas wetbut all I remember is that when the cork flew up to the ceiling with abangmy bottle slipped out of my hands and fell on the floor. Not more than aglass of the wine was spiltas I managed to catch the bottle and put my thumbover the foaming neck.
"Wellmay the New Year bring you happiness!" I saidfilling twoglasses. "Drink!"
My wife took her glass and fixed her frightened eyes on me. Her face was paleand wore a look of horror.
"Did you drop the bottle?" she asked.
"Yes. But what of that?"
"It's unlucky" she saidputting down her glass and turning palerstill. "It's a bad omen. It means that some misfortune will happen to usthis year."
"What a silly thing you are" I sighed. "You are a cleverwomanand yet you talk as much nonsense as an old nurse. Drink."
"God grant it is nonsensebut . . . something is sure to happen! You'llsee."
She did not even sip her glassshe moved away and sank into thought. Iuttered a few stale commonplaces about superstitiondrank half a bottlepacedup and downand then went out of the room.
Outside there was the still frosty night in all its coldinhospitablebeauty. The moon and two white fluffy clouds beside it hung just over thestationmotionless as though glued to the spotand looked as though waitingfor something. A faint transparent light came from them and touched the whiteearth softlyas though afraid of wounding her modestyand lighted upeverything -- the snowdriftsthe embankment. . . . It was still.
I walked along the railway embankment.
"Silly woman" I thoughtlooking at the sky spangled withbrilliant stars. "Even if one admits that omens sometimes tell the truthwhat evil can happen to us? The misfortunes we have endured alreadyand whichare facing us noware so great that it is difficult to imagine anything worse.What further harm can you do a fish which has been caught and fried and servedup with sauce?"
A poplar covered with hoar frost looked in the bluish darkness like a giantwrapt in a shroud. It looked at me sullenly and dejectedlyas though like me itrealized its loneliness. I stood a long while looking at it.
"My youth is thrown away for nothinglike a useless cigaretteend" I went on musing. "My parents died when I was a little child; Iwas expelled from the high schoolI was born of a noble familybut I havereceived neither education nor breedingand I have no more knowledge than thehumblest mechanic. I have no refugeno relationsno friendsno work I like. Iam not fitted for anythingand in the prime of my powers I am good for nothingbut to be stuffed into this little station; I have known nothing but trouble andfailure all my life. What can happen worse?"
Red lights came into sight in the distance. A train was moving towards me.The slumbering steppe listened to the sound of it. My thoughts were so bitterthat it seemed to me that I was thinking aloud and that the moan of thetelegraph wire and the rumble of the train were expressing my thoughts.
"What can happen worse? The loss of my wife?" I wondered."Even that is not terrible. It's no good hiding it from my conscience: Idon't love my wife. I married her when I was only a wretched boy; now I am youngand vigorousand she has gone off and grown older and sillierstuffed from herhead to her heels with conventional ideas. What charm is there in her maudlinlovein her hollow chestin her lusterless eyes? I put up with herbut Idon't love her. What can happen? My youth is being wastedas the saying isfora pinch of snuff. Women flit before my eyes only in the carriage windowslikefalling stars. Love I never had and have not. My manhoodmy couragemy powerof feeling are going to ruin. . . . Everything is being thrown away like dirtand all my wealth here in the steppe is not worth a farthing."
The train rushed past me with a roar and indifferently cast the glow of itsred lights upon me. I saw it stop by the green lights of the stationstop for aminute and rumble off again. After walking a mile and a half I went back.Melancholy thoughts haunted me still. Painful as it was to meyet I remember Itried as it were to make my thoughts still gloomier and more melancholy. Youknow people who are vain and not very clever have moments when the consciousnessthat they are miserable affords them positive satisfactionand they even coquetwith their misery for their own entertainment. There was a great deal of truthin what I thoughtbut there was also a great deal that was absurd andconceitedand there was something boyishly defiant in my question: "Whatcould happen worse?"
"And what is there to happen?" I asked myself. "I think I haveendured everything. I've been illI've lost moneyI get reprimanded by mysuperiors every dayand I go hungryand a mad wolf has run into the stationyard. What more is there? I have been insultedhumiliated. . . and I haveinsulted others in my time. I have not been a criminalit is truebut I don'tthink I am capable of crime -- I am not afraid of being hauled up for it."
The two little clouds had moved away from the moon and stood at a littledistancelooking as though they were whispering about something which the moonmust not know. A light breeze was racing across the steppebringing the faintrumble of the retreating train.
My wife met me at the doorway. Her eyes were laughing gaily and her wholeface was beaming with good-humor.
"There is news for you!" she whispered. "Make hastego toyour room and put on your new coat; we have a visitor."
"Aunt Natalya Petrovna has just come by the train."
"What Natalya Petrovna?"
"The wife of my uncle Semyon Fyodoritch. You don't know her. She is avery nicegood woman."
Probably I frownedfor my wife looked grave and whispered rapidly:
"Of course it is queer her having comebut don't be crossNikolayanddon't be hard on her. She is unhappyyou know; Uncle Semyon Fyodoritch reallyis ill-natured and tyrannicalit is difficult to live with him. She says shewill only stay three days with usonly till she gets a letter from herbrother."
My wife whispered a great deal more nonsense to me about her despotic uncle;about the weakness of mankind in general and of young wives in particular; aboutits being our duty to give shelter to alleven great sinnersand so on. Unableto make head or tail of itI put on my new coat and went to make acquaintancewith my "aunt."
A little woman with large black eyes was sitting at the table. My tablethegray wallsmy roughly-made sofaeverything to the tiniest grain of dust seemedto have grown younger and more cheerful in the presence of this newyoungbeautifuland dissolute creaturewho had a most subtle perfume about her. Andthat our visitor was a lady of easy virtue I could see from her smilefrom herscentfrom the peculiar way in which she glanced and made play with hereyelashesfrom the tone in which she talked with my wife -- a respectablewoman. There was no need to tell me she had run away from her husbandthat herhusband was old and despoticthat she was good-natured and lively; I took itall in at the first glance. Indeedit is doubtful whether there is a man in allEurope who cannot spot at the first glance a woman of a certain temperament.
"I did not know I had such a big nephew!" said my auntholding outher hand to me and smiling.
"And I did not know I had such a pretty aunt" I answered.
Supper began over again. The cork flew with a bang out of the second bottleand my aunt swallowed half a glassful at a gulpand when my wife went out ofthe room for a moment my aunt did not scruple to drain a full glass. I was drunkboth with the wine and with the presence of a woman. Do you remember the song?
"Eyes black as pitcheyes full of passion
Eyes burning bright and beautiful
How I love you
How I fear you!"
I don't remember what happened next. Anyone who wants to know how love beginsmay read novels and long stories; I will put it shortly and in the words of thesame silly song:
"It was an evil hour
When first I met you."
Everything went head over heels to the devil. I remember a fearfulfranticwhirlwind which sent me flying round like a feather. It lasted a long whileandswept from the face of the earth my wife and my aunt herself and my strength.From the little station in the steppe it has flung meas you seeinto thisdark street.
Now tell me what further evil can happen to me?
AFTER THE THEATRE
NADYA ZELENIN had just come back with her mamma from the theatre where shehad seen a performance of "Yevgeny Onyegin." As soon as she reachedher own room she threw off her dresslet down her hairand in her petticoatand white dressing-jacket hastily sat down to the table to write a letter likeTatyana's.
"I love you" she wrote"but you do not love medo not loveme!"
She wrote it and laughed.
She was only sixteen and did not yet love anyone. She knew that an officercalled Gorny and a student called Gruzdev loved herbut now after the opera shewanted to be doubtful of their love. To be unloved and unhappy -- howinteresting that was. There is something beautifultouchingand poetical aboutit when one loves and the other is indifferent. Onyegin was interesting becausehe was not in love at alland Tatyana was fascinating because she was so muchin love; but if they had been equally in love with each other and had beenhappythey would perhaps have seemed dull.
"Leave off declaring that you love me" Nadya went on writingthinking of Gorny. "I cannot believe it. You are very clevercultivatedseriousyou have immense talentand perhaps a brilliant future awaits youwhile I am an uninteresting girl of no importanceand you know very well that Ishould be only a hindrance in your life. It is true that you were attracted byme and thought you had found your ideal in mebut that was a mistakeand nowyou are asking yourself in despair: 'Why did I meet that girl?' And only yourgoodness of heart prevents you from owning it to yourself. . . ."
Nadya felt sorry for herselfshe began to cryand went on:
"It is hard for me to leave my mother and my brotheror I should take anun's veil and go whither chance may lead me. And you would be left free andwould love another. Ohif I were dead! "
She could not make out what she had written through her tears; littlerainbows were quivering on the tableon the flooron the ceilingas thoughshe were looking through a prism. She could not writeshe sank back in hereasy-chair and fell to thinking of Gorny.
My God! how interestinghow fascinating men were! Nadya recalled the fineexpressioningratiatingguiltyand softwhich came into the officer's facewhen one argued about music with himand the effort he made to prevent hisvoice from betraying his passion. In a society where cold haughtiness andindifference are regarded as signs of good breeding and gentlemanly bearingonemust conceal one's passions. And he did try to conceal thembut he did notsucceedand everyone knew very well that he had a passionate love of music. Theendless discussions about music and the bold criticisms of people who knewnothing about it kept him always on the strain; he was frightenedtimidandsilent. He played the piano magnificentlylike a professional pianistand ifhe had not been in the army he would certainly have been a famous musician.
The tears on her eyes dried. Nadya remembered that Gorny had declared hislove at a Symphony concertand again downstairs by the hatstand where there wasa tremendous draught blowing in all directions.
"I am very glad that you have at last made the acquaintance of Gruzdevour student friend" she went on writing. "He is a very clever manand you will be sure to like him. He came to see us yesterday and stayed tilltwo o'clock. We were all delighted with himand I regretted that you had notcome. He said a great deal that was remarkable."
Nadya laid her arms on the table and leaned her head on themand her haircovered the letter. She recalled that the studenttooloved herand that hehad as much right to a letter from her as Gorny. Wouldn't it be better after allto write to Gruzdev? There was a stir of joy in her bosom for no reasonwhatever; at first the joy was smalland rolled in her bosom like anindia-rubber ball; then it became more massivebiggerand rushed like a wave.Nadya forgot Gorny and Gruzdev; her thoughts were in a tangle and her joy grewand grew; from her bosom it passed into her arms and legsand it seemed asthough a lightcool breeze were breathing on her head and ruffling her hair.Her shoulders quivered with subdued laughterthe table and the lamp chimneyshooktooand tears from her eyes splashed on the letter. She could not stoplaughingand to prove to herself that she was not laughing about nothing shemade haste to think of something funny.
"What a funny poodle" she saidfeeling as though she would chokewith laughter. "What a funny poodle! "
She thought howafter tea the evening beforeGruzdev had played with Maximthe poodleand afterwards had told them about a very intelligent poodle who hadrun after a crow in the yardand the crow had looked round at him and said:"Ohyou scamp! "
The poodlenot knowing he had to do with a learned crowwas fearfullyconfused and retreated in perplexitythen began barking. . . .
"NoI had better love Gruzdev" Nadya decidedand she tore up theletter to Gorny.
She fell to thinking of the studentof his loveof her love; but thethoughts in her head insisted on flowing in all directionsand she thoughtabout everything -- about her motherabout the streetabout the pencilaboutthe piano. . . . She thought of them joyfullyand felt that everything wasgoodsplendidand her joy told her that this was not allthat in a littlewhile it would be better still. Soon it would be springsummergoing with hermother to Gorbiki. Gorny would come for his furloughwould walk about thegarden with her and make love to her. Gruzdev would come too. He would playcroquet and skittles with herand would tell her wonderful things. She had apassionate longing for the gardenthe darknessthe pure skythe stars. Againher shoulders shook with laughterand it seemed to her that there was a scentof wormwood in the room and that a twig was tapping at the window.
She went to her bedsat downand not knowing what to do with the immensejoy which filled her with yearningshe looked at the holy image hanging at theback of her bedand said:
"OhLord God! OhLord God!"
A LADY'S STORY
NINE years ago Pyotr Sergeyitchthe deputy prosecutorand I were ridingtowards evening in hay-making time to fetch the letters from the station.
The weather was magnificentbut on our way back we heard a peal of thunderand saw an angry black storm-cloud which was coming straight towards us. Thestorm-cloud was approaching us and we were approaching it.
Against the background of it our house and church looked white and the tallpoplars shone like silver. There was a scent of rain and mown hay. My companionwas in high spirits. He kept laughing and talking all sorts of nonsense. He saidit would be nice if we could suddenly come upon a medieval castle with turretedtowerswith moss on it and owlsin which we could take shelter from the rainand in the end be killed by a thunderbolt. . . .
Then the first wave raced through the rye and a field of oatsthere was agust of windand the dust flew round and round in the air. Pyotr Sergeyitchlaughed and spurred on his horse.
"It's fine!" he cried"it's splendid!"
Infected by his gaietyI too began laughing at the thought that in a minuteI should be drenched to the skin and might be struck by lightning.
Riding swiftly in a hurricane when one is breathless with the windand feelslike a birdthrills one and puts one's heart in a flutter. By the time we rodeinto our courtyard the wind had gone downand big drops of rain were patteringon the grass and on the roofs. There was not a soul near the stable.
Pyotr Sergeyitch himself took the bridles offand led the horses to theirstalls. I stood in the doorway waiting for him to finishand watching theslanting streaks of rain; the sweetishexciting scent of hay was even strongerhere than in the fields; the storm-clouds and the rain made it almost twilight.
"What a crash!" said Pyotr Sergeyitchcoming up to me after a veryloud rolling peal of thunder when it seemed as though the sky were split in two."What do you say to that?"
He stood beside me in the doorway andstill breathless from his rapid ridelooked at me. I could see that he was admiring me.
"Natalya Vladimirovna" he said"I would give anything onlyto stay here a little longer and look at you. You are lovely to-day."
His eyes looked at me with delight and supplicationhis face was pale. Onhis beard and mustache were glittering raindropsand theytooseemed to belooking at me with love.
"I love you" he said. "I love youand I am happy at seeingyou. I know you cannot be my wifebut I want nothingI ask nothing; only knowthat I love you. Be silentdo not answer metake no notice of itbut onlyknow that you are dear to me and let me look at you."
His rapture affected me too; I looked at his enthusiastic facelistened tohis voice which mingled with the patter of the rainand stood as thoughspellboundunable to stir.
I longed to go on endlessly looking at his shining eyes and listening.
"You say nothingand that is splendid" said Pyotr Sergeyitch."Go on being silent."
I felt happy. I laughed with delight and ran through the drenching rain tothe house; he laughed tooandleaping as he wentran after me.
Both drenchedpantingnoisily clattering up the stairs like childrenwedashed into the room. My father and brotherwho were not used to seeing melaughing and light-heartedlooked at me in surprise and began laughing too.
The storm-clouds had passed over and the thunder had ceasedbut theraindrops still glittered on Pyotr Sergeyitch's beard. The whole evening tillsupper-time he was singingwhistlingplaying noisily with the dog and racingabout the room after itso that he nearly upset the servant with the samovar.And at supper he ate a great dealtalked nonsenseand maintained that when oneeats fresh cucumbers in winter there is the fragrance of spring in one's mouth.
When I went to bed I lighted a candle and threw my window wide openand anundefined feeling took possession of my soul. I remembered that I was free andhealthythat I had rank and wealththat I was beloved; above allthat I hadrank and wealthrank and wealthmy God! how nice that was! . . . Thenhuddling up in bed at a touch of cold which reached me from the garden with thedewI tried to discover whether I loved Pyotr Sergeyitch or not. . . and fellasleep unable to reach any conclusion.
And when in the morning I saw quivering patches of sunlight and the shadowsof the lime trees on my bedwhat had happened yesterday rose vividly in mymemory. Life seemed to me richvariedfull of charm. HummingI dressedquickly and went out into the garden. . . .
And what happened afterwards? Why -- nothing. In the winter when we lived intown Pyotr Sergeyitch came to see us from time to time. Country acquaintancesare charming only in the country and in summer; in the town and in winter theylose their charm. When you pour out tea for them in the town it seems as thoughthey are wearing other people's coatsand as though they stirred their tea toolong. In the towntooPyotr Sergeyitch spoke sometimes of lovebut the effectwas not at all the same as in the country. In the town we were more vividlyconscious of the wall that stood between us. I had rank and wealthwhile he waspoorand he was not even a noblemanbut only the son of a deacon and a deputypublic prosecutor; we both of us -- I through my youth and he for some unknownreason -- thought of that wall as very high and thickand when he was with usin the town he would criticize aristocratic society with a forced smileandmaintain a sullen silence when there was anyone else in the drawing-room. Thereis no wall that cannot be broken throughbut the heroes of the modern romanceso far as I know themare too timidspiritlesslazyand oversensitiveandare too ready to resign themselves to the thought that they are doomed tofailurethat personal life has disappointed them; instead of struggling theymerely criticizecalling the world vulgar and forgetting that their criticismpasses little by little into vulgarity.
I was lovedhappiness was not far awayand seemed to be almost touching me;I went on living in careless ease without trying to understand myselfnotknowing what I expected or what I wanted from lifeand time went on and on. . .. People passed by me with their lovebright days and warm nights flashed bythe nightingales sangthe hay smelt fragrantand all thissweet andoverwhelming in remembrancepassed with me as with everyone rapidlyleaving notracewas not prizedand vanished like mist. . . . Where is it all?
My father is deadI have grown older; everything that delighted mecaressedmegave me hope -- the patter of the rainthe rolling of the thunderthoughtsof happinesstalk of love -- all that has become nothing but a memoryand Isee before me a flat desert dist ance; on the plain not one living souland outthere on the horizon it is dark and terrible. . . .
A ring at the bell. . . . It is Pyotr Sergeyitch. When in the winter I seethe trees and remember how green they were for me in the summer I whisper:
And when I see people with whom I spent my spring-timeI feel sorrowful andwarm and whisper the same thing.
He has long ago by my father's good offices been transferred to town. Helooks a little oldera little fallen away. He has long given up declaring hislovehas left off talking nonsensedislikes his official workis ill in someway and disillusioned; he has given up trying to get anything out of lifeandtakes no interest in living. Now he has sat down by the hearth and looks insilence at the fire. . . .
Not knowing what to say I ask him:
"Wellwhat have you to tell me?"
"Nothing" he answers.
And silence again. The red glow of the fire plays about his melancholy face.
I thought of the pastand all at once my shoulders began quiveringmy headdroppedand I began weeping bitterly. I felt unbearably sorry for myself andfor this manand passionately longed for what had passed away and what liferefused us now. And now I did not think about rank and wealth.
I broke into loud sobspressing my templesand muttered:
"My God! my God! my life is wasted!"
And he sat and was silentand did not say to me: "Don't weep." Heunderstood that I must weepand that the time for this had come.
I saw from his eyes that he was sorry for me; and I was sorry for himtooand vexed with this timidunsuccessful man who could not make a life for menor for himself.
When I saw him to the doorhe wasI fanciedpurposely a long while puttingon his coat. Twice he kissed my hand without a wordand looked a long whileinto my tear-stained face. I believe at that moment he recalled the stormthestreaks of rainour laughtermy face that day; he longed to say something tomeand he would have been glad to say it; but he said nothinghe merely shookhis head and pressed my hand. God help him!
After seeing him outI went back to my study and again sat on the carpetbefore the fireplace; the red embers were covered with ash and began to growdim. The frost tapped still more angrily at the windowsand the wind droned inthe chimney.
The maid came in andthinking I was asleepcalled my name.
OLD SEMYONnicknamed Cannyand a young Tatarwhom no one knew by namewere sitting on the river-bank by the camp-fire; the other three ferrymen werein the hut. Semyonan old man of sixtylean and toothlessbut broadshouldered and still healthy-lookingwas drunk; he would have gone in to sleeplong beforebut he had a bottle in his pocket and he was afraid that thefellows in the hut would ask him for vodka. The Tatar was ill and wearyandwrapping himself up in his rags was describing how nice it was in the Simbirskprovinceand what a beautiful and clever wife he had left behind at home. Hewas not more than twenty fiveand now by the light of the camp-firewith hispale and sickmournful facehe looked like a boy.
"To be sureit is not paradise here" said Canny. "You cansee for yourselfthe waterthe bare banksclayand nothing else. . . .Easter has long passed and yet there is ice on the riverand this morning therewas snow. . ."
"It's bad! it's bad!" said the Tatarand looked round him interror.
The darkcold river was flowing ten paces away; it grumbledlapped againstthe hollow clay banks and raced on swiftly towards the far-away sea. Close tothe bank there was the dark blur of a big bargewhich the ferrymen called a"karbos." Far away on the further banklightsdying down andflickering up againzigzagged like little snakes; they were burning last year'sgrass. And beyond the little snakes there was darkness again. There littleicicles could be heard knocking against the barge It was damp and cold. . . .
The Tatar glanced at the sky. There were as many stars as at homeand thesame blackness all roundbut something was lacking. At home in the Simbirskprovince the stars were quite differentand so was the sky.
"It's bad! it's bad!" he repeated.
"You will get used to it" said Semyonand he laughed. "Nowyou are young and foolishthe milk is hardly dry on your lipsand it seems toyou in your foolishness that you are more wretched than anyone; but the timewill come when you will say to yourself: 'I wish no one a better life thanmine.' You look at me. Within a week the floods will be over and we shall set upthe ferry; you will all go wandering off about Siberia while I shall stay andshall begin going from bank to bank. I've been going like that for twenty-twoyearsday and night. The pike and the salmon are under the water while I am onthe water. And thank God for itI want nothing; God give everyone such alife."
The Tatar threw some dry twigs on the camp-firelay down closer to theblazeand said:
"My father is a sick man. When he dies my mother and wife will comehere. They have promised."
"And what do you want your wife and mother for?" asked Canny."That's mere foolishnessmy lad. It's the devil confounding youdamn hissoul! Don't you listen to himthe cursed one. Don't let him have his way. He isat you about the womenbut you spite him; say'I don't want them!' He is on atyou about freedombut you stand up to him and say: 'I don't want it!' I wantnothingneither father nor mothernor wifenor freedomnor postnorpaddock; I want nothingdamn their souls!"
Semyon took a pull at the bottle and went on:
"I am not a simple peasantnot of the working classbut the son of adeaconand when I was free I lived at Kursk; I used to wear a frockcoatandnow I have brought myself to such a pass that I can sleep naked on the groundand eat grass. And I wish no one a better life. I want nothing and I am afraidof nobodyand the way I look at it is that there is nobody richer and freerthan I am. When they sent me here from Russia from the first day I stuck it out;I want nothing! The devil was at me about my wife and about my home and aboutfreedombut I told him: 'I want nothing.' I stuck to itand here you see Ilive welland I don't complainand if anyone gives way to the devil andlistens to himif but oncehe is lostthere is no salvation for him: he issunk in the bog to the crown of his head and will never get out.
"It is not only a foolish peasant like youbut even gentlemenwell-educated peopleare lost. Fifteen years ago they sent a gentleman herefrom Russia. He hadn't shared something with his brothers and had forgedsomething in a will. They did say he was a prince or a baronbut maybe he wassimply an official -- who knows? Wellthe gentleman arrived hereand firstthing he bought himself a house and land in Muhortinskoe. 'I want to live by myown work' says he'in the sweat of my browfor I am not a gentleman now'says he'but a settler.' 'Well' says I'God help youthat's the rightthing.' He was a young man thenbusy and careful; he used to mow himself andcatch fish and ride sixty miles on horseback. Only this is what happened: fromthe very first year he took to riding to Gyrino for the post; he used to standon my ferry and sigh: 'EchSemyonhow long it is since they sent me any moneyfrom home!' 'You don't want moneyVassily Sergeyitch' says I. 'What use is itto you? You cast away the pastand forget it as though it had never been atallas though it had been a dreamand begin to live anew. Don't listen to thedevil' says I; 'he will bring you to no goodhe'll draw you into a snare. Nowyou want money' says I' but in a very little while you'll be wantingsomething elseand then more and more. If you want to be happy' says Ithechief thing is not to want anything. Yes. . . . If' says I'if Fate haswronged you and me cruelly it's no good asking for her favor and bowing down toherbut you despise her and laugh at heror else she will laugh at you.'That's what I said to him. . . .
"Two years later I ferried him across to this sideand he was rubbinghis hands and laughing. ' I am going to Gyrino to meet my wife' says he. 'Shewas sorry for me' says he; 'she has come. She is good and kind.' And he wasbreathless with joy. So a day later he came with his wife. A beautiful younglady in a hat; in her arms was a baby girl. And lots of luggage of all sorts.And my Vassily Sergeyitch was fussing round her; he couldn't take his eyes offher and couldn't say enough in praise of her. 'Yesbrother Semyoneven inSiberia people can live!' 'Ohall right' thinks I'it will be a differenttale presently.' And from that time forward he went almost every week to inquirewhether money had not come from Russia. He wanted a lot of money. 'She is losingher youth and beauty here in Siberia for my sake' says he'and sharing mybitter lot with meand so I ought' says he'to provide her with everycomfort. . . .'
"To make it livelier for the lady he made acquaintance with theofficials and all sorts of riff-raff. And of course he had to give food anddrink to all that crewand there had to be a piano and a shaggy lapdog on thesofa -- plague take it! . . . Luxuryin factself-indulgence. The lady did notstay with him long. How could she? The claythe waterthe coldno vegetablesfor youno fruit. All around you ignorant and drunken people and no sort ofmannersand she was a spoilt lady from Petersburg or Moscow. . . . To be sureshe moped. Besidesher husbandsay what you likewas not a gentleman nowbuta settler -- not the same rank.
"Three years laterI rememberon the eve of the Assumptionthere wasshouting from the further bank. I went over with the ferryand what do I seebut the ladyall wrapped upand with her a young gentlemanan official. Asledge with three horses. . . . I ferried them across herethey got in and awaylike the wind. They were soon lost to sight. And towards morning VassilySergeyitch galloped down to the ferry. 'Didn't my wife come this way with agentleman in spectaclesSemyon?' 'She did' said I; 'you may look for the windin the fields!' He galloped in pursuit of them. For five days and nights he wasriding after them. When I ferried him over to the other side afterwardsheflung himself on the ferry and beat his head on the boards of the ferry andhowled. 'So that's how it is' says I. I laughedand reminded him 'people canlive even in Siberia!' And he beat his head harder than ever. . . .
"Then he began longing for freedom. His wife had slipped off to Russiaand of course he was drawn there to see her and to get her away from her lover.And he tookmy ladto galloping almost every dayeither to the post or thetown to see the commanding officer; he kept sending in petitions for them tohave mercy on him and let him go back home; and he used to say that he had spentsome two hundred roubles on telegrams alone. He sold his land and mortgaged hishouse to the Jews. He grew gray and bentand yellow in the faceas though hewas in consumption. If he talked to you he would gokhee -- khee -- khee. . .and there were tears in his eyes. He kept rushing about like this with petitionsfor eight yearsbut now he has grown brighter and more cheerful again: he hasfound another whim to give way to. You seehis daughter has grown up. He looksat herand she is the apple of his eye. And to tell the truth she is all rightgood-lookingwith black eyebrows and a lively disposition. Every Sunday he usedto ride with her to church in Gyrino. They used to stand on the ferryside bysideshe would laugh and he could not take his eyes off her. 'YesSemyon'says he'people can live even in Siberia. Even in Siberia there is happiness.Look' says he'what a daughter I have got! I warrant you wouldn't find anotherlike her for a thousand versts round.' 'Your daughter is all right' says I'that's truecertainly.' But to myself I thought: 'Wait a bitthe wench isyoungher blood is dancingshe wants to liveand there is no life here.' Andshe did begin to pinemy lad. . . . She faded and fadedand now she can hardlycrawl about. Consumption.
