THE WIFE AND OTHER STORIES
Translated by CONSTANCE GARNETT
I RECEIVED the following letter:
"DEAR SIRPAVEL ANDREITCH!
"Not far from you -- that is to sayin the village of Pestrovo -- verydistressing incidents are taking placeconcerning which I feel it my duty towrite to you. All the peasants of that village sold their cottages and all theirbelongingsand set off for the province of Tomskbut did not succeed ingetting thereand have come back. Hereof coursethey have nothing now;everything belongs to other people. They have settled three or four families ina hutso that there are no less than fifteen persons of both sexes in each hutnot counting the young children; and the long and the short of it isthere isnothing to eat. There is famine and there is a terrible pestilence of hungerorspottedtyphus; literally every one is stricken. The doctor's assistant saysone goes into a cottage and what does one see? Every one is sickevery onedelirioussome laughingothers frantic; the huts are filthy; there is no oneto fetch them waterno one to give them a drinkand nothing to eat but frozenpotatoes. What can Sobol (our Zemstvo doctor) and his lady assistant do whenmore than medicine the peasants need bread which they have not? The DistrictZemstvo refuses to assist themon the ground that their names have been takenoff the register of this districtand that they are now reckoned as inhabitantsof Tomsk; andbesidesthe Zemstvo has no money.
"Laying these facts before youand knowing your humanityI beg you notto refuse immediate help.
Obviously the letter was written by the doctor with the animal name* or hislady assistant. Zemstvo doctors and their assistants go on for years growingmore and more convinced every day that they can do _nothing_and yet continueto receive their salaries from people who are living upon frozen potatoesandconsider they have a right to judge whether I am humane or not.
*Sobol in Russian means "sable-marten."- TRANSLATOR'S NOTE.
Worried by the anonymous letter and by the fact that peasants came everymorning to the servants' kitchen and went down on their knees thereand thattwenty sacks of rye had been stolen at night out of the barnthe wall havingfirst been broken inand by the general depression which was fostered byconversationsnewspapersand horrible weather -- worried by all thisI workedlistlessly and ineffectively. I was writing "A History of Railways"; Ihad to read a great number of Russian and foreign bookspamphletsand articlesin the magazinesto make calculationsto refer to logarithmsto think and towrite; then again to readcalculateand think; but as soon as I took up a bookor began to thinkmy thoughts were in a muddlemy eyes began blinkingI wouldget up from the table with a sigh and begin walking about the big rooms of mydeserted country-house. When I was tired of walking about I would stand still atmy study windowandlooking across the wide courtyardover the pond and thebare young birch-trees and the great fields covered with recently fallenthawing snowI saw on a low hill on the horizon a group of mud-coloured hutsfrom which a black muddy road ran down in an irregular streak through the whitefield. That was Pestrovoconcerning which my anonymous correspondent hadwritten to me. If it had not been for the crows whoforeseeing rain or snowyweatherfloated cawing over the pond and the fieldsand the tapping in thecarpenter's shedthis bit of the world about which such a fuss was being madewould have seemed like the Dead Sea; it was all so stillmotionlesslifelessand dreary!
My uneasiness hindered me from working and concentrating myself; I did notknow what it wasand chose to believe it was disappointment. I had actuallygiven up my post in the Department of Ways and Communicationsand had come hereinto the country expressly to live in peace and to devote myself to writing onsocial questions. It had long been my cherished dream. And now I had to saygood-bye both to peace and to literatureto give up everything and think onlyof the peasants. And that was inevitablebecause I was convinced that there wasabsolutely nobody in the district except me to help the starving. The peoplesurrounding me were uneducatedunintellectualcallousfor the most partdishonestor if they were honestthey were unreasonable and unpractical likemy wifefor instance. It was impossible to rely on such peopleit wasimpossible to leave the peasants to their fateso that the only thing left todo was to submit to necessity and see to setting the peasants to rights myself.
I began by making up my mind to give five thousand roubles to the assistanceof the starving peasants. And that did not decreasebut only aggravated myuneasiness. As I stood by the window or walked about the rooms I was tormentedby the question which had not occurred to me before: how this money was to bespent. To have bread bought and to go from hut to hut distributing it was morethan one man could doto say nothing of the risk that in your haste you mightgive twice as much to one who was well-fed or to one who was making. money outof his fellows as to the hungry. I had no faith in the local officials. Allthese district captains and tax inspectors were young menand I distrusted themas I do all young people of todaywho are materialistic and without ideals. TheDistrict Zemstvothe Peasant Courtsand all the local institutionsinspiredin me not the slightest desire to appeal to them for assistance. I knew that allthese institutions who were busily engaged in picking out plums from the Zemstvoand the Government pie had their mouths always wide open for a bite at any otherpie that might turn up.
The idea occurred to me to invite the neighbouring landowners and suggest tothem to organize in my house something like a committee or a centre to which allsubscriptions could be forwardedand from which assistance and instructionscould be distributed throughout the district; such an organizationwhich wouldrender possible frequent consultations and free control on a big scalewouldcompletely meet my views. But I imagined the lunchesthe dinnersthe suppersand the noisethe waste of timethe verbosity and the bad taste which thatmixed provincial company would inevitably bring into my houseand I made hasteto reject my idea.
As for the members of my own householdthe last thing I could look for washelp or support from them. Of my father's householdof the household of mychildhoodonce a big and noisy familyno one remained but the governessMademoiselle Marieoras she was now calledMarya Gerasimovnaan absolutelyinsignificant person. She was a precise little old lady of seventywho wore alight grey dress and a cap with white ribbonsand looked like a china doll. Shealways sat in the drawing-room reading.
Whenever I passed by hershe would sayknowing the reason for my brooding:
"What can you expectPasha? I told you how it would be before. You canjudge from our servants."
My wifeNatalya Gavrilovnalived on the lower storeyall the rooms ofwhich she occupied. She slepthad her mealsand received her visitorsdownstairs in her own roomsand took not the slightest interest in how I dinedor sleptor whom I saw. Our relations with one another were simple and notstrainedbut coldemptyand dreary as relations are between people who havebeen so long estrangedthat even living under the same roof gives no semblanceof nearness. There was no trace now of the passionate and tormenting love -- atone time sweetat another bitter as wormwood -- which I had once felt forNatalya Gavrilovna. There was nothing lefteitherof the outbursts of the past-- the
loud altercationsupbraidingscomplaintsand gusts of hatred which hadusually ended in my wife's going abroad or to her own peopleand in my sendingmoney in small but frequent instalments that I might sting her pride oftener. (Myproud and sensitive wife and her family live at my expenseand much as shewould have liked to do somy wife could not refuse my money: that afforded mesatisfaction and was one comfort in my sorrow.) Now when we chanced to meet inthe corridor downstairs or in the yardI bowedshe smiled graciously. We spokeof the weathersaid that it seemed time to put in the double windowsand thatsome one with bells on their harness had driven over the dam. And at such timesI read in her face: "I am faithful to you and am not disgracing your goodname which you think so much about; you are sensible and do not worry me; we arequits."
I assured myself that my love had died long agothat I was too much absorbedin my work to think seriously of my relations with my wife. Butalas! that wasonly what I imagined. When my wife talked aloud downstairs I listened intentlyto her voicethough I could not distinguish one word. When she played the pianodownstairs I stood up and listened. When her carriage or her saddlehorse wasbrought to the doorI went to the window and waited to see her out of thehouse; then I watched her get into her carriage or mount her horse and ride outof the yard. I felt that there was something wrong with meand was afraid theexpression of my eyes or my face might betray me. I looked after my wife andthen watched for her to come back that I might see again from the window herfaceher shouldersher fur coather hat. I felt drearysadinfinitelyregretfuland felt inclined in her absence to walk through her roomsandlonged that the problem that my wife and I had not been able to solve becauseour characters were incompatibleshould solve itself in the natural way as soonas possible -- that isthat this beautiful woman of twenty-seven might makehaste and grow oldand that my head might be grey and bald.
One day at lunch my bailiff informed me that the Pestrovo peasants had begunto pull the thatch off the roofs to feed their cattle. Marya Gerasimovna lookedat me in alarm and perplexity.
"What can I do?" I said to her. "One cannot fightsingle-handedand I have never experienced such loneliness as I do now. I wouldgive a great deal to find one man in the whole province on whom I could rely."
"Invite Ivan Ivanitch" said Marya Gerasimovna.
"To be sure!" I thoughtdelighted. "That is an idea! _C'estraison_" I hummedgoing to my study to write to Ivan Ivanitch."_C'est raisonc'est raison_."
Of all the mass of acquaintances whoin this house twenty-five tothirty-five years agohad eatendrunkmasqueradedfallen in lovemarriedbored us with accounts of their splendid packs of hounds and horsesthe onlyone still living was Ivan Ivanitch Bragin. At one time he had been very activetalkativenoisyand given to falling in loveand had been famous for hisextreme views and for the peculiar charm of his facewhich fascinated men aswell as women; now he was an old manhad grown corpulentand was living outhis days with neither views nor charm. He came the day after getting my letterin the evening just as the samovar was brought into the dining-room and littleMarya Gerasimovna had begun slicing the lemon.
"I am very glad to see youmy dear fellow" I said gailymeetinghim. "Whyyou are stouter than ever. . . ."
"It isn't getting stout; it's swelling" he answered. "Thebees must have stung me."
With the familiarity of a man laughing at his own fatnesshe put his armsround my waist and laid on my breast his big soft headwith the hair combeddown on the forehead like a Little Russian'sand went off into a thinagedlaugh.
"And you go on getting younger" he said through his laugh. "Iwonder what dye you use for your hair and beard; you might let me have some ofit." Sniffing and gaspinghe embraced me and kissed me on the cheek."You might give me some of it" he repeated. "Whyyou are notfortyare you?"
"AlasI am forty-six!" I saidlaughing.
Ivan Ivanitch smelt of tallow candles and cookingand that suited him. Hisbigpuffyslow-moving body was swathed in a long frock-coat like a coachman'sfull coatwith a high waistand with hooks and eyes instead of buttonsand itwould have been strange if he had smelt of eau-de-Colognefor instance. In hislongunshavenbluish double chinwhich looked like a thistlehis goggle eyeshis shortness of breathand in the whole of his clumsyslovenly figurein hisvoicehis laughand his wordsit was difficult to recognize the gracefulinteresting talker who used in old days to make the husbands of the districtjealous on account of their wives.
"I am in great need of your assistancemy friend" I saidwhen wewere sitting in the dining-roomdrinking tea. "I want to organize relieffor the starving peasantsand I don't know how to set about it. So perhaps youwill be so kind as to advise me."
"Yesyesyes" said Ivan Ivanitchsighing. "To be suretobe sureto be sure. . . ."
"I would not have worried youmy dear fellowbut really there is noone here but you I can appeal to. You know what people are like about here."
"To be sureto be sureto be sure. . . . Yes."
I thought that as we were going to have a seriousbusiness consultation inwhich any one might take partregardless of their position or personalrelationswhy should I not invite Natalya Gavrilovna.
"_Tres faciunt collegium_" I said gaily. "What if we were toask Natalya Gavrilovna? What do you think? Fenya" I saidturning to themaid"ask Natalya Gavrilovna to come upstairs to usif possible at once.Tell her it's a very important matter."
A little later Natalya Gavrilovna came in. I got up to meet her and said:
"Excuse us for troubling youNatalie. We are discussing a veryimportant matterand we had the happy thought that we might take advantage ofyour good advicewhich you will not refuse to give us. Please sit down."
Ivan Ivanitch kissed her hand while she kissed his forehead; thenwhen weall sat down to the tablehelooking at her tearfully and blissfullycranedforward to her and kissed her hand again. She was dressed in blackher hair wascarefully arrangedand she smelt of fresh scent. She had evidently dressed togo out or was expecting somebody. Coming into the dining-roomshe held out herhand to me with simple friendlinessand smiled to me as graciously as she didto Ivan Ivanitch -- that pleased me; but as she talked she moved her fingersoften and abruptly leaned back in her chair and talked rapidlyand thisjerkiness in her words and movements irritated me and reminded me of her nativetown -- Odessawhere the societymen and women alikehad wearied me by itsbad taste.
"I want to do something for the famine-stricken peasants" I beganand after a brief pause I went on: " Moneyof courseis a great thingbut to confine oneself to subscribing moneyand with that to be satisfiedwould be evading the worst of the trouble. Help must take the form of moneybutthe most important thing is a proper and sound organization. Let us think itovermy friendsand do something."
Natalya Gavrilovna looked at me inquiringly and shrugged her shoulders asthough to say"What do I know about it?"