"So you see what Siberian happiness isdamn its soul! You see howpeople can live in Siberia. . . . He has taken to going from one doctor toanother and taking them home with him. As soon as he hears that two or threehundred miles away there is a doctor or a sorcererhe will drive to fetch him.A terrible lot of money he spent on doctorsand to my thinking he had betterhave spent the money on drink. . . . She'll die just the same. She is certain todieand then it will be all over with him. He'll hang himself from grief or runaway to Russia -- that's a sure thing. He'll run away and they'll catch himthen he will be triedsent to prisonhe will have a taste of the lash. . .."
"Good! good!" said the Tatarshivering with cold.
"What is good?" asked Canny.
"His wifehis daughter. . . . What of prison and what of sorrow! --anywayhe did see his wife and his daughter. . . . You saywant nothing. But'nothing' is bad! His wife lived with him three years -- that was a gift fromGod. 'Nothing' is badbut three years is good. How not understand?"
Shivering and hesitatingwith effort picking out the Russian words of whichhe knew but fewthe Tatar said that God forbid one should fall sick and die ina strange landand be buried in the cold and dark earth; that if his wife cameto him for one dayeven for one hourthat for such happiness he would be readyto bear any suffering and to thank God. Better one day of happiness thannothing.
Then he described again what a beautiful and clever wife he had left at home.Thenclutching his head in both handshe began crying and assuring Semyon thathe was not guiltyand was suffering for nothing. His two brothers and an unclehad carried off a peasant's horsesand had beaten the old man till he was halfdeadand the commune had not judged fairlybut had contrived a sentence bywhich all the three brothers were sent to Siberiawhile the unclea rich manwas left at home.
"You will get used to it!" said Semyon.
The Tatar was silentand stared with tear-stained eyes at the fire; his faceexpressed bewilderment and fearas though he still did not understand why hewas here in the darkness and the wetbeside strangersand not in the Simbirskprovince.
Canny lay near the firechuckled at somethingand began humming a song inan undertone.
"What joy has she with her father?" he said a little later."He loves her and he rejoices in herthat's true; butmateyou must mindyour ps and qs with himhe is a strict old mana harsh old man. And youngwenches don't want strictness. They want petting and ha-ha-ha! and ho-ho-ho! andscent and pomade. Yes. . . . Ech! lifelife" sighed Semyonand he got upheavily. "The vodka is all goneso it is time to sleep. Eh? I am goingmylad. . . ."
Left alonethe Tatar put on more twigslay down and stared at the fire; hebegan thinking of his own village and of his wife. If his wife could only comefor a monthfor a day; and then if she liked she might go back again. Better amonth or even a day than nothing. But if his wife kept her promise and camewhat would he have to feed her on? Where could she live here?
"If there were not something to eathow could she live?" the Tatarasked aloud.
He was paid only ten kopecks for working all day and all night at the oar; itis true that travelers gave him tips for tea and for vodkas but the men sharedall they received among themselvesand gave nothing to the Tatarbut onlylaughed at him. And from poverty he was hungrycoldand frightened. . . . Nowwhen his whole body was aching and shiveringhe ought to go into the hut andlie down to sleep; but he had nothing to cover him thereand it was colder thanon the river-bank; here he had nothing to cover him eitherbut at least hecould make up the fire. . . .
In another weekwhen the floods were quite ov er and they set the ferrygoingnone of the ferrymen but Semyon would be wantedand the Tatar wouldbegin going from village to village begging for alms and for work. His wife wasonly seventeen; she was beautifulspoiltand shy; could she possibly go fromvillage to village begging alms with her face unveiled? Noit was terrible evento think of that. . . .
It was already getting light; the bargethe bushes of willow on the waterand the waves could be clearly discernedand if one looked round there was thesteep clay slope; at the bottom of it the hut thatched with dingy brown strawand the huts of the village lay clustered higher up. The cocks were alreadycrowing in the village.
The rusty red clay slopethe bargethe riverthe strangeunkind peoplehungercoldillnessperhaps all that was not real. Most likely it was all adreamthought the Tatar. He felt that he was asleep and heard his own snoring.. . . Of course he was at home in the Simbirsk provinceand he had only to callhis wife by name for her to answer; and in the next room was his mother. . . .What terrible dreams there arethough! What are they for? The Tatar smiled andopened his eyes. What river was thisthe Volga?
Snow was falling.
"Boat!" was shouted on the further side. "Boat!"
The Tatar woke upand went to wake his mates and row over to the other side.The ferrymen came on to the river-bankputting on their torn sheepskins as theywalkedswearing with voices husky from sleepiness and shivering from the cold.On waking from their sleepthe riverfrom which came a breath of piercingcoldseemed to strike them as revolting and horrible. They jumped into thebarge without hurrying themselves. . . . The Tatar and the three ferrymen tookthe longbroad-bladed oarswhich in the darkness looked like the claws ofcrabs; Semyon leaned his stomach against the tiller. The shout on the other sidestill continuedand two shots were fired from a revolverprobably with theidea that the ferrymen were asleep or had gone to the pot-house in the village.
"All rightyou have plenty of time" said Semyon in the tone of aman convinced that there was no necessity in this world to hurry -- that itwould lead to nothinganyway.
The heavyclumsy barge moved away from the bank and floated between thewillow-bushesand only the willows slowly moving back showed that the barge wasnot standing still but moving. The ferrymen swung the oars evenly in time;Semyon lay with his stomach on the tiller anddescribing a semicircle in theairflew from one side to the other. In the darkness it looked as though themen were sitting on some antediluvian animal with long pawsand were moving onit through a colddesolate landthe land of which one sometimes dreams innightmares.
They passed beyond the willows and floated out into the open. The creak andregular splash of the oars was heard on the further shoreand a shout came:"Make haste! make haste!"
Another ten minutes passedand the barge banged heavily against thelanding-stage.
"And it keeps sprinkling and sprinkling" muttered Semyonwipingthe snow from his face; "and where it all comes from God only knows."
On the bank stood a thin man of medium height in a jacket lined with fox furand in a white lambskin cap. He was standing at a little distance from hishorses and not moving; he had a gloomyconcentrated expressionas though hewere trying to remember something and angry with his untrustworthy memory. WhenSemyon went up to him and took off his capsmilinghe said:
"I am hastening to Anastasyevka. My daughter's worse againand they saythat there is a new doctor at Anastasyevka."
They dragged the carriage on to the barge and floated back. The man whomSemyon addressed as Vassily Sergeyitch stood all the time motionlesstightlycompressing his thick lips and staring off into space; when his coachman askedpermission to smoke in his presence he made no answeras though he had notheard. Semyonlying with his stomach on the tillerlooked mockingly at him andsaid:
"Even in Siberia people can live -- can li-ive!"
There was a triumphant expression on Canny's faceas though he had provedsomething and was delighted that things had happened as he had foretold. Theunhappy helplessness of the man in the foxskin coat evidently afforded him greatpleasure.
"It's muddy driving nowVassily Sergeyitch" he said when thehorses were harnessed again on the bank. "You should have put off going foranother fortnightwhen it will be drier. Or else not have gone at all. . . . Ifany good would come of your going -- but as you know yourselfpeople have beendriving about for years and yearsday and nightand it's alway's been no use.That's the truth."
Vassily Sergeyitch tipped him without a wordgot into his carriage and droveoff.
"Therehe has galloped off for a doctor!" said Semyonshrinkingfrom the cold. "But looking for a good doctor is like chasing the wind inthe fields or catching the devil by the tailplague take your soul! What aqueer chapLord forgive me a sinner!"
The Tatar went up to Cannyandlooking at him with hatred and repulsionshiveringand mixing Tatar words with his broken Russiansaid: "He isgood . . . good; but you are bad! You are bad! The gentleman is a good soulexcellentand you are a beastbad! The gentleman is alivebut you are a deadcarcass. . . . God created man to be aliveand to have joy and grief andsorrow; but you want nothingso you are not aliveyou are stoneclay! A stonewants nothing and you want nothing. You are a stoneand God does not love youbut He loves the gentleman!"
Everyone laughed; the Tatar frowned contemptuouslyand with a wave of hishand wrapped himself in his rags and went to the campfire. The ferrymen andSemyon sauntered to the hut.
"It's cold" said one ferryman huskily as he stretched himself onthe straw with which the damp clay floor was covered.
"Yesits not warm" another assented. "It's a dog's life. . .."
They all lay down. The door was thrown open by the wind and the snow driftedinto the hut; nobody felt inclined to get up and shut the door: they were coldand it was too much trouble.
"I am all right" said Semyon as he began to doze. "I wouldn'twish anyone a better life."
"You are a tough onewe all know. Even the devils won't take you!"
Sounds like a dog's howling came from outside.
"What's that? Who's there?"
"It's the Tatar crying."
"I say. . . . He's a queer one!"
"He'll get u-used to it!" said Semyonand at once fell asleep.
The others were soon asleep too. The door remained unclosed.
THE long goods train has been standing for hours in the little station. Theengine is as silent as though its fire had gone out; there is not a soul nearthe train or in the station yard.
A pale streak of light comes from one of the vans and glides over the railsof a siding. In that van two men are sitting on an outspread cape: one is an oldman with a big gray beardwearing a sheepskin coat and a high lambskin hatsomewhat like a busby; the other a beardless youth in a threadbare cloth reeferjacket and muddy high boots. They are the owners of the goods. The old man sitshis legs stretched out before himmusing in silence; the young man halfreclines and softly strums on a cheap accordion. A lantern with a tallow candlein it is hanging on the wall near them.
The van is quite full. If one glances in through the dim light of thelanternfor the first moment the eyes receive an impression of somethingshapelessmonstrousand unmistakably alivesomething very much like giganticcrabs which move their claws and feelerscrowd togetherand noiselessly climbup the walls to the ceiling; but if one looks more closelyhorns and theirshadowslong lean backsdirty hidestailseyes begin to stand out in thedusk. They are cattle and their shadows. There are eight of them in the van.Some turn round and stare at the men and swing their tails. Others try to standor lie d own more comfortably. They are crowded. If one lies down the othersmust stand and huddle closer. No mangerno halterno litternot a wisp ofhay. . . .*
At last the old man pulls out of his pocket a silver watch and looks at thetime: a quarter past two.
"We have been here nearly two hours" he saysyawning."Better go and stir them upor we may be here till morning. They have goneto sleepor goodness knows what they are up to."
The old man gets up andfollowed by his long shadowcautiously gets downfrom the van into the darkness. He makes his way along beside the train to theengineand after passing some two dozen vans sees a red open furnace; a humanfigure sits motionless facing it; its peaked capnoseand knees are lighted upby the crimson glowall the rest is black and can scarcely be distinguished inthe darkness.
"Are we going to stay here much longer?" asks the old man.
No answer. The motionless figure is evidently asleep. The old man clears histhroat impatiently andshrinking from the penetrating dampwalks round theengineand as he does so the brilliant light of the two engine lamps dazzleshis eyes for an instant and makes the night even blacker to him; he goes to thestation.
The platform and steps of the station are wet. Here and there are whitepatches of freshly fallen melting snow. In the station itself it is light and ashot as a steam-bath. There is a smell of paraffin. Except for theweighing-machine and a yellow seat on which a man wearing a guard's uniform isasleepthere is no furniture in the place at all. On the left are two wide-opendoors. Through one of them the telegraphic apparatus and a lamp with a greenshade on it can be seen; through the othera small roomhalf of it taken up bya dark cupboard. In this room the head guard and the engine-driver are sittingon the window-sill. They are both feeling a cap with their fingers anddisputing.
"That's not real beaverit's imitation" says the engine-driver."Real beaver is not like that. Five roubles would be a high price for thewhole capif you care to know!"
"You know a great deal about it. . ." the head guard saysoffended. "Five roublesindeed! Herewe will ask the merchant. Mr.Malahin" he saysaddressing the old man"what do you say: is thisimitation beaver or real?"
Old Malahin takes the cap into his handand with the air of a connoisseurpinches the furblows on itsniffs at itand a contemptuous smile lights uphis angry face.
"It must be imitation!" he says gleefully. "Imitation itis."
A dispute follows. The guard maintains that the cap is real beaverand theengine-driver and Malahin try to persuade him that it is not. In the middle ofthe argument the old man suddenly remembers the object of his coming.
"Beaver and cap is all very wellbut the train's standing stillgentlemen!" he says. "Who is it we are waiting for? Let usstart!"
"Let us" the guard agrees. "We will smoke another cigaretteand go on. But there is no need to be in a hurry. . . . We shall be delayed atthe next station anyway!"
"Why should we?"
"Ohwell. . . . We are too much behind time. . . . If you are late atone station you can't help being delayed at the other stations to let the trainsgoing the opposite way pass. Whether we set off now or in the morning we shan'tbe number fourteen. We shall have to be number twenty-three."
"And how do you make that out?"
"Wellthere it is."
Malahin looks at the guardreflectsand mutters mechanically as though tohimself:
"God be my judgeI have reckoned it and even jotted it down in anotebook; we have wasted thirty-four hours standing still on the journey. If yougo on like thiseither the cattle will dieor they won't pay me two roublesfor the meat when I do get there. It's not travelingbut ruination."
The guard raises his eyebrows and sighs with an air that seems to say:"All that is unhappily true!" The engine-driver sits silentdreamilylooking at the cap. From their faces one can see that they have a secret thoughtin commonwhich they do not utternot because they want to conceal itbutbecause such thoughts are much better expressed by signs than by words. And theold man understands. He feels in his pockettakes out a ten-rouble noteandwithout preliminary wordswithout any change in the tone of his voice or theexpression of his facebut with the confidence and directness with whichprobably only Russians give and take bribeshe gives the guard the note. Thelatter takes itfolds it in fourand without undue haste puts it in hispocket. After that all three go out of the roomand waking the sleeping guardon the waygo on to the platform.
"What weather!" grumbles the head guardshrugging his shoulders."You can't see your hand before your face."
"Yesit's vile weather."
From the window they can see the flaxen head of the telegraph clerk appearbeside the green lamp and the telegraphic apparatus; soon after another headbearded and wearing a red capappears beside it -- no doubt that of thestation-master. The station-master bends down to the tablereads something on ablue formrapidly passing his cigarette along the lines. . . . Malahin goes tohis van.
The young manhis companionis still half reclining and hardly audiblystrumming on the accordion. He is little more than a boywith no trace of amustache; his full white face with its broad cheek-bones is childishly dreamy;his eyes have a melancholy and tranquil look unlike that of a grown-up personbut he is broadstrongheavy and rough like the old man; he does not stir norshift his positionas though he is not equal to moving his big body. It seemsas though any movement he made would tear his clothes and be so noisy as tofrighten both him and the cattle. From under his big fat fingers that clumsilypick out the stops and keys of the accordion comes a steady flow of thintinkling sounds which blend into a simplemonotonous little tune; he listens toitand is evidently much pleased with his performance.
A bell ringsbut with such a muffled note that it seems to come from faraway. A hurried second bell soon followsthen a third and the guard's whistle.A minute passes in profound silence; the van does not moveit stands stillbutvague sounds begin to come from beneath itlike the crunch of snow undersledge-runners; the van begins to shake and the sounds cease. Silence reignsagain. But now comes the clank of buffersthe violent shock makes the van startandas it weregive a lurch forwardand all the cattle fall against oneanother.
"May you be served the same in the world to come" grumbles the oldmansetting straight his capwhich had slipped on the back of his head fromthe jolt. "He'll maim all my cattle like this!"
Yasha gets up without a word andtaking one of the fallen beasts by thehornshelps it to get on to its legs. . . . The jolt is followed by a stillnessagain. The sounds of crunching snow come from under the van againand it seemsas though the train had moved back a little.
"There will be another jolt in a minute" says the old man. And theconvulsive quiver doesin factrun along the trainthere is a crashing soundand the bullocks fall on one another again.
"It's a job!" says Yashalistening. "The train must be heavy.It seems it won't move."
"It was not heavy beforebut now it has suddenly got heavy. Nomy ladthe guard has not gone shares with himI expect. Go and take him somethingorhe will be jolting us till morning."
Yasha takes a three-rouble note from the old man and jumps out of the van.The dull thud of his heavy footsteps resounds outside the van and gradually diesaway. Stillness. . . . In the next van a bullock utters a prolonged subdued"moo" as though it were singing.
Yasha comes back. A cold damp wind darts into the van.
"Shut the doorYashaand we will go to bed" says the old man."Why burn a candle for nothing?"
Yasha moves the heavy door; there is a sound of a whistlethe engine and thetrain set off.
"It's cold" mutters the old manstretching himself on the capeand laying his head on a bundle. "It is very different at home! It's warmand clean and softand there is room to say your prayersbut here we are worseoff than any pigs. It's four days and nights since I have taken off myboots."
Yashastaggering from the jolting of the trainopens the lantern and snuffsout the wick with his wet fingers. The light flares uphisses like a frying panand goes out.
"Yesmy lad" Malahin goes onas he feels Yasha lie down besidehim and the young man's huge back huddle against his own"it's cold. Thereis a draught from every crack. If your mother or your sister were to sleep herefor one night they would be dead by morning. There it ismy ladyou wouldn'tstudy and go to the high school like your brothersso you must take the cattlewith your father. It's your own faultyou have only yourself to blame. . . .Your brothers are asleep in their beds nowthey are snug under the bedclothesbut youthe careless and lazy oneare in the same box as the cattle. . . .Yes. . . . "
The old man's words are inaudible in the noise of the trainbut for a longtime he goes on mutteringsighing and clearing his throat. . . . The cold airin the railway van grows thicker and more stifling The pungent odor of freshdung and smoldering candle makes it so repulsive and acrid that it irritatesYasha's throat and chest as he falls asleep. He coughs and sneezeswhile theold manbeing accustomed to itbreathes with his whole chest as though nothingwere amissand merely clears his throat.
To judge from the swaying of the van and the rattle of the wheels the trainis moving rapidly and unevenly. The engine breathes heavilysnorting out oftime with the pulsation of the trainand altogether there is a medley ofsounds. The bullocks huddle together uneasily and knock their horns against thewalls.
When the old man wakes upthe deep blue sky of early morning is peeping inat the cracks and at the little uncovered window. He feels unbearably coldespecially in the back and the feet. The train is standing still; Yashasleepyand moroseis busy with the cattle.
The old man wakes up out of humor. Frowning and gloomyhe clears his throatangrily and looks from under his brows at Yasha whosupporting a bullock withhis powerful shoulder and slightly lifting itis trying to disentangle its leg.
"I told you last night that the cords were too long" mutters theold man; "but no'It's not too longDaddy.' There's no making you doanythingyou will have everything your own way. . . . Blockhead!"
He angrily moves the door open and the light rushes into the van. A passengertrain is standing exactly opposite the doorand behind it a red building with aroofed-in platform -- a big station with a refreshment bar. The roofs andbridges of the trainsthe earththe sleepersall are covered with a thincoating of fluffyfreshly fallen snow. In the spaces between the carriages ofthe passenger train the passengers can be seen moving to and froand ared-hairedred-faced gendarme walking up and down; a waiter in a frock-coat anda snow-white shirt-frontlooking cold and sleepyand probably very muchdissatisfied with his fateis running along the platform carrying a glass oftea and two rusks on a tray.
The old man gets up and begins saying his prayers towards the east. Yashahaving finished with the bullock and put down the spade in the cornerstandsbeside him and says his prayers also. He merely moves his lips and crosseshimself; the father prays in a loud whisper and pronounces the end of eachprayer aloud and distinctly.
". . . And the life of the world to come. Amen" the old man saysalouddraws in a breathand at once whispers another prayerrapping outclearly and firmly at the end: " . . . and lay calves upon Thy altar!"
After saying his prayersYasha hurriedly crosses himself and says:"Five kopecksplease."
And on being given the five-kopeck piecehe takes a red copper teapot andruns to the station for boiling water. Taking long jumps over the rails andsleepersleaving huge tracks in the feathery snowand pouring away yesterday'stea out of the teapot he runs to the refreshment room and jingles hisfive-kopeck piece against his teapot. From the van the bar-keeper can be seenpushing away the big teapot and refusing to give half of his samovar for fivekopecksbut Yasha turns the tap himself andspreading wide his elbows so asnot to be interfered with fills his teapot with boiling water.
"Damned blackguard!" the bar-keeper shouts after him as he runsback to the railway van.
The scowling face of Malahin grows a little brighter over the tea.
"We know how to eat and drinkbut we don't remember our work. Yesterdaywe could do nothing all day but eat and drinkand I'll be bound we forgot toput down what we spent. What a memory! Lord have mercy on us!"
The old man recalls aloud the expenditure of the day beforeand writes downin a tattered notebook where and how much he had given to guardsengine-driversoilers. . . .
Meanwhile the passenger train has long ago gone offand an engine runsbackwards and forwards on the empty lineapparently without any definiteobjectbut simply enjoying its freedom. The sun has risen and is playing on thesnow; bright drops are falling from the station roof and the tops of the vans.
Having finished his teathe old man lazily saunters from the van to thestation. Here in the middle of the first-class waiting-room he sees the familiarfigure of the guard standing beside the station-mastera young man with ahandsome beard and in a magnificent rough woollen overcoat. The young manprobably new to his positionstands in the same placegracefully shifting fromone foot to the other like a good racehorselooks from side to sidesaluteseveryone that passes bysmiles and screws up his eyes. . . . He is red-cheekedsturdyand good-humored; his face is full of eagernessand is as fresh asthough he had just fallen from the sky with the feathery snow. Seeing Malahinthe guard sighs guiltily and throws up his hands.
"We can't go number fourteen" he says. "We are very muchbehind time. Another train has gone with that number."
The station-master rapidly looks through some formsthen turns his beamingblue eyes upon Malahinandhis face radiant with smiles and freshnessshowersquestions on him:
"You are Mr. Malahin? You have the cattle? Eight vanloads? What is to bedone now? You are late and I let number fourteen go in the night. What are we todo now?"
The young man discreetly takes hold of the fur of Malahin's coat with twopink fingers andshifting from one foot to the otherexplains affably andconvincingly that such and such numbers have gone alreadyand that such andsuch are goingand that he is ready to do for Malahin everything in his power.And from his face it is evident that he is ready to do anything to please notonly Malahinbut the whole world -- he is so happyso pleasedand sodelighted! The old man listensand though he can make absolutely nothing of theintricate system of numbering the trainshe nods his head approvinglyand hetooputs two fingers on the soft wool of the rough coat. He enjoys seeing andhearing the polite and genial young man. To show goodwill on his side alsohetakes out a ten-rouble note andafter a moment's thoughtadds a couple ofrouble notes to itand gives them to the station-master. The latter takes themputs his finger to his capand gracefully thrusts them into his pocket.
"Wellgentlemencan't we arrange it like this?" he sayskindledby a new idea that has flashed on him. "The troop train is late. . . asyou seeit is not here. . . so why shouldn't you go as the troop train?** AndI will let the troop train go as twenty-eight. Eh?"
"If you like" agrees the guard.
"Excellent!" the station-master saysdelighted. "In that casethere is no need for you to wait here; you can set off at once. I'll dispatchyou immediately. Excellent!"
He salutes Malahin and runs off to his roomreading forms as he goes. Theold man is very much pleased by the conversation that has just taken place; hesmiles and looks about the room as though looking for something else agreeable.
"We'll have a drinkthough" he saystaking the guard's arm.
"It seems a little early for drinking."
"Noyou must let me treat you to a glass in a friendly way."
They both go to the refreshment bar. After having a drink the guard spends along time selecting something to eat.
He is a very stoutelderly manwith a puffy and discolored face. Hisfatness is unpleasantflabby-lookingand he is sallow as people are who drinktoo much and sleep irregularly.
"And now we might have a second glass" says Malahin. "It'scold nowit's no sin to drink. Please take some. So I can rely upon youMr.Guardthat there will be no hindrance or unpleasantness for the rest of thejourney. For you know in moving cattle every hour is precious. To-day meat isone price; and to-morrowlook youit will be another. If you are a day or twolate and don't get your priceinstead of a profit you get home -- excuse mysaying it -- with out your breeches. Pray take a little. . . . I rely on youand as for standing you something or what you likeI shall be pleased to showyou my respect at any time."
After having fed the guardMalahin goes back to the van.
"I have just got hold of the troop train" he says to his son."We shall go quickly. The guard says if we go all the way with that numberwe shall arrive at eight o'clock to-morrow evening. If one does not bestironeselfmy boyone gets nothing. . . . That's so. . . . So you watch andlearn. . . ."
After the first bell a man with a face black with sootin a blouse andfilthy frayed trousers hanging very slackcomes to the door of the van. This isthe oilerwho had been creeping under the carriages and tapping the wheels witha hammer.
"Are these your vans of cattle?" he asks.
"Whybecause two of the vans are not safe. They can't go onthey muststay here to be repaired."
"Ohcometell us another! You simply want a drinkto get somethingout of me. . . . You should have said so."
"As you pleaseonly it is my duty to report it at once."
Without indignation or protestsimplyalmost mechanicallythe old mantakes two twenty-kopeck pieces out of his pocket and gives them to the oiler. Hetakes them very calmlytooand looking good-naturedly at the old man entersinto conversation.
"You are going to sell your cattleI suppose. . . . It's goodbusiness!"
Malahin sighs andlooking calmly at the oiler's black facetells him thattrading in cattle used certainly to be profitablebut now it has become a riskyand losing business.
"I have a mate here" the oiler interrupts him. "You merchantgentlemen might make him a little present. . .."
Malahin gives something to the mate too. The troop train goes quickly and thewaits at the stations are comparatively short. The old man is pleased. Thepleasant impression made by the young man in the rough overcoat has gone deepthe vodka he has drunk slightly clouds his brainthe weather is magnificentand everything seems to be going well. He talks without ceasingand at everystopping place runs to the refreshment bar. Feeling the need of a listenerhetakes with him first the guardand then the engine-driverand does not simplydrinkbut makes a long business of itwith suitable remarks and clinking ofglasses.
"You have your job and we have ours" he says with an affablesmile. "May God prosper us and youand not our will but His be done."
The vodka gradually excites him and he is worked up to a great pitch ofenergy. He wants to bestir himselfto fuss aboutto make inquiriesto talkincessantly. At one minute he fumbles in his pockets and bundles and looks forsome form. Then he thinks of something and cannot remember it; then takes outhis pocketbookand with no sort of object counts over his money. He bustlesaboutsighs and groansclasps his hands. . . . Laying out before him theletters and telegrams from the meat salesmen in the citybillspost office andtelegraphic receipt formsand his note bookhe reflects aloud and insists onYasha's listening.
And when he is tired of reading over forms and talking about priceshe getsout at the stopping placesruns to the vans where his cattle aredoes nothingbut simply clasps his hands and exclaims in horror.
"Ohdear! ohdear!" he says in a complaining voice. "HolyMartyr Vlassy! Though they are bullocksthough they are beastsyet they wantto eat and drink as men do. . . . It's four days and nights since they havedrunk or eaten. Ohdear! ohdear!"
Yasha follows him and does what he is told like an obedient son. He does notlike the old man's frequent visits to the refreshment bar. Though he is afraidof his fatherhe cannot refrain from remarking on it.
"So you have begun already!" he sayslooking sternly at the oldman. "What are you rejoicing at? Is it your name-day or what?"
"Don't you dare teach your father."
"Fine goings on!"
When he has not to follow his father along the other vans Yasha sits on thecape and strums on the accordion. Occasionally he gets out and walks lazilybeside the train; he stands by the engine and turns a prolongedunmoving stareon the wheels or on the workmen tossing blocks of wood into the tender; the hotengine wheezesthe falling blocks come down with the mellowhearty thud offresh wood; the engine-driver and his assistantvery phlegmatic andimperturbable personsperform incomprehensible movements and don't hurrythemselves. After standing for a while by the engineYasha saunters lazily tothe station; here he looks at the eatables in the refreshment barreads aloudsome quite uninteresting noticeand goes back slowly to the cattle van. Hisface expresses neither boredom nor desire; apparently he does not care where heisat homein the vanor by the engine.
Towards evening the train stops near a big station. The lamps have only justbeen lighted along the line; against the blue background in the fresh limpid airthe lights are bright and pale like stars; they are only red and glowing underthe station roofwhere it is already dark. All the lines are loaded up withcarriagesand it seems that if another train came in there would be no placefor it. Yasha runs to the station for boiling water to make the evening tea.Well-dressed ladies and high-school boys are walking on the platform. If onelooks into the distance from the platform there are far-away lights twinkling inthe evening dusk on both sides of the station -- that is the town. What town?Yasha does not care to know. He sees only the dim lights and wretched buildingsbeyond the stationhears the cabmen shoutingfeels a sharpcold wind on hisfaceand imagines that the town is probably disagreeableuncomfortableanddull.
While they are having teawhen it is quite dark and a lantern is hanging onthe wall again as on the previous eveningthe train quivers from a slight shockand begins moving backwards. After going a little way it stops; they hearindistinct shoutssomeone sets the chains clanking near the buffers and shouts"Ready!" The train moves and goes forward. Ten minutes later it isdragged back again.
Getting out of the vanMalahin does not recognize his train. His eight vansof bullocks are standing in the same row with some trolleys which were not apart of the train before. Two or three of these are loaded with rubble and theothers are empty. The guards running to and fro on the platform are strangers.They give unwilling and indistinct answers to his questions. They have nothoughts to spare for Malahin; they are in a hurry to get the train together soas to finish as soon as possible and be back in the warmth.
"What number is this?" asks Malahin
"And where is the troop train? Why have you taken me off the trooptrain?"
Getting n o answerthe old man goes to the station. He looks first for thefamiliar figure of the head guard andnot finding himgoes to thestation-master. The station-master is sitting at a table in his own roomturning over a bundle of forms. He is busyand affects not to see the newcomer.His appearance is impressive: a cropped black headprominent earsa longhooked nosea swarthy face; he has a forbidding andas it wereoffendedexpression. Malahin begins making his complaint at great length.
"What?" queries the station-master. "How is this?" Heleans against the back of his chair and goes ongrowing indignant: "Whatis it? and why shouldn't you go by number eighteen? Speak more clearlyI don'tunderstand! How is it? Do you want me to be everywhere at once?"
He showers questions on himand for no apparent reason grows sterner andsterner. Malahin is already feeling in his pocket for his pocketbookbut in theend the station-masteraggrieved and indignantfor some unknown reason jumpsup from his seat and runs out of the room. Malahin shrugs his shouldersandgoes out to look for someone else to speak to.
From boredom or from a desire to put the finishing stroke to a busy dayorsimply that a window with the inscription "Telegraph! " on it catcheshis eyehe goes to the window and expresses a desire to send off a telegram.Taking up a penhe thinks for a momentand writes on a blue form:"Urgent. Traffic Manager. Eight vans of live stock. Delayed at everystation. Kindly send an express number. Reply paid. Malahin."
Having sent off the telegramhe goes back to the station-master's room.There he findssitting on a sofa covered with gray clotha benevolent-lookinggentleman in spectacles and a cap of raccoon fur; he is wearing a peculiarovercoat very much like a lady'sedged with furwith frogs and slashedsleeves. Another gentlemandried-up and sinewywearing the uniform of arailway inspectorstands facing him.
"Just think of it" says the inspectoraddressing the gentleman inthe queer overcoat. " I'll tell you an incident that really is A1! The Z.railway line in the coolest possible way stole three hundred trucks from the N.line. It's a factsir! I swear it! They carried them offrepainted themputtheir letters on themand that's all about it. The N. line sends its agentseverywherethey hunt and hunt. And then -- can you imagine it? -- the Companyhappen to come upon a broken-down carriage of the Z. line. They repair it attheir depotand all at oncebless my soul! see their own mark on the wheelsWhat do you say to that? Eh? If I did it they would send me to Siberiabut therailway companies simply snap their fingers at it!"
It is pleasant to Malahin to talk to educatedcultured people. He strokeshis beard and joins in the conversation with dignity.
"Take this casegentlemenfor instance" he says. I amtransporting cattle to X. Eight vanloads. Very good. . . . Now let us say theycharge me for each vanload as a weight of ten tons; eight bullocks don't weighten tonsbut much lessyet they don't take any notice of that. . . ."
At that instant Yasha walks into the room looking for his father. He listensand is about to sit down on a chairbut probably thinking of his weight goesand sits on the window-sill
"They don't take any notice of that" Malahin goes on"andcharge me and my son the third-class faretooforty-two roublesfor going inthe van with the bullocks. This is my son Yakov. I have two more at homebutthey have gone in for study. Well and apart from that it is my opinion that therailways have ruined the cattle trade. In old days when they drove them in herdsit was better."
The old man's talk is lengthy and drawn out. After every sentence he looks atYasha as though he would say: "See how I am talking to clever people."
"Upon my word!" the inspector interrupts him. "No one isindignantno one criticizes. And why? It is very simple. An abomination strikesthe eye and arouses indignation only when it is exceptionalwhen theestablished order is broken by it. Herewheresaving your presenceitconstitutes the long-established program and forms and enters into the basis ofthe order itselfwhere every sleeper on the line bears the trace of it andstinks of itone too easily grows accustomed to it! Yessir!"
The second bell ringsthe gentlemen in the queer overcoat gets up. Theinspector takes him by the arm andstill talking with heatgoes off with himto the platform. After the third bell the station-master runs into his roomandsits down at his table.
"Listenwith what number am I to go?" asks Malahin.
The station-master looks at a form and says indignantly:
"Are you Malahineight vanloads? You must pay a rouble a van and sixroubles and twenty kopecks for stamps. You have no stamps. Totalfourteenroublestwenty kopecks."
Receiving the moneyhe writes something downdries it with sandandhurriedly snatching up a bundle of formsgoes quickly out of the room.
At ten o'clock in the evening Malahin gets an answer from the trafficmanager: "Give precedence."
Reading the telegram throughthe old man winks significantly andvery wellpleased with himselfputs it in his pocket.
"Here" he says to Yasha"look and learn."
At midnight his train goes on. The night is dark and cold like the previousone; the waits at the stations are long. Yasha sits on the cape andimperturbably strums on the accordionwhile the old man is still more eager toexert himself. At one of the stations he is overtaken by a desire to lodge acomplaint. At his request a gendarme sits down and writes:
"November 10188-. -- Inon-commissioned officer of the Z. section ofthe N. police department of railwaysIlya Tcheredin accordance with articleII of the statute of May 191871have drawn up this protocol at the station ofX. as herewith follows. . . . "
"What am I to write next?" asks the gendarme.
Malahin lays out before him formspostal and telegraph receiptsaccounts. .. . He does not know himself definitely what he wants of the gendarme; he wantsto describe in the protocol not any separate episode but his whole journeywithall his losses and conversations with station-masters -- to describe itlengthily and vindictively.
"At the station of Z." he says"write that thestation-master unlinked my vans from the troop train because he did not like mycountenance."
And he wants the gendarme to be sure to mention his countenance. The latterlistens wearilyand goes on writing without hearing him to the end. He ends hisprotocol thus:
"The above deposition Inon-commissioned officer Tcheredhave writtendown in this protocol with a view to present it to the head of the Z. sectionand have handed a copy thereof to Gavril Malahin."
The old man takes the copyadds it to the papers with which his side pocketis stuffedandmuch pleasedgoes back to his van.
In the morning Malahin wakes up again in a bad humorbut his wrath ventsitself not on Yasha but the cattle.
"The cattle are done for!" he grumbles. "They are done for!They are at the last gasp! God be my judge! they will all die. Tfoo!"
The bullockswho have had nothing to drink for many daystortured bythirstare licking the hoar frost on the wallsand when Malachin goes up tothem they begin licking his cold fur jacket. From their cleartearful eyes itcan be seen that they are exhausted by thirst and the jolting of the trainthatthey are hungry and miserable.
"It's a nice job taking you by railyou wretched brutes!" muttersMalahin. "I could wish you were dead to get it over! It makes me sick tolook at you!"
At midday the train stops at a big station whereaccording to theregulationsthere was drinking water provided for cattle.
Water is given to the cattlebut the bullocks will not drink it: the wateris too cold. . . .
Two more days and nights passand at last in the distance in the murky fogthe city comes into sight. The jou rney is over. The train comes to a standstillbefore reaching the townnear a goods' station. The bullocksreleased from thevanstagger and stumble as though they were walking on slippery ice.
Having got through the unloading and veterinary inspectionMalahin and Yashatake up their quarters in a dirtycheap hotel in the outskirts of the towninthe square in which the cattle-market is held. Their lodgings are filthy andtheir food is disgustingunlike what they ever have at home; they sleep to theharsh strains of a wretched steam hurdy-gurdy which plays day and night in therestaurant under their lodging.
The old man spends his time from morning till night going about looking forpurchasersand Yasha sits for days in the hotel roomor goes out into thestreet to look at the town. He sees the filthy square heaped up with dungthesignboards of restaurantsthe turreted walls of a monastery in the fog.Sometimes he runs across the street and looks into the grocer's shopadmiresthe jars of cakes of different colorsyawnsand lazily saunters back to hisroom. The city does not interest him.
At last the bullocks are sold to a dealer. Malahin hires drovers. The cattleare divided into herdsten in eachand driven to the other end of the town.The bullocksexhaustedgo with drooping heads through the noisy streetsandlook indifferently at what they see for the first and last time in their lives.The tattered drovers walk after themtheir heads drooping too. They are bored.. . . Now and then some drover starts out of his broodingremembers that thereare cattle in front of him intrusted to his chargeand to show that he is doinghis duty brings a stick down full swing on a bullock's back. The bullockstaggers with the painruns forward a dozen pacesand looks about him asthough he were ashamed at being beaten before people.
After selling the bullocks and buying for his family presents such as theycould perfectly well have bought at homeMalahin and Yasha get ready for theirjourney back. Three hours before the train goes the old manwho has already hada drop too much with the purchaser and so is fussygoes down with Yasha to therestaurant and sits down to drink tea. Like all provincialshe cannot eat anddrink alone: he must have company as fussy and as fond of sedate conversation ashimself.
"Call the host!" he says to the waiter; "tell him I shouldlike to entertain him."
The hotel-keepera well-fed manabsolutely indifferent to his lodgerscomes and sits down to the table.
"Wellwe have sold our stock" Malahin sayslaughing. "Ihave swapped my goat for a hawk. Whywhen we set off the price of meat wasthree roubles ninety kopecksbut when we arrived it had dropped to threeroubles twenty-five. They tell us we are too latewe should have been herethree days earlierfor now there is not the same demand for meatSt. Philip'sfast has come. . . . Eh? It's a nice how-do-you-do! It meant a loss of fourteenroubles on each bullock. Yes. But only think what it costs to bring the stock!Fifteen roubles carriageand you must put down six roubles for each bullocktipsbribesdrinksand one thing and another. . . ."
The hotel-keeper listens out of politeness and reluctantly drinks tea.Malahin sighs and groansgesticulatesjests about his ill-luckbut everythingshows that the loss he has sustained does not trouble him much. He doesn't mindwhether he has lost or gained as long as he has listenershas something to makea fuss aboutand is not late for his train.
An hour later Malahin and Yashaladen with bags and boxesgo downstairsfrom the hotel room to the front door to get into a sledge and drive to thestation. They are seen off by the hotel-keeperthe waiterand various women.The old man is touched. He thrusts ten-kopeck pieces in all directionsand saysin a sing-song voice:
"Good bygood health to you! God grant that all may be well with you.Please God if we are alive and well we shall come again in Lent. Good-by. Thankyou. God bless you!"
Getting into the sledgethe old man spends a long time crossing himself inthe direction in which the monastery walls make a patch of darkness in the fog.Yasha sits beside him on the very edge of the seat with his legs hanging overthe side. His face as before shows no sign of emotion and expresses neitherboredom nor desire. He is not glad that he is going homenor sorry that he hasnot had time to see the sights of the city.
The cabman whips up the horse andturning roundbegins swearing at theheavy and cumbersome luggage.
* On many railway linesin order to avoid accidentsit is against theregulations to carry hay on the trainsand so live stock are without fodderon the journey. -- Author's Note.
**The train destined especially for the transport of troops is called thetroop train; when they are no troops it takes goodsand goes more rapidly thanordinary goods train. -- Author's Note.
THE turnerGrigory Petrovwho had been known for years past as a splendidcraftsmanand at the same time as the most senseless peasant in theGaltchinskoy districtwas taking his old woman to the hospital. He had to driveover twenty milesand it was an awful road. A government post driver couldhardly have coped with itmuch less an incompetent sluggard like Grigory. Acutting cold wind was blowing straight in his face. Clouds of snowflakes werewhirling round and round in all directionsso that one could not tell whetherthe snow was falling from the sky or rising from the earth. The fieldsthetelegraph postsand the forest could not be seen for the fog of snow. And whena particularly violent gust of wind swooped down on Grigoryeven the yoke abovethe horse's head could not be seen. The wretchedfeeble little nag crawledslowly along. It took all its strength to drag its legs out of the snow and totug with its head. The turner was in a hurry. He kept restlessly hopping up anddown on the front seat and lashing the horse's back.
"Don't cryMatryona. . ." he muttered. "Have a littlepatience. Please God we shall reach the hospitaland in a trice it will be theright thing for you. . . . Pavel Ivanitch will give you some little dropsortell them to bleed you; or maybe his honor will be pleased to rub you with somesort of spirit -- it'll . . . draw it out of your side. Pavel Ivanitch will dohis best. He will shout and stamp aboutbut he will do his best. . . . He is anice gentlemanaffableGod give him health! As soon as we get there he willdart out of his room and will begin calling me names. 'How? Why so?' he willcry. 'Why did you not come at the right time? I am not a dog to be hanging aboutwaiting on you devils all day. Why did you not come in the morning? Go away! Getout of my sight. Come again to-morrow.' And I shall say: 'Mr. Doctor! PavelIvanitch! Your honor!' Get ondo! plague take youyou devil! Get on!"
The turner lashed his nagand without looking at the old woman went onmuttering to himself:
"'Your honor! It's true as before God. . . . Here's the Cross for youIset off almost before it was light. How could I be here in time if the Lord. . ..The Mother of God . . . is wrothand has sent such a snowstorm? Kindly lookfor yourself. . . . Even a first-rate horse could not do itwhile mine -- youcan see for yourself -- is not a horse but a disgrace.' And Pavel Ivanitch willfrown and shout: 'We know you! You always find some excuse! Especially youGrishka; I know you of old! I'll be bound you have stopped at half a dozentaverns!' And I shall say: 'Your honor! am I a criminal or a heathen? My oldwoman is giving up her soul to Godshe is dyingand am I going to run fromtavern to tavern! What an ideaupon my word! Plague take themthe taverns!'Then Pavel Ivanitch will order you to be taken into the hospitaland I shallfall at his feet. . . . 'Pavel Ivanitch! Your honorwe thank you most humbly!Forgive us fools and anathemasdon't be hard on us peasants! We deserve a goodkickingwhi le you graciously put yourself out and mess your feet in the snow!'And Pavel Ivanitch will give me a look as though he would like to hit meandwill say: 'You'd much better not be swilling vodkayou foolbut taking pity onyour old woman instead of falling at my feet. You want a thrashing!' 'You areright there -- a thrashingPavel Ivanitchstrike me God! But how can we helpbowing down at your feet if you are our benefactorand a real father to us?Your honor! I give you my word. . . here as before God. . . you may spit inmy face if I deceive you: as soon as my Matryonathis same hereis well againand restored to her natural conditionI'll make anything for your honor thatyou would like to order! A cigarette-caseif you likeof the best birchwood.. . balls for croquetskittles of the most foreign pattern I can turn. . . . Iwill make anything for you! I won't take a farthing from you. In Moscow theywould charge you four roubles for such a cigarette-casebut I won't take afarthing.' The doctor will laugh and say: 'Ohall rightall right. . . . Isee! But it's a pity you are a drunkard. . . .' I know how to manage the gentryold girl. There isn't a gentleman I couldn't talk to. Only God grant we don'tget off the road. Ohhow it is blowing! One's eyes are full of snow."
And the turner went on muttering endlessly. He prattled on mechanically toget a little relief from his depressing feelings. He had plenty of words on histonguebut the thoughts and questions in his brain were even more numerous.Sorrow had come upon the turner unawaresunlooked-forand unexpectedand nowhe could not get over itcould not recover himself. He had lived hitherto inunruffled calmas though in drunken half-consciousnessknowing neither griefnor joyand now he was suddenly aware of a dreadful pain in his heart. Thecareless idler and drunkard found himself quite suddenly in the position of abusy manweighed down by anxieties and hasteand even struggling with nature.
The turner remembered that his trouble had begun the evening before. When hehad come home yesterday eveninga little drunk as usualand fromlong-established habit had begun swearing and shaking his fistshis old womanhad looked at her rowdy spouse as she had never looked at him before. Usuallythe expression in her aged eyes was that of a martyrmeek like that of a dogfrequently beaten and badly fed; this time she had looked at him sternly andimmovablyas saints in the holy pictures or dying people look. From thatstrangeevil look in her eyes the trouble had begun. The turnerstupefied withamazementborrowed a horse from a neighborand now was taking his old woman tothe hospital in the hope thatby means of powders and ointmentsPavel Ivanitchwould bring back his old woman's habitual expression.
"I sayMatryona. . ." the turner muttered"if PavelIvanitch asks you whether I beat yousay'Never!' and I never will beat youagain. I swear it. And did I ever beat you out of spite? I just beat you withoutthinking. I am sorry for you. Some men wouldn't troublebut here I am takingyou. . . . I am doing my best. And the way it snowsthe way it snows! Thy Willbe doneO Lord! God grant we don't get off the road. . . . Does your side acheMatryonathat you don't speak? I ask youdoes your side ache?"
It struck him as strange that the snow on his old woman's face was notmelting; it was queer that the face itself looked somehow drawnand had turneda pale graydingy waxen hue and had grown grave and solemn.
"You are a fool!" muttered the turner. . . . "I tell you on myconsciencebefore God. . . and you go and . . . Wellyou are a fool! I have agood mind not to take you to Pavel Ivanitch!"
The turner let the reins go and began thinking. He could not bring himself tolook round at his old woman: he was frightened. He was afraidtooof askingher a question and not getting an answer. At lastto make an end ofuncertaintywithout looking round he felt his old woman's cold hand. The liftedhand fell like a log.
"She is deadthen! What a business!"
And the turner cried. He was not so much sorry as annoyed. He thought howquickly everything passes in this world! His trouble had hardly begun when thefinal catastrophe had happened. He had not had time to live with his old womanto show her he was sorry for her before she died. He had lived with her forforty yearsbut those forty years had passed by as it were in a fog. What withdrunkennessquarrelingand povertythere had been no feeling of life. Andasthough to spite himhis old woman died at the very time when he felt he wassorry for herthat he could not live without herand that he had behaveddreadfully badly to her.
"Whyshe used to go the round of the village" he remembered."I sent her out myself to beg for bread. What a business! She ought to havelived another ten yearsthe silly thing; as it is I'll be bound she thinks Ireally was that sort of man. . . . Holy Mother! but where the devil am Idriving? There's no need for a doctor nowbut a burial. Turn back!"
Grigory turned back and lashed the horse with all his might. The road grewworse and worse every hour. Now he could not see the yoke at all. Now and thenthe sledge ran into a young fir treea dark object scratched the turner's handsand flashed before his eyesand the field of vision was white and whirlingagain.
"To live over again" thought the turner.
He remembered that forty years ago Matryona had been younghandsomemerrythat she had come of a well-to-do family. They had married her to him becausethey had been attracted by his handicraft. All the essentials for a happy lifehad been therebut the trouble was thatjust as he had got drunk after thewedding and lay sprawling on the stoveso he had gone on without waking up tillnow. His wedding he rememberedbut of what happened after the wedding -- forthe life of him he could remember nothingexcept perhaps that he had drunklain on the stoveand quarreled. Forty years had been wasted like that.
The white clouds of snow were beginning little by little to turn gray. It wasgetting dusk.
"Where am I going?" the turner suddenly bethought him with a start."I ought to be thinking of the burialand I am on the way to the hospital.. . . It as is though I had gone crazy."
Grigory turned round againand again lashed his horse. The little nagstrained its utmost andwith a snortfell into a little trot. The turnerlashed it on the back time after time. . . . A knocking was audible behind himand though he did not look roundhe knew it was the dead woman's head knockingagainst the sledge. And the snow kept turning darker and darkerthe wind grewcolder and more cutting. . . .
"To live over again!" thought the turner. "I should get a newlathetake orders. . . give the money to my old woman. . . ."
And then he dropped the reins. He looked for themtried to pick them upbutcould not -- his hands would not work. . . .
"It does not matter" he thought"the horse will go ofitselfit knows the way. I might have a little sleep now. . . . Before thefuneral or the requiem it would be as well to get a little rest. . . ."
The turner closed his eyes and dozed. A little later he heard the horse stop;he opened his eyes and saw before him something dark like a hut or a haystack. .. .
He would have got out of the sledge and found out what it wasbut he feltovercome by such inertia that it seemed better to freeze than moveand he sankinto a peaceful sleep.
He woke up in a big room with painted walls. Bright sunlight was streaming inat the windows. The turner saw people facing himand his first feeling was adesire to show himself a respectable man who knew how things should be done.
"A requiembrothersfor my old woman" he said. "The priestshould be told. . . ."
"Ohall rightall right; lie down" a voice cut him short.
"Pavel Ivanitch!" the turner cried in surpriseseeing the doctorbefore him. "Your honorbenefactor! "
He wanted to leap up and fall on his knees before the doctorbut felt thathis arms and legs would not obey him.
"Your honorwhere are my legswhere are my arms!"
"Say good-by to your arms and legs. . . . They've been frozen off. Comecome! . . . What are you crying for ? You've lived your lifeand thank God forit! I suppose you have had sixty years of it -- that's enough for you! . .."
"I am grieving. . . . Graciously forgive me! If I could have anotherfive or six years! . . ."
"The horse isn't mineI must give it back. . . . I must bury my oldwoman. . . . How quickly it is all ended in this world! Your honorPavelIvanitch! A cigarette-case of birchwood of the best! I'll turn you croquetballs. . . ."
The doctor went out of the ward with a wave of his hand. It was all over withthe turner.
ON OFFICIAL DUTY
THE deputy examining magistrate and the district doctor were going to aninquest in the village of Syrnya. On the road they were overtaken by asnowstorm; they spent a long time going round and roundand arrivednot atmiddayas they had intendedbut in the evening when it was dark. They put upfor the night at the Zemstvo hut. It so happened that it was in this hut thatthe dead body was lying -- the corpse of the Zemstvo insurance agentLesnitskywho had arrived in Syrnya three days before andordering the samovar in thehuthad shot himselfto the great surprise of everyone; and the fact that hehad ended his life so strangelyafter unpacking his eatables and laying themout on the tableand with the samovar before himled many people to suspectthat it was a case of murder; an inquest was necessary.
In the outer room the doctor and the examining magistrate shook the snow offthemselves and knocked it off their boots. And meanwhile the old villageconstableIlya Loshadinstood byholding a little tin lamp. There was astrong smell of paraffin.
"Who are you?" asked the doctor.
"Conshtable. . ." answered the constable.
He used to spell it "conshtable" when he signed the receipts at thepost office.
"And where are the witnesses?"
"They must have gone to teayour honor."
On the right was the parlorthe travelers' or gentry's room; on the left thekitchenwith a big stove and sleeping shelves under the rafters. The doctor andthe examining magistratefollowed by the constableholding the lamp high abovehis headwent into the parlor. Here a stilllong body covered with white linenwas lying on the floor close to the table-legs. In the dim light of the lampthey could clearly seebesides the white coveringnew rubber goloshesandeverything about it was uncanny and sinister: the dark wallsand the silenceand the goloshesand the stillness of the dead body. On the table stood asamovarcold long ago; and round it parcelsprobably the eatables.
"To shoot oneself in the Zemstvo huthow tactless!" said thedoctor. "If one does want to put a bullet through one's brainsone oughtto do it at home in some outhouse."
He sank on to a benchjust as he wasin his caphis fur coatand his feltoverboots; his fellow-travelerthe examining magistratesat down opposite.
"These hystericalneurasthenic people are great egoists" thedoctor went on hotly. "If a neurasthenic sleeps in the same room with youhe rustles his newspaper; when he dines with youhe gets up a scene with hiswife without troubling about your presence; and when he feels inclined to shoothimselfhe shoots himself in a village in a Zemstvo hutso as to give themaximum of trouble to everybody. These gentlemen in every circumstance of lifethink of no one but themselves! That's why the elderly so dislike our 'nervousage.'"
"The elderly dislike so many things" said the examiningmagistrateyawning. "You should point out to the elder generation what thedifference is between the suicides of the past and the suicides of to-day. Inthe old days the so-called gentleman shot himself because he had made away withGovernment moneybut nowadays it is because he is sick of lifedepressed. . .. Which is better?"
"Sick of lifedepressed; but you must admit that he might have shothimself somewhere else."
"Such trouble!" said the constable"such trouble! It's a realaffliction. The people are very much upsetyour honor; they haven't slept thesethree nights. The children are crying. The cows ought to be milkedbut thewomen won't go to the stall -- they are afraid . . . for fear the gentlemanshould appear to them in the darkness. Of course they are silly womenbut someof the men are frightened too. As soon as it is dark they won't go by the hutone by onebut only in a flock together. And the witnesses too. . . ."
Dr. Startchenkoa middle-aged man in spectacles with a dark beardand theexamining magistrate Lyzhina fair manstill youngwho had only taken hisdegree two years before and looked more like a student than an officialsat insilencemusing. They were vexed that they were late. Now they had to wait tillmorningand to stay here for the nightthough it was not yet six o'clock; andthey had before them a long eveninga dark nightboredomuncomfortable bedsbeetlesand cold in the morning; and listening to the blizzard that howled inthe chimney and in the loftthey both thought how unlike all this was the lifewhich they would have chosen for themselves and of which they had once dreamedand how far away they both were from their contemporarieswho were at thatmoment walking about the lighted streets in town without noticing the weatheror were getting ready for the theatreor sitting in their studies over a book.Ohhow much they would have given now only to stroll along the Nevsky Prospector along Petrovka in Moscowto listen to decent singingto sit for an hour orso in a restaurant!