"Yesyesfamine . . ." muttered Ivan Ivanitch. "Certainly .. . yes."
"It's a serious position" I said"and assistance is neededas soon as possible. I imagine the first point among the principles which wemust work out ought to be promptitude. We must act on the military principles ofjudgmentpromptitudeand energy."
"Yespromptitude . . ." repeated Ivan Ivanitch in a drowsy andlistless voiceas though he were dropping asleep. "Only one can't doanything. The crops have failedand so what's the use of all your judgment andenergy? . . . It's the elements. . . . You can't go against God and fate."
"Yesbut that's what man has a head forto conten d against theelements."
"Eh? Yes . . . that's soto be sure. . . . Yes."
Ivan Ivanitch sneezed into his handkerchiefbrightened upand as though hehad just woken uplooked round at my wife and me.
"My crops have failedtoo." He laughed a thin little laugh andgave a sly wink as though this were really funny. "No moneyno cornand ayard full of labourers like Count Sheremetyev's. I want to kick them outbut Ihaven't the heart to."
Natalya Gavrilovna laughedand began questioning him about his privateaffairs. Her presence gave me a pleasure such as I had not felt for a long timeand I was afraid to look at her for fear my eyes would betray my secret feeling.Our relations were such that that feeling might seem surprising and ridiculous.
She laughed and talked with Ivan Ivanitch without being in the leastdisturbed that she was in my room and that I was not laughing.
"And somy friendswhat are we to do?" I asked after waiting fora pause. "I suppose before we do anything else we had better immediatelyopen a subscription-list. We will write to our friends in the capitals and inOdessaNatalieand ask them to subscribe. When we have got together a littlesum we will begin buying corn and fodder for the cattle; and youIvan Ivanitchwill you be so kind as to undertake distributing the relief? Entirely relying onyour characteristic tact and efficiencywe will only venture to express adesire that before you give any relief you make acquaintance with the details ofthe case on the spotand alsowhich is very importantyou should be carefulthat corn should be distributed only to those who are in genuine needand notto the drunkenthe idleor the dishonest."
"Yesyesyes . . ." muttered Ivan Ivanitch. "To be suretobe sure."
"Wellone won't get much done with that slobbering wreck" Ithoughtand I felt irritated.
"I am sick of these famine-stricken peasantsbother them! It's nothingbut grievances with them!" Ivan Ivanitch went onsucking the rind of thelemon. "The hungry have a grievance against those who have enoughandthose who have enough have a grievance against the hungry. Yes . . . hungerstupefies and maddens a man and makes him savage; hunger is not a potato. When aman is starving he uses bad languageand stealsand may do worse. . . . Onemust realize that."
Ivan Ivanitch choked over his teacoughedand shook all over with asqueakysmothered laughter.
" 'There was a battle at Pol . . . Poltava' " he brought outgesticulating with both hands in protest against the laughter and coughing whichprevented him from speaking. " 'There was a battle at Poltava!' When threeyears after the Emancipation we had famine in two districts hereFyodorFyodoritch came and invited me to go to him. 'Come alongcome along' hepersistedand nothing else would satisfy him. 'Very welllet us go' I said.Andso we set off. It was in the evening; there was snow falling. Towards nightwe were getting near his placeand suddenly from the wood came 'bang!' andanother time 'bang!' 'Ohdamn it all!' . . . I jumped out of the sledgeand Isaw in the darkness a man running up to meknee-deep in the snow. I put my armround his shoulderlike thisand knocked the gun out of his hand. Then anotherone turned up; I fetched him a knock on the back of his head so that he gruntedand flopped with his nose in the snow. I was a sturdy chap thenmy fist washeavy; I disposed of two of themand when I turned round Fyodor was sittingastride of a third. We did not let our three fine fellows go; we tied theirhands behind their backs so that they might not do us or themselves any harmand took the fools into the kitchen. We were angry with them and at the sametime ashamed to look at them; they were peasants we knewand were good fellows;we were sorry for them. They were quite stupid with terror. One was crying andbegging our pardonthe second looked like a wild beast and kept swearingthethird knelt down and began to pray. I said to Fedya: 'Don't bear them a grudge;let them gothe rascals!' He fed themgave them a bushel of flour eachandlet them go: 'Get along with you' he said. So that's what he did.. . . TheKingdom of Heaven be his and everlasting peace! He understood and did not bearthem a grudge; but there were some who didand how many people they ruined!Yes. . . Whyover the affair at the Klotchkovs' tavern eleven men were sent tothe disciplinary battalion. Yes. . . . And nowlookit's the same thing.Anisyinthe investigating magistratestayed the night with me last Thursdayand he told me about some landowner. . . . Yes. . . . They took the wall of hisbarn to pieces at night and carried off twenty sacks of rye. When the gentlemanheard that such a crime had been committedhe sent a telegram to the Governorand another to the police captainanother to the investigating magistrate! . .. Of courseevery one is afraid of a man who is fond of litigation. Theauthorities were in a flutter and there was a general hubbub. Two villages weresearched."
"Excuse meIvan Ivanitch" I said. "Twenty sacks of rye werestolen from meand it was I who telegraphed to the Governor. I telegraphed toPetersburgtoo. But it was by no means out of love for litigationas you arepleased to express itand not because I bore them a grudge. I look at everysubject from the point of view of principle. From the point of view of the lawtheft is the same whether a man is hungry or not."
"Yesyes. . ." muttered Ivan Ivanitch in confusion. "Ofcourse. . . To be sureyes."
Natalya Gavrilovna blushed.
"There are people. . ." she said and stopped; she made an effort toseem indifferentbut she could not keep it upand looked into my eyes with thehatred that I know so well. "There are people" she said"forwhom famine and human suffering exist simply that they may vent their hatefuland despicable temperaments upon them."
I was confused and shrugged my shoulders.
"I meant to say generally" she went on"that there arepeople who are quite indifferent and completely devoid of all feeling ofsympathyyet who do not pass human suffering bybut insist on meddling forfear people should be able to do without them. Nothing is sacred for theirvanity."
"There are people" I said softly"who have an angeliccharacterbut who express their glorious ideas in such a form that it isdifficult to distinguish the angel from an Odessa market-woman."
I must confess it was not happily expressed.
My wife looked at me as though it cost her a great effort to hold her tongue.Her sudden outburstand then her inappropriate eloquence on the subject of mydesire to help the famine-stricken peasantswereto say the leastout ofplace; when I had invited her to come upstairs I had expected quite a differentattitude to me and my intentions. I cannot say definitely what I had expectedbut I had been agreeably agitated by the expectation. Now I saw that to go onspeaking about the famine would be difficult and perhaps stupid.
"Yes . . ." Ivan Ivanitch muttered inappropriately. "Burovthe merchantmust have four hundred thousand at least. I said to him: 'Handover one or two thousand to the famine. You can't take it with you when you dieanyway.' He was offended. But we all have to dieyou know. Death is not apotato."
A silence followed again.
"So there's nothing left for me but to reconcile myself toloneliness" I sighed. "One cannot fight single-handed. WellI willtry single-handed. Let us hope that my campaign against the famine will be moresuccessful than my campaign against indifference."
"I am expected downstairs" said Natalya Gavrilovna.
She got up from the table and turned to Ivan Ivanitch.
"So you will look in upon me downstairs for a minute? I won't saygood-bye to you."
And she went away.
Ivan Ivanitch was now drinking his seventh glass of teachokingsmackinghis lipsand sucking sometimes his moustachesometimes the lemon. He wasmuttering something drowsily and listlesslyand I did not listen but waited forhim to go. At lastwith an expression that suggested that he had only come tome to take a cup of teahe got up and began to take leave. As I saw him out Isaid:
"And so you have given me no advice."
"Eh? I am a feeblestupid old man" he answered. "What usewould my advice be? You shouldn't worry yourself. . . . I really don't know whyyou worry yourself. Don't disturb yourselfmy dear fellow! Upon my wordthere's no need" he whispered genuinely and affectionatelysoothing me asthough I were a child. "Upon my wordthere's no need."
"No need? Whythe peasants are pulling the thatch off their hutsandthey say there is typhus somewhere already."
"Wellwhat of it? If there are good crops next yearthey'll thatchthem againand if we die of typhus others will live after us. Anywaywe haveto die -- if not nowlater. Don't worry yourselfmy dear."
"I can't help worrying myself" I said irritably.
We were standing in the dimly lighted vestibule. Ivan Ivanitch suddenly tookme by the elbowandpreparing to say something evidently very importantlooked at me in silence for a couple of minutes.
"Pavel Andreitch!" he said softlyand suddenly in his puffysetface and dark eyes there was a gleam of the expression for which he had oncebeen famous and which was truly charming. "Pavel AndreitchI speak to youas a friend: try to be different! One is ill at ease with youmy dear fellowone really is!"
He looked intently into my face; the charming expression faded awayhis eyesgrew dim againand he sniffed and muttered feebly:
"Yesyes. . . . Excuse an old man. . . . It's all nonsense . . .yes."
As he slowly descended the staircasespreading out his hands to balancehimself and showing me his hugebulky back and red neckhe gave me theunpleasant impression of a sort of crab.
"You ought to go awayyour Excellency" he muttered. "ToPetersburg or abroad. . . . Why should you live here and waste your golden days?You are youngwealthyand healthy. . . . Yes. . . . Ahif I were younger Iwould whisk away like a hareand snap my fingers at everything."
My wife's outburst reminded me of our married life together. In old daysafter every such outburst we felt irresistibly drawn to each other; we wouldmeet and let off all the dynamite that had accumulated in our souls. And nowafter Ivan Ivanitch had gone away I had a strong impulse to go to my wife. Iwanted to go downstairs and tell her that her behaviour at tea had been aninsult to methat she was cruelpettyand that her plebeian mind had neverrisen to a comprehension of what _I_ was saying and of what _I_ was doing. Iwalked about the rooms a long time thinking of what I would say to her andtrying to guess what she would say to me.
That eveningafter Ivan Ivanitch went awayI felt in a peculiarlyirritating form the uneasiness which had worried me of late. I could not sitdown or sit stillbut kept walking about in the rooms that were lighted up andkeeping near to the one in which Marya Gerasimovna was sitting. I had a feelingvery much like that which I had on the North Sea during a storm when every onethought that our shipwhich had no freight nor ballastwould overturn. Andthat evening I understood that my uneasiness was not disappointmentas I hadsupposedbut a different feelingthough what exactly I could not sayand thatirritated me more than ever.
"I will go to her" I decided. "I can think of a pretext. Ishall say that I want to see Ivan Ivanitch; that will be all."
I went downstairs and walked without haste over the carpeted floor throughthe vestibule and the hall. Ivan Ivanitch was sitting on the sofa in thedrawing-room; he was drinking tea again and muttering something. My wife wasstanding opposite to him and holding on to the back of a chair. There was agentlesweetand docile expression on her facesuch as one sees on the facesof people listening to crazy saints or holy men when a peculiar hiddensignificance is imagined in their vague words and mutterings. There wassomething morbidsomething of a nun's exaltationin my wife's expression andattitude; and her low-pitchedhalf-dark rooms with their old-fashionedfurniturewith her birds asleep in their cagesand with a smell of geraniumreminded me of the rooms of some abbess or pious old lady.
I went into the drawing-room. My wife showed neither surprise nor confusionand looked at me calmly and serenelyas though she had known I should come.
"I beg your pardon" I said softly. "I am so glad you have notgone yetIvan Ivanitch. I forgot to ask youdo you know the Christian name ofthe president of our Zemstvo?"
"Andrey Stanislavovitch. Yes. . . ."
"_Merci_" I saidtook out my notebookand wrote it down.
There followed a silence during which my wife and Ivan Ivanitch were probablywaiting for me to go; my wife did not believe that I wanted to know thepresident's name -- I saw that from her eyes.
"WellI must be goingmy beauty" muttered Ivan Ivanitchafter Ihad walked once or twice across the drawing-room and sat down by the fireplace.
"No" said Natalya Gavrilovna quicklytouching his hand."Stay another quarter of an hour. . . . Please do!"
Evidently she did not wish to be left alone with me without a witness.
"OhwellI'll wait a quarter of an hourtoo" I thought.
"Whyit's snowing!" I saidgetting up and looking out of window."A good fall of snow! Ivan Ivanitch"-- I went on walking about theroom -- "I do regret not being a sportsman. I can imagine what a pleasureit must be coursing hares or hunting wolves in snow like this!"
My wifestanding stillwatched my movementslooking out of the corner ofher eyes without turning her head. She looked as though she thought I had asharp knife or a revolver in my pocket.
"Ivan Ivanitchdo take me out hunting some day" I went on softly."I shall be veryvery grateful to you."
At that moment a visitor came into the room. He was a tallthick-setgentleman whom I did not knowwith a bald heada big fair beardand littleeyes. From his baggycrumpled clothes and his manners I took him to be a parishclerk or a teacherbut my wife introduced him to me as Dr. Sobol.
"Veryvery glad to make your acquaintance" said the doctor in aloud tenor voiceshaking hands with me warmlywith a naive smile. "Veryglad!"
He sat down at the tabletook a glass of teaand said in a loud voice:
"Do you happen to have a drop of rum or brandy? Have pity on meOlyaand look in the cupboard; I am frozen" he saidaddressing the maid.
I sat down by the fire againlooked onlistenedand from time to time putin a word in the general conversation. My wife smiled graciously to the visitorsand kept a sharp lookout on meas though I were a wild beast. She was oppressedby my presenceand this aroused in me jealousyannoyanceand an obstinatedesire to wound her. "Wifethese snug roomsthe place by the fire"I thought"are minehave been mine for yearsbut some crazy IvanIvanitch or Sobol has for some reason more right to them than I. Now I see mywifenot out of windowbut close at handin ordinary home surroundings that Ifeel the want of now I am growing olderandin spite of her hatred for meImiss her as years ago in my childhood I used to miss my mother and my nurse. AndI feel that nowon the verge of old agemy love for her is purer and loftierthan it was in the past; and that is why I want to go up to herto stamp hardon her toe with my heelto hurt her and smile as I do it."
"Monsieur Marten" I saidaddressing the doctor"how manyhospitals have we in the district?"
"Sobol" my wife corrected.
"Two" answered Sobol.
"And how many deaths are there every year in each hospital?"
"Pavel AndreitchI want to speak to you" said my wife.
She apologized to the visitors and went to the next room. I got up andfollowed her.
"You will go upstairs to your own rooms this minute" she said.
"You are ill-bred" I said to her.
"You will go upstairs to your own rooms this very minute" sherepeated sharplyand she looked into my face with hatred.
She was standing so near that if I had stooped a lit tle my beard would havetouched her face.
"What is the matter?" I asked. "What harm have I done all atonce?"
Her chin quiveredshe hastily wiped her eyesandwith a cursory glance atthe looking-glasswhispered:
"The old story is beginning all over again. Of course you won't go away.Welldo as you like. I'll go away myselfand you stay."
We returned to the drawing-roomshe with a resolute facewhile I shruggedmy shoulders and tried to smile. There were some more visitors -- an elderlylady and a young man in spectacles. Without greeting the new arrivals or takingleave of the othersI went off to my own rooms.
After what had happened at tea and then again downstairsit became clear tome that our "family happiness" which we had begun to forget about inthe course of the last two yearswas through some absurd and trivial reasonbeginning all over againand that neither I nor my wife could now stopourselves; and that next day or the day afterthe outburst of hatred wouldasI knew by experience of past yearsbe followed by something revolting whichwould upset the whole order of our lives. "So it seems that during thesetwo years we have grown no wisercolderor calmer" I thought as I beganwalking about the rooms. "So there will again be tearsoutcriescursespacking upgoing abroadthen the continual sickly fear that she will disgraceme with some coxcomb out thereItalian or Russianrefusing a passportlettersutter lonelinessmissing herand in five years old agegreyhairs." I walked aboutimagining what was really impossible -- hergrownhandsomerstouterembracing a man I did not know. By now convinced that thatwould certainly happen"'Why" I asked myself"Whyin one ofour long past quarrelshad not I given her a divorceor why had she not atthat time left me altogether? I should not have had this yearning for her nowthis hatredthis anxiety; and I should have lived out my life quietlyworkingand not worrying about anything."
A carriage with two lamps drove into the yardthen a big sledge with threehorses. My wife was evidently having a party.
Till midnight everything was quiet downstairs and I heard nothingbut atmidnight there was a sound of moving chairs and a clatter of crockery. So therewas supper. Then the chairs moved againand through the floor I heard a noise;they seemed to be shouting hurrah. Marya Gerasimovna was already asleep and Iwas quite alone in the whole upper storey; the portraits of my forefatherscruelinsignificant peoplelooked at me from the walls of the drawing-roomand the reflection of my lamp in the window winked unpleasantly. And with afeeling of jealousy and envy for what was going on downstairsI listened andthought: "I am master here; if I likeI can in a moment turn out all thatfine crew." But I knew that all that was nonsensethat I could not turnout any oneand the word "master" had no meaning. One may thinkoneself mastermarriedricha kammer-junkeras much as one likesand at thesame time not know what it means.
After supper some one downstairs began singing in a tenor voice.
"Whynothing special has happened" I tried to persuade myself."Why am I so upset? I won't go downstairs tomorrowthat's all; and thatwill be the end of our quarrel."
At a quarter past one I went to bed.
"Have the visitors downstairs gone?" I asked Alexey as he wasundressing me.
"And why were they shouting hurrah?"
"Alexey Dmitritch Mahonov subscribed for the famine fund a thousandbushels of flour and a thousand roubles. And the old lady -- I don't know hername -- promised to set up a soup kitchen on her estate to feed a hundred andfifty people. Thank God . . . Natalya Gavrilovna has been pleased to arrangethat all the gentry should assemble every Friday."
"To assemble heredownstairs?"
"Yessir. Before supper they read a list: since August up to todayNatalya Gavrilovna has collected eight thousand roublesbesides corn. ThankGod. . . . What I think is that if our mistress does take trouble for thesalvation of her soulshe will soon collect a lot. There are plenty of richpeople here."
Dismissing AlexeyI put out the light and drew the bedclothes over my head.
"After allwhy am I so troubled?" I thought. "What forcedraws me to the starving peasants like a butterfly to a flame? I don't knowthemI don't understand them; I have never seen them and I don't like them. Whythis uneasiness?"
I suddenly crossed myself under the quilt.
"But what a woman she is!" I said to myselfthinking of my wife."There's a regular committee held in the house without my knowing. Why thissecrecy? Why this conspiracy? What have I done to them? Ivan Ivanitch is right-- I must go away."
Next morning I woke up firmly resolved to go away. The events of the previousday -- the conversation at teamy wifeSobolthe suppermy apprehensions --worried meand I felt glad to think of getting away from the surroundings whichreminded me of all that. While I was drinking my coffee the bailiff gave me along report on various matters. The most agreeable item he saved for the last.
"The thieves who stole our rye have been found" he announced witha smile. "The magistrate arrested three peasants at Pestrovoyesterday."
"Go away!" I shouted at him; and a propos of nothingI picked upthe cake-basket and flung it on the floor.
After lunch I rubbed my handsand thought I must go to my wife and tell herthat I was going away. Why? Who cared? Nobody caresI answeredbut whyshouldn't I tell herespecially as it would give her nothing but pleasure?Besidesto go away after our yesterday's quarrel without saying a word wouldnot be quite tactful: she might think that I was frightened of herand perhapsthe thought that she has driven me out of my house may weigh upon her. It wouldbe just as welltooto tell her that I subscribe five thousandand to giveher some advice about the organizationand to warn her that her inexperience insuch a complicated and responsible matter might lead to most lamentable results.In shortI wanted to see my wifeand while I thought of various pretexts forgoing to herI had a firm conviction in my heart that I should do so.
It was still light when I went in to herand the lamps had not yet beenlighted. She was sitting in her studywhich led from the drawing-room to herbedroomandbending low over the tablewas writing something quickly. Seeingmeshe startedgot up from the tableand remained standing in an attitudesuch as to screen her papers from me.
"I beg your pardonI have only come for a minute" I saidandIdon't know whyI was overcome with embarrassment. "I have learnt by chancethat you are organizing relief for the famineNatalie."
"YesI am. But that's my business" she answered.
"Yesit is your business" I said softly. "I am glad of itfor it just fits in with my intentions. I beg your permission to take part init."
"Forgive meI cannot let you do it" she said in responseandlooked away.
"Why notNatalie?" I said quietly. "Why not? Itooam wellfed and Itoowant to help the hungry."
"I don't know what it has to do with you" she said with acontemptuous smileshrugging her shoulders. "Nobody asks you."
"Nobody asks youeitherand yet you have got up a regular committee in_my_ house" I said.
"I am askedbut you can have my word for it no one will ever ask you.Go and help where you are not known."
"For God's sakedon't talk to me in that tone." I tried to bemildand besought myself most earnestly not to lose my temper. For the firstfew minutes I felt glad to be with my wife. I felt an atmosphere of youthofhomeof feminine softnessof the most refined elegance -- exactly what waslacking on my floor and in my life altogether. My wife was wearing a pinkflannel dressing-gown; it made her look much youngerand gave a softness to herrapid and sometimes abrupt movements. Her beautiful dark hairthe mere sight ofwhich at one time stirred me to passionhad from sitting so long with her headbent c ome loose from the comb and was untidybutto my eyesthat only madeit look more rich and luxuriant. All thisthough is banal to the point ofvulgarity. Before me stood an ordinary womanperhaps neither beautiful norelegantbut this was my wife with whom I had once livedand with whom I shouldhave been living to this day if it had not been for her unfortunate character;she was the one human being on the terrestrial globe whom I loved. At thismomentjust before going awaywhen I knew that I should no longer see her eventhrough the windowshe seemed to me fascinating even as she wascold andforbiddinganswering me with a proud and contemptuous mockery. I was proud ofherand confessed to myself that to go away from her was terrible andimpossible.
"Pavel Andreitch" she said after a brief silence"for twoyears we have not interfered with each other but have lived quietly. Why do yousuddenly feel it necessary to go back to the past? Yesterday you came to insultand humiliate me" she went onraising her voiceand her face flushed andher eyes flamed with hatred; "but restrain yourself; do not do itPavelAndreitch! Tomorrow I will send in a petition and they will give me a passportand I will go away; I will go! I will go! I'll go into a conventinto a widows'homeinto an almshouse. . . ."
"Into a lunatic asylum!" I criednot able to restrain myself.
"Welleven into a lunatic asylum! That would be betterthat would bebetter" she criedwith flashing eyes. "When I was in Pestrovo todayI envied the sick and starving peasant women because they are not living with aman like you. They are free and honestwhilethanks to youI am a parasiteIam perishing in idlenessI eat your breadI spend your moneyand I repay youwith my liberty and a fidelity which is of no use to any one. Because you won'tgive me a passportI must respect your good namethough it doesn'texist."
I had to keep silent. Clenching my teethI walked quickly into thedrawing-roombut turned back at once and said:
"I beg you earnestly that there should be no more assembliesplotsandmeetings of conspirators in my house! I only admit to my house those with whom Iam acquaintedand let all your crew find another place to do it if they want totake up philanthropy. I can't allow people at midnight in my house to beshouting hurrah at successfully exploiting an hysterical woman like you!"
My wifepale and wringing her handstook a rapid stride across the roomuttering a prolonged moan as though she had toothache. With a wave of my handIwent into the drawing-room. I was choking with rageand at the same time I wastrembling with terror that I might not restrain myselfand that I might say ordo something which I might regret all my life. And I clenched my hands tighthoping to hold myself in.
After drinking some water and recovering my calm a littleI went back to mywife. She was standing in the same attitude as beforeas though barring myapproach to the table with the papers. Tears were slowly trickling down herpalecold face. I paused then and said to her bitterly but without anger:
"How you misunderstand me! How unjust you are to me! I swear upon myhonour I came to you with the best of motiveswith nothing but the desire to dogood!"
"Pavel Andreitch!" she saidclasping her hands on her bosomandher face took on the agonizedimploring expression with which frightenedweeping children beg not to be punished"I know perfectly well that youwill refuse mebut still I beg you. Force yourself to do one kind action inyour life. I entreat yougo away from here! That's the only thing you can dofor the starving peasants. Go awayand I will forgive you everythingeverything!"
"There is no need for you to insult meNatalie" I sighedfeelinga sudden rush of humility. "I had already made up my mind to go awaybut Iwon't go until I have done something for the peasants. It's my duty!"
"Ach!" she said softly with an impatient frown. "You can makean excellent bridge or railwaybut you can do nothing for the starvingpeasants. Do understand!"
"Indeed? Yesterday you reproached me with indifference and with beingdevoid of the feeling of compassion. How well you know me!" I laughed."You believe in God -- wellGod is my witness that I am worried day andnight. . . ."