"Oo-oo-oo-oo!" sang the storm in the loftand something outsideslammed viciouslyprobably the signboard on the hut. "Oo-oo-oo-oo!"
"You can do as you pleasebut I have no desire to stay here" saidStartchenkogetting up. "It's not six yetit's too early to go to bed; Iam off. Von Taunitz lives not far from hereonly a couple of miles from Syrnya.I shall go to see him and spend the evening there. Constablerun and tell mycoachman not to take the horses out. And what are you going to do?" heasked Lyzhin.
"I don't know; I expect I shall go to sleep."
The doctor wrapped himself in his fur coat and went out. Lyzhin could hearhim talking to the coachman and the bells beginning to quiver on the frozenhorses. He drove off.
"It is not nice for yousirto spend the night in here" said theconstable; "come into the other room. It's dirtybut for one night itwon't matter. I'll get a samovar from a peasant and heat it directly. I'll heapup some hay for youand then you go to sleepand God bless youyourhonor."
A little later the examining magistrate was sitting in the kitchen drinkingteawhile Loshadinthe constablewas standing at the door talking. He was anold man about sixtyshort and very thinbent and whitewith a naive smile onhis face and watery eyesand he kept smacking with his lips as though he weresucking a sweetmeat. He was wearing a short sheepskin coat and high felt bootsand held his stick in his hands all the time. The youth of the examiningmagistrate aroused his compassionand that was probably why he addressed himfamiliarly.
"The elder gave orders that he was to be informed when the policesuperintendent or the examining magistrate came" he said"so Isuppose I must go now. . . . It's nearly three miles to the _volost_and thestormthe snowdriftsare something terrible -- maybe one won't get therebefore midnight. Ough! how the wind roars!"
"I don't need the elder" said Lyzhin. "There is nothing forhim to do here."
He looked at the old man with curiosityand asked:
"Tell megrandfatherhow many years have you been constable? "
"How many? Whythirty years. Five years after the Freedom I began goingas constablethat's how I reckon it. And from that time I have been going everyday since. Other people have holidaysbut I am always going. When it's Easterand the church bells are ringing and Christ has risenI still go about with mybag -- to the treasuryto the postto the police superintendent's lodgingstothe rural captainto the tax inspectorto the municipal officeto the gentryto the peasantsto all orthodox Christians. I carry parcelsnoticestaxpaperslettersforms of different sortscircularsand to be surekindgentlemanthere are all sorts of forms nowadaysso as to note down the numbers-- yellowwhiteand red -- and every gentleman or priest or well-to-do peasantmust write down a dozen times in the year how much he has sown and harvestedhow many quarters or poods he has of ryehow many of oatshow many of hayandwhat the weather's likeyou knowand insectstooof all sorts. To be sureyou can write what you likeit's only a regulationbut one must go and giveout the notices and then go again and collect them. Herefor instancethere'sno need to cut open the gentleman; you know yourself it's a silly thingit'sonly dirtying your handsand here you have been put to troubleyour honor; youhave come because it's the regulation; you can't help it. For thirty years Ihave been going round according to regulation. In the summer it is all rightitis warm and dry; but in winter and autumn it's uncomfortable At times I havebeen almost drowned and almost frozen; all sorts of things have happened --wicked people set on me in the forest and took away my bag; I have been beatenand I have been before a court of law."
"What were you accused of?"
"How do you mean?"
"Whyyou seeHrisanf Grigoryevthe clerksold the contractor someboards belonging to someone else -- cheated himin fact. I was mixed up in it.They sent me to the tavern for vodka; wellthe clerk did not share with me --did not even offer me a glass; but as through my poverty I was -- in appearanceI mean -- not a man to be relied uponnot a man of any worthwe were bothbrought to trial; he was sent to prisonbutpraise God! I was acquitted on allpoints. They read a noticeyou knowin the court. And they were all inuniforms -- in the courtI mean. I can tell youyour honormy duties foranyone not used to them are terribleabsolutely killing; but to me it isnothing. In factmy feet ache when I am not walking. And at home it is worsefor me. At home one has to heat the stove for the clerk in the _volost_ officeto fetch water for himto clean his boots."
"And what wages do you get?" Lyzhin asked.
"Eighty-four roubles a year."
"I'll bet you get other little sums coming in. You dodon't you?"
"Other little sums? Noindeed! Gentlemen nowadays don't often givetips. Gentlemen nowadays are strictthey take offense at anything. If you bringthem a notice they are offendedif you take off your cap before them they areoffended. 'You have come to the wrong entrance' they say. 'You are a drunkard'they say. 'You smell of onion; you are a blockhead; you are the son of a bitch.'There are kind-hearted onesof course; but what does one get from them? Theyonly laugh and call one all sorts of names. Mr. Altuhinfor instancehe is agood-natured gentleman; and if you look at him he seems sober and in his rightmindbut so soon as he sees me he shouts and does not know what he meanshimself. He gave me such a name 'You' said he. . ." The constableuttered some wordbut in such a low voice that it was impossible to make outwhat he said.
"What?" Lyzhin asked. "Say it again."
" 'Administration' " the constable repeated aloud. "He hasbeen calling me that for a long whilefor the last six years. 'HulloAdministration!' But I don't mind; let himGod bless him! Sometimes a lady willsend one a glass of vodka and a bit of pie and one drinks to her health. Butpeasants give more; peasants are more kind-heartedthey have the fear of God intheir hearts: one will give a bit of breadanother a drop of cabbage soupanother will stand one a glass. The village elders treat one to tea in thetavern. Here the witnesses have gone to their tea. 'Loshadin' they said'youstay here and keep watch for us' and they gave me a kopeck each. You seetheyare frightenednot being used to itand yesterday they gave me fifteen kopecksand offered me a glass."
"And youaren't you frightened?"
"I amsir; but of course it is my dutythere is no getting away fromit. In the summer I was taking a convict to the townand he set upon me andgave me such a drubbing! And all around were fieldsforest -- how could I getaway from him? It's just the same here. I remember the gentlemanMr. Lesnitskywhen he was so highand I knew his father and mother. I am from the village ofNedoshtchotovaand theythe Lesnitsky familywere not more thanthree-quarters of a mile from us and less than thattheir ground next to oursand Mr. Lesnitsky had a sistera God-fearing and tender-hearted lady. Lord keepthe soul of Thy servant Yulyaeternal memory to her! She was never marriedandwhen she was dying she divided all her property; she left three hundred acres tothe monasteryand six hundred to the commune of peasants of Nedoshtchotova tocommemorate her soul; but her brother hid the willthey do say burnt it in thestoveand took all this land for himself. He thoughtto be sureit was forhis benefit; but -- naywait a bityou won't get on in the world throughinjusticebrother. The gentleman did not go to confession for twenty yearsafter. He kept away from the churchto be sureand died impenitent. He burst.He was a very fat manso he burst lengthways. Then everything was taken fromthe young masterfrom Seryozhato pay the debts -- everything there was. Wellhe had not gone very far in his studieshe couldn't do anythingand thepresident of the Rural Boardhis uncle -- 'I'll take him' -- SeryozhaI mean-- thinks he'for an agent; let him collect the insurancethat's not adifficult job' and the gentleman was young and proudhe wanted to be living ona bigger scale and in better style and with more freedom. To be sure it was acome-down for him to be jolting about the district in a wretched cart andtalking to the peasants; he would walk and keep looking on the groundlookingon the ground and saying nothing; if you called his name right in his ear'Sergey Sergeyitch!' he would look round like this'Eh?' and look down on theground againand now you see he has laid hands on himself. There's no sense inityour honorit's not rightand there's no making out what's the meaning ofitmerciful Lord! Say your father was rich and you are poor; it is mortifyingthere's no doubt about itbut thereyou must make up your mind to it. I usedto live in good styletoo; I had two horsesyour honorthree cowsI used tokeep twenty head of sheep; but the time has comeand I am left with nothing buta wretched bagand even that is not mine but Government property. And now inour Nedoshtchotovaif the truth is to be toldmy house is the worst of thelot. Makey had four footmenand now Makey is a footman himself. Petrak had fourlaborersand now Petrak is a laborer himself."
"How was it you became poor?" asked the examining magistrate.
"My sons drink terribly. I could not tell you how they drinkyouwouldn't believe it."
Lyzhin listened and thought how heLyzhinwould go back sooner or later toMoscowwhile this old man would stay here for everand would always be walkingand walking. And how many times in his life he would come across such batteredunkempt old mennot "men of any worth" in whose souls fifteenkopecksglasses of vodkaand a profound belief that you can't get on in thislife by dishonestywere equally firmly rooted.
Then he grew tired of listeningand told the old man to bring him some hayfor his bedThere was an iron bedstead with a pillow and a quilt in thetraveler's roomand it could be fetched in ; but the dead man had been lying byit for nearly three days (and perhaps sitting on it just before his death)andit would be disagreeable to sleep upon it now. . . .
"It's only half-past seven" thought Lyzhinglancing at his watch."How awful it is!"
He was not sleepybut having nothing to do to pass away the timehe laydown and covered himself with a rug. Loshadin went in and out several timesclearing away the tea-things; smacking his lips and sighinghe kept trampinground the table; at last he took his little lamp and went outandlooking athis longgray-headedbent figure from behindLyzhin thought:
"Just like a magician in an opera."
It was dark. The moon must have been behind the cloudsas the windows andthe snow on the window-frames could be seen distinctly.
"Oo-oo-oo!" sang the storm"Oo-oo-oo-oo!"
"Ho-ho-ly sa-aints!" wailed a woman in the loftor it sounded likeit. "Ho-ho-ly sa-aints!"
"B-booh!" something outside banged against the wall."Trah!"
The examining magistrate listened: there was no woman up thereit was thewind howling. It was rather coldand he put his fur coat over his rug. As hegot warm he thought how remote all this -- the stormand the hutand the oldmanand the dead body lying in the next room -- how remote it all was from thelife he desired for himselfand how alien it all was to himhow pettyhowuninteresting. If this man had killed himself in Moscow or somewhere in theneighborhoodand he had had to hold an inquest on him thereit would have beeninterestingimportantand perhaps he might even have been afraid to sleep inthe next room to the corpse. Herenearly a thousand miles from Moscowall thiswas seen somehow in a different light; it was not lifethey were not humanbeingsbut something only existing "according to the regulation" asLoshadin said; it would leave not the faintest trace in the memoryand would beforgotten as soon as heLyzhindrove away from Syrnya. The fatherlandthereal Russiawas MoscowPetersburg; but here he was in the provincesthecolonies. When one dreamed of playing a leading partof becoming a popularfigureof beingfor instanceexamining magistrate in particularly importantcases or prosecutor in a circuit courtof being a society lionone alwaysthought of Moscow. To liveone must be in Moscow; here one cared for nothingone grew easily resigned to one's insignificant positionand only expected onething of life -- to get away quicklyquickly. And Lyzhin mentally moved aboutthe Moscow streetswent into the familiar housesmet his kindredhiscomradesand there was a sweet pang at his heart at the thought that he wasonly twenty-sixand that if in five or ten years he could break away from hereand get to Moscoweven then it would not be too late and he would still have awhole life before him. And as he sank into unconsciousnessas his thoughtsbegan to be confusedhe imagined the long corridor of the court at Moscowhimself delivering a speechhis sistersthe orchestra which for some reasonkept droning: "Oo-oo-oo-oo! Oo-oooo-oo!"
"Booh! Trah!" sounded again. "Booh!"
And he suddenly recalled how one daywhen he was talking to the bookkeeperin the little office of the Rural Boarda thinpale gentleman with black hairand dark eyes walked in; he had a disagreeable look in his eyes such as one seesin people who have slept too long after dinnerand it spoilt his delicateintelligent profile; and the high boots he was wearing did not suit himbutlooked clumsy. The bookkeeper had introduced him: "This is our insuranceagent."
"So that was Lesnitsky. . . this same man" Lyzhin reflected now.
He recalled Lesnitsky's soft voiceimagined his gaitand it seemed to himthat someone was walking beside him now with a step like Lesnitsky's.
All at once he felt frightenedhis head turned cold.
"Who's there?" he asked in alarm.
"What do you want here?"
"I have come to askyour honor -- you said this evening that you didnot want the elderbut I am afraid he may be angry. He told me to go to him.Shouldn't I go?"
"That's enoughyou bother me" said Lyzhin with vexationand hecovered himself up again.
"He may be angry. . . . I'll goyour honor. I hope you will becomfortable" and Loshadin went out.
In the passage there was coughing and subdued voices. The witnesses must havereturned.
"We'll let those poor beggars get away early to-morrow. . ."thought the examining magistrate; "we'll begin the inquest as soon as it isdaylight."
He began sinking into forgetfulness when suddenly there were steps againnottimid this time but rapid and noisy. There was the slam of a doorvoicesthescratching of a match. . . .
"Are you asleep? Are you asleep?" Dr. Startchenko was asking himhurriedly and angrily as he struck one match after another; he was covered withsnowand brought a chill air in with him. "Are you asleep? Get up! Let usgo to Von Taunitz's. He has sent his own horses for you. Come along. Thereatany rateyou will have supperand sleep like a human being. You see I havecome for you myself. The horses are splendidwe shall get there in twentyminutes."
"And what time is it now?"
"A quarter past ten."
Lyzhinsleepy and discontentedput on his felt overbootshis furlinedcoathis cap and hoodand went out with the doctor. There was not a very sharpfrostbut a violent and piercing wind was blowing and driving along the streetthe clouds of snow which seemed to be racing away in terror: high drifts wereheaped up already under the fences and at the doorways. The doctor and theexamining magistrate got into the sledgeand the white coachman bent over themto button up the cover. They were both hot.
They drove through the village. "Cutting a feathery furrow"thought the examining magistratelistlessly watching the action of the tracehorse's legs. There were lights in all the hutsas though it were the eve of agreat holiday: the peasants had not gone to bed because they were afraid of thedead body. The coachman preserved a sullen silenceprobably he had felt drearywhile he was waiting by the Zemstvo hutand now hetoowas thinking of thedead man.
"At the Von Taunitz's" said Startchenko"they all set uponme when they heard that you were left to spend the night in the hutand askedme why I did not bring you with me."
As they drove out of the villageat the turning the coachman suddenlyshouted at the top of his voice: "Out of the way!"
They caught a glimpse of a man: he was standing up to his knees in the snowmoving off the road and staring at the horses. The examining magistrate saw astick with a crookand a beard and a bagand he fancied that it was Loshadinand even fancied that he was smiling. He flashed by and disappeared.
The road ran at first along the edge of the forestthen along a broad forestclearing; they caught glimpses of old pines and a young birch copseand tallgnarled young oak trees standing singly in the clearings where the wood hadlately been cut; but soon it was all merged in the clouds of snow. The coachmansaid he could see the forest; the examining magistrate could see nothing but thetrace horse. The wind blew on their backs.
All at once the horses stopped.
"Wellwhat is it now?" asked Startchenko crossly.
The coachman got down from the box without a word and began running round thesledgetreading on his heels; he made larger and larger circlesgettingfurther and further away from the sledgeand it looked as though he weredancing; at last he came back and began to turn off to the right.
"You've got off the roadeh?" asked Startchenko.
"It's all ri-ight. . . ."
Then there was a little village and not a single light in it. Again theforest and the fields. Again they lost the roadand again the coachman got downfrom the box and danced round the sledge. The sledge flew along a dark avenueflew swiftly on. And the heated trace horse's hoofs knocked against the sledge .Here there was a fearful roaring sound from the treesand nothing could beseenas though they were flying on into space; and all at once the glaringlight at the entrance and the windows flashed upon their eyesand they heardthe good-natureddrawn-out barking of dogs. They had arrived.
While they were taking off their fur coats and their felt boots below"Un Petit Verre de Clicquot" was being played upon the piano overheadand they could hear the children beating time with their feet. Immediately ongoing in they were aware of the snug warmth and special smell of the oldapartments of a mansion wherewhatever the weather outsidelife is so warm andclean and comfortable.
"That's capital!" said Von Taunitza fat man with an incrediblythick neck and with whiskersas he shook the examining magistrate's hand."That's capital! You are very welcomedelighted to make your acquaintance.We are colleagues to some extentyou know. At one time I was deputy prosecutor;but not for longonly two years. I came here to look after the estateand hereI have grown old -- an old fogeyin fact. You are very welcome" he wentonevidently restraining his voice so as not to speak too loud; he was goingupstairs with his guests. "I have no wifeshe's dead. But hereI willintroduce my daughters" and turning roundhe shouted down the stairs in avoice of thunder: "Tell Ignat to have the sledge ready at eight o'clockto-morrow morning."
His four daughtersyoung and pretty girlsall wearing gray dresses and withtheir hair done up in the same styleand their cousinalso young andattractivewith her childrenwere in the drawingroom. Startchenkowho knewthem alreadybegan at once begging them to sing somethingand two of the youngladies spent a long time declaring they could not sing and that they had nomusic; then the cousin sat down to the pianoand with trembling voicestheysang a duet from "The Queen of Spades." Again "Un Petit Verre deClicquot" was playedand the children skipped aboutbeating time withtheir feet. And Startchenko pranced about too. Everybody laughed.
Then the children said good-night and went off to bed. The examiningmagistrate laugheddanced a quadrilleflirtedand kept wondering whether itwas not all a dream? The kitchen of the Zemstvo hutthe heap of hay in thecornerthe rustle of the beetlesthe revolting poverty-stricken surroundingsthe voices of the witnessesthe windthe snow stormthe danger of being lost;and then all at once this splendidbrightly lighted roomthe sounds of thepianothe lovely girlsthe curly-headed childrenthe gayhappy laughter --such a transformation seemed to him like a fairy taleand it seemed incrediblethat such transitions were possible at the distance of some two miles in thecourse of one hour. And dreary thoughts prevented him from enjoying himselfandhe kept thinking this was not life herebut bits of life fragmentsthateverything here was accidentalthat one could draw no conclusions from it; andhe even felt sorry for these girlswho were living and would end their lives inthe wildsin a province far away from the center of culturewhere nothing isaccidentalbut everything is in accordance with reason and lawand whereforinstanceevery suicide is intelligibleso that one can explain why it hashappened and what is its significance in the general scheme of things. Heimagined that if the life surrounding him here in the wilds were notintelligible to himand if he did not see itit meant that it did not exist atall.
At supper the conversation turned on Lesnitsky
"He left a wife and child" said Startchenko. "I would forbidneurasthenics and all people whose nervous system is out of order to marryIwould deprive them of the right and possibility of multiplying their kind. Tobring into the world nervousinvalid children is a crime."
"He was an unfortunate young man" said Von Taunitzsighing gentlyand shaking his head. "What a lot one must suffer and think about beforeone brings oneself to take one's own life. . . a young life! Such a misfortunemay happen in any familyand that is awful. It is hard to bear such a thinginsufferable. . . ."
And all the girls listened in silence with grave faceslooking at theirfather. Lyzhin felt that hetoomust say somethingbut he couldn't think ofanythingand merely said:
"Yessuicide is an undesirable phenomenon."
He slept in a warm roomin a soft bed covered with a quilt under which therewere fine clean sheetsbut for some reason did not feel comfortable: perhapsbecause the doctor and Von Taunitz werefor a long timetalking in theadjoining roomand overhead he heardthrough the ceiling and in the stovethewind roaring just as in the Zemstvo hutand as plaintively howling:"Oo-oo-oo-oo!"
Von Taunitz's wife had died two years beforeand he was still unable toresign himself to his loss andwhatever he was talking aboutalways mentionedhis wife; and there was no trace of a prosecutor left about him now.
"Is it possible that I may some day come to such a condition?"thought Lyzhinas he fell asleepstill hearing through the wall his host'ssubduedas it were bereavedvoice.
The examining magistrate did not sleep soundly. He felt hot anduncomfortableand it seemed to him in his sleep that he was not at VonTaunitz'sand not in a soft clean bedbut still in the hay at the Zemstvo huthearing the subdued voices of the witnesses; he fancied that Lesnitsky was closebynot fifteen paces away. In his dreams he remembered how the insurance agentblack-haired and palewearing dusty high bootshad come into the bookkeeper'soffice. "This is our insurance agent. . . ."
Then he dreamed that Lesnitsky and Loshadin the constable were walkingthrough the open country in the snowside by sidesupporting each other; thesnow was whirling about their headsthe wind was blowing on their backsbutthey walked onsinging: We go onand onand on. . . ."
The old man was like a magician in an operaand both of them were singing asthough they were on the stage:
"We go onand onand on! . . . You are in the warmthin the light andsnugnessbut we are walking in the frost and the stormthrough the deep snow.. . . We know nothing of easewe know nothing of joy. . . . We bear all theburden of this lifeyours and ours. . . . Oo-oo-oo! We go onand onand on. .. ."
Lyzhin woke and sat up in bed. What a confusedbad dream! And why did hedream of the constable and the agent together? What nonsense! And now whileLyzhin's heart was throbbing violently and he was sitting on his bedholdinghis head in his handsit seemed to him that there really was something incommon between the lives of the insurance agent and the constable. Don't theyreally go side by side holding each other up? Some tie unseenbut significantand essentialexisted between themand even between them and Von Taunitz andbetween all men -- all men; in this lifeeven in the remotest desertnothingis accidentaleverything is full of one common ideaeverything has one soulone aimand to understand it it is not enough to thinkit is not enough toreasonone must have alsoit seemsthe gift of insight into lifea giftwhich is evidently not bestowed on all. And the unhappy man who had broken downwho had killed himself -- the "neurasthenic" as the doctor called him-- and the old peasant who spent every day of his life going from one man toanotherwere only accidentalwere only fragments of life for one who thoughtof his own life as accidentalbut were parts of one organism -- marvelous andrational -- for one who thought of his own life as part of that universal wholeand understood it. So thought Lyzhinand it was a thought that had long lainhidden in his souland only now it was unfolded broadly and clearly to hisconsciousness.
He lay down and began to drop asleep; and again they were going alongtogethersinging: "We go onand onand on. . . . We take from life whatis hardest and bitterest in itand we leave you what is easy and joyful; andsitting at supperyou can coldly and sensibly discuss why we suffer and perishand why we are not as sound and as satisfied as you."
What they were singing had occurred to his mind beforebut the thought wassomewhere in the background behind his other thoughtsand flickered timidlylike a faraway light in foggy weather. And he felt that this suicide and thepeasant's sufferings lay upon his consciencetoo; to resign himself to the factthat these peoplesubmissive to their fateshould take up the burden of whatwas hardest and gloomiest in life -- how awful it was! To accept thisand todesire for himself a life full of light and movement among happy and contentedpeopleand to be continually dreaming of suchmeans dreaming of fresh suicidesof men crushed by toil and anxietyor of men weak and outcast whom people onlytalk of sometimes at supper with annoyance or mockerywithout going to theirhelp. . . . And again:
"We go onand onand on . . ." as though someone were beatingwith a hammer on his temples.
He woke early in the morning with a headacheroused by a noise; in the nextroom Von Taunitz was saying loudly to the doctor:
"It's impossible for you to go now. Look what's going on outside. Don'targueyou had better ask the coachman; he won't take you in such weather for amillion."
"But it's only two miles" said the doctor in an imploring voice.
"Wellif it were only half a mile. If you can'tthen you can't.Directly you drive out of the gates it is perfect hellyou would be off theroad in a minute. Nothing will induce me to let you goyou can say what youlike."
"It's bound to be quieter towards evening" said the peasant whowas heating the stove.
And in the next room the doctor began talking of the rigorous climate and itsinfluence on the character of the Russianof the long winters whichbypreventing movement from place to placehinder the intellectual development ofthe people; and Lyzhin listened with vexation to these observations and lookedout of window at the snow drifts which were piled on the fence. He gazed at thewhite dust which covered the whole visible expanseat the trees which bowedtheir heads despairingly to right and then to leftlistened to the howling andthe bangingand thought gloomily:
"Wellwhat moral can be drawn from it? It's a blizzard and that is allabout it. . . ."
At midday they had lunchthen wandered aimlessly about the house; they wentto the windows.
"And Lesnitsky is lying there" thought Lyzhinwatching thewhirling snowwhich raced furiously round and round upon the drifts."Lesnitsky is lying therethe witnesses are waiting. . . ."
They talked of the weathersaying that the snowstorm usually lasted two daysand nightsrarely longer. At six o'clock they had dinnerthen they playedcardssangdanced; at last they had supper. The day was overthey went tobed.
In the nighttowards morningit all subsided. When they got up and lookedout of windowthe bare willows with their weakly drooping branches werestanding perfectly motionless; it was dull and stillas though nature now wereashamed of its orgyof its mad nightsand the license it had given to itspassions. The horsesharnessed tandemhad been waiting at the front door sincefive o'clock in the morning. When it was fully daylight the doctor and theexamining magistrate put on their fur coats and felt bootsandsaying good-byto their hostwent out.
At the steps beside the coachman stood the familiar figure of the constableIlya Loshadinwith an old leather bag across his shoulder and no cap on hisheadcovered with snow all overand his face was red and wet withperspiration. The footman who had come out to help the gentlemen and cover theirlegs looked at him sternly and said:
"What are you standing here foryou old devil? Get away!"
"Your honorthe people are anxious" said Loshadinsmilingnaively all over his faceand evidently pleased at seeing at last the people hehad waited for so long. "The people are very uneasythe children arecrying. . . . They thoughtyour honorthat you had gone back to the townagain. Show us the heavenly mercyour benefactors! . . ."
The doctor and the examining magistrate said nothinggot into the sledgeand drove to Syrnya.
THE FIRST-CLASS PASSENGER
A FIRST-CLASS passenger who had just dined at the station and drunk a littletoo much lay down on the velvet-covered seatstretched himself out luxuriouslyand sank into a doze. After a nap of no more than five minuteshe looked withoily eyes at his _vis-a-vis_ gave a smirkand said:
"My father of blessed memory used to like to have his heels tickled bypeasant women after dinner. I am just like himwith this differencethat afterdinner I always like my tongue and my brains gently stimulated. Sinful man as IamI like empty talk on a full stomach. Will you allow me to have a chat withyou?"
"I shall be delighted" answered the _vis-a-vis._
"After a good dinner the most trifling subject is sufficient to arousedevilishly great thoughts in my brain. For instancewe saw just now near therefreshment bar two young menand you heard one congratulate the other on beingcelebrated. 'I congratulate you' he said; 'you are already a celebrity and arebeginning to win fame.' Evidently actors or journalists of microscopicdimensions. But they are not the point. The question that is occupying my mindat the momentsiris exactly what is to be understood by the word _fame_ or_charity_. What do you think? Pushkin called fame a bright patch on a raggedgarment; we all understand it as Pushkin does -- that ismore or lesssubjectively -- but no one has yet given a clearlogical definition of theword. . . . I would give a good deal for such a definition!"
"Why do you feel such a need for it?"
"You seeif we knew what fame isthe means of attaining it might alsoperhaps be known to us" said the first-class passengerafter a moment'sthought. I must tell yousirthat when I was younger I strove after celebritywith every fiber of my being. To be popular was my crazeso to speak. For thesake of it I studiedworkedsat up at nightneglected my meals. And I fancyas far as I can judge without partialityI had all the natural gifts forattaining it. To begin withI am an engineer by profession. In the course of mylife I have built in Russia some two dozen magnificent bridgesI have laidaqueducts for three towns; I have worked in Russiain Englandin Belgium. . .. SecondlyI am the author of several special treatises in my own line. Andthirdlymy dear sirI have from a boy had a weakness for chemistry. Studyingthat science in my leisure hoursI discovered methods of obtaining certainorganic acidsso that you will find my name in all the foreign manuals ofchemistry. I have always been in the serviceI have risen to the grade ofactual civil councilorand I have an unblemished record. I will not fatigueyour attention by enumerating my works and my meritsI will only say that Ihave done far more than some celebrities. And yet here I am in my old ageI amgetting ready for my coffinso to sayand I am as celebrated as that black dogyonder running on the embankment."