"I see that you are worriedbut the famine and compassion have nothingto do with it. You are worried because the starving peasants can get on withoutyouand because the Zemstvoand in fact every one who is helping themdoesnot need your guidance."
I was silenttrying to suppress my irritation. Then I said:
"I came to speak to you on business. Sit down. Please sit down."
She did not sit down.
"I beg you to sit down" I repeatedand I motioned her to a chair.
She sat down. I sat downtoothought a littleand said:
"I beg you to consider earnestly what I am saying. Listen. . . . Movedby love for your fellow-creaturesyou have undertaken the organization offamine relief. I have nothing against thatof course; I am completely insympathy with youand am prepared to co-operate with you in every waywhateverour relations may be. Butwith all my respect for your mind and your heart . .. and your heart" I repeated"I cannot allow such a difficultcomplexand responsible matter as the organization of relief to be left in yourhands entirely. You are a womanyou are inexperiencedyou know nothing oflifeyou are too confiding and expansive. You have surrounded yourself withassistants whom you know nothing about. I am not exaggerating if I say thatunder these conditions your work will inevitably lead to two deplorableconsequences. To begin withour district will be left unrelieved; andsecondlyyou will have to pay for your mistakes and those of your assistantsnot only with your pursebut with your reputation. The money deficit and otherlosses I couldno doubtmake goodbut who could restore you your good name?When through lack of proper supervision and oversight there is a rumour thatyouand consequently Ihave made two hundred thousand over the famine fundwill your assistants come to your aid?"
She said nothing.
"Not from vanityas you say" I went on"but simply that thestarving peasants may not be left unrelieved and your reputation may not beinjuredI feel it my moral duty to take part in your work."
"Speak more briefly" said my wife.
"You will be so kind" I went on"as to show me what has beensubscribed so far and what you have spent. Then inform me daily of every freshsubscription in money or kindand of every fresh outlay. You will also give meNataliethe list of your helpers. Perhaps they are quite decent people; I don'tdoubt it; butstillit is absolutely necessary to make inquiries."
She was silent. I got upand walked up and down the room.
"Let us set to workthen" I saidand I sat down to her table.
"Are you in earnest?" she askedlooking at me in alarm andbewilderment.
"Nataliedo be reasonable!" I said appealinglyseeing from herface that she meant to protest. "I beg youtrust my experience and mysense of honour."
"I don't understand what you want."
"Show me how much you have collected and how much you have spent."
"I have no secrets. Any one may see. Look."
On the table lay five or six school exercise booksseveral sheets ofnotepaper covered with writinga map of the districtand a number of pieces ofpaper of different sizes. It was getting dusk. I lighted a candle.
"Excuse meI don't see anything yet" I saidturning over theleaves of the exercise books. "Where is the account of the receipt of moneysubscriptions?"
"That can be seen from the subscription lists."
"Yesbut you must have an account" I saidsmiling at hernaivete. "Where are the letters accompanying the subscriptions in money orin kind? _Pardon_a little practical adviceNatalie: it's absolutely necessaryto keep those letters. You ought to number each letter and make a special noteof it in a special record. You ought to do the same with your own letters. But Iwill do all that myself."
"Do sodo so . . ." she said.
I was very much pleased with myself. Attracted by this living interestingworkby the little tablethe naive exercise books and the charm of doing thiswork in my wife's societyI was afraid that my wife would suddenly hinder meand upset everything by some sudden whimand so I was in haste and made aneffort to attach no consequence to the fact that her lips were quiveringandthat she was looking about her with a helpless and frightened air like a wildcreature in a trap.
"I tell you whatNatalie" I said without looking at her;"let me take all these papers and exercise books upstairs to my study.There I will look through them and tell you what I think about it tomorrow. Haveyou any more papers?" I askedarranging the exercise books and sheets ofpapers in piles.
"Take themtake them all!" said my wifehelping me to arrangethemand big tears ran down her cheeks. "Take it all! That's all that wasleft me in life. . . . Take the last."
"Ach! NatalieNatalie!" I sighed reproachfully.
She opened the drawer in the table and began flinging the papers out of it onthe table at randompoking me in the chest with her elbow and brushing my facewith her hair; as she did socopper coins kept dropping upon my knees and onthe floor.
"Take everything!" she said in a husky voice.
When she had thrown out the papers she walked away from meand putting bothhands to her headshe flung herself on the couch. I picked up the moneyput itback in the drawerand locked it up that the servants might not be led intodishonesty; then I gathered up all the papers and went off with them. As Ipassed my wife I stopped. andlooking at her back and shaking shouldersIsaid:
"What a baby you areNatalie! Fiefie! ListenNatalie: when yourealize how serious and responsible a business it is you will be the first tothank me. I assure you you will."
In my own room I set to work without haste. The exercise books were notboundthe pages were not numbered. The entries were put in all sorts ofhandwritings; evidently any one who liked had a hand in managing the books. Inthe record of the subscriptions in kind there was no note of their money value.Butexcuse meI thoughtthe rye which is now worth one rouble fifteen kopecksmay be worth two roubles fifteen kopecks in two months' time! Was that the wayto do things? Then"Given to A. M. Sobol 32 roubles." When was itgiven? For what purpose was it given? Where was the receipt? There was nothingto showand no making anything of it. In case of legal proceedingsthesepapers would only obscure the case.
"How naive she is!" I thought with surprise. "What achild!"
I felt both vexed and amused.
My wife had already collected eight thousand; with my five it would bethirteen thousand. For a start that was very good. The business which had soworried and interested me was at last in my hands; I was doing what the otherswould not and could not do; I was doing my dutyorganizing the relief fund in apractical and businesslike way
Everything seemed to be going in accordance with my desires and intentions;but why did my feeling of uneasiness persist? I spent four hours over my wife'spapersmaking out their meaning and correcting her mistakesbut instead offeeling soothedI felt as though some one were standing behind me and rubbingmy back with a rough hand. What was it I wanted? The organization of the relieffund had come into trustworthy handsthe hungry would be fed -- what more waswanted?
The four hours of this light work for some reason exhausted meso that Icould not sit bending over the table nor write. From below I heard from time totime a smothered moan; it was my wife sobbing. Alexeyinvariably meeksleepyand sanctimoniouskept coming up to the table to see to the candlesand lookedat me somewhat strangely.
"YesI must go away" I decided at lastfeeling utterlyexhausted. "As far as possible from these agreeable impressions! I will setoff tomorrow."
I gathered together the papers and exercise booksand went down to my wife.Asfeeling quite worn out and shatteredI held the papers and the exercisebooks to my breast with both handsand passing through my bedroom saw mytrunksthe sound of weeping reached me through the floor.
"Are you a kammer-junker?" a voice whispered in my ear."That's a very pleasant thing. But yet you are a reptile."
"It's all nonsensenonsensenonsense" I muttered as I wentdownstairs. "Nonsense . . . and it's nonsensetoothat I am actuated byvanity or a love of display. . . . What rubbish! Am I going to get a decorationfor working for the peasants or be made the director of a department? Nonsensenonsense! And who is there to show off to here in the country?"
I was tiredfrightfully tiredand something kept whispering in my ear:"Very pleasant. Butstillyou are a reptile." For some reason Iremembered a line out of an old poem I knew as a child: "How pleasant it isto be good!"
My wife was lying on the couch in the same attitudeon her face and with herhands clutching her head. She was crying. A maid was standing beside her with aperplexed and frightened face. I sent the maid awaylaid the papers on thetablethought a moment and said:
"Here are all your papersNatalie. It's all in orderit's all capitaland I am very much pleased. I am going away tomorrow."
She went on crying. I went into the drawing-room and sat there in the dark.My wife's sobsher sighsaccused me of somethingand to justify myself Iremembered the whole of our quarrelstarting from my unhappy idea of invitingmy wife to our consultation and ending with the exercise books and these tears.It was an ordinary attack of our conjugal hatredsenseless and unseemlysuchas had been frequent during our married lifebut what had the starving peasantsto do with it? How could it have happened that they had become a bone ofcontention between us? It was just as though pursuing one another we hadaccidentally run up to the altar and had carried on a quarrel there.
"Natalie" I said softly from the drawing-room"hushhush!"
To cut short her weeping and make an end of this agonizing state of affairsI ought to have gone up to my wife and comforted hercaressed herorapologized; but how could I do it so that she would believe me? How could Ipersuade the wild duckliving in captivity and hating methat it was dear tomeand that I felt for its sufferings? I had never known my wifeso I hadnever known how to talk to her or what to talk about. Her appearance I knew verywell and appreciated it as it deservedbut her spiritualmoral worldhermindher outlook on lifeher frequent changes of moodher eyes full ofhatredher disdainthe scope and variety of her reading which sometimes struckmeorfor instancethe nun-like expression I had seen on her face the daybefore -- all that was unknown and incomprehensible to me. When in my collisionswith her I tried to define what sort of a person she wasmy psychology went nofarther than deciding that she was giddyimpracticalill-temperedguided byfeminine logic; and it seemed to me that that was quite sufficient. But now thatshe was crying I had a passionate desire to know more.
The weeping ceased. I went up to my wife. She sat up on the couchandwithher head propped in both handslooked fixedly and dreamily at the fire.
"I am going away tomorrow morning" I said.
She said nothing. I walked across the roomsighedand said:
"Nataliewhen you begged me to go awayyou said: 'I will forgive youeverythingeverything' . . . . So you think I have wronged you. I beg youcalmly and in brief terms to formulate the wrong I've done you."
"I am worn out. Afterwardssome time. . ." said my wife.
"How am I to blame?" I went on. "What have I done? Tell me:you are young and beautifulyou want to liveand I am nearly twice your ageand hated by youbut is that my fault? I didn't marry you by force. But if youwant to live in freedomgo; I'll give you your liberty. You can go and love whom you please. . . . I will give you a divorce."
"That's not what I want" she said. "You know I used to loveyou and always thought of myself as older than you. That's all nonsense. . . .You are not to blame for being older or for my being youngeror that I might beable to love some one else if I were free; but because you are a difficultpersonan egoistand hate every one."
"Perhaps so. I don't know" I said.
"Please go away. You want to go on at me till the morningbut I warnyou I am quite worn out and cannot answer you. You promised me to go to town. Iam very grateful; I ask nothing more."
My wife wanted me to go awaybut it was not easy for me to do that. I wasdispirited and I dreaded the bigcheerlesschill rooms that I was so weary of.Sometimes when I had an ache or a pain as a childI used to huddle up to mymother or my nurseand when I hid my face in the warm folds of their dressitseemed to me as though I were hiding from the pain. And in the same way itseemed to me now that I could only hide from my uneasiness in this little roombeside my wife. I sat down and screened away the light from my eyes with myhand. . . . There was a stillness.
"How are you to blame?" my wife said after a long silencelookingat me with red eyes that gleamed with tears. "You are very well educatedand very well bredvery honestjustand high-principledbut in you theeffect of all that is that wherever you go you bring suffocationoppressionsomething insulting and humiliating to the utmost degree. You have astraightforward way of looking at thingsand so you hate the whole world. Youhate those who have faithbecause faith is an expression of ignorance and lackof cultureand at the same time you hate those who have no faith for having nofaith and no ideals; you hate old people for being conservative and behind thetimesand young people for free-thinking. The interests of the peasantry and ofRussia are dear to youand so you hate the peasants because you suspect everyone of them of being a thief and a robber. You hate every one. You are justandalways take your stand on your legal rightsand so you are always at law withthe peasants and your neighbours. You have had twenty bushels of rye stolenandyour love of order has made you complain of the peasants to the Governor and allthe local authoritiesand to send a complaint of the local authorities toPetersburg. Legal justice!" said my wifeand she laughed. "On theground of your legal rights and in the interests of moralityyou refuse to giveme a passport. Law and morality is such that a self-respecting healthy youngwoman has to spend her life in idlenessin depressionand in continualapprehensionand to receive in return board and lodging from a man she does notlove. You have a thorough knowledge of the lawyou are very honest and justyou respect marriage and family lifeand the effect of all that is that allyour life you have not done one kind actionthat every one hates youthat youare on bad terms with every oneand the seven years that you have been marriedyou've only lived seven months with your wife. You've had no wife and I've hadno husband. To live with a man like you is impossible; there is no way of doingit. In the early years I was frightened with youand now I am ashamed. . . .That's how my best years have been wasted. When I fought with you I ruined mytempergrew shrewishcoarsetimidmistrustful. . . . Ohbut what's the useof talking! As though you wanted to understand! Go upstairsand God be withyou!"
My wife lay down on the couch and sank into thought.
"And how splendidhow enviable life might have been!" she saidsoftlylooking reflectively into the fire. "What a life it might havebeen! There's no bringing it back now."
Any one who has lived in the country in winter and knows those long drearystill evenings when even the dogs are too bored to bark and even the clocks seemweary of tickingand any one who on such evenings has been troubled byawakening conscience and has moved restlessly abouttrying now to smother hisconsciencenow to interpret itwill understand the distraction and thepleasure my wife's voice gave me as it sounded in the snug little roomtellingme I was a bad man. I did not understand what was wanted of me by my conscienceand my wifetranslating it in her feminine waymade clear to me in the meaningof my agitation. As often before in the moments of intense uneasinessI guessedthat the whole secret laynot in the starving peasantsbut in my not being thesort of a man I ought to be.
My wife got up with an effort and came up to me.
"Pavel Andreitch" she saidsmiling mournfully"forgive meI don't believe you: you are not going awaybut I will ask you one more favour.Call this" -- she pointed to her papers -- "self-deceptionfemininelogica mistakeas you like; but do not hinder me. It's all that is left me inlife." She turned away and paused. "Before this I had nothing. I havewasted my youth in fighting with you. Now I have caught at this and am living; Iam happy. . . . It seems to me that I have found in this a means of justifyingmy existence."
"Natalieyou are a good womana woman of ideas" I saidlookingat my wife enthusiasticallyand everything you say and do is intelligent andfine."
I walked about the room to conceal my emotion.
"Natalie" I went on a minute later"before I go awayI begof you as a special favourhelp me to do something for the starvingpeasants!"
"What can I do?" said my wifeshrugging her shoulders."Here's the subscription list."
She rummaged among the papers and found the subscription list.
"Subscribe some money" she saidand from her tone I could seethat she did not attach great importance to her subscription list; "that isthe only way in which you can take part in the work."
I took the list and wrote: "Anonymous5000."
In this "anonymous" there was something wrongfalseconceitedbut I only realized that when I noticed that my wife flushed very red andhurriedly thrust the list into the heap of papers. We both felt ashamed; I feltthat I must at all costs efface this clumsiness at onceor else I should feelashamed afterwardsin the train and at Petersburg. But how efface it? What wasI to say?
"I fully approve of what you are doingNatalie" I said genuinely"and I wish you every success. But allow me at parting to give you onepiece of adviceNatalie; be on your guard with Soboland with your assistantsgenerallyand don't trust them blindly. I don't say they are not honestbutthey are not gentlefolks; they are people with no ideasno idealsno faithwith no aim in lifeno definite principlesand the whole object of their lifeis comprised in the rouble. Roubleroublerouble!" I sighed. "Theyare fond of getting money easilyfor nothingand in that respect the bettereducated they are the more they are to be dreaded."
My wife went to the couch and lay down.
"Ideas" she brought outlistlessly and reluctantly"ideasidealsobjects of lifeprinciples . . . .you always used to use those wordswhen you wanted to insult or humiliate some oneor say something unpleasant.Yesthat's your way: if with your views and such an attitude to people you areallowed to take part in anythingyou would destroy it from the first day. It'stime you understand that."
She sighed and paused.
"It's coarseness of characterPavel Andreitch" she said."You are well-bred and educatedbut what a . . . Scythian you are inreality! That's because you lead a cramped life full of hatredsee no oneandread nothing but your engineering books. Andyou knowthere are good peoplegood books! Yes . . . but I am exhausted and it wearies me to talk. I ought tobe in bed."
"So I am going awayNatalie" I said.
"Yes . . . yes. . . . _Merci_. . . ."
I stood still for a little whilethen went upstairs. An hour later -- it washalf-past one -- I went downstairs again with a candle in my hand to speak to mywife. I didn't know what I was going to say to herbut I felt that I must saysome thing very important and necessary. She was not in her studythe doorleading to her bedroom was closed.
"Natalieare you asleep?" I asked softly.
There was no answer.
I stood near the doorsighedand went into the drawing-room. There I satdown on the sofaput out the candleand remained sitting in the dark till thedawn.
I went to the station at ten o'clock in the morning. There was no frostbutsnow was falling in big wet flakes and an unpleasant damp wind was blowing.
We passed a pond and then a birch copseand then began going uphill alongthe road which I could see from my window. I turned round to take a last look atmy housebut I could see nothing for the snow. Soon afterwards dark huts cameinto sight ahead of us as in a fog. It was Pestrovo.
"If I ever go out of my mindPestrovo will be the cause of it" Ithought. "It persecutes me."
We came out into the village street. All the roofs were intactnot one ofthem had been pulled to pieces; so my bailiff had told a lie. A boy was pullingalong a little girl and a baby in a sledge. Another boy of threewith his headwrapped up like a peasant woman's and with huge mufflers on his handswastrying to catch the flying snowflakes on his tongueand laughing. Then a wagonloaded with fagots came toward us and a peasant walking beside itand there wasno telling whether his beard was white or whether it was covered with snow. Herecognized my coachmansmiled at him and said somethingand mechanically tookoff his hat to me. The dogs ran out of the yards and looked inquisitively at myhorses. Everything was quietordinaryas usual. The emigrants had returnedthere was no bread; in the huts "some were laughingsome weredelirious"; but it all looked so ordinary that one could not believe itreally was so. There were no distracted facesno voices whining for helpnoweepingnor abusebut all around was stillnessorderlifechildrensledgesdogs with dishevelled tails. Neither the children nor the peasant wemet were troubled; why was I so troubled?
Looking at the smiling peasantat the boy with the huge mufflersat thehutsremembering my wifeI realized there was no calamity that could dauntthis people; I felt as though there were already a breath of victory in the air.I felt proud and felt ready to cry out that I was with them too; but the horseswere carrying us away from the village into the open countrythe snow waswhirlingthe wind was howlingand I was left alone with my thoughts. Of themillion people working for the peasantrylife itself had cast me out as auselessincompetentbad man. I was a hindrancea part of the people'scalamity; I was vanquishedcast outand I was hurrying to the station to goaway and hide myself in Petersburg in a hotel in Bolshaya Morskaya.
An hour later we reached the station. The coachman and a porter with a discon his breast carried my trunks into the ladies' room. My coachman Nikanorwearing high felt boots and the skirt of his coat tucked up through his beltall wet with the snow and glad I was going awaygave me a friendly smile andsaid:
"A fortunate journeyyour Excellency. God give you luck."
Every oneby the waycalls me "your Excellency" though I am onlya collegiate councillor and a kammer-junker. The porter told me the train hadnot yet left the next station; I had to wait. I went outsideand with my headheavy from my sleepless nightand so exhausted I could hardly move my legsIwalked aimlessly towards the pump. There was not a soul anywhere near.
"Why am I going?" I kept asking myself. "What is thereawaiting me there? The acquaintances from whom I have come awaylonelinessrestaurant dinnersnoisethe electric lightwhich makes my eyes ache. Wheream I goingand what am I going for? What am I going for?"
And it seemed somehow strange to go away without speaking to my wife. I feltthat I was leaving her in uncertainty. Going awayI ought to have told that shewas rightthat I really was a bad man.
When I turned away from the pumpI saw in the doorway the station-masterofwhom I had twice made complaints to his superiorsturning up the collar of hiscoatshrinking from the wind and the snow. He came up to meand putting twofingers to the peak of his captold me with an expression of helplessconfusionstrained respectfulnessand hatred on his facethat the train wastwenty minutes lateand asked me would I not like to wait in the warm?
"Thank you" I answered"but I am probably not going. Sendword to my coachman to wait; I have not made up my mind."
I walked to and fro on the platform and thoughtshould I go away or not?When the train came in I decided not to go. At home I had to expect my wife'samazement and perhaps her mockerythe dismal upper storey and my uneasiness;butstillat my age that was easier and as it were more homelike thantravelling for two days and nights with strangers to Petersburgwhere I shouldbe conscious every minute that my life was of no use to any one or to anythingand that it was approaching its end. Nobetter at home whatever awaited methere. . . . I went out of the station. It was awkward by daylight to returnhomewhere every one was so glad at my going. I might spend the rest of the daytill evening at some neighbour'sbut with whom? With some of them I was onstrained relationsothers I did not know at all. I considered and thought ofIvan Ivanitch.
"We are going to Bragino!" I said to the coachmangetting into thesledge.
"It's a long way" sighed Nikanor; "it will be twenty milesor maybe twenty-five."
"Ohpleasemy dear fellow" I said in a tone as though Nikanorhad the right to refuse. "Please let us go!"
Nikanor shook his head doubtfully and said slowly that we really ought tohave put in the shaftsnot Circassianbut Peasant or Siskin; and uncertainlyas though expecting I should change my mindtook the reins in his glovesstoodupthought a momentand then raised his whip.
"A whole series of inconsistent actions . . ." I thoughtscreeningmy face from the snow. "I must have gone out of my mind. WellI don'tcare. . . ."
In one placeon a very high and steep slopeNikanor carefully held thehorses in to the middle of the descentbut in the middle the horses suddenlybolted and dashed downhill at a fearful rate; he raised his elbows and shoutedin a wildfrantic voice such as I had never heard from him before:
"Hey! Let's give the general a drive! If you come to grief he'll buy newonesmy darlings! Hey! look out! We'll run you down!"
Only nowwhen the extraordinary pace we were going at took my breath awayInoticed that he was very drunk. He must have been drinking at the station. Atthe bottom of the descent there was the crash of ice; a piece of dirty frozensnow thrown up from the road hit me a painful blow in the face.
The runaway horses ran up the hill as rapidly as they had downhillandbefore I had time to shout to Nikanor my sledge was flying along on the level inan old pine forestand the tall pines were stretching out their shaggy whitepaws to me from all directions.
"I have gone out of my mindand the coachman's drunk" I thought."Good!"
I found Ivan Ivanitch at home. He laughed till he coughedlaid his head onmy breastand said what he always did say on meeting me:
"You grow younger and younger. I don't know what dye you use for yourhair and your beard; you might give me some of it."
"I've come to return your callIvan Ivanitch" I saiduntruthfully. "Don't be hard on me; I'm a townsmanconventional; I do keepcount of calls."
"I am delightedmy dear fellow. I am an old man; I like respect. . . .Yes."
From his voice and his blissfully smiling faceI could see that he wasgreatly flattered by my visit. Two peasant women helped me off with my coat inthe entryand a peasant in a red shirt hung it on a hookand when IvanIvanitch and I went into his little studytwo barefooted little girls weresitting on the floor looking at a picture-book; when they saw us they jumped upand ran awayand a tallthin old woman in specta cles came in at oncebowedgravely to meand picking up a pillow from the sofa and a picture-book from thefloorwent away. From the adjoining rooms we heard incessant whispering and thepatter of bare feet.
"I am expecting the doctor to dinner" said Ivan Ivanitch. "Hepromised to come from the relief centre. Yes. He dines with me every WednesdayGod bless him." He craned towards me and kissed me on the neck. "Youhave comemy dear fellowso you are not vexed" he whisperedsniffing."Don't be vexedmy dear creature. Yes. Perhaps it is annoyingbut don'tbe cross. My only prayer to God before I die is to live in peace and harmonywith all in the true way. Yes."
"Forgive meIvan IvanitchI will put my feet on a chair" I saidfeeling that I was so exhausted I could not be myself; I sat further back on thesofa and put up my feet on an arm-chair. My face was burning from the snow andthe windand I felt as though my whole body were basking in the warmth andgrowing weaker from it.
"It's very nice here" I went on -- "warmsoftsnug . . .and goose-feather pens" I laughedlooking at the writing-table;"sand instead of blotting-paper."
"Eh? Yes . . . yes. . . . The writing-table and the mahogany cupboardhere were made for my father by a self-taught cabinet-maker -- Glyeb Butygaaserf of General Zhukov's. Yes . . . a great artist in his own way."
Listlessly and in the tone of a man dropping asleephe began telling meabout cabinet-maker Butyga. I listened. Then Ivan Ivanitch went into the nextroom to show me a polisander wood chest of drawers remarkable for its beauty andcheapness. He tapped the chest with his fingersthen called my attention to astove of patterned tilessuch as one never sees now. He tapped the stovetoowith his fingers. There was an atmosphere of good-natured simplicity andwell-fed abundance about the chest of drawersthe tiled stovethe low chairsthe pictures embroidered in wool and silk on canvas in solidugly frames. Whenone remembers that all those objects were standing in the same places andprecisely in the same order when I was a little childand used to come here toname-day parties with my motherit is simply unbelievable that they could evercease to exist.