"How can you tell? Perhaps you are celebrated."
"H'm! Wellwe will test it at once. Tell mehave you ever heard thename Krikunov?"
The _vis-a-vis_ raised his eyes to the ceilingthought a minuteandlaughed.
"NoI haven't heard it. . ." he said.
"That is my surname. Youa man of educationgetting on in yearshavenever heard of me -- a convincing proof! It is evident that in my efforts togain fame I have not done the right thing at all: I did not know the right wayto set to workandtrying to catch fame by the tailgot on the wrong side ofher."
"What is the right way to set to work?"
"Wellthe devil only knows! Talentyou say? Genius? Originality? Not abit of itsir!. . . People have lived and made a career side by side with mewho were worthlesstrivialand even contemptible compared with me. They didnot do one-tenth of the work I diddid not put themselves outwere notdistinguished for their talentsand did not make an effort to be celebratedbut just look at them! Their names are continually in the newspapers and onmen's lips! If you are not tired of listening I will illustrate it by anexample. Some years ago I built a bridge in the town of K. I must tell you thatthe dullness of that scurvy little town was terrible. If it had not been forwomen and cards I believe I should have gone out of my mind. Wellit's an oldstory: I was so bored that I got into an affair with a singer. Everyone wasenthusiastic about herthe devil only knows why; to my thinking she was -- whatshall I say? -- an ordinarycommonplace creaturelike lots of others. Thehussy was empty-headedill-temperedgreedyand what's moreshe was a fool.
"She ate and drank a vast amountslept till five o clock in theafternoon -- and I fancy did nothing else. She was looked upon as a cocotteandthat was indeed her profession; but when people wanted to refer to her in aliterary fashionthey called her an actress and a singer. I used to be devotedto the theatreand therefore this fraudulent pretense of being an actress mademe furiously indignant. My young lady had not the slightest right to callherself an actress or a singer. She was a creature entirely devoid of talentdevoid of feeling -- a pitiful creature one may say. As far as I can judge shesang disgustingly. The whole charm of her 'art' lay in her kicking up her legson every suitable occasionand not being embarrassed when people walked intoher dressing-room. She usually selected translated vaudevilleswith singing inthemand opportunities for disporting herself in male attirein tights. Infact it was -- ough! WellI ask your attention. As I remember nowa publicceremony took place to celebrate the opening of the newly constructed bridge.There was a religious servicethere were speechestelegramsand so on. I hungabout my cherished creationyou knowall the while afraid that my heart wouldburst with the excitement of an author. Its an old story and there's no need forfalse modestyand so I will tell you that my bridge was a magnificent work! Itwas not a bridge but a picturea perfect delight! And who would not have beenexcited when the whole town came to the opening? 'Oh' I thought'now the eyesof all the public will be on me! Where shall I hide myself?' WellI need nothave worried myselfsir -- alas! Except the official personagesno one tookthe slightest notice of me. They stood in a crowd on the river-bankgazed likesheep at the bridgeand did not concern themselves to know who had built it.And it was from that timeby the waythat I began to hate our estimable public-- damnation take them! Wellto continue. All at once the public becameagitated; a whisper ran through the crowd. . . a smile came on their facestheir shoulders began to move. 'They must have seen me' I thought. A likelyidea! I lookedand my singerwith a train of young scampswas making her waythrough the crowd. The eyes of the crowd were hurriedly following thisprocession. A whisper began in a thousand voices: 'That's so-and-so. . . .Charming! Bewitching!' Then it was they noticed me. . . . A couple of youngmilksopslocal amateurs of the scenic artI presumelooked at meexchangedglancesand whispered: 'That's her lover!' How do you like that? And anunprepossessing individual in a top-hatwith a chin that badly needed shavinghung round meshifting from one foot to the otherthen turned to me with thewords:
"'Do you know who that lady iswalking on the other bank? That'sso-and-so. . . . Her voice is beneath all criticismbut she has a most perfectmastery of it! . . .'
" 'Can you tell me' I asked the unprepossessing individual'who builtthis bridge?'
" 'I really don't know' answered the individual; some engineerIexpect.'
" 'And who built the cathedral in your town?' I asked again.
" 'I really can't tell you.'
"Then I asked him who was considered the best teacher in K.who thebest architectand to all my questions the unprepossessing individual answeredthat he did not know.
" 'And tell meplease' I asked in conclusionwith whom is that singerliving?'
" 'With some engineer called Krikunov.'
"Wellhow do you like thatsir? But to proceed. There are nominnesingers or bards nowadaysand celebrity is created almost exclusively bythe newspapers. The day after the dedication of the bridgeI greedily snatchedup the local _Messenger_ and looked for myself in it. I spent a long timerunning my eyes over all the four pagesand at last there it was -- hurrah! Ibegan reading: 'Yesterday in beautiful weatherbefore a vast concourse ofpeoplein the presence of His Excellency the Governor of the provinceso-and-soand other dignitariesthe ceremony of the dedication of the newlyconstructed bridge took place' and so on. . . . Towards the end: Our talentedactress so-and-sothe favorite of the K. publicwas present at the dedicationlooking very beautiful. I need not say that her arrival created a sensation. Thestar was wearing . . .' and so on. They might have given me one word! Half aword. Petty as it seemsI actually cried with vexation!
"I consoled myself with the reflection that the provinces are stupidand one could expect nothing of them and for celebrity one must go to theintellectual centers -- to Petersburg and to Moscow. And as it happenedat thatvery time there was a work of mine in Petersburg which I had sent in for acompetition. The date on which the result was to be declared was at hand.
"I took leave of K. and went to Petersburg. It is a long journey from K.to Petersburgand that I might not be bored on the journey I took a reservedcompartment and -- well -- of courseI took my singer. We set offand all theway we were eatingdrinking champagneand -- tra-la--la! But beholdat lastwe reach the intellectual center. I arrived on the very day the result wasdeclaredand had the satisfactionmy dear sirof celebrating my own success:my work received the first prize. Hurrah! Next day I went out along the Nevskyand spent seventy kopecks on various newspapers. I hastened to my hotel roomlay down on the sofaandcontrolling a quiver of excitementmade haste toread. I ran through one newspaper -- nothing. I ran through a second -- nothingeither; my God! At lastin the fourthI lighted upon the following paragraph:'Yesterday the well-known provincial actress so-and-so arrived by express inPetersburg. We note with pleasure that the climate of the South has had abeneficial effect on our fair friend; her charming stage appearance. . .' and Idon't remember the rest! Much lower down than that paragraph I foundprinted inthe smallest type: first prize in the competition was adjudged to an engineercalled so-and-so.' That was all! And to make things betterthey even misspeltmy name: instead of Krikunov it was Kirkutlov. So much for your intellectualcenter! But that was not all. . . . By the time I left Petersburga monthlaterall the newspapers were vying with one another in discussing ourincomparabledivinehighly talented actressand my mistress was referred tonot by her surnamebut by her Christian name and her father's. . . .
"Some years later I was in Moscow. I was summoned there by a letterinthe mayor's own handwritingto undertake a work for which Moscowin itsnewspapershad been clamoring for over a hundred years. In the intervals of mywork I delivered five public lectureswith a philanthropic objectin one ofthe museums there. One would have thought that was enough to make one known tothe whole town for three days at leastwouldn't one? Butalas! not a singleMoscow gazette said a word about me There was something about houses on fireabout an operettasleeping town councilorsdr unken shop keepers -- abouteverything; but about my workmy plansmy lectures -- mum. And a nice set theyare in Moscow! I got into a tram. . . . It was packed full; there were ladiesand military men and students of both sexescreatures of all sorts in couples.
"'I am told the town council has sent for an engineer to plan such andsuch a work!' I said to my neighborso loudly that all the tram could hear. 'Doyou know the name of the engineer?'
"My neighbor shook his head. The rest of the public took a cursoryglance at meand in all their eyes I read: 'I don't know.'
"'I am told that there is someone giving lectures in such and such amuseum?' I persistedtrying to get up a conversation. 'I hear it isinteresting.'
"No one even nodded. Evidently they had not all of them heard of thelecturesand the ladies were not even aware of the existence of the museum. Allthat would not have matteredbut imaginemy dear sirthe people suddenlyleaped to their feet and struggled to the windows. What was it? What was thematter?
"'Looklook!' my neighbor nudged me. 'Do you see that dark man gettinginto that cab? That's the famous runnerKing!'
"And the whole tram began talking breathlessly of the runner who wasthen absorbing the brains of Moscow.
"I could give you ever so many other examplesbut I think that isenough. Now let us assume that I am mistaken about myselfthat I am awretchedly boastful and incompetent person; but apart from myself I might pointto many of my contemporariesmen remarkable for their talent and industrywhohave nevertheless died unrecognized. Are Russian navigatorschemistsphysicistsmechaniciansand agriculturists popular with the public? Do ourcultivated masses know anything of Russian artistssculptorsand literary men?Some old literary hackhard-working and talentedwill wear away the doorstepof the publishers' offices for thirty-three yearscover reams of paperbe hadup for libel twenty timesand yet not step beyond his ant-heap. Can you mentionto me a single representative of our literature who would have become celebratedif the rumor had not been spread over the earth that he had been killed in aduelgone out of his mindbeen sent into exileor had cheated at cards?"
The first-class passenger was so excited that he dropped his cigar out of hismouth and got up.
"Yes" he went on fiercely"and side by side with thesepeople I can quote you hundreds of all sorts of singersacrobatsbuffoonswhose names are known to every baby. Yes!"
The door creakedthere was a draughtand an individual of forbiddingaspectwearing an Inverness coata top-hatand blue spectacleswalked intothe carriage. The individual looked round at the seatsfrownedand went onfurther.
"Do you know who that is?" there came a timid whisper from thefurthest corner of the compartment.
That is N. N.the famous Tula cardsharper who was had up in connection withthe Y. bank affair."
"There you are!" laughed the first-class passenger. He knows a Tulacardsharperbut ask him whether he knows SemiradskyTchaykovskyor Solovyovthe philosopher -- he'll shake his head. . . . It swinish!"
Three minutes passed in silence.
"Allow me in my turn to ask you a question" said the _vis-a-vis_timidlyclearing his throat. Do you know the name of Pushkov?"
"Pushkov? H'm! Pushkov. . . . NoI don't know it!"
"That is my name. . ." said the _vis-a-vis_overcome withembarrassment. "Then you don't know it? And yet I have been a professor atone of the Russian universities for thirty-five years. . . a member of theAcademy of Sciences. . . have published more than one work. . . ."
The first-class passenger and the _vis-a-vis_ looked at each other and burstout laughing.
A TRAGIC ACTOR
IT was the benefit night of Fenogenovthe tragic actor. They were acting"Prince Serebryany." The tragedian himself was playing Vyazemsky;Limonadovthe stage managerwas playing Morozov; Madame BeobahtovElena. Theperformance was a grand success. The tragedian accomplished wonders indeed. Whenhe was carrying off Elenahe held her in one hand above his head as he dashedacross the stage. He shoutedhissedbanged with his feettore his coat acrosshis chest. When he refused to fight Morozovhe trembled all over as nobody evertrembles in realityand gasped loudly. The theatre shook with applause. Therewere endless calls. Fenogenov was presented with a silver cigarette-case and abouquet tied with long ribbons. The ladies waved their handkerchiefs and urgedtheir men to applaudmany shed tears. . . . But the one who was the mostenthusiastic and most excited was Mashadaughter of Sidoretsky the policecaptain. She was sitting in the first row of the stalls beside her papa; she wasecstatic and could not take her eyes off the stage even between the acts. Herdelicate little hands and feet were quiveringher eyes were full of tearshercheeks turned paler and paler. And no wonder -- she was at the theatre for thefirst time in her life.
"How well they act! how splendidly!" she said to her papa thepolice captainevery time the curtain fell. How good Fenogenov is!"
And if her papa had been capable of reading faces he would have read on hisdaughter's pale little countenance a rapture that was almost anguish. She wasovercome by the actingby the playby the surroundings. When the regimentalband began playing between the actsshe closed her eyesexhausted.
"Papa!" she said to the police captain during the last interval"go behind the scenes and ask them all to dinner to-morrow!"
The police captain went behind the scenespraised them for all their fineactingand complimented Madame Beobahtov.
"Your lovely face demands a canvasand I only wish I could wield thebrush!"
And with a scrapehe thereupon invited the company to dinner.
"All except the fair sex" he whispered. "I don't want theactressesfor I have a daughter."
Next day the actors dined at the police captain's. Only three turned upthemanager Limonadovthe tragedian Fenogenovand the comic man Vodolazov; theothers sent excuses. The dinner was a dull affair. Limonadov kept telling thepolice captain how much he respected himand how highly he thought of allpersons in authority; Vodolazov mimicked drunken merchants and Armenians; andFenogenov (on his passport his name was Knish)a tallstout Little Russianwith black eyes and frowning browdeclaimed "At the portals of thegreat" and "To be or not to be." Limonadovwith tears in hiseyesdescribed his interview with the former GovernorGeneral Kanyutchin. Thepolice captain listenedwas boredand smiled affably. He was well satisfiedalthough Limonadov smelt strongly of burnt feathersand Fenogenov was wearing ahired dress coat and boots trodden down at heel. They pleased his daughter andmade her livelyand that was enough for him. And Masha never took her eyes offthe actors. She had never before seen such cleverexceptional people!
In the evening the police captain and Masha were at the theatre again. A weeklater the actors dined at the police captain's againand after that came almostevery day either to dinner or supper. Masha became more and more devoted to thetheatreand went there every evening.
She fell in love with the tragedian. One fine morningwhen the policecaptain had gone to meet the bishopMasha ran away with Limonadov's company andmarried her hero on the way. After celebrating the weddingthe actors composeda long and touching letter and sent it to the police captain.
It was the work of their combined efforts.
"Bring out the motivethe motive!" Limonadov kept saying as hedictated to the comic man. "Lay on the respect. . . . These official chapslike it. Add something of a sort . . . to draw a tear."
The answer to this letter was most discomforting. The police captain disownedhis daughter for marryingas he said"a stupididle Little Russian withno fixed home or occupation."
And the day after this answer was received M asha was writing to her father.
"Papahe beats me! Forgive us!"
He had beaten herbeaten her behind the scenesin the presence ofLimonadovthe washerwomanand two lighting men. He remembered howfour daysbefore the weddinghe was sitting in the London Tavern with the whole companyand all were talking about Masha. The company were advising him to "chanceit" and Limonadovwith tears in his eyes urged: "It would be stupidand irrational to let slip such an opportunity! Whyfor a sum like that onewould go to Siberialet alone getting married! When you marry and have atheatre of your owntake me into your company. I shan't be master thenyou'llbe master."
Fenogenov remembered itand muttered with clenched fists:
"If he doesn't send money I'll smash her! I won't let myself be made afool ofdamn my soul!"
At one provincial town the company tried to give Masha the slipbut Mashafound outran to the stationand got there when the second bell had rung andthe actors had all taken their seats.
"I've been shamefully treated by your father" said the tragedian;"all is over between us!"
And though the carriage was full of peopleshe went down on her knees andheld out her handsimploring him:
"I love you! Don't drive me awayKondraty Ivanovitch" shebesought him. "I can't live without you!"
They listened to her entreatiesand after consulting togethertook her intothe company as a "countess" -- the name they used for the minoractresses who usually came on to the stage in crowds or in dumb parts. To beginwith Masha used to play maid-servants and pagesbut when Madame Beobahtovtheflower of Limonadov's companyelopedthey made her _ingenue_. She acted badlylispedand was nervous. She soon grew used to ithoweverand began to beliked by the audience. Fenogenov was much displeased.
"To call her an actress!" he used to say. "She has no figureno deportmentnothing whatever but silliness."
In one provincial town the company acted Schiller's " Robbers."Fenogenov played FranzMashaAmalie. The tragedian shouted and quivered. Masharepeated her part like a well-learnt lessonand the play would have gone off asthey generally did had it not been for a trifling mishap. Everything went wellup to the point where Franz declares his love for Amalie and she seizes hissword. The tragedian shoutedhissedquiveredand squeezed Masha in his ironembrace. And Mashainstead of repulsing him and crying "Hence! "trembled in his arms like a bird and did not move. . .she seemed petrified.
"Have pity on me!" she whispered in his ear. "Ohhave pity onme! I am so miserable!"
"You don't know your part! Listen to the prompter!" hissed thetragedianand he thrust his sword into her hand.
After the performanceLimonadov and Fenogenov were sitting in the ticketbox-office engaged in conversation.
"Your wife does not learn her partyou are right there" themanager was saying. "She doesn't know her line. . . . Every man has his ownline. . . but she doesn't know hers. . . ."
Fenogenov listenedsighedand scowled and scowled.
Next morningMasha was sitting in a little general shop writing:
"Papahe beats me! Forgive us! Send us some money!"
A COLLEGIATE assessor called Miguev stopped at a telegraph-post in the courseof his evening walk and heaved a deep sigh. A week beforeas he was returninghome from his evening walkhe had been overtaken at that very spot by hisformer housemaidAgniawho said to him viciously:
"Wait a bit! I'll cook you such a crab that'll teach you to ruininnocent girls! I'll leave the baby at your doorand I'll have the law of youand I'll tell your wifetoo. . . ."
And she demanded that he should put five thousand roubles into the bank inher name. Miguev remembered itheaved a sighand once more reproached himselfwith heartfelt repentance for the momentary infatuation which had caused him somuch worry and misery.
When he reached his bungalowhe sat down to rest on the doorstep. It wasjust ten o'clockand a bit of the moon peeped out from behind the clouds. Therewas not a soul in the street nor near the bungalows; elderly summer visitorswere already going to bedwhile young ones were walking in the wood. Feeling inboth his pockets for a match to light his cigaretteMiguev brought his elbowinto contact with something soft. He looked idly at his right elbowand hisface was instantly contorted by a look of as much horror as though he had seen asnake beside him. On the step at the very door lay a bundle. Something oblong inshape was wrapped up in something -- judging by the feel of ita wadded quilt.One end of the bundle was a little openand the collegiate assessorputting inhis handfelt something damp and warm. He leaped on to his feet in horrorandlooked about him like a criminal trying to escape from his warders. . . .
"She has left it!" he muttered wrathfully through his teethclenching his fists. "Here it lies. . . . Here lies my transgression! OLord!"
He was numb with terrorangerand shame. . . What was he to do now? Whatwould his wife say if she found out? What would his colleagues at the officesay? His Excellency would be sure to dig him in the ribsguffawand say:"I congratulate you! . . . He-he-he! Though your beard is grayyour heartis gay. . . . You are a rogueSemyon Erastovitch!" The whole colony ofsummer visitors would know his secret nowand probably the respectable mothersof families would shut their doors to him. Such incidents always get into thepapersand the humble name of Miguev would be published all over Russia. . . .
The middle window of the bungalow was open and he could distinctly hear hiswifeAnna Filippovnalaying the table for supper; in the yard close to thegate Yermolaythe porterwas plaintively strumming on the balalaika. The babyhad only to wake up and begin to cryand the secret would be discovered. Miguevwas conscious of an overwhelming desire to make haste.
"Hastehaste! . . ." he muttered"this minutebefore anyonesees. I'll carry it away and lay it on somebody's doorstep. . . ."
Miguev took the bundle in one hand and quietlywith a deliberate step toavoid awakening suspicionwent down the street. . . .
"A wonderfully nasty position!" he reflectedtrying to assume anair of unconcern. "A collegiate assessor walking down the street with ababy! Good heavens! if anyone sees me and understands the positionI am donefor. . . . I'd better put it on this doorstep. . . . Nostaythe windows areopen and perhaps someone is looking. Where shall I put it? I know! I'll take itto the merchant Myelkin's.. .. Merchants are rich people and tenderhearted; verylikely they will say thank you and adopt it."
And Miguev made up his mind to take the baby to Myelkin'salthough themerchant's villa was in the furthest streetclose to the river.
"If only it does not begin screaming or wriggle out of the bundle"thought the collegiate assessor. "This is indeed a pleasant surprise! HereI am carrying a human being under my arm as though it were a portfolio. A humanbeingalivewith soulwith feelings like anyone else. . . . If by good luckthe Myelkins adopt himhe may turn out somebody. . . . Maybe he will become aprofessora great generalan author. . . . Anything may happen! Now I amcarrying him under my arm like a bundle of rubbishand perhaps in thirty orforty years I may not dare to sit down in his presence. . . .
As Miguev was walking along a narrowdeserted alleybeside a long row offencesin the thick black shade of the lime treesit suddenly struck him thathe was doing something very cruel and criminal.
"How mean it is really!" he thought. "So mean that one can'timagine anything meaner. . . . Why are we shifting this poor baby from door todoor? It's not its fault that it's been born. It's done us no harm. We arescoundrels. . . . We take our pleasureand the innocent babies have to pay thepenalty. Only to think of all this wretched business!
I've done wrong and the child has a cruel fate before it. If I lay it at theMyelkins' doorthey'll send it to the foundling hospitaland there it willgrow up among strangersin mechanical routine. . . no loveno pettingnospoiling. . . . And then he'll be apprenticed to a shoemaker. . . he'll taketo drinkwill learn to use filthy languagewill go hungry. A shoemaker! and hethe son of a collegiate assessorof good family. . . . He is my flesh andblood. . . "
Miguev came out of the shade of the lime trees into the bright moonlight ofthe open roadand opening the bundlehe looked at the baby.
"Asleep!" he murmured. "You little rascal! whyyou've anaquiline nose like your father's. . . . He sleeps and doesn't feel that it's hisown father looking at him! . . . It's a dramamy boy. . . Wellwellyou mustforgive me. Forgive meold boy. . . . It seems it's your fate. . . ."
The collegiate assessor blinked and felt a spasm running down his cheeks. . .. He wrapped up the babyput him under his armand strode on. All the way tothe Myelkins' villa social questions were swarming in his brain and consciencewas gnawing in his bosom.
"If I were a decenthonest manhe thought"I should damneverythinggo with this baby to Anna Filippovnafall on my knees before herand say: 'Forgive me! I have sinned! Torture mebut we won't ruin an innocentchild. We have no children; let us adopt him!" She's a good sortshe'dconsent. . . . And then my child would be with me. . . . Ech!"
He reached the Myelkins' villa and stood still hesitating. He imaginedhimself in the parlor at homesitting reading the paper while a little boy withan aquiline nose played with the tassels of his dressing gown. At the same timevisions forced themselves on his brain of his winking colleaguesand of hisExcellency digging him in the ribs and guffawing. . . . Besides the pricking ofhis consciencethere was something warmsadand tender in his heart. . . .
Cautiously the collegiate assessor laid the baby on the verandah step andwaved his hand. Again he felt a spasm run over his face. . . .
"Forgive meold fellow! I am a scoundrelhe muttered. "Don'tremember evil against me."
He stepped backbut immediately cleared his throat resolutely and said:
"Ohcome what will! Damn it all! I'll take himand let people say whatthey like!"
Miguev took the baby and strode rapidly back.
"Let them say what they like" he thought. "I'll go at oncefall on my kneesand say: 'Anna Filippovna!' Anna is a good sortshe'llunderstand. . . . And we'll bring him up. . . . If it's a boy we'll call himVladimirand if it's a girl we'll call her Anna! Anywayit will be a comfortin our old age."
And he did as he determined. Weeping and almost faint with shame and terrorfull of hope and vague rapturehe went into his bungalowwent up to his wifeand fell on his knees before her.
"Anna Filippovna!" he said with a soband he laid the baby on thefloor. "Hear me before you punish. . . . I have sinned! This is my child. .. . You remember Agnia? Wellit was the devil drove me to it. . . ."
Andalmost unconscious with shame and terrorhe jumped up without waitingfor an answerand ran out into the open air as though he had received athrashing. . . .
"I'll stay here outside till she calls me" he thought. "I'llgive her time to recoverand to think it over. . . ."
The porter Yermolay passed him with his balalaikaglanced at him andshrugged his shoulders. A minute later he passed him againand again heshrugged his shoulders.
"Here's a go! Did you ever!" he muttered grinning. "Aksinyathe washer-womanwas here just nowSemyon Erastovitch. The silly woman put herbaby down on the steps hereand while she was indoors with mesomeone took andcarried off the baby. . . Who'd have thought it!"
"What? What are you saying?" shouted Miguev at the top of hisvoice.
Yermolayinterpreting his master's wrath in his own fashionscratched hishead and heaved a sigh.
"I am sorrySemyon Erastovitch" he said"but it's thesummer holidays. . . one can't get on without . . . without a womanI mean. .. ."
And glancing at his master's eyes glaring at him with anger and astonishmenthe cleared his throat guiltily and went on:
"It's a sinof coursebut there -- what is one to do?. . . You'veforbidden us to have strangers in the houseI knowbut we've none of our ownnow. When Agnia was here I had no women to see mefor I had one at home; butnowyou can see for yourselfsir. . . one can't help having strangers. InAgnia's timeof coursethere was nothing irregularbecause. . ."
"Be offyou scoundrel!" Miguev shouted at himstampingand hewent back into the room.
Anna Filippovnaamazed and wrathfulwas sitting as beforeher tear-stainedeyes fixed on the baby. . . .
"There! there!" Miguev muttered with a pale facetwisting his lipsinto a smile. "It was a joke. . . . It's not my baby. . . it's thewasher-woman's! . . . I . . . I was joking. . . . Take it to the porter."
"HONORED SirFather and Benefactor!" a petty clerk calledNevyrazimov was writing a rough copy of an Easter congratulatory letter. "Itrust that you may spend this Holy Day even as many more to comein good healthand prosperity. And to your family also I . . ."
The lampin which the kerosene was getting lowwas smoking and smelling. Astray cockroach was running about the table in alarm near Nevyrazimov's writinghand. Two rooms away from the office Paramon the porter was for the third timecleaning his best bootsand with such energy that the sound of theblacking-brush and of his expectorations was audible in all the rooms.
"What else can I write to himthe rascal?" Nevyrazimov wonderedraising his eyes to the smutty ceiling.
On the ceiling he saw a dark circle -- the shadow of the lamp-shade. Below itwas the dusty corniceand lower still the wallwhich had once been painted abluish muddy color. And the office seemed to him such a place of desolation thathe felt sorrynot only for himselfbut even for the cockroach.
"When I am off duty I shall go awaybut he'll be on duty here all hiscockroach-life" he thoughtstretching. "I am bored! Shall I clean myboots?"
And stretching once moreNevyrazimov slouched lazily to the porter's room.Paramon had finished cleaning his boots. Crossing himself with one hand andholding the brush in the otherhe was standing at the open window-panelistening.
"They're ringing" he whispered to Nevyrazimovlooking at him witheyes intent and wide open. "Already!"
Nevyrazimov put his ear to the open pane and listened. The Easter chimesfloated into the room with a whiff of fresh spring air. The booming of the bellsmingled with the rumble of carriagesand above the chaos of sounds rose thebrisk tenor tones of the nearest church and a loud shrill laugh.