I thought what a fearful difference between Butyga and me! Butyga who madethingsabove allsolidly and substantiallyand seeing in that his chiefobjectgave to length of life peculiar significancehad no thought of deathand probably hardly believed in its possibility; Iwhen I built my bridges ofiron and stone which would last a thousand yearscould not keep from me thethought"It's not for long . . . .it's no use." If in time Butyga'scupboard and my bridge should come under the notice of some sensible historianof arthe would say: "These were two men remarkable in their own way:Butyga loved his fellow-creatures and would not admit the thought that theymight die and be annihilatedand so when he made his furniture he had theimmortal man in his mind. The engineer Asorin did not love life or hisfellow-creatures; even in the happy moments of creationthoughts of deathoffiniteness and dissolutionwere not alien to himand we see how insignificantand finitehow timid and poorare these lines of his. . . ."
"I only heat these rooms" muttered Ivan Ivanitchshowing me hisrooms. "Ever since my wife died and my son was killed in the warI havekept the best rooms shut up. Yes . . . see. . ."
He opened a doorand I saw a big room with four columnsan old pianoand aheap of peas on the floor; it smelt cold and damp.
"The garden seats are in the next room . . ." muttered IvanIvanitch. "There's no one to dance the mazurka now. . . . I've shut themup."
We heard a noise. It was Dr. Sobol arriving. While he was rubbing his coldhands and stroking his wet beardI had time to notice in the first place thathe had a very dull lifeand so was pleased to see Ivan Ivanitch and me; andsecondlythat he was a naive and simple-hearted man. He looked at me as thoughI were very glad to see him and very much interested in him.
"I have not slept for two nights" he saidlooking at me naivelyand stroking his beard. "One night with a confinementand the next Istayed at a peasant's with the bugs biting me all night. I am as sleepy asSatando you know."
With an expression on his face as though it could not afford me anything butpleasurehe took me by the arm and led me to the dining-room. His naive eyeshis crumpled coathis cheap tie and the smell of iodoform made an unpleasantimpression upon me; I felt as though I were in vulgar company. When we sat downto table he filled my glass with vodkaandsmiling helplesslyI drank it; heput a piece of ham on my plate and I ate it submissively.
"_Repetitia est mater studiorum_" said Sobolhastening to drinkoff another wineglassful. "Would you believe itthe joy of seeing goodpeople has driven away my sleepiness? I have turned into a peasanta savage inthe wilds; I've grown coarsebut I am still an educated manand I tell you ingood earnestit's tedious without company."
They served first for a cold course white sucking-pig with horse-radishcreamthen a rich and very hot cabbage soup with pork on itwith boiledbuckwheatfrom which rose a column of steam. The doctor went on talkingand Iwas soon convinced that he was a weakunfortunate mandisorderly in externallife. Three glasses of vodka made him drunk; he grew unnaturally livelyate agreat dealkept clearing his throat and smacking his lipsand alreadyaddressed me in Italian"Eccellenza." Looking naively at me as thoughhe were convinced that I was very glad to see and hear himhe informed me thathe had long been separated from his wife and gave her three-quarters of hissalary; that she lived in the town with his childrena boy and a girlwhom headored; that he loved another womana widowwell educatedwith an estate inthe countrybut was rarely able to see heras he was busy with his work frommorning till night and had not a free moment.
"The whole day longfirst at the hospitalthen on my rounds" hetold us; "and I assure youEccellenzaI have not time to read a bookletalone going to see the woman I love. I've read nothing for ten years! For tenyearsEccellenza. As for the financial side of the questionask Ivan Ivanitch:I have often no money to buy tobacco."
"On the other handyou have the moral satisfaction of your work"I said.
"What?" he askedand he winked. "No" he said"better let us drink."
I listened to the doctorandafter my invariable habittried to take hismeasure by my usual classification -- materialistidealistfilthy lucregregarious instinctsand so on; but no classification fitted him evenapproximately; and strange to saywhile I simply listened and looked at himheseemed perfectly clear to me as a personbut as soon as I began trying toclassify him he became an exceptionally complexintricateand incomprehensiblecharacter in spite of all his candour and simplicity. "Is that man" Iasked myself"capable of wasting other people's moneyabusing theirconfidencebeing disposed to sponge on them?" And now this questionwhichhad once seemed to me grave and importantstruck me as crudepettyandcoarse.
Pie was served; thenI rememberwith long intervals betweenduring whichwe drank home-made liquorsthey gave us a stew of pigeonssome dish ofgibletsroast sucking-pigpartridgescauliflowercurd dumplingscurd cheeseand milkjellyand finally pancakes and jam. At first I ate with great relishespecially the cabbage soup and the buckwheatbut afterwards I munched andswallowed mechanicallysmiling helplessly and unconscious of the taste ofanything. My face was burning from the hot cabbage soup and the heat of theroom. Ivan Ivanitch and Soboltoowere crimson.
"To the health of your wife" said Sobol. "She likes me. Tellher her doctor sends her his respects."
"She's fortunateupon my word" sighed Ivan Ivanitch. "Thoughshe takes no troubledoes not fuss or worry herselfshe has become the mostimportant person in the whole district. Almost the whole business is in herhandsand they all gather round herthe doctorthe District Captainsand theladies. With people of the right sort that happens of itself. Yes. . . . Theapple-tree need take no thought for the apple to grow on it; it will grow ofitself."
"It's only people who don't care who take no thought" said I.
"Eh? Yes . . . " muttered Ivan Ivanitchnot catching what I said"that's true. . . . One must not worry oneself. Just sojust so. . . .Only do your duty towards God and your neighbourand then never mind whathappens."
"Eccellenza" said Sobol solemnly"just look at nature aboutus: if you poke your nose or your ear out of your fur collar it will befrost-bitten; stay in the fields for one houryou'll be buried in the snow;while the village is just the same as in the days of Rurikthe same Petchenyegsand Polovtsi. It's nothing but being burnt downstarvingand strugglingagainst nature in every way. What was I saying? Yes! If one thinks about ityouknowlooks into it and analyses all this hotchpotchif you will allow me tocall it soit's not life but more like a fire in a theatre! Any one who fallsdown or screams with terroror rushes aboutis the worst enemy of good order;one must stand up and look sharpand not stir a hair! There's no time forwhimpering and busying oneself with trifles. When you have to deal withelemental forces you must put out force against thembe firm and as unyieldingas a stone. Isn't that rightgrandfather?" He turned to Ivan Ivanitch andlaughed. "I am no better than a woman myself; I am a limp raga flabbycreatureso I hate flabbiness. I can't endure petty feelings! One mopesanother is frighteneda third will come straight in here and say: 'Fie on you!Here you've guzzled a dozen courses and you talk about the starving!' That'spetty and stupid! A fourth will reproach youEccellenzafor being rich. ExcusemeEccellenza" he went on in a loud voicelaying his hand on his heart"but your having set our magistrate the task of hunting day and night foryour thieves -- excuse methat's also petty on your part. I am a little drunkso that's why I say this nowbut you knowit is petty!"
"Who's asking him to worry himself? I don't understand!" I saidgetting up.
I suddenly felt unbearably ashamed and mortifiedand I walked round thetable.
"Who asks him to worry himself? I didn't ask him to. . . . Damnhim!"
"They have arrested three men and let them go again. They turned out notto be the right onesand now they are looking for a fresh lot" saidSobollaughing. "It's too bad!"
"I did not ask him to worry himself" said Ialmost crying withexcitement. "What's it all for? What's it all for? Wellsupposing I waswrongsupposing I have done wrongwhy do they try to put me more in thewrong?"
"Comecomecomecome!" said Soboltrying to soothe me."Come! I have had a dropthat is why I said it. My tongue is my enemy.Come" he sighed"we have eaten and drunk wineand now for anap."
He got up from the tablekissed Ivan Ivanitch on the headand staggeringfrom repletionwent out of the dining-room. Ivan Ivanitch and I smoked insilence.
I don't sleep after dinnermy dear" said Ivan Ivanitch"but youhave a rest in the lounge-room."
I agreed. In the half-dark and warmly heated room they called thelounge-roomthere stood against the walls longwide sofassolid and heavythe work of Butyga the cabinet maker; on them lay highsoftwhite bedsprobably made by the old woman in spectacles. On one of them Sobolwithout hiscoat and bootsalready lay asleep with his face to the back of the sofa;another bed was awaiting me. I took off my coat and bootsandovercome byfatigueby the spirit of Butyga which hovered over the quiet lounge-roomandby the lightcaressing snore of SobolI lay down submissively.
And at once I began dreaming of my wifeof her roomof the station-masterwith his face full of hatredthe heaps of snowa fire in the theatre. Idreamed of the peasants who had stolen twenty sacks of rye out of my barn.
"Anywayit's a good thing the magistrate let them go" I said.
I woke up at the sound of my own voicelooked for a moment in perplexity atSobol's broad backat the buckles of his waistcoatat his thick heelsthenlay down again and fell asleep.
When I woke up the second time it was quite dark. Sobol was asleep. There waspeace in my heartand I longed to make haste home. I dressed and went out ofthe lounge-room. Ivan Ivanitch was sitting in a big arm-chair in his studyabsolutely motionlessstaring at a fixed pointand it was evident that he hadbeen in the same state of petrifaction all the while I had been asleep.
"Good!" I saidyawning. "I feel as though I had woken upafter breaking the fast at Easter. I shall often come and see you now. Tell medid my wife ever dine here?"
"So-ome-ti-mes . . . sometimes"' muttered Ivan Ivanitchmaking aneffort to stir. "She dined here last Saturday. Yes. . . . She likesme."
After a silence I said:
"Do you rememberIvan Ivanitchyou told me I had a disagreeablecharacter and that it was difficult to get on with me? But what am I to do tomake my character different?"
"I don't knowmy dear boy. . . . I'm a feeble old manI can't adviseyou. . . . Yes. . . . But I said that to you at the time because I am fond ofyou and fond of your wifeand I was fond of your father. . . . Yes. I shallsoon dieand what need have I to conceal things from you or to tell you lies?So I tell you: I am very fond of youbut I don't respect you. NoI don'trespect you."
He turned towards me and said in a breathless whisper:
"It's impossible to respect youmy dear fellow. You look like a realman. You have the figure and deportment of the French President Carnot -- I sawa portrait of him the other day in an illustrated paper . . . yes. . . . You uselofty languageand you are cleverand you are high up in the service beyondall reachbut haven't real soulmy dear boy . . . there's no strength init."
"A Scythianin fact" I laughed. "But what about my wife?Tell me something about my wife; you know her better."
I wanted to talk about my wifebut Sobol came in and prevented me.
"I've had a sleep and a wash" he saidlooking at me naively."I'll have a cup of tea with some rum in it and go home."
It was by now past seven. Besides Ivan Ivanitchwomen servantsthe old damein spectaclesthe little girls and the peasantall accompanied us from thehall out on to the stepswishing us good-bye and all sorts of blessingswhilenear the horses in the darkness there were standing and moving about men withlanternstelling our coachmen how and which way to driveand wishing us alucky journey. The horsesthe menand the sledges were white.
"Where do all these people come from?" I asked as my three horsesand the doctor's two moved at a walking pace out of the yard.
"They are all his serfs" said Sobol. "The new order has notreached him yet. Some of the old servants are living out their lives with himand then there are orphans of all sorts who have nowhere to go; there are sometoowho insist on living therethere's no turning them out. A queer oldman!"
Again the flying horsesthe strange voice of drunken Nikanorthe wind andthe persistent snowwhich got into one's eyesone's mouthand every fold ofone's fur coat. . . .
"WellI am running a rig" I thoughtwhile my bells chimed inwith the doctor'sthe wind whistledthe coachmen shouted; and while thisfrantic uproar was going onI recalled all the details of that strange wilddayunique in my lifeand it seemed to me that I really had gone out of mymind or become a different man. It was as though the man I had been till thatday were already a stranger to me.
The doctor drove behind and kept talking loudly with his coachman. From timeto time he overtook medrove side by sideand alwayswith the same naiveconfidence that it was very pleasant to meoffered me a ci garette or asked forthe matches. Orovertaking mehe would lean right out of his sledgeandwaving about the sleeves of his fur coatwhich were at least twice as long ashis armsshout:
"Go itVaska! Beat the thousand roublers! Heymy kittens!"
And to the accompaniment of loudmalicious laughter from Sobol and his Vaskathe doctor's kittens raced ahead. My Nikanor took it as an affrontand held inhis three horsesbut when the doctor's bells had passed out of hearingheraised his elbowsshoutedand our horses flew like mad in pursuit. We droveinto a villagethere were glimpses of lightsthe silhouettes of huts. Some oneshouted:
"Ahthe devils!" We seemed to have galloped a mile and a halfandstill it was the village street and there seemed no end to it. When we caught upthe doctor and drove more quietlyhe asked for matches and said:
"Now try and feed that street! Andyou knowthere are five streetslike thatsir. Staystay" he shouted. "Turn in at the tavern! Wemust get warm and let the horses rest."
They stopped at the tavern.
"I have more than one village like that in my district" said thedoctoropening a heavy door with a squeaky blockand ushering me in front ofhim. "If you look in broad daylight you can't see to the end of the streetand there are side-streetstooand one can do nothing but scratch one's head.It's hard to do anything."
We went into the best room where there was a strong smell of table-clothsand at our entrance a sleepy peasant in a waistcoat and a shirt worn outside histrousers jumped up from a bench. Sobol asked for some beer and I asked for tea.
"It's hard to do anything" said Sobol. "Your wife has faith;I respect her and have the greatest reverence for herbut I have no great faithmyself. As long as our relations to the people continue to have the character ofordinary philanthropyas shown in orphan asylums and almshousesso long weshall only be shufflingshammingand deceiving ourselvesand nothing more.Our relations ought to be businesslikefounded on calculationknowledgeandjustice. My Vaska has been working for me all his life; his crops have failedhe is sick and starving. If I give him fifteen kopecks a dayby so doing I tryto restore him to his former condition as a workman; that isI am first andforemost looking after my own interestsand yet for some reason I call thatfifteen kopecks reliefcharitygood works. Now let us put it like this. On themost modest computationreckoning seven kopecks a soul and five souls a familyone needs three hundred and fifty roubles a day to feed a thousand families.That sum is fixed by our practical duty to a thousand families. Meanwhile wegive not three hundred and fifty a daybut only tenand say that that isreliefcharitythat that makes your wife and all of us exceptionally goodpeople and hurrah for our humaneness. That is itmy dear soul! Ah! if we wouldtalk less of being humane and calculated morereasonedand took aconscientious attitude to our duties! How many such humanesensitive peoplethere are among us who tear about in all good faith with subscription listsbutdon't pay their tailors or their cooks. There is no logic in our life; that'swhat it is! No logic!"
We were silent for a while. I was making a mental calculation and said:
"I will feed a thousand families for two hundred days. Come and see metomorrow to talk it over."
I was pleased that this was said quite simplyand was glad that Sobolanswered me still more simply:
We paid for what we had and went out of the tavern.
"I like going on like this" said Sobolgetting into the sledge."Eccellenzaoblige me with a match. I've forgotten mine in thetavern."
A quarter of an hour later his horses fell behindand the sound of his bellswas lost in the roar of the snow-storm. Reaching homeI walked about my roomstrying to think things over and to define my position clearly to myself; I hadnot one wordone phraseready for my wife. My brain was not working.
But without thinking of anythingI went downstairs to my wife. She was inher roomin the same pink dressing-gownand standing in the same attitude asthough screening her papers from me. On her face was an expression of perplexityand ironyand it was evident that having heard of my arrivalshe had preparedherself not to crynot to entreat menot to defend herselfas she had donethe day beforebut to laugh at meto answer me contemptuouslyand to act withdecision. Her face was saying: "If that's how it isgood-bye."
"NatalieI've not gone away" I said"but it's notdeception. I have gone out of my mind; I've grown oldI'm illI've become adifferent man -- think as you like. . . . I've shaken off my old self withhorrorwith horror; I despise him and am ashamed of himand the new man whohas been in me since yesterday will not let me go away. Do not drive me awayNatalie!"
She looked intently into my face and believed meand there was a gleam ofuneasiness in her eyes. Enchanted by her presencewarmed by the warmth of herroomI muttered as in deliriumholding out my hands to her:
"I tell youI have no one near to me but you. I have never for oneminute ceased to miss youand only obstinate vanity prevented me from owningit. The pastwhen we lived as husband and wifecannot be brought backandthere's no need; but make me your servanttake all my propertyand give itaway to any one you like. I am at peaceNatalieI am content. . . . I am atpeace."
My wifelooking intently and with curiosity into my facesuddenly uttered afaint cryburst into tearsand ran into the next room. I went upstairs to myown storey.
An hour later I was sitting at my tablewriting my "History ofRailways" and the starving peasants did not now hinder me from doing so.Now I feel no uneasiness. Neither the scenes of disorder which I saw when I wentthe round of the huts at Pestrovo with my wife and Sobol the other daynormalignant rumoursnor the mistakes of the people around menor old age closeupon me -- nothing disturbs me. Just as the flying bullets do not hindersoldiers from talking of their own affairseating and cleaning their bootssothe starving peasants do not hinder me from sleeping quietly and looking aftermy personal affairs. In my house and far around it there is in full swing thework which Dr. Sobol calls "an orgy of philanthropy." My wife oftencomes up to me and looks about my rooms uneasilyas though looking for whatmore she can give to the starving peasants "to justify her existence"and I see thatthanks to herthere will soon be nothing of our property leftand we shall be poor; but that does not trouble meand I smile at her gaily.What will happen in the future I don't know.
YEVGRAF IVANOVITCH SHIRYAEVa small farmerwhose fathera parish priestnow deceasedhad received a gift of three hundred acres of land from MadameKuvshinnikova general's widowwas standing in a corner before a copperwashing-standwashing his hands. As usualhis face looked anxious andill-humouredand his beard was uncombed.
"What weather!" he said. "It's not weatherbut a curse laidupon us. It's raining again!"
He grumbled onwhile his family sat waiting at table for him to havefinished washing his hands before beginning dinner. Fedosya Semyonovnahiswifehis son Pyotra studenthis eldest daughter Varvaraand three smallboyshad been sitting waiting a long time. The boys -- KolkaVankaandArhipka -- grubbysnub-nosed little fellows with chubby faces and tousled hairthat wanted cuttingmoved their chairs impatientlywhile their elders satwithout stirringand apparently did not care whether they ate their dinner orwaited. . . .
As though trying their patienceShiryaev deliberately dried his handsdeliberately said his prayerand sat down to the table without hurryinghimself. Cabbage-soup was served immediately. The sound of carpenters' axes(Shiryaev was having a new barn built) and the laughter of Fomkatheirlabourerteasing the turkeyfloated in from the courtyard.
Bigsparse drops of rain pattered on the window.
Pyotra round-shouldered student in spectacleskept exchanging glances withhis mother as he ate his dinner. Several times he laid down his spoon andcleared his throatmeaning to begin to speakbut after an intent look at hisfather he fell to eating again. At lastwhen the porridge had been servedhecleared his throat resolutely and said:
"I ought to go tonight by the evening train. I out to have gone before;I have missed a fortnight as it is. The lectures begin on the first ofSeptember."
"Wellgo" Shiryaev assented; "why are you lingering on here?Pack up and goand good luck to you."
A minute passed in silence.
"He must have money for the journeyYevgraf Ivanovitch" themother observed in a low voice.
"Money? To be sureyou can't go without money. Take it at oncesinceyou need it. You could have had it long ago!"
The student heaved a faint sigh and looked with relief at his mother.Deliberately Shiryaev took a pocket-book out of his coat-pocket and put on hisspectacles.
"How much do you want?" he asked.
"The fare to Moscow is eleven roubles forty-two kopecks. . . ."
"Ahmoneymoney!" sighed the father. (He always sighed when hesaw moneyeven when he was receiving it.) "Here are twelve roubles foryou. You will have change out of that which will be of use to you on thejourney."
After waiting a littlethe student said:
"I did not get lessons quite at first last year. I don't know how itwill be this year; most likely it will take me a little time to find work. Iought to ask you for fifteen roubles for my lodging and dinner."
Shiryaev thought a little and heaved a sigh.
"You will have to make ten do" he said. "Heretake it."
The student thanked him. He ought to have asked him for something moreforclothesfor lecture feesfor booksbut after an intent look at his father hedecided not to pester him further.
The motherlacking in diplomacy and prudencelike all motherscould notrestrain herselfand said:
"You ought to give him another six roublesYevgraf Ivanovitchfor apair of boots. Whyjust seehow can he go to Moscow in such wrecks?"
"Let him take my old ones; they are still quite good."
"He must have trousersanyway; he is a disgrace to look at."
And immediately after that a storm-signal showed itselfat the sight ofwhich all the family trembled.
Shiryaev's shortfat neck turned suddenly red as a beetroot. The colourmounted slowly to his earsfrom his ears to his templesand by degreessuffused his whole face. Yevgraf Ivanovitch shifted in his chair and unbuttonedhis shirt-collar to save himself from choking. He was evidently struggling withthe feeling that was mastering him. A deathlike silence followed. The childrenheld their breath. Fedosya Semyonovnaas though she did not grasp what washappening to her husbandwent on:
"He is not a little boy nowyou know; he is ashamed to go about withoutclothes."
Shiryaev suddenly jumped upand with all his might flung down his fatpocket-book in the middle of the tableso that a hunk of bread flew off aplate. A revolting expression of angerresentmentavarice -- all mixedtogether -- flamed on his face.
"Take everything!" he shouted in an unnatural voice; "plunderme! Take it all! Strangle me!"
He jumped up from the tableclutched at his headand ran staggering aboutthe room.
"Strip me to the last thread!" he shouted in a shrill voice."Squeeze out the last drop! Rob me! Wring my neck!"
The student flushed and dropped his eyes. He could not go on eating. FedosyaSemyonovnawho had not after twenty-five years grown used to her husband'sdifficult charactershrank into herself and muttered something in self-defence.An expression of amazement and dull terror came into her wasted and birdlikefacewhich at all times looked dull and scared. The little boys and the elderdaughter Varvaraa girl in her teenswith a pale ugly facelaid down theirspoons and sat mute.
Shiryaevgrowing more and more ferociousuttering words each more terriblethan the one beforedashed up to the table and began shaking the notes out ofhis pocket-book.
"Take them!" he mutteredshaking all over. "You've eaten anddrunk your fillso here's money for you too! I need nothing! Order yourself newboots and uniforms!"
The student turned pale and got up.
"Listenpapa" he begangasping for breath. "I . . . I begyou to end thisfor . . ."
"Hold your tongue!" the father shouted at himand so loudly thatthe spectacles fell off his nose; "hold your tongue!"
"I used . . . I used to be able to put up with such scenesbut . . .but now I have got out of the way of it. Do you understand? I have got out ofthe way of it!"
"Hold your tongue!" cried the fatherand he stamped with his feet."You must listen to what I say! I shall say what I likeand you hold yourtongue. At your age I was earning my livingwhile you . . . Do you know whatyou cost meyou scoundrel? I'll turn you out! Wastrel!"
"Yevgraf Ivanovitch" muttered Fedosya Semyonovnamoving herfingers nervously; "you know he. . . you know Petya . . . !"
"Hold your tongue!" Shiryaev shouted out to herand tears actuallycame into his eyes from anger. "It is you who have spoilt them -- you! It'sall your fault! He has no respect for usdoes not say his prayersand earnsnothing! I am only one against the ten of you! I'll turn you out of thehouse!"
The daughter Varvara gazed fixedly at her mother with her mouth openmovedher vacant-looking eyes to the windowturned paleanduttering a loud shriekfell back in her chair. The fatherwith a curse and a wave of the handran outinto the yard.
This was how domestic scenes usually ended at the Shiryaevs'. But on thisoccasionunfortunatelyPyotr the student was carried away by overmasteringanger. He was just as hasty and ill-tempered as his father and his grandfatherthe priestwho used to beat his parishioners about the head with a stick. Paleand clenching his fistshe went up to his mother and shouted in the veryhighest tenor note his voice could reach:
"These reproaches are loathsome! sickening to me! I want nothing fromyou! Nothing! I would rather die of hunger than eat another mouthful at yourexpense! Take your nasty money back! take it!"
The mother huddled against the wall and waved her handsas though it werenot her sonbut some phantom before her. "What have I done?" shewailed. "What?"
Like his fatherthe boy waved his hands and ran into the yard. Shiryaev'shouse stood alone on a ravine which ran like a furrow for four miles along thesteppe. Its sides were overgrown with oak saplings and aldersand a stream ranat the bottom. On one side the house looked towards the ravineon the othertowards the open countrythere were no fences nor hurdles. Instead there werefarm-buildings of all sorts close to one anothershutting in a small space infront of the house which was regarded as the yardand in which hensducksandpigs ran about.