"What a lot of people!" sighed Nevyrazimovlooking down into thestreetwhere shadows of men flitted one after another by the illuminationlamps. "They're all hurrying to the midnight service. . . . Our fellowshave had a drink by nowyou may be sureand are strolling about the town. Whata lot of laughterwhat a lot of talk! I'm the only unlucky oneto have to sithere on such a day: And I have to do it every year!"
"Wellnobody forces you to take the job. It's not your turn to be onduty todaybut Zastupov hired you to take his place. When other folks areenjoying themselves you hire yourself out. It's greediness!"
"Devil a bit of it! Not much to be greedy over -- two roubles is all hegives me; a necktie as an extra. . . . It's povertynot greediness. And itwould be jollynowyou knowto be going with a party to the serviceand thento break the fast. . . . To drink and to have a bit of supper and tumble off tosleep. . . . One sits down to the tablethere's an Easter cake and the samovarhissingand some charming little thing beside you. . . . You drink a glass andchuck her under the chinand it's firstrate. . . . You feel you're somebody. .. . Ech h-h! . . . I've made a mess of things! Look at that hussy driving by inher carriagewhile I have to sit here and brood."
"We each have our lot in lifeIvan Danilitch. Please Godyou'll bepromoted and drive about in your carriage one day."
"I? Nobrothernot likely. I shan't get beyond a 'titular' not if Itry till I burst. I'm not an educated man."
"Our General has no education eitherbut . . ."
"Wellbut the General stole a hundred thousand before he got hisposition. And he's got very different manners and deportment from mebrother.With my manners and deportment one can't get far! And such a scoundrellysurnameNevyrazimov! It's a hopeless positionin fact. One may go on as oneisor one may hang oneself . . ."
He moved away from the window and walked wearily about the rooms. The din ofthe bells grew louder and louder. . . . There was no need to stand by the windowto hear it. And the better he could hear the bells and the louder the roar ofthe carriagesthe darker seemed the muddy walls and the smutty cornice and themore the lamp smoked.
"Shall I hook it and leave the office?" thought Nevyrazimov.
But such a flight promised nothing worth having. . . . After coming out ofthe office and wandering about the townNevyrazimov would have gone home to hislodgingand in his lodging it was even grayer and more depressing than in theoffice. . . .
Even supposing he were to spend that day pleasantly and with comfortwhat hadhe beyond? Nothing but the same gray wallsthe same stop-gap duty andcomplimentary letters. . . .
Nevyrazimov stood still in the middle of the office and sank into thought.The yearning for a newbetter life gnawed at his heart with an intolerableache. He had a passionate longing to find himself suddenly in the streettomingle with the living crowdto take part in the solemn festivity for the sakeof which all those bells were clashing and those carriages were rumbling. Helonged for what he had known in childhood -- the family circlethe festivefaces of his own peoplethe white clothlightwarmth . . . ! He thought ofthe carriage in which the lady had just driven bythe overcoat in which thehead clerk was so smartthe gold chain that adorned the secretary's chest. . .. He thought of a warm bedof the Stanislav orderof new bootsof a uniformwithout holes in the elbows. . . . He thought of all those things because he hadnone of them.
"Shall I steal?" he thought. "Even if stealing is an easymatterhiding is what's difficult. Men run away to Americathey saywith whatthey've stolenbut the devil knows where that blessed America is. One must haveeducation even to stealit seems."
The bells died down. He heard only a distant noise of carriages and Paramon'scoughwhile his depression and anger grew more and more intense and unbearable.The clock in the office struck half-past twelve.
"Shall I write a secret report? Proshkin didand he rose rapidly."
Nevyrazimov sat down at his table and pondered. The lamp in which thekerosene had quite run dry was smoking violently and threatening to go out. Thestray cockroach was still running about the table and had found noresting-place.
"One can always send in a secret reportbut how is one to make it up? Ishould want to make all sorts of innuendoes and insinuationslike ProshkinandI can't do it. If I made up anything I should be the first to get into troublefor it. I'm an assdamn my soul!"
And Nevyrazimovracking his brain for a means of escape from his hopelesspositionstared at the rough copy he had written. The letter was written to aman whom he feared and hated with his whole souland from whom he had for thelast ten years been trying to wring a post worth eighteen roubles a monthinstead of the one he had at sixteen roubles.
"AhI'll teach you to run hereyou devil!" He viciously slappedthe palm of his hand on the cockroachwho had the misfortune to catch his eye."Nasty thing!"
The cockroach fell on its back and wriggled its legs in despair. Nevyrazimovtook it by one leg and threw it into the lamp. The lamp flared up andspluttered.
And Nevyrazimov felt better.
IN the village church of Verhny Zaprudy mass was just over. The people hadbegun moving and were trooping out of church. The only one who did not move wasAndrey Andreyitcha shopkeeper and old inhabitant of Verhny Zaprudy. He stoodwaitingwith his elbows on the railing of the right choir. His fat and shavenfacecovered with indentations left by pimplesexpressed on this occasion twocontradictory feelings: resignation in the face of inevitable destinyandstupidunbounded disdain for the smocks and striped kerchiefs passing by him.As it was Sundayhe was dressed like a dandy. He wore a long cloth overcoatwith yellow bone buttonsblue trousers not thrust into his bootsand sturdygoloshes -- the huge clumsy goloshes only seen on the feet of practical andprudent persons of firm religious convictions.
His torpid eyessunk in fatwere fixed upon the ikon stand. He saw the longfamiliar figures of the saintsthe verger Matvey puffing out his cheeks andblowing out the candlesthe darkened candle standsthe threadbare carpetthesacristan Lopuhov running impulsively from the altar and carrying the holy breadto the churchwarden. . . . All these things he had seen for yearsand seen overand over again like the five fingers of his hand. . . . There was only onethinghoweverthat was somewhat strange and unusual. Father Grigorystill inhis vestmentswas standing at the north doortwitching his thick eyebrowsangrily.
"Who is it he is winking at? God bless him!" thought theshopkeeper. "And he is beckoning with his finger! And he stamped his foot!What next! What's the matterHoly Queen and Mother! Whom does he mean itfor?"
Andrey Andreyitch looked round and saw the church completely deserted. Therewere some ten people standing at the doorbut they had their backs to thealtar.
"Do come when you are called! Why do you stand like a gravenimage?" he heard Father Grigory's angry voice. "I am callingyou."
The shopkeeper looked at Father Grigory's red and wrathful faceand onlythen realized that the twitching eyebrows and beckoning finger might refer tohim. He startedleft the railingand hesitatingly walked towards the altartramping with his heavy goloshes.
"Andrey Andreyitchwas it you asked for prayers for the rest ofMariya's soul?" asked the priesthis eyes angrily transfixing theshopkeeper's fatperspiring face.
"Then it was you wrote this? You?" And Father Grigory angrilythrust before his eyes the little note.
And on this little notehanded in by Andrey Andreyitch before masswaswritten in bigas it were staggeringletters:
"For the rest of the soul of the servant of Godthe harlotMariya."
"Yescertainly I wrote it. . ." answered the shopkeeper.
"How dared you write it?" whispered the priestand in his huskywhisper there was a note of wrath and alarm.
The shopkeeper looked at him in blank amazement; he was perplexedand hetoowas alarmed. Father Grigory had never in his life spoken in such a tone toa leading resident of Verhny Zaprudy. Both were silent for a minutestaringinto each other's face. The shopkeeper's amazement was so great that his fatface spread in all directions like spilt dough.
"How dared you?" repeated the priest.
"Wha . . . what?" asked Andrey Andreyitch in bewilderment.
"You don't understand?" whispered Father Grigorystepping back inastonishment and clasping his hands. "What have you got on your shouldersa head or some other object? You send a note up to the altarand write a wordin it which it would be unseemly even to utter in the street! Why are yourolling your eyes? Surely you know the meaning of the word?"
"Are you referring to the word harlot?" muttered the shopkeeperflushing crimson and blinking. "But you knowthe Lord in His mercy . . .forgave this very thing. . . forgave a harlot. . . . He has prepared a placefor herand indeed from the life of the holy saintMariya of Egyptone maysee in what sense the word is used -- excuse me . . ."
The shopkeeper wanted to bring forward some other argument in hisjustificationbut took fright and wiped his lips with his sleeve
"So that's what you make of it!" cried Father Grigoryclasping hishands. "But you see God has forgiven her -- do you understand? He hasforgivenbut you judge heryou slander hercall her by an unseemly nameandwhom! Your own deceased daughter! Not only in Holy Scripturebut even inworldly literature you won't read of such a sin! I tell you againAndreyyoumustn't be over-subtle! Nonoyou mustn't be over-subtlebrother! If God hasgiven you an inquiring mindand if you cannot direct itbetter not go intothings. . . . Don't go into thingsand hold your peace!"
"But you knowshe. . . excuse my mentioning itwas an actress!"articulated Andrey Andreyitchoverwhelmed.
"An actress! But whatever she wasyou ought to forget it all now she isdeadinstead of writing it on the note."
"Just so. . ." the shopkeeper assented.
"You ought to do penance" boomed the deacon from the depths of thealtarlooking contemptuously at Andrey Andreyitch's embarrassed face"that would teach you to leave off being so clever! Your daughter was awell-known actress. There were even notices of her death in the newspapers. . .. Philosopher!"
"To be sure. . . certainly" muttered the shopkeeper"theword is not a seemly one; but I did not say it to judge herFather GrigoryIonly meant to speak spiritually. . . that it might be clearer to you for whomyou were praying. They write in the memorial notes the various callingssuch asthe infant Johnthe drowned woman Pelageathe warrior Yegorthe murderedPaveland so on. . . . I meant to do the same."
"It was foolishAndrey! God will forgive youbut beware another time.Above alldon't be subtlebut think like other people. Make ten bows and goyour way."
"I obey" said the shopkeeperrelieved that the lecture was overand allowing his face to resume its expression of importance and dignity."Ten bows? Very goodI understand. But nowFatherallow me to ask you afavor. . . . Seeing that I amanywayher father. . . you know yourselfwhatever she wasshe was still my daughterso I was. . . excuse memeaningto ask you to sing the requiem today. And allow me to ask youFatherDeacon!"
"Wellthat's good" said Father Grigorytaking off his vestments."That I commend. I can approve of that! Wellgo your way. We will come outimmediately."
Andrey Andreyitch walked with dignity from the altarand with a solemnrequiem-like expression on his red face took his stand in the middle of thechurch. The verger Matvey set before him a little table with the memorial foodupon itand a little later the requiem service began.
There was perfect stillness in the church. Nothing could be heard but themetallic click of the censer and slow singing. . . . Near Andrey Andreyitchstood the verger Matveythe midwife Makaryevnaand her one-armed son Mitka.There was no one else. The sacristan sang badly in an unpleasanthollow bassbut the tune and the words were so mournful that the shopkeeper little by littlelost the expression of dignity and was plunged in sadness. He thought of hisMashutka. . . he remembered she had been born when he was still a lackey inthe service of the owner of Verhny Zaprudy. In his busy life as a lackey he hadnot noticed how his girl had grown up. That long period during which she wasbeing shaped into a graceful creaturewith a little flaxen head and dreamy eyesas big as kopeck-pieces passed unnoticed by him. She had been brought up likeall the children of favorite lackeysin ease and comfort in the company of theyoung ladies. The gentryto fill up their idle timehad taught her to readtowriteto dance; he had had no hand in her bringing up. Only from time to timecasually meeting her at the gate or on the landing of the stairshe wouldremember that she was his daughterand wouldso far as he had leisure for itbegin teaching her the prayers and the scripture. Oheven then he had thereputation of an authority on the church rules and the holy scriptures!Forbidding and stolid as her father's face wasyet the girl listened readily.She repeated the prayers after him yawningbut on the other handwhen hehesitating and trying to express himself elaboratelybegan telling her storiesshe was all attention. Esau's pottagethe punishment of Sodomand the troublesof the boy Joseph made her turn pale and open her blue eyes wide.
Afterwards when he gave up being a lackeyand with the money he had savedopened a shop in the villageMashutka had gone away to Moscow with his master'sfamily. . . .
Three years before her death she had come to see her father. He had scarcelyrecognized her. She was a graceful young woman with the manners of a young ladyand dressed like one. She talked cleverlyas though from a booksmokedandslept till midday. When Andrey Andreyitch asked her what she was doingshe hadannouncedlooking him boldly straight in the face: "I am an actress."Such frankness struck the former flunkey as the acme of cynicism. Mashutka hadbegun boasting of her successes and her stage life; but seeing that her fatheronly turned crimson and threw up his handsshe ceased. And they spent afortnight together without speaking or looking at one another till the day shewent away. Before she went away she asked her father to come for a walk on thebank of the river. Painful as it was for him to walk in the light of dayin thesight of all honest peoplewith a daughter who was an actresshe yielded toher request.
"What a lovely place you live in!" she said enthusiastically."What ravines and marshes! Good heavenshow lovely my native placeis!"
And she had burst into tears.
"The place is simply taking up room. . ." Andrey Andreyvitch hadthoughtlooking blankly at the ravinesnot understanding his daughter'senthusiasm. "There is no more profit from them than milk from abilly-goat."
And she had cried and crieddrawing her breath greedily with her wholechestas though she felt she had not a long time left to breathe.
Andrey Andreyitch shook his head like a horse that has been bittenand tostifle painful memories began rapidly crossing himself. . . .
"Be mindfulO Lord" he muttered"of Thy departed servantthe harlot Mariyaand forgive her sinsvoluntary or involuntary. . . ."
The unseemly word dropped from his lips againbut he did not notice it: whatis firmly imbedded in the consciousness cannot be driven out by Father Grigory'sexhortations or even knocked out by a nail. Makaryevna sighed and whisperedsomethingdrawing in a deep breathwhile one-armed Mitka was brooding oversomething. . . .
"Where there is no sicknessnor griefnor sighing" droned thesacristancovering his right cheek with his hand.
Bluish smoke coiled up from the censer and bathed in the broadslantingpatch of sunshine which cut across the gloomylifeless emptiness of the church.And it seemed as though the soul of the dead woman were soaring into thesunlight together with the smoke. The coils of smoke like a child's curls eddiedround and roundfloating upwards to the window andas it wereholding alooffrom the woes and tribulations of which that poor soul was full.
IN THE COACH-HOUSE
IT was between nine and ten o'clock in the evening. Stepan the coachmanMihailo the house-porterAlyoshka the coachman's grandsonwho had come up fromthe village to stay with his grandfatherand Nikandran old man of seventywho used to come into the yard every evening to sell salt herringswere sittinground a lantern in the big coach-houseplaying "kings." Through thewide-open door could be seen the whole yardthe big housewhere the master'sfamily livedthe gatesthe cellarsand the porter's l odge. It was allshrouded in the darkness of nightand only the four windows of one of thelodges which was let were brightly lit up. The shadows of the coaches andsledges with their shafts tipped upwards stretched from the walls to the doorsquivering and cutting across the shadows cast by the lantern and the players. .. . On the other side of the thin partition that divided the coach-house fromthe stable were the horses. There was a scent of hayand a disagreeable smellof salt herrings coming from old Nikandr.
The porter won and was king; he assumed an attitude such as was in hisopinion befitting a kingand blew his nose loudly on a red-checkedhandkerchief.
"Now if I like I can chop off anybody's head" he said. Alyoshkaaboy of eight with a head of flaxen hairleft long uncutwho had only missedbeing king by two trickslooked angrily and with envy at the porter. He poutedand frowned.
"I shall give you the trickgrandfather" he saidpondering overhis cards; "I know you have got the queen of diamonds."
"Wellwelllittle sillyyou have thought enough!"
Alyoshka timidly played the knave of diamonds. At that moment a ring washeard from the yard.
"Ohhang you!" muttered the portergetting up. "Go and openthe gateO king!"
When he came back a little laterAlyoshka was already a princethefish-hawker a soldierand the coachman a peasant.
"It's a nasty business" said the portersitting down to the cardsagain. "I have just let the doctors out. They have not extracted it."
"How could they? Just thinkthey would have to pick open the brains. Ifthere is a bullet in the headof what use are doctors?"
"He is lying unconscious" the porter went on. "He is bound todie. Alyoshkadon't look at the cardsyou little puppyor I will pull yourears! YesI let the doctors outand the father and mother in. . . They haveonly just arrived. Such crying and wailingLord preserve us! They say he is theonly son. . . . It's a grief!"
All except Alyoshkawho was absorbed in the gamelooked round at thebrightly lighted windows of the lodge.
"I have orders to go to the police station tomorrow" said theporter. "There will be an inquiry . . . But what do I know about it? I sawnothing of it. He called me this morninggave me a letterand said: 'Put it inthe letter-box for me.' And his eyes were red with crying. His wife and childrenwere not at home. They had gone out for a walk. So when I had gone with theletterhe put a bullet into his forehead from a revolver. When I came back hiscook was wailing for the whole yard to hear."
"It's a great sin" said the fish-hawker in a husky voiceand heshook his head"a great sin!"
"From too much learning" said the portertaking a trick;"his wits outstripped his wisdom. Sometimes he would sit writing papers allnight. . . . Playpeasant! . . . But he was a nice gentleman. And so whiteskinnedblack-haired and tall! . . . He was a good lodger."
"It seems the fair sex is at the bottom of it" said the coachmanslapping the nine of trumps on the king of diamonds. "It seems he was fondof another man's wife and disliked his own; it does happen."
"The king rebels" said the porter.
At that moment there was again a ring from the yard. The rebellious king spatwith vexation and went out. Shadows like dancing couples flitted across thewindows of the lodge. There was the sound of voices and hurried footsteps in theyard.
"I suppose the doctors have come again" said the coachman."Our Mihailo is run off his legs. . . ."
A strange wailing voice rang out for a moment in the air. Alyoshka looked inalarm at his grandfatherthe coachman; then at the windowsand said:
"He stroked me on the head at the gate yesterdayand said'Whatdistrict do you come fromboy?' Grandfatherwho was that howled justnow?"
His grandfather trimmed the light in the lantern and made no answer.
"The man is lost" he said a little laterwith a yawn. "He islostand his children are ruinedtoo. It's a disgrace for his children for therest of their lives now."
The porter came back and sat down by the lantern.
"He is dead" he said. "They have sent to the almshouse forthe old women to lay him out."
"The kingdom of heaven and eternal peace to him!" whispered thecoachmanand he crossed himself.
Looking at himAlyoshka crossed himself too.
"You can't pray for such as him" said the fish-hawker.
"It's a sin."
"That's true" the porter assented. "Now his soul has gonestraight to hellto the devil. . . ."
"It's a sin" repeated the fish-hawker; "such as he have nofuneralno requiembut are buried like carrion with no respect."
The old man put on his cap and got up.
"It was the same thing at our lady's" he saidpulling his cap onfurther. "We were serfs in those days; the younger son of our mistresstheGeneral's ladyshot himself through the mouth with a pistolfrom too muchlearningtoo. It seems that by law such have to be buried outside the cemeterywithout priestswithout a requiem service; but to save disgrace our ladyyouknowbribed the police and the doctorsand they gave her a paper to say herson had done it when deliriousnot knowing what he was doing. You can doanything with money. So he had a funeral with priests and every honorthe musicplayedand he was buried in the church; for the deceased General had built thatchurch with his own moneyand all his family were buried there. Only this iswhat happenedfriends. One month passedand then anotherand it was allright. In the third month they informed the General's lady that the watchmen hadcome from that same church. What did they want? They were brought to hertheyfell at her feet. 'We can't go on servingyour excellency' they said. 'Lookout for other watchmen and graciously dismiss us.' 'What for?' 'No' they said'we can't possibly; your son howls under the church all night.' "
Alyoshka shudderedand pressed his face to the coachman's back so as not tosee the windows.
"At first the General's lady would not listen" continued the oldman. "'All this is your fancyyou simple folk have such notions' shesaid. 'A dead man cannot howl.' Some time afterwards the watchmen came to heragainand with them the sacristan. So the sacristantoohad heard himhowling. The General's lady saw that it was a bad job; she locked herself in herbedroom with the watchmen. 'Heremy friendshere are twenty-five roubles foryouand for that go by night in secretso that no one should hear or see youdig up my unhappy sonand bury him' she said'outside the cemetery.' And Isuppose she stood them a glass . . . And the watchmen did so. The stone with theinscription on it is there to this daybut he himselfthe General's sonisoutside the cemetery. . . . O Lordforgive us our transgressions!" sighedthe fish-hawker. "There is only one day in the year when one may pray forsuch people: the Saturday before Trinity. . . . You mustn't give alms to beggarsfor their sakeit is a sinbut you may feed the birds for the rest of theirsouls. The General's lady used to go out to the crossroads every three days tofeed the birds. Once at the cross-roads a black dog suddenly appeared; it ran upto the breadand was such a . . . we all know what that dog was. The General'slady was like a half-crazy creature for five days afterwardsshe neither atenor drank. . . . All at once she fell on her knees in the gardenand prayed andprayed. . . . Wellgood-byfriendsthe blessing of God and the HeavenlyMother be with you. Let us goMihailoyou'll open the gate for me."
The fish-hawker and the porter went out. The coachman and Alyoshka went outtooso as not to be left in the coach-house.
"The man was living and is dead!" said the coachmanlookingtowards the windows where shadows were still flitting to and fro. "Onlythis morning he was walking about the yardand now he is lying dead."
"The time will come and we shall die too" said the porterwalkingaway with the fish -hawkerand at once they both vanished from sight in thedarkness.
The coachmanand Alyoshka after himsomewhat timidly went up to the lightedwindows. A very pale lady with large tear stained eyesand a fine-looking grayheaded man were moving two card-tables into the middle of the roomprobablywith the intention of laying the dead man upon themand on the green cloth ofthe table numbers could still be seen written in chalk. The cook who had runabout the yard wailing in the morning was now standing on a chairstretching upto try and cover the looking glass with a towel.
"Grandfather what are they doing?" asked Alyoshka in a whisper.
"They are just going to lay him on the tables" answered hisgrandfather. "Let us gochildit is bedtime."
The coachman and Alyoshka went back to the coach-house. They said theirprayersand took off their boots. Stepan lay down in a corner on the floorAlyoshka in a sledge. The doors of the coach house were shutthere was ahorrible stench from the extinguished lantern. A little later Alyoshka sat upand looked about him; through the crack of the door he could still see a lightfrom those lighted windows.
"GrandfatherI am frightened!" he said.
"Comego to sleepgo to sleep! . . ."
"I tell you I am frightened!"
"What are you frightened of? What a baby!"
They were silent.
Alyoshka suddenly jumped out of the sledge andloudly weepingran to hisgrandfather.
"What is it? What's the matter?" cried the coachman in a frightgetting up also.
"Who is howling?"
"I am frightenedgrandfatherdo you hear?"
The coachman listened.
"It's their crying" he said. "Come! therelittle silly! Theyare sadso they are crying."
"I want to go home. . ." his grandson went on sobbing andtrembling all over. "Grandfatherlet us go back to the villageto mammy;comegrandfather dearGod will give you the heavenly kingdom for it. . .."
"What a sillyah! Comebe quietbe quiet! Be quietI will light thelantern. . . silly!"
The coachman fumbled for the matches and lighted the lantern. But the lightdid not comfort Alyoshka.
"Grandfather Stepanlet's go to the village!" he besought himweeping. "I am frightened here; ohohhow frightened I am! And why didyou bring me from the villageaccursed man?"
"Who's an accursed man? You mustn't use such disrespectable words toyour lawful grandfather. I shall whip you."
"Do whip megrandfatherdo; beat me like Sidor's goatbut only takeme to mammyfor God's mercy! . . ."
"Comecomegrandsoncome!" the coachman said kindly. "It'sall rightdon't be frightened. . . .I am frightened myself. . . . Say yourprayers!"
The door creaked and the porter's head appeared. "Aren't you asleepStepan?" he asked. "I shan't get any sleep all night" he saidcoming in. "I shall be opening and shutting the gates all night. . . . Whatare you crying forAlyoshka?"
"He is frightened" the coachman answered for his grandson.
Again there was the sound of a wailing voice in the air. The porter said:
"They are crying. The mother can't believe her eyes. . . . It's dreadfulhow upset she is."
"And is the father there?"
"Yes. . . . The father is all right. He sits in the corner and saysnothing. They have taken the children to relations. . . . WellStepanshall wehave a game of trumps?"
"Yes" the coachman agreedscratching himself"and youAlyoshkago to sleep. Almost big enough to be marriedand blubberingyourascal. Comego alonggrandsongo along. . . .
The presence of the porter reassured Alyoshka. He wentnot very resolutelytowards the sledge and lay down. And while he was falling asleep he heard ahalf-whisper.
"I beat and cover" said his grandfather.
"I beat and cover" repeated the porter.
The bell rang in the yardthe door creaked and seemed also saying: "Ibeat and cover." When Alyoshka dreamed of the gentleman andfrightened byhis eyesjumped up and burst out cryingit was morninghis grandfather wassnoringand the coach-house no longer seemed terrible.
DURING all the years I have been living in this world I have only three timesbeen terrified.
The first real terrorwhich made my hair stand on end and made shivers runall over mewas caused by a trivial but strange phenomenon. It happened thathaving nothing to do one July eveningI drove to the station for thenewspapers. It was a stillwarmalmost sultry eveninglike all thosemonotonous evenings in July whichwhen once they have set ingo on for a weeka fortnightor sometimes longerin regular unbroken successionand aresuddenly cut short by a violent thunderstorm and a lavish downpour of rain thatrefreshes everything for a long time.
The sun had set some time beforeand an unbroken gray dusk lay all over theland. The mawkishly sweet scents of the grass and flowers were heavy in themotionlessstagnant air.
I was driving in a rough trolley. Behind my back the gardener's son Pashkaaboy of eight years oldwhom I had taken with me to look after the horse in caseof necessitywas gently snoringwith his head on a sack of oats. Our way layalong a narrow by-roadstraight as a rulerwhich lay hid like a great snake inthe tall thick rye. There was a pale light from the afterglow of sunset; astreak of light cut its way through a narrowuncouth-looking cloudwhichseemed sometimes like a boat and sometimes like a man wrapped in a quilt. . . .
I had driven a mile and a halfor two mileswhen against the palebackground of the evening glow there came into sight one after another somegraceful tall poplars; a river glimmered beyond themand a gorgeous picturesuddenlyas though by magiclay stretched before me. I had to stop the horsefor our straight road broke off abruptly and ran down a steep incline overgrownwith bushes. We were standing on the hillside and beneath us at the bottom lay ahuge hole full of twilightof fantastic shapesand of space. At the bottom ofthis holein a wide plain guarded by the poplars and caressed by the gleamingrivernestled a village. It was now sleeping. . . . Its hutsits church withthe belfryits treesstood out against the gray twilight and were reflecteddarkly in the smooth surface of the river.
I waked Pashka for fear he should fall out and began cautiously going down.
"Have we got to Lukovo?" asked Pashkalifting his head lazily.
"Yes. Hold the reins! . . ."
I led the horse down the hill and looked at the village. At the first glanceone strange circumstance caught my attention: at the very top of the belfryinthe tiny window between the cupola and the bellsa light was twinkling. Thislight was like that of a smoldering lampat one moment dying downat anotherflickering up. What could it come from?
Its source was beyond my comprehension. It could not be burning at thewindowfor there were neither ikons nor lamps in the top turret of the belfry;there was nothing thereas I knewbut beamsdustand spiders' webs. It washard to climb up into that turretfor the passage to it from the belfry wasclosely blocked up.
It was more likely than anything else to be the reflection of some outsidelightbut though I strained my eyes to the utmostI could not see one otherspeck of light in the vast expanse that lay before me. There was no moon. Thepale andby nowquite dim streak of the afterglow could not have beenreflectedfor the window looked not to the westbut to the east. These andother similar considerations were straying through my mind all the while that Iwas going down the slope with the horse. At the bottom I sat down by theroadside and looked again at the light. As before it was glimmering and flaringup.
"Strange" I thoughtlost in conjecture. "Very strange."
And little by little I was overcome by an unpleasant feeling. At first Ithought that this was vexation at not being able to explain a simple phenomenon;but afterwardswhen I suddenly turned away from the light in horror and caugh thold of Pashka with one handit became clear that I was overcome with terror. .. .
I was seized with a feeling of lonelinessmiseryand horroras though Ihad been flung down against my will into this great hole full of shadowswhereI was standing all alone with the belfry looking at me with its red eye.
"Pashka!" I criedclosing my eyes in horror.
"Pashkawhat's that gleaming on the belfry?"
Pashka looked over my shoulder at the belfry and gave a yawn.
"Who can tell?"
This brief conversation with the boy reassured me for a littlebut not forlong. Pashkaseeing my uneasinessfastened his big eyes upon the lightlookedat me againthen again at the light. . . .
"I am frightened" he whispered.
At this pointbeside myself with terrorI clutched the boy with one handhuddled up to himand gave the horse a violent lash.
"It's stupid!" I said to myself. "That phenomenon is onlyterrible because I don't understand it; everything we don't understand ismysterious."
I tried to persuade myselfbut at the same time I did not leave off lashingthe horse. When we reached the posting station I purposely stayed for a fullhour chatting with the overseerand read through two or three newspapersbutthe feeling of uneasiness did not leave me. On the way back the light was not tobe seenbut on the other hand the silhouettes of the hutsof the poplarsandof the hill up which I had to driveseemed to me as though animated. And whythe light was there I don't know to this day.
The second terror I experienced was excited by a circumstance no lesstrivial. . . . I was returning from a romantic interview. It was one o'clock atnightthe time when nature is buried in the soundestsweetest sleep before thedawn. That time nature was not sleepingand one could not call the night astill one. Corncrakesquailsnightingalesand woodcocks were callingcrickets and grasshoppers were chirruping. There was a light mist over thegrassand clouds were scurrying straight ahead across the sky near the moon.Nature was awakeas though afraid of missing the best moments of her life.
I walked along a narrow path at the very edge of a railway embankment. Themoonlight glided over the lines which were already covered with dew. Greatshadows from the clouds kept flitting over the embankment. Far aheada dimgreen light was glimmering peacefully.
"So everything is well" I thoughtlooking at them.
I had a quietpeacefulcomfortable feeling in my heart. I was returningfrom a trystI had no need to hurry; I was not sleepyand I was conscious ofyouth and health in every sighevery step I tookrousing a dull echo in themonotonous hum of the night. I don't know what I was feeling thenbut Iremember I was happyvery happy.
I had gone not more than three-quarters of a mile when I suddenly heardbehind me a monotonous sounda rumblingrather like the roar of a greatstream. It grew louder and louder every secondand sounded nearer and nearer. Ilooked round; a hundred paces from me was the dark copse from which I had onlyjust come; there the embankment turned to the right in a graceful curve andvanished among the trees. I stood still in perplexity and waited. A huge blackbody appeared at once at the turnnoisily darted towards meand with theswiftness of a bird flew past me along the rails. Less than half a minute passedand the blur had vanishedthe rumble melted away into the noise of the night.
It was an ordinary goods truck. There was nothing peculiar about it initselfbut its appearance without an engine and in the night puzzled me. Wherecould it have come from and what force sent it flying so rapidly along therails? Where did it come from and where was it flying to?
If I had been superstitious I should have made up my mind it was a party ofdemons and witches journeying to a devils' sabbathand should have gone on myway; but as it wasthe phenomenon was absolutely inexplicable to me. I did notbelieve my eyesand was entangled in conjectures like a fly in a spider's web.. . .
I suddenly realized that I was utterly alone on the whole vast plain; thatthe nightwhich by now seemed inhospitablewas peeping into my face anddogging my footsteps; all the soundsthe cries of the birdsthe whisperings ofthe treesseemed sinisterand existing simply to alarm my imagination. Idashed on like a madmanand without realizing what I was doing I rantrying torun faster and faster. And at once I heard something to which I had paid noattention before: that isthe plaintive whining of the telegraph wires.
"This is beyond everything" I saidtrying to shame myself."It's cowardice! it's silly!"
But cowardice was stronger than common sense. I only slackened my pace when Ireached the green lightwhere I saw a dark signal-boxand near it on theembankment the figure of a manprobably the signalman.
"Did you see it?" I asked breathlessly.
"See whom? What?"
"Whya truck ran by."
"I saw it. . ." the peasant said reluctantly. "It broke awayfrom the goods train. There is an incline at the ninetieth mile . . .; the trainis dragged uphill. The coupling on the last truck gave wayso it broke off andran back. . . . There is no catching it now! . . ."
The strange phenomenon was explained and its fantastic character vanished. Mypanic was over and I was able to go on my way.
My third fright came upon me as I was going home from stand shooting in earlyspring. It was in the dusk of evening. The forest road was covered with poolsfrom a recent shower of rainand the earth squelched under one's feet. Thecrimson glow of sunset flooded the whole forestcoloring the white stems of thebirches and the young leaves. I was exhausted and could hardly move.
Four or five miles from homewalking along the forest roadI suddenly met abig black dog of the water spaniel breed. As he ran bythe dog looked intentlyat mestraight in my faceand ran on.
"A nice dog!" I thought. "Whose is it?"
I looked round. The dog was standing ten paces off with his eyes fixed on me.For a minute we scanned each other in silencethen the dogprobably flatteredby my attentioncame slowly up to me and wagged his tail.
I walked onthe dog following me.
"Whose dog can it be?" I kept asking myself. "Where does hecome from?"
I knew all the country gentry for twenty or thirty miles roundand knew alltheir dogs. Not one of them had a spaniel like that. How did he come to be inthe depths of the foreston a track used for nothing but carting timber? Hecould hardly have dropped behind someone passing throughfor there was nowherefor the gentry to drive to along that road.
I sat down on a stump to restand began scrutinizing my companion. Hetoosat downraised his headand fastened upon me an intent stare. He gazed at mewithout blinking. I don't know whether it was the influence of the stillnessthe shadows and sounds of the forestor perhaps a result of exhaustionbut Isuddenly felt uneasy under the steady gaze of his ordinary doggy eyes. I thoughtof Faust and his bulldogand of the fact that nervous people sometimes whenexhausted have hallucinations. That was enough to make me get up hurriedly andhurriedly walk on. The dog followed me.
"Go away!" I shouted.
The dog probably liked my voicefor he gave a gleeful jump and ran about infront of me.
"Go away!" I shouted again.
The dog looked roundstared at me intentlyand wagged his tailgood-humoredly. Evidently my threatening tone amused him. I ought to have pattedhimbut I could not get Faust's dog out of my headand the feeling of panicgrew more and more acute. . . Darkness was coming onwhich completed myconfusionand every time the dog ran up to me and hit me with his taillike acoward I shut my eyes. The same thing happened as with the light in the belfryand the truck on the railway: I could not stand it and rushed away.
At home I found a visitoran old friendwhoafter greeting mebegan tocomplain that as he wa s driving to me he had lost his way in the forestand asplendid valuable dog of his had dropped behind.
IT WAS a dark autumn night. The old banker was walking up and down his studyand remembering howfifteen years beforehe had given a party one autumnevening. There had been many clever men thereand there had been interestingconversations. Among other things they had talked of capital punishment. Themajority of the guestsamong whom were many journalists and intellectual mendisapproved of the death penalty. They considered that form of punishment out ofdateimmoraland unsuitable for Christian States. In the opinion of some ofthem the death penalty ought to be replaced everywhere by imprisonment for life.
"I don't agree with you" said their host the banker. "I havenot tried either the death penalty or imprisonment for lifebut if one mayjudge _a priori_the death penalty is more moral and more humane thanimprisonment for life. Capital punishment kills a man at oncebut lifelongimprisonment kills him slowly. Which executioner is the more humanehe whokills you in a few minutes or he who drags the life out of you in the course ofmany years?"
"Both are equally immoral" observed one of the guests"forthey both have the same object -- to take away life. The State is not God. Ithas not the right to take away what it cannot restore when it wants to."
Among the guests was a young lawyera young man of five-and-twenty. When hewas asked his opinionhe said:
"The death sentence and the life sentence are equally immoralbut if Ihad to choose between the death penalty and imprisonment for lifeI wouldcertainly choose the second. To live anyhow is better than not at all."
A lively discussion arose. The bankerwho was younger and more nervous inthose dayswas suddenly carried away by excitement; he struck the table withhis fist and shouted at the young man:
"It's not true! I'll bet you two millions you wouldn't stay in solitaryconfinement for five years."
"If you mean that in earnest" said the young man"I'll takethe betbut I would stay not five but fifteen years."
"Fifteen? Done!" cried the banker. "GentlemenI stake twomillions!"
"Agreed! You stake your millions and I stake my freedom!" said theyoung man.
And this wildsenseless bet was carried out! The bankerspoilt andfrivolouswith millions beyond his reckoningwas delighted at the bet. Atsupper he made fun of the young manand said:
"Think better of ityoung manwhile there is still time. To me twomillions are a triflebut you are losing three or four of the best years ofyour life. I say three or fourbecause you won't stay longer. Don't forgeteitheryou unhappy manthat voluntary confinement is a great deal harder tobear than compulsory. The thought that you have the right to step out in libertyat any moment will poison your whole existence in prison. I am sorry foryou."
And now the bankerwalking to and froremembered all thisand askedhimself: "What was the object of that bet? What is the good of that man'slosing fifteen years of his life and my throwing away two millions? Can it provethat the death penalty is better or worse than imprisonment for life? Nono. Itwas all nonsensical and meaningless. On my part it was the caprice of a pamperedmanand on his part simple greed for money. . . ."
Then he remembered what followed that evening. It was decided that the youngman should spend the years of his captivity under the strictest supervision inone of the lodges in the banker's garden. It was agreed that for fifteen yearshe should not be free to cross the threshold of the lodgeto see human beingsto hear the human voiceor to receive letters and newspapers. He was allowed tohave a musical instrument and booksand was allowed to write lettersto drinkwineand to smoke. By the terms of the agreementthe only relations he couldhave with the outer world were by a little window made purposely for thatobject. He might have anything he wanted -- booksmusicwineand so on -- inany quantity he desired by writing an orderbut could only receive them throughthe window. The agreement provided for every detail and every trifle that wouldmake his imprisonment strictly solitaryand bound the young man to stay there_exactly_ fifteen yearsbeginning from twelve o'clock of November 141870andending at twelve o'clock of November 141885. The slightest attempt on his partto break the conditionsif only two minutes before the endreleased the bankerfrom the obligation to pay him two millions.
For the first year of his confinementas far as one could judge from hisbrief notesthe prisoner suffered severely from loneliness and depression. Thesounds of the piano could be heard continually day and night from his lodge. Herefused wine and tobacco. Winehe wroteexcites the desiresand desires arethe worst foes of the prisoner; and besidesnothing could be more dreary thandrinking good wine and seeing no one. And tobacco spoilt the air of his room. Inthe first year the books he sent for were principally of a light character;novels with a complicated love plotsensational and fantastic storiesand soon.
In the second year the piano was silent in the lodgeand the prisoner askedonly for the classics. In the fifth year music was audible againand theprisoner asked for wine. Those who watched him through the window said that allthat year he spent doing nothing but eating and drinking and lying on his bedfrequently yawning and angrily talking to himself. He did not read books.Sometimes at night he would sit down to write; he would spend hours writingandin the morning tear up all that he had written. More than once he could be heardcrying.
In the second half of the sixth year the prisoner began zealously studyinglanguagesphilosophyand history. He threw himself eagerly into these studies-- so much so that the banker had enough to do to get him the books he ordered.In the course of four years some six hundred volumes were procured at hisrequest. It was during this period that the banker received the following letterfrom his prisoner:
"My dear JailerI write you these lines in six languages. Show them topeople who know the languages. Let them read them. If they find not one mistakeI implore you to fire a shot in the garden. That shot will show me that myefforts have not been thrown away. The geniuses of all ages and of all landsspeak different languagesbut the same flame burns in them all. Ohif you onlyknew what unearthly happiness my soul feels now from being able to understandthem!" The prisoner's desire was fulfilled. The banker ordered two shots tobe fired in the garden.
Then after the tenth yearthe prisoner sat immovably at the table and readnothing but the Gospel. It seemed strange to the banker that a man who in fouryears had mastered six hundred learned volumes should waste nearly a year overone thin book easy of comprehension. Theology and histories of religion followedthe Gospels.
In the last two years of his confinement the prisoner read an immensequantity of books quite indiscriminately. At one time he was busy with thenatural sciencesthen he would ask for Byron or Shakespeare. There were notesin which he demanded at the same time books on chemistryand a manual ofmedicineand a noveland some treatise on philosophy or theology. His readingsuggested a man swimming in the sea among the wreckage of his shipand tryingto save his life by greedily clutching first at one spar and then at another.
The old banker remembered all thisand thought:
"To-morrow at twelve o'clock he will regain his freedom. By ouragreement I ought to pay him two millions. If I do pay himit is all over withme: I shall be utterly ruined."
Fifteen years beforehis millions had been beyond his reckoning; now he wasafraid to ask himself which were greaterhis debts or his assets. Desperategambling on the Stock Exchangewild speculation and the excitability whic h hecould not get over even in advancing yearshad by degrees led to the decline ofhis fortune and the proudfearlessself-confident millionaire had become abanker of middling ranktrembling at every rise and fall in his investments."Cursed bet!" muttered the old manclutching his head in despair"Why didn't the man die? He is only forty now. He will take my last pennyfrom mehe will marrywill enjoy lifewill gamble on the Exchange; while Ishall look at him with envy like a beggarand hear from him every day the samesentence: 'I am indebted to you for the happiness of my lifelet me help you!'Noit is too much! The one means of being saved from bankruptcy and disgrace isthe death of that man!"
It struck three o'clockthe banker listened; everyone was asleep in thehouse and nothing could be heard outside but the rustling of the chilled trees.Trying to make no noisehe took from a fireproof safe the key of the door whichhad not been opened for fifteen yearsput on his overcoatand went out of thehouse.
It was dark and cold in the garden. Rain was falling. A damp cutting wind wasracing about the gardenhowling and giving the trees no rest. The bankerstrained his eyesbut could see neither the earth nor the white statuesnorthe lodgenor the trees. Going to the spot where the lodge stoodhe twicecalled the watchman. No answer followed. Evidently the watchman had soughtshelter from the weatherand was now asleep somewhere either in the kitchen orin the greenhouse.
"If I had the pluck to carry out my intention" thought the oldman"Suspicion would fall first upon the watchman."
He felt in the darkness for the steps and the doorand went into the entryof the lodge. Then he groped his way into a little passage and lighted a match.There was not a soul there. There was a bedstead with no bedding on itand inthe corner there was a dark cast-iron stove. The seals on the door leading tothe prisoner's rooms were intact.
When the match went out the old mantrembling with emotionpeeped throughthe little window. A candle was burning dimly in the prisoner's room. He wassitting at the table. Nothing could be seen but his backthe hair on his headand his hands. Open books were lying on the tableon the two easy-chairsandon the carpet near the table.
Five minutes passed and the prisoner did not once stir. Fifteen years'imprisonment had taught him to sit still. The banker tapped at the window withhis fingerand the prisoner made no movement whatever in response. Then thebanker cautiously broke the seals off the door and put the key in the keyhole.The rusty lock gave a grating sound and the door creaked. The banker expected tohear at once footsteps and a cry of astonishmentbut three minutes passed andit was as quiet as ever in the room. He made up his mind to go in.
At the table a man unlike ordinary people was sitting motionless. He was askeleton with the skin drawn tight over his boneswith long curls like awoman's and a shaggy beard. His face was yellow with an earthy tint in ithischeeks were hollowhis back long and narrowand the hand on which his shaggyhead was propped was so thin and delicate that it was dreadful to look at it.His hair was already streaked with silverand seeing his emaciatedaged-looking faceno one would have believed that he was only forty. He wasasleep. . . . In front of his bowed head there lay on the table a sheet of paperon which there was something written in fine handwriting.
"Poor creature!" thought the banker"he is asleep and mostlikely dreaming of the millions. And I have only to take this half-dead manthrow him on the bedstifle him a little with the pillowand the mostconscientious expert would find no sign of a violent death. But let us firstread what he has written here. . . ."
The banker took the page from the table and read as follows:
"To-morrow at twelve o'clock I regain my freedom and the right toassociate with other menbut before I leave this room and see the sunshineIthink it necessary to say a few words to you. With a clear conscience I tellyouas before Godwho beholds methat I despise freedom and life and healthand all that in your books is called the good things of the world.
"For fifteen years I have been intently studying earthly life. It istrue I have not seen the earth nor menbut in your books I have drunk fragrantwineI have sung songsI have hunted stags and wild boars in the forestshaveloved women. . . . Beauties as ethereal as cloudscreated by the magic of yourpoets and geniuseshave visited me at nightand have whispered in my earswonderful tales that have set my brain in a whirl. In your books I have climbedto the peaks of Elburz and Mont Blancand from there I have seen the sun riseand have watched it at evening flood the skythe oceanand the mountain-topswith gold and crimson. I have watched from there the lightning flashing over myhead and cleaving the storm-clouds. I have seen green forestsfieldsriverslakestowns. I have heard the singing of the sirensand the strains of theshepherds' pipes; I have touched the wings of comely devils who flew down toconverse with me of God. . . . In your books I have flung myself into thebottomless pitperformed miraclesslainburned townspreached new religionsconquered whole kingdoms. . . .
"Your books have given me wisdom. All that the unresting thought of manhas created in the ages is compressed into a small compass in my brain. I knowthat I am wiser than all of you.
"And I despise your booksI despise wisdom and the blessings of thisworld. It is all worthlessfleetingillusoryand deceptivelike a mirage.You may be proudwiseand finebut death will wipe you off the face of theearth as though you were no more than mice burrowing under the floorand yourposterityyour historyyour immortal geniuses will burn or freeze togetherwith the earthly globe.
"You have lost your reason and taken the wrong path. You have taken liesfor truthand hideousness for beauty. You would marvel ifowing to strangeevents of some sortsfrogs and lizards suddenly grew on apple and orange treesinstead of fruitor if roses began to smell like a sweating horse; so I marvelat you who exchange heaven for earth. I don't want to understand you.
"To prove to you in action how I despise all that you live byIrenounce the two millions of which I once dreamed as of paradise and which now Idespise. To deprive myself of the right to the money I shall go out from herefive hours before the time fixedand so break the compact. . . ."
When the banker had read this he laid the page on the tablekissed thestrange man on the headand went out of the lodgeweeping. At no other timeeven when he had lost heavily on the Stock Exchangehad he felt so great acontempt for himself. When he got home he lay on his bedbut his tears andemotion kept him for hours from sleeping.
Next morning the watchmen ran in with pale facesand told him they had seenthe man who lived in the lodge climb out of the window into the gardengo tothe gateand disappear. The banker went at once with the servants to the lodgeand made sure of the flight of his prisoner. To avoid arousing unnecessary talkhe took from the table the writing in which the millions were renouncedandwhen he got home locked it up in the fireproof safe.
THE HEAD-GARDENER'S STORY
A SALE of flowers was taking place in Count N.'s greenhouses. The purchaserswere few in number -- a landowner who was a neighbor of minea youngtimber-merchantand myself. While the workmen were carrying out our magnificentpurchases and packing them into the cartswe sat at the entry of the greenhouseand chatted about one thing and another. It is extremely pleasant to sit in agarden on a still April morninglistening to the birdsand watching theflowers brought out into the open air and basking in the sunshine.
The head-gardenerMihail Karlovitcha venerable old man with a full shavenfacewearing a fur waistcoat and no coatsuperintended the packing of theplants himselfbut at the same time he listened to our conversation in the hopeof hearing something new. He was an intelligentvery good-hearted manrespected by everyone. He was for some reason looked upon by everyone as aGermanthough he was in reality on his father's side Swedishon his mother'sside Russianand attended the Orthodox church. He knew RussianSwedishandGerman. He had read a good deal in those languagesand nothing one could dogave him greater pleasure than lending him some new book or talking to himforinstanceabout Ibsen.
He had his weaknessesbut they were innocent ones: he called himself thehead gardenerthough there were no under-gardeners; the expression of his facewas unusually dignified and haughty; he could not endure to be contradictedandliked to be listened to with respect and attention.
"That young fellow there I can recommend to you as an awfulrascal" said my neighborpointing to a laborer with a swarthygipsyfacewho drove by with the water-barrel. "Last week he was tried in thetown for burglary and was acquitted; they pronounced him mentally derangedandyet look at himhe is the picture of health. Scoundrels are very oftenacquitted nowadays in Russia on grounds of abnormality and aberrationyet theseacquittalsthese unmistakable proofs of an indulgent attitude to crimelead tono good. They demoralize the massesthe sense of justice is blunted in all asthey become accustomed to seeing vice unpunishedand you know in our age onemay boldly say in the words of Shakespeare that in our evil and corrupt agevirtue must ask forgiveness of vice."
"That's very true" the merchant assented. "Owing to thesefrequent acquittalsmurder and arson have become much more common. Ask thepeasants."
Mihail Karlovitch turned towards us and said:
"As far as I am concernedgentlemenI am always delighted to meet withthese verdicts of not guilty. I am not afraid for morality and justice when theysay 'Not guilty' but on the contrary I feel pleased. Even when my consciencetells me the jury have made a mistake in acquitting the criminaleven then I amtriumphant. Judge for yourselvesgentlemen; if the judges and the jury havemore faith in _man_ than in evidencematerial proofsand speeches for theprosecutionis not that faith _in man_ in itself higher than any ordinaryconsiderations? Such faith is only attainable by those few who understand andfeel Christ."
"A fine thought" I said.
"But it's not a new one. I remember a very long time ago I heard alegend on that subject. A very charming legend" said the gardenerand hesmiled. "I was told it by my grandmothermy father's motheran excellentold lady. She told me it in Swedishand it does not sound so finesoclassicalin Russian."
But we begged him to tell it and not to be put off by the coarseness of theRussian language. Much gratifiedhe deliberately lighted his pipelookedangrily at the laborersand began:
"There settled in a certain little town a solitaryplainelderlygentleman called Thomson or Wilson -- but that does not matter; the surname isnot the point. He followed an honorable profession: he was a doctor. He wasalways morose and unsociableand only spoke when required by his profession. Henever visited anyonenever extended his acquaintance beyond a silent bowandlived as humbly as a hermit. The fact washe was a learned manand in thosedays learned men were not like other people. They spent their days and nights incontemplationin reading and in healing diseaselooked upon everything else astrivialand had no time to waste a word. The inhabitants of the town understoodthisand tried not to worry him with their visits and empty chatter. They werevery glad that God had sent them at last a man who could heal diseasesand wereproud that such a remarkable man was living in their town. 'He knowseverything' they said about him.
"But that was not enough. They ought to have also said'He loveseveryone.' In the breast of that learned man there beat a wonderful angelicheart. Though the people of that town were strangers and not his own peopleyethe loved them like childrenand did not spare himself for them. He was himselfill with consumptionhe had a coughbut when he was summoned to the sick heforgot his own illness he did not spare himself andgasping for breathclimbedup the hills however high they might be. He disregarded the sultry heat and thecolddespised thirst and hunger. He would accept no money and strange to saywhen one of his patients diedhe would follow the coffin with the relationsweeping.
"And soon he became so necessary to the town that the inhabitantswondered how they could have got on before without the man. Their gratitude knewno bounds. Grown-up people and childrengood and bad alikehonest men andcheats -- all in factrespected him and knew his value. In the little town andall the surrounding neighborhood there was no man who would allow himself to doanything disagreeable to him; indeedthey would never have dreamed of it. Whenhe came out of his lodginghe never fastened the doors or windowsin completeconfidence that there was no thief who could bring himself to do him wrong. Heoften had in the course of his medical duties to walk along the highroadsthrough the forests and mountains haunted by numbers of hungry vagrants; but hefelt that he was in perfect security.
"One night he was returning from a patient when robbers fell upon him inthe forestbut when they recognized himthey took off their hats respectfullyand offered him something to eat. When he answered that he was not hungrytheygave him a warm wrap and accompanied him as far as the townhappy that fate hadgiven them the chance in some small way to show their gratitude to thebenevolent man. Wellto be suremy grandmother told me that even the horsesand the cows and the dogs knew him and expressed their joy when they met him.
"And this man who seemed by his sanctity to have guarded himself fromevery evilto whom even brigands and frenzied men wished nothing but goodwasone fine morning found murdered. Covered with bloodwith his skull brokenhewas lying in a ravineand his pale face wore an expression of amazement. Yesnot horror but amazement was the emotion that had been fixed upon his face whenhe saw the murderer before him. You can imagine the grief that overwhelmed theinhabitants of the town and the surrounding districts. All were in despairunable to believe their eyeswondering who could have killed the man. Thejudges who conducted the inquiry and examined the doctor's body said: 'Here wehave all the signs of a murderbut as there is not a man in the world capableof murdering our doctorobviously it was not a case of murderand thecombination of evidence is due to simple chance. We must suppose that in thedarkness he fell into the ravine of himself and was mortally injured.'
"The whole town agreed with this opinion. The doctor was buriedandnothing more was said about a violent death. The existence of a man who couldhave the baseness and wickedness to kill the doctor seemed incredible. There isa limit even to wickednessisn't there?
"All at oncewould you believe itchance led them to discovering themurderer. A vagrant who had been many times convictednotorious for his viciouslifewas seen selling for drink a snuff-box and watch that had belonged to thedoctor. When he was questioned he was confusedand answered with an obviouslie. A search was madeand in his bed was found a shirt with stains of blood onthe sleevesand a doctor's lancet set in gold. What more evidence was wanted?They put the criminal in prison. The inhabitants were indignantand at the sametime said:
" 'It's incredible! It can't be so! Take care that a mistake is notmade; it does happenyou knowthat evidence tells a false tale.'
"At his trial the murderer obstinately denied his guilt. Everything wasagainst himand to be convinced of his guilt was as easy as to believe thatthis earth is black; but the judges seem to have gone mad: they weighed everyproof ten timeslooked distrustfully at the witnessesflushed crimson andsipped water. . . . The trial began early in the morning and was only finishedin the evening.
"'Accused!' the chief judge saidaddressing the murderer'the courthas found you guilty of murdering Dr. So-and-soand has sentenced you to. . ..'
"The chief judge meant to say 'to the death penalty' but he droppedfrom his hands the paper on which the sentence was writtenwiped the cold sweatfrom his faceand cried out:
"'No! May God punish me if I judge wronglybut I swear he is notguilty. I cannot admit the thought that there exists a man who would dare tomurder our friend the doctor! A man could not sink so low!'
"'There cannot be such a man!' the other judges assented.
"'No' the crowd cried. 'Let him go!'