Going out of the housethe student walked along the muddy road towards theopen country. The air was full of a penetrating autumn dampness. The road wasmuddypuddles gleamed here and thereand in the yellow fields autumn itselfseemed looking out from the grassdismaldecayingdark. On the right-handside of the road was a vegetable-garden cleared of its crops and gloomy-lookingwith here and there sunflowers standing up in it with hanging heads alreadyblack.
Pyotr thought it would not be a bad thing to walk to Moscow on foot; to walkjust as he waswith holes in his bootswithout a capand without a farthingof money. When he had gone eighty miles his fatherfrightened and aghastwouldovertake himwould begin begging him to turn back or take the moneybut hewould not even look at himbut would go on and on. . . . Bare forests would befollowed by desolate fieldsfields by forests again; soon the earth would bewhite with the first snowand the streams would be coated with ice. . . .Somewhere near Kursk or near Serpuhovoexhausted and dying of hungerhe wouldsink down and die. His corpse would be foundand there would be a paragraph inall the papers saying that a student called Shiryaev had died of hunger. . . .
A white dog with a muddy tail who was wandering about the vegetable-gardenlooking for something gazed at him and sauntered after him.
He walked along the road and thought of deathof the grief of his familyofthe moral sufferings of his fatherand then pictured all sorts of adventures onthe roadeach more marvellous than the one before -- picturesque placesterrible nightschance encounters. He imagined a string of pilgrimsa hut inthe forest with one little window shining in the darkness; he stands before thewindowbegs for a night's lodging. . . . They let him inand suddenly he seesthat they are robbers. Orbetter stillhe is taken into a big manor-housewherelearning who he isthey give him food and drinkplay to him on thepianolisten to his complaintsand the daughter of the housea beautyfallsin love with him.
Absorbed in his bitterness and such thoughtsyoung Shiryaev walked on andon. Farfar ahead he saw the inna dark patch against the grey background ofcloud. Beyond the innon the very horizonhe could see a little hillock; thiswas the railway-station. That hillock reminded him of the connection existingbetween the place where he was now standing and Moscowwhere street-lamps wereburning and carriages were rattling in the streetswhere lectures were beinggiven. And he almost wept with depression and impatience. The solemn landscapewith its order and beautythe deathlike stillness all aroundrevolted him andmoved him to despair and hatred!
"Look out!" He heard behind him a loud voice.
An old lady of his acquaintancea landowner of the neighbourhooddrove pasthim in a lightelegant landau. He bowed to herand smiled all over his face.And at once he caught himself in that smilewhich was so out of keeping withhis gloomy mood. Where did it come from if his whole heart was full of vexationand misery? And he thought nature itself had given man this capacity for lyingthat even in difficult moments of spiritual strain he might be able to hide thesecrets of his nest as the fox and the wild duck do. Every family has its joysand its horrorsbut however great they may beit's hard for an outsider's eyeto see them; they are a secret. The father of the old lady who had just drivenbyfor instancehad for some offence lain for half his lifetime under the banof the wrath of Tsar Nicolas I.; her husband had been a gambler; of her foursonsnot one had turned out well. One could imagine how many terrible scenesthere must have been in her lifehow many tears must have been shed. And yetthe old lady seemed happy and satisfiedand she had answered his smile bysmiling too. The student thought of his comradeswho did not like talking abouttheir families; he thought of his motherwho almost always lied when she had tospeak of her husband and children. . . .
Pyotr walked about the roads far from home till duskabandoning himself todreary thoughts. When it began to drizzle with rain he turned homewards. As hewalked back he made up his mind at all costs to talk to his fatherto explainto himonce and for allthat it was dreadful and oppressive to live with him.
He found perfect stillness in the house. His sister Varvara was lying behinda screen with a headachemoaning faintly. His motherwith a look of amazementand guilt upon her facewas sitting beside her on a boxmending Arhipka'strousers. Yevgraf Ivanovitch was pacing from one window to anotherscowling atthe weather. From his walkfrom the way he cleared his throatand even fromthe back of his headit was evident he felt himself to blame.
"I suppose you have changed your mind about going today?" he asked.
The student felt sorry for himbut immediately suppressing that feelinghesaid:
"Listen . . . I must speak to you seriously. . . yesseriously. I havealways respected youand . . . and have never brought myself to speak to you insuch a tonebut your behaviour . . . your last action . . ."
The father looked out of the window and did not speak. The studentas thoughconsidering his wordsrubbed his forehead and went on in great excitement:
"Not a dinner or tea passes without your making an uproar. Your breadsticks in our throat. . . nothing is more bittermore humiliatingthan breadthat sticks in one's throat. . . . Though you are my fatherno oneneither Godnor naturehas given you the right to insult and humiliate us so horriblytovent your ill-humour on the weak. You have worn my mother out and made a slaveof hermy sister is hopelessly crushedwhile I . . ."
"It's not your business to teach me" said his father.
"Yesit is my business! You can quarrel with me as much as you likebut leave my mother in peace! I will not allow you to torment my mother!"the student went onwith flashing eyes. "You are spoilt because no one hasyet dared to oppose you. They tremble and are mute towards youbut now that isover! Coarseill-bred man! You are coarse . . . do you understand? You arecoarseill-humouredunfeeling. And the peasants can't endure you!"
The student had by now lost his threadand was not so much speaking asfiring off detached words. Yevgraf Ivanovitch listened in silenceas thoughstunned; but suddenly his neck turned crimsonthe colour crept up his faceandhe made a movement.
"Hold your tongue!" he shouted.
"That's right!" the son persisted; "you don't like to hear thetruth! Excellent! Very good! begin shouting! Excellent!"
"Hold your tongueI tell you!" roared Yevgraf Ivanovitch.
Fedosya Semyonovna appeared in the doorwayvery palewith an astonishedface; she tried to say somethingbut she could notand could only move herfingers.
"It's all your fault!" Shiryaev shouted at her. "You havebrought him up like this!"
"I don't want to go on living in this house!" shouted the studentcryingand looking angrily at his mother. "I don't want to live withyou!"
Varvara uttered a shriek behind the screen and broke into loud sobs. With awave of his handShiryaev ran out of the house.
The student went to his own room and quietly lay down. He lay till midnightwithout moving or opening his eyes. He felt neither anger nor shamebut a vagueache in his soul. He neither blamed his father nor pitied his mothernor was hetormented by stings of conscience; he realized that every one in the house wasfeeling the same acheand God only knew which was most to blamewhich wassuffering most. . . .
At midnight he woke the labourerand told him to have the horse ready atfive o'clock in the morning for him to drive to the station; he undressed andgot into bedbut could not get to sleep. He heard how his fatherstill awakepaced slowly from window to windowsighingtill early morning. No one wasasleep; they spoke rarelyand only in whispers. Twice his mother came to himbehind the screen. Always with the same look of vacant wondershe slowly madethe cross over himshaking nervously.
At five o'clock in the morning he said good-bye to them all affectionatelyand even shed tears. As he passed his father's roomhe glanced in at the door.Yevgraf Ivanovitchwho had not taken off his clothes or gone to bedwasstanding by the windowdrumming on the panes.
"Good-bye; I am going" said his son.
"Good-bye . . . the money is on the round table . . ." his fatheransweredwithout turning round.
A coldhateful rain was falling as the labourer drove him to the station.The sunflowers were drooping their heads still lowerand the grass seemeddarker than ever.
ALL Olga Ivanovna's friends and acquaintances were at her wedding.
"Look at him; isn't it true that there is something in him?" shesaid to her friendswith a nod towards her husbandas though she wanted toexplain why she was marrying a simplevery ordinaryand in no way remarkableman.
Her husbandOsip Stepanitch Dymovwas a doctorand only of the rank
of a titular councillor. He was on the staff of two hospitals: in one award-surgeon and in the other a dissecting demonstrator. Every day from nine totwelve he saw patients and was busy in his wardand after twelve o'clock hewent by tram to the other hospitalwhere he dissected. His private practice wasa small onenot worth more than five hundred roubles a year. That was all. Whatmore could one say about him? MeanwhileOlga Ivanovna and her friends andacquaintances were not quite ordinary people. Every one of them was remarkablein some wayand more or less famous; already had made a reputation and waslooked upon as a celebrity; or if not yet a celebritygave brilliant promise ofbecoming one. There was an actor from the Dramatic Theatrewho was a greattalent of established reputationas well as an elegantintelligentand modestmanand a capital elocutionistand who taught Olga Ivanovna to recite; therewas a singer from the operaa good-naturedfat man who assured Olga Ivanovnawith a sighthat she was ruining herselfthat if she would take herself inhand and not be lazy she might make a remarkable singer; then there were severalartistsand chief among them Ryabovskya very handsomefair young man offive-and-twenty who painted genre piecesanimal studiesand landscapeswassuccessful at exhibitionsand had sold his last picture for five hundredroubles. He touched up Olga Ivanovna's sketchesand used to say she might dosomething. Then a violoncellistwhose instrument used to soband who openlydeclared that of all the ladies of his acquaintance the only one who couldaccompany him was Olga Ivanovna; then there was a literary manyoung butalready well knownwho had written storiesnovelsand plays. Who else? WhyVassily Vassilyitcha landowner and amateur illustrator and vignettistwith agreat feeling for the old Russian stylethe old ballad and epic. On paperonchinaand on smoked plateshe produced literally marvels. In the midst of thisfree artistic companyspoiled by fortunethough refined and modestwhorecalled the existence of doctors only in times of illnessand to whom the nameof Dymov sounded in no way different from Sidorov or Tarasov -- in the midst ofthis company Dymov seemed strangenot wantedand smallthough he was tall andbroad-shouldered. He looked as though he had on somebody else's coatand hisbeard was like a shopman's. Though if he had been a writer or an artisttheywould have said that his beard reminded them of Zola.
An artist said to Olga Ivanovna that with her flaxen hair and in herwedding-dress she was very much like a graceful cherry-tree when it is coveredall over with delicate white blossoms in spring.
"Ohlet me tell you" said Olga Ivanovnataking his arm"how it was it all came to pass so suddenly. Listenlisten! . . . I musttell you that my father was on the same staff at the hospital as Dymov. When mypoor father was taken illDymov watched for days and nights together at hisbedside. Such self-sacrifice! ListenRyabovsky! Youmy writerlisten; it isvery interesting! Come nearer. Such self-sacrificesuch genuine sympathy! I satup with my fatherand did not sleep for nightseither. And all at once -- theprincess had won the hero's heart -- my Dymov fell head over ears in love.Reallyfate is so strange at times! Wellafter my father's death he came tosee me sometimesmet me in the streetand one fine eveningall at once hemade me an offer . . . like snow upon my head. . . . I lay awake all nightcryingand fell hellishly in love myself. And hereas you seeI am his wife.There really is something strongpowerfulbearlike about himisn't there? Nowhis face is turned three-quarters towards us in a bad lightbut when he turnsround look at his forehead. Ryabovskywhat do you say to that forehead? Dymovwe are talking about you!" she called to her husband. "Come here; holdout your honest hand to Ryabovsky. . . . That's rightbe friends."
Dymovwith a naive and good-natured smileheld out his hand to Ryabovskyand said:
"Very glad to meet you. There was a Ryabovsky in my year at the medicalschool. Was he a relation of yours?"
Olga Ivanovna was twenty-twoDymov was thirty-one. They got on splendidlytogether when they were married. Olga Ivanovna hung all her drawing-room wallswith her own and other people's sketchesin frames and without framesand nearthe piano and furniture arranged picturesque corners with Japanese parasolseaselsdaggersbustsphotographsand rags of many colours. . . . In thedining-room she papered the walls with peasant woodcutshung up bark shoes andsicklesstood in a corner a scythe and a rakeand so achieved a dining-room inthe Russian style. In her bedroom she draped the ceiling and the walls with darkcloths to make it like a cavernhung a Venetian lantern over the bedsand atthe door set a figure with a halberd. And every one thought that the youngpeople had a very charming little home.
When she got up at eleven o'clock every morningOlga Ivanovna played thepiano orif it were sunnypainted something in oils. Then between twelve andone she drove to her dressmaker's. As Dymov and she had very little moneyonlyjust enoughshe and her dressmaker were often put to clever shifts to enableher to appear constantly in new dresses and make a sensation with them. Veryoften out of an old dyed dressout of bits of tullelaceplushand silkcosting nothingperfect marvels were createdsomething bewitching -- not adressbut a dream. From the dressmaker's Olga Ivanovna usually drove to someactress of her acquaintance to hear the latest theatrical gossipandincidentally to try and get hold of tickets for the first night of some new playor for a benefit