"The murderer was set free to go where he choseand not one soul blamedthe court for an unjust verdict. And my grandmother used to say that for suchfaith in humanity God forgave the sins of all the inhabitants of that town. Herejoices when people believe that man is His image and semblanceand grievesifforgetful of human dignitythey judge worse of men than of dogs. Thesentence of acquittal may bring harm to the inhabitants of the townbut on theother handthink of the beneficial influence upon them of that faith in man --a faith which does not remain deadyou know; it raises up generous feelings inusand always impels us to love and respect every man. Every man! And that isimportant."
Mihail Karlovitch had finished. My neighbor would have urged some objectionbut the head-gardener made a gesture that signified that he did not likeobjections; then he walked away to the cartsandwith an expression ofdignitywent on looking after the packing.
I REMEMBERwhen I was a high school boy in the fifth or sixth classI wasdriving with my grandfather from the village of Bolshoe Kryepkoe in the Donregion to Rostov-on-the-Don. It was a sultrylanguidly dreary day of August.Our eyes were glued togetherand our mouths were parched from the heat and thedry burning wind which drove clouds of dust to meet us; one did not want to lookor speak or thinkand when our drowsy drivera Little Russian called Karposwung his whip at the horses and lashed me on my capI did not protest or uttera soundbut onlyrousing myself from half-slumbergazed mildly and dejectedlyinto the distance to see whether there was a village visible through the dust.We stopped to feed the horses in a big Armenian village at a rich Armenian'swhom my grandfather knew. Never in my life have I seen a greater caricature thanthat Armenian. Imagine a little shaven head with thick overhanging eyebrowsabeak of a noselong gray mustachesand a wide mouth with a long cherry-woodchibouk sticking out of it. This little head was clumsily attached to a leanhunch-back carcass attired in a fantastic garba short red jacketand fullbright blue trousers. This figure walked straddling its legs and shuffling withits slippersspoke without taking the chibouk out of its mouthand behavedwith truly Armenian dignitynot smilingbut staring with wide-open eyes andtrying to take as little notice as possible of its guests.
There was neither wind nor dust in the Armenian's roomsbut it was just asunpleasantstiflingand dreary as in the steppe and on the road. I rememberdusty and exhausted by the heatI sat in the corner on a green box. Theunpainted wooden wallsthe furnitureand the floors colored with yellow ochersmelt of dry wood baked by the sun. Wherever I looked there were flies and fliesand flies. . . . Grandfather and the Armenian were talking about grazingaboutmanureand about oats. . . . I knew that they would be a good hour getting thesamovar; that grandfather would be not less than an hour drinking his teaandthen would lie down to sleep for two or three hours; that I should waste aquarter of the day waitingafter which there would be again the heatthe dustthe jolting cart. I heard the muttering of the two voicesand it began to seemto me that I had been seeing the Armenianthe cupboard with the crockerythefliesthe windows with the burning sun beating on themfor ages and agesandshould only cease to see them in the far-off futureand I was seized withhatred for the steppethe sunthe flies.. . .
A Little Russian peasant woman in a kerchief brought in a tray of tea-thingsthen the samovar. The Armenian went slowly out into the passage and shouted:"Mashyacome and pour out tea! Where are youMashya?"
Hurried footsteps were heardand there came into the room a girl of sixteenin a simple cotton dress and a white kerchief. As she washed the crockery andpoured out the teashe was standing with her back to meand all I could seewas that she was of a slender figurebarefootedand that her little bare heelswere covered by long trousers.
The Armenian invited me to have tea. Sitting down to the tableI glanced atthe girlwho was handing me a glass of teaand felt all at once as though awind were blowing over my soul and blowing away all the impressions of the daywith their dust and dreariness. I saw the bewitching features of the mostbeautiful face I have ever met in real life or in my dreams. Before me stood abeautyand I recognized that at the first glance as I should have recognizedlightning.
I am ready to swear that Masha -- oras her father called herMashya -- wasa real beautybut I don't know how to prove it. It sometimes happens thatclouds are huddled together in disorder on the horizonand the sun hidingbehind them colors them and the sky with tints of every possible shade--crimsonorangegoldlilacmuddy pink; one cloud is like a monkanother like a fisha third like a Turk in a turban. The glow of sunset enveloping a third of thesky gleams on the cross on the churchflashes on the windows of the manorhouseis reflected in the river and the puddlesquivers on the trees; farfaraway against the background of the sunseta flock of wild ducks is flyinghomewards. . . . And the boy herding the cowsand the surveyor driving in hischaise over the damand the gentleman out for a walkall gaze at the sunsetand every one of them thinks it terribly beautifulbut no one knows or can sayin what its beauty lies.
I was not the only one to think the Armenian girl beautiful. My grandfatheran old man of seventygruff and indifferent to women and the beauties ofnaturelooked caressingly at Masha for a full minuteand asked:
"Is that your daughterAvert Nazaritch?"
"Yesshe is my daughter" answered the Armenian.
"A fine young lady" said my grandfather approvingly.
An artist would have called the Armenian girl's beauty classical and severeit was just that beautythe contemplation of which -- God knows why!-- inspiresin one the conviction that one is seeing correct features; that haireyesnosemouthneckbosomand every movement of the young body all go togetherin one complete harmonious accord in which nature has not blundered over thesmallest line. You fancy for some reason that the ideally beautiful woman musthave such a nose as Masha'sstraight and slightly aquilinejust such greatdark eyessuch long lashessuch a languid glance; you fancy that her blackcurly hair and eyebrows go with the soft white tint of her brow and cheeks asthe green reeds go with the quiet stream. Masha's white neck and her youthfulbosom were not fully developedbut you fancy the sculptor would need a greatcreative genius to mold them. You gazeand little by little the desire comesover you to say to Masha something extraordinarily pleasantsincerebeautifulas beautiful as she herself was.
At first I felt hurt and abashed that Masha took no notice of mebut was allthe time looking down; it seemed to me as though a peculiar atmosphereproudand happyseparated her from me and jealously screened her from my eyes.
"That's because I am covered with dust" I thought"amsunburntand am still a boy."
But little by little I forgot myselfand gave myself up entirely to theconsciousness of beauty. I thought no more now of the dreary steppeof thedustno longer heard the buzzing of the fliesno longer tasted the teaandfelt nothing except that a beautiful girl was standing only the other side ofthe table.
I felt this beauty rather strangely. It was not desirenor ecstacynorenjoyment that Masha excited in mebut a painful though pleasant sadness. Itwas a sadness vague and undefined as a dream. For some reason I felt sorry formyselffor my grandfather and for the Armenianeven for the girl herselfandI had a feeling as though we all four had lost something important and essentialto life which we should never find again. My grandfathertoogrew melancholy;he talked no more about manure or about oatsbut sat silentlooking pensivelyat Masha.
After tea my grandfather lay down for a nap while I went out of the houseinto the porch. The houselike all the houses in the Armenian village stood inthe full sun; there was not a treenot an awningno shade. The Armenian'sgreat courtyardovergrown with goosefoot and wild mallowswas lively and fullof gaiety in spite of the great heat. Threshing was going on behind one of thelow hurdles which intersected the big yard here and there. Round a post stuckinto the middle of the threshing-floor ran a dozen horses harnessed side bysideso that they formed one long radius. A Little Russian in a long waistcoatand full trousers was walking beside themcracking a whip and shouting in atone that sounded as though he were jeering at the horses and showing off hispower over them.
"A--a--ayou damned brutes! . . . A--a--aplague take you! Are youfrightened?"
The horsessorrelwhiteand piebaldnot understanding why they were madeto run round in one place and to crush the wheat strawran unwillingly asthough with effortswinging their tails with an offended air. The wind raisedup perfect clouds of golden chaff from under their hoofs and carried it away farbeyond the hurdle. Near the tall fresh stacks peasant women were swarming withrakesand carts were movingand beyond the stacks in another yard anotherdozen similar horses were running round a postand a similar Little Russian wascracking his whip and jeering at the horses.
The steps on which I was sitting were hot; on the thin rails and here andthere on the window-frames sap was oozing out of the wood from the heat; redladybirds were huddling together in the streaks of shadow under the steps andunder the shutters. The sun was baking me on my headon my chestand on mybackbut I did not notice itand was conscious only of the thud of bare feeton the uneven floor in the passage and in the rooms behind me. After clearingaway the tea-thingsMasha ran down the stepsfluttering the air as she passedand like a bird flew into a little grimy outhouse--I suppose the kitchen--fromwhich came the smell of roast mutton and the sound of angry talk in Armenian.She vanished into the dark doorwayand in her place there appeared on thethreshold an old bentred-faced Armenian woman wearing green trousers. The oldwoman was angry and was scolding someone. Soon afterwards Masha appeared in thedoorwayflushed with the heat of the kitchen and carrying a big black loaf onher shoulder; swaying gracefully under the weight of the breadshe ran acrossthe yard to the threshing-floordarted over the hurdleandwrapt in a cloudof golden chaffvanished behind the carts. The Little Russian who was drivingthe horses lowered his whipsank into silenceand gazed for a minute in thedirection of the carts. Then when the Armenian girl darted again by the horsesand leaped over the hurdlehe followed her with his eyesand shouted to thehorses in a tone as though he were greatly disappointed:
"Plague take youunclean devils!"
And all the while I was unceasingly hearing her bare feetand seeing how shewalked across the yard with a gravepreoccupied face. She ran now down thestepsswishing the air about menow into the kitchennow to thethreshing-floornow through the gateand I could hardly turn my head quicklyenough to watch her.
And the oftener she fluttered by me with her beautythe more acute became mysadness. I felt sorry both for her and for myself and for the Little Russianwho mournfully watched her every time she ran through the cloud of chaff to thecarts. Whether it was envy of her beautyor that I was regretting that the girlwas not mineand never would beor that I was a stranger to her; or whether Ivaguely felt that her rare beauty was accidentalunnecessaryandlikeeverything on earthof short duration; or whetherperhapsmy sadness was thatpeculiar feeling which is excited in man by the contemplation of real beautyGod only knows.
The three hours of waiting passed unnoticed. It seemed to me that I had nothad time to look properly at Masha when Karpo drove up to the riverbathed thehorseand began to put it in the shafts. The wet horse snorted with pleasureand kicked his hoofs against the shafts. Karpo shouted to it:"Ba--ack!" My grandfather woke up. Masha opened the creaking gates foruswe got into the chaise and drove out of the yard. We drove in silence asthough we were angry with one another.
Whentwo or three hours laterRostov and Nahitchevan appeared in thedistanceKarpowho had been silent the whole timelooked round quicklyandsaid:
"A fine wenchthat at the Armenian's."
And he lashed his horses.
Another timeafter I had become a studentI was traveling by rail to thesouth. It was May. At one of the stationsI believe it was between Byelgorodand HarkovI got out of the tram to walk about the platform.
The shades of evening were already lying on the station gardenon theplatformand on the fields; the station screened off the sunsetbut on thetopmost clouds of smoke from the enginewhich were tinged with rosy lightonecould see the sun had not yet quite vanished.
As I walked up and down the platform I noticed that the greater number of thepassengers were standing or walking near a second-class compartmentand thatthey looked as though some celebrated person were in that compartment. Among thecurious whom I met near this compartment I sawhoweveran artillery officerwho had been my fellow-traveleran intelligentcordialand sympatheticfellow--as people mostly are whom we meet on our travels by chance and with whomwe are not long acquainted.
"What are you looking at there?" I asked.
He made no answerbut only indicated with his eyes a feminine figure. It wasa young girl of seventeen or eighteenwearing a Russian dresswith her headbare and a little shawl flung carelessly on one shoulder; not a passengerbut Isuppose a sister or daughter of the station-master. She was standing near thecarriage windowtalking to an elderly woman who was in the train. Before I hadtime to realize what I was seeingI was suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling Ihad once experienced in the Armenian village.
The girl was remarkably beautifuland that was unmistakable to me and tothose who were looking at her as I was.
If one is to describe her appearance feature by featureas the practice isthe only really lovely thing was her thick wavy fair hairwhich hung loose witha black ribbon tied round her head; all the other features were either irregularor very ordinary. Either from a peculiar form of coquettishnessor fromshort-sightednessher eyes were screwed upher nose had an undecided tilthermouth was smallher profile was feebly and insipidly drawnher shoulders werenarrow and undeveloped for her age -- and yet the girl made the impression ofbeing really beautifuland looking at herI was able to feel convinced thatthe Russian face does not need strict regularity in order to be lovely; what ismorethat if instead of her turn-up nose the girl had been given a differentonecorrect and plastically irreproachable like the Armenian girl'sI fancyher face would have lost all its charm from the change.
Standing at the window talkingthe girlshrugging at the evening dampcontinually looking round at usat one moment put her arms akimboat the nextraised her hands to her head to straighten her hairtalkedlaughedwhile herface at one moment wore an expression of wonderthe next of horrorand I don'tremember a moment when her face and body were at rest. The whole secret andmagic of her beauty lay just in these tinyinfinitely elegant movementsin hersmilein the play of her facein her rapid glances at usin the combinationof the subtle grace of her movements with her youthher freshnessthe purityof her soul that sounded in her laugh and voiceand with the weakness we loveso much in childrenin birdsin fawnsand in young trees.
It was that butterfly's beauty so in keeping with waltzingdarting about thegardenlaughter and gaietyand incongruous with serious thoughtgriefandrepose; and it seemed as though a gust of wind blowing over the platformor afall of rainwould be enough to wither the fragile body and scatter thecapricious beauty like the pollen of a flower.
"So--o! . . ." the officer muttered with a sigh whenafter thesecond bellwe went back to our compartment.
And what that "So--o" meant I will not undertake to decide.
Perhaps he was sadand did not want to go away from the beauty and thespring evening into the stuffy train; or perhaps helike mewas unaccountablysorry for the beautyfor himselfand for meand for all the passengerswhowere listlessly and reluctantly sauntering back to their compartments. As wepassed the station windowat which a palered-haired telegraphist withupstanding curls and a fadedbroad-cheeked face was sitting beside hisapparatusthe officer heaved a sigh and said:
"I bet that telegraphist is in love with that pretty girl. To live outin the wilds under one roof with that ethereal creature and not fall in love isbeyond the power of man. And what a calamitymy friend! what an ironical fateto be stoopingunkemptgraya decent fellow and not a fooland to be in lovewith that prettystupid little girl who would never take a scrap of notice ofyou! Or worse still: imagine that telegraphist is in loveand at the same timemarriedand that his wife is as stoopingas unkemptand as decent a person ashimself."
On the platform between our carriage and the next the guard was standing withhis elbows on the railinglooking in the direction of the beautiful girlandhis batteredwrinkledunpleasantly beefy faceexhausted by sleepless nightsand the jolting of the trainwore a look of tenderness and of the deepestsadnessas though in that girl he saw happinesshis own youthsobernesspuritywifechildren; as though he were repenting and feeling in his wholebeing that that girl was not hisand that for himwith his premature old agehis uncouthnessand his beefy facethe ordinary happiness of a man and apassenger was as far away as heaven. . . .
The third bell rangthe whistles soundedand the train slowly moved off.First the guardthe station-masterthen the gardenthe beautiful girl withher exquisitely sly smilepassed before our windows. . . .
Putting my head out and looking backI saw howlooking after the trainshewalked along the platform by the window where the telegraph clerk was sittingsmoothed her hairand ran into the garden. The station no longer screened offthe sunsetthe plain lay open before usbut the sun had already set and thesmoke lay in black clouds over the greenvelvety young corn. It was melancholyin the spring airand in the darkening skyand in the railway carriage.
The familiar figure of the guard came into the carriageand he beganlighting the candles.
THE SHOEMAKER AND THE DEVIL
IT was Christmas Eve. Marya had long been snoring on the stove; all theparaffin in the little lamp had burnt outbut Fyodor Nilov still sat at work.He would long ago have flung aside his work and gone out into the streetbut acustomer from Kolokolny Lanewho had a fortnight before ordered some bootshadbeen in the previous dayhad abused him roundlyand had ordered him to finishthe boots at once before the morning service.
"It's a convict's life!" Fyodor grumbled as he worked. "Somepeople have been asleep long agoothers are enjoying themselveswhile you sithere like some Cain and sew for the devil knows whom. . . ."
To save himself from accidentally falling asleephe kept taking a bottlefrom under the table and drinking out of itand after every pull at it hetwisted his head and said aloud:
"What is the reasonkindly tell methat customers enjoy themselveswhile I am forced to sit and work for them? Because they have money and I am abeggar?"
He hated all his customersespecially the one who lived in Kolokolny Lane.He was a gentleman of gloomy appearancewith long haira yellow facebluespectaclesand a husky voice. He had a German name which one could notpronounce. It was impossible to tell what was his calling and what he did. Whena fortnight beforeFyodor had gone to take his measurehethe customerwassitting on the floor pounding something in a mortar. Before Fyodor had time tosay good-morning the contents of the mortar suddenly flared up and burned with abright red flame; there was a stink of sulphur and burnt feathersand the roomwas filled with a thick pink smokeso that Fyodor sneezed five times; and as hereturned home afterwardshe thought: "Anyone who feared God would not haveanything to do with things like that."
When there was nothing left in the bottle Fyodor put the boots on the tableand sank into thought. He leaned his heavy head on his fist and began thinkingof his povertyof his hard life with no glimmer of light in it. Then he thoughtof the richof their big houses and their carriagesof their hundred-roublenotes. . . . How nice it would be if the houses of these rich men -- the devilflay them! -- were smashedif their horses diedif their fur coats and sablecaps got shabby! How splendid it would be if the richlittle by littlechangedinto beggars having nothingand hea poor shoemakerwere to become richandwere to lord it over some other poor shoemaker on Christmas Eve.
Dreaming like thisFyodor suddenly thought of his workand opened his eyes.
"Here's a go" he thoughtlooking at the boots. "The job hasbeen finished ever so long agoand I go on sitting here. I must take the bootsto the gentleman."
He wrapped up the work in a red handkerchiefput on his thingsand went outinto the street. A fine hard snow was fallingpricking the face as though withneedles. It was coldslipperydarkthe gas-lamps burned dimlyand for somereason there was a smell of paraffin in the streetso that Fyodor coughed andcleared his throat. Rich men were driving to and fro on the roadand every richman had a ham and a bottle of vodka in his hands. Rich young ladies peeped atFyodor out of the carriages and sledgesput out their tongues and shoutedlaughing:
Studentsofficersand merchants walked behind Fyodorjeering at him andcrying:
"Drunkard! Drunkard! Infidel cobbler! Soul of a boot-leg! Beggar!"
All this was insultingbut Fyodor held his tongue and only spat in disgust.But when Kuzma Lebyodkin from Warsawa master-bootmakermet him and said:"I've married a rich woman and I have men working under mewhile you are abeggar and have nothing to eat" Fyodor could not refrain from runningafter him. He pursued him till he found himself in Kolokolny Lane. His customerlived in the fourth house from the corner on the very top floor. To reach himone had to go through a longdark courtyardand then to climb up a very highslipp ery stair-case which tottered under one's feet. When Fyodor went in to himhe was sitting on the floor pounding something in a mortarjust as he had beenthe fortnight before.
"Your honorI have brought your boots" said Fyodor sullenly.
The customer got up and began trying on the boots in silence. Desiring tohelp himFyodor went down on one knee and pulled off his oldbootbut at oncejumped up and staggered towards the door in horror. The customer had not a footbut a hoof like a horse's.
"Aha!" thought Fyodor; "here's a go!"
The first thing should have been to cross himselfthen to leave everythingand run downstairs; but he immediately reflected that he was meeting a devil forthe first and probably the last timeand not to take advantage of his serviceswould be foolish. He controlled himself and determined to try his luck. Claspinghis hands behind him to avoid making the sign of the crosshe coughedrespectfully and began:
"They say that there is nothing on earth more evil and impure than thedevilbut I am of the opinionyour honorthat the devil is highly educated.He has -- excuse my saying it -- hoofs and a tail behindbut he has more brainsthan many a student."
"I like you for what you say" said the devilflattered."Thank youshoemaker! What do you want?"
And without loss of time the shoemaker began complaining of his lot. He beganby saying that from his childhood up he had envied the rich. He had alwaysresented it that all people did not live alike in big houses and drive with goodhorses. Whyhe askedwas he poor? How was he worse than Kuzma Lebyodkin fromWarsawwho had his own houseand whose wife wore a hat? He had the same sortof nosethe same handsfeetheadand backas the richand so why was heforced to work when others were enjoying themselves? Why was he married to Maryaand not to a lady smelling of scent? He had often seen beautiful young ladies inthe houses of rich customersbut they either took no notice of him whateverorelse sometimes laughed and whispered to each other: "What a red nose thatshoemaker has!" It was true that Marya was a goodkindhard-workingwomanbut she was not educated; her hand was heavy and hit hardand if one hadoccasion to speak of politics or anything intellectual before hershe would puther spoke in and talk the most awful nonsense.
"What do you wantthen?" his customer interrupted him.
"I beg youyour honor Satan Ivanitchto be graciously pleased to makeme a rich man."
"Certainly. Only for that you must give me up your soul! Before thecocks crowgo and sign on this paper here that you give me up your soul."
"Your honor" said Fyodor politely"when you ordered a pairof boots from me I did not ask for the money in advance. One has first to carryout the order and then ask for payment."
"Ohvery well!" the customer assented.
A bright flame suddenly flared up in the mortara pink thick smoke camepuffing outand there was a smell of burnt feathers and sulphur. When the smokehad subsidedFyodor rubbed his eyes and saw that he was no longer Fyodornolonger a shoemakerbut quite a different manwearing a waistcoat and awatch-chainin a new pair of trousersand that he was sitting in an armchairat a big table. Two foot men were handing him dishesbowing low and saying:
"Kindly eatyour honorand may it do you good!"
What wealth! The footmen handed him a big piece of roast mutton and a dish ofcucumbersand then brought in a frying-pan a roast gooseand a littleafterwards boiled pork with horse-radish cream. And how dignifiedhow genteelit all was! Fyodor ateand before each dish drank a big glass of excellentvodkalike some general or some count. After the pork he was handed some boiledgrain moistened with goose fatthen an omelette with bacon fatthen friedliverand he went on eating and was delighted. What more? They servedtooapie with onion and steamed turnip with kvass.
"How is it the gentry don't burst with such meals?" he thought.
In conclusion they handed him a big pot of honey. After dinner the devilappeared in blue spectacles and asked with a low bow:
"Are you satisfied with your dinnerFyodor Pantelyeitch?"
But Fyodor could not answer one wordhe was so stuffed after his dinner. Thefeeling of repletion was unpleasantoppressiveand to distract his thoughts helooked at the boot on his left foot.
"For a boot like that I used not to take less than seven and a halfroubles. What shoemaker made it?" he asked.
"Kuzma Lebyodkin" answered the footman.
"Send for himthe fool!"
Kuzma Lebyodkin from Warsaw soon made his appearance. He stopped in arespectful attitude at the door and asked:
"What are your ordersyour honor?"
"Hold your tongue!" cried Fyodorand stamped his foot. "Don'tdare to argue; remember your place as a cobbler! Blockhead! You don't know howto make boots! I'll beat your ugly phiz to a jelly! Why have you come?"
"What money? Be off! Come on Saturday! Boygive him a cuff!"
But he at once recalled what a life the customers used to lead himtooandhe felt heavy at heartand to distract his attention he took a fat pocketbookout of his pocket and began counting his money. There was a great deal of moneybut Fyodor wanted more still. The devil in the blue spectacles brought himanother notebook fatter stillbut he wanted even more; and the more he counteditthe more discontented he became.
In the evening the evil one brought him a full-bosomed lady in a red dressand said that this was his new wife. He spent the whole evening kissing her andeating gingerbreadsand at night he went to bed on a softdowny feather-bedturned from side to sideand could not go to sleep. He felt uncanny.
"We have a great deal of money" he said to his wife; "we mustlook out or thieves will be breaking in. You had better go and look with acandle."
He did not sleep all nightand kept getting up to see if his box was allright. In the morning he had to go to church to matins. In church the same honoris done to rich and poor alike. When Fyodor was poor he used to pray in churchlike this: "Godforgive mea sinner!" He said the same thing nowthough he had become rich. What difference was there? And after death Fyodorrich would not be buried in goldnot in diamondsbut in the same black earthas the poorest beggar. Fyodor would burn in the same fire as cobblers. Fyodorresented all thisandtoohe felt weighed down all over by his dinnerandinstead of prayer he had all sorts of thoughts in his head about his box ofmoneyabout thievesabout his barteredruined soul.
He came out of church in a bad temper. To drive away his unpleasant thoughtsas he had often done beforehe struck up a song at the top of his voice. But assoon as he began a policeman ran up and saidwith his fingers to the peak ofhis cap:
"Your honorgentlefolk must not sing in the street! You are not ashoemaker!"
Fyodor leaned his back against a fence and fell to thinking: what could he doto amuse himself?
"Your honor" a porter shouted to him"don't lean against thefenceyou will spoil your fur coat!"
Fyodor went into a shop and bought himself the very best concertinathenwent out into the street playing it. Everybody pointed at him and laughed.
"And a gentlemantoo" the cabmen jeered at him; "like somecobbler. . . ."
"Is it the proper thing for gentlefolk to be disorderly in thestreet?" a policeman said to him. "You had better go into atavern!"
"Your honorgive us a triflefor Christ's sake" the beggarswailedsurrounding Fyodor on all sides.
In earlier days when he was a shoemaker the beggars took no notice of himnow they wouldn't let him pass.
And at home his new wifethe ladywas waiting for himdressed in a greenblouse and a red skirt. He meant to be attentive to herand had just lifted hisarm to give her a good clout on the backbut she said angrily:
"Peasant! Ignorant lout! You don't know how to behave with ladies! Ifyou love me you will kiss my hand; I don't allow you to beat me."
"This is a blasted existence!" thought Fyodor. "People do leada life! You mustn't singyou mustn't play the concertinayou mustn't have alark with a lady. . . . Pfoo!"
He had no sooner sat down to tea with the lady when the evil spirit in theblue spectacles appeared and said:
"ComeFyodor PantelyeitchI have performed my part of the bargain. Nowsign your paper and come along with me!"
And he dragged Fyodor to hellstraight to the furnaceand devils flew upfrom all directions and shouted:
"Fool! Blockhead! Ass!"
There was a fearful smell of paraffin in hellenough to suffocate one. Andsuddenly it all vanished. Fyodor opened his eyes and saw his tablethe bootsand the tin lamp. The lamp-glass was blackand from the faint light on the wickcame clouds of stinking smoke as from a chimney. Near the table stood thecustomer in the blue spectaclesshouting angrily:
"Fool! Blockhead! Ass! I'll give you a lessonyou scoundrel! You tookthe order a fortnight ago and the boots aren't ready yet! Do you suppose I wantto come trapesing round here half a dozen times a day for my boots? You wretch!you brute!"
Fyodor shook his head and set to work on the boots. The customer went onswearing and threatening him for a long time. At last when he subsidedFyodorasked sullenly:
"And what is your occupationsir?"
"I make Bengal lights and fireworks. I am a pyrotechnician."
They began ringing for matins. Fyodor gave the customer the bootstook themoney for themand went to church.
Carriages and sledges with bearskin rugs were dashing to and fro in thestreet; merchantsladiesofficers were walking along the pavement togetherwith the humbler folk. . . . But Fyodor did not envy them nor repine at his lot.It seemed to him now that rich and poor were equally badly off. Some were ableto drive in a carriageand others to sing songs at the top of their voice andto play the concertinabut one and the same thingthe same gravewas awaitingall alikeand there was nothing in life for which one would give the devil evena tiny scrap of one's soul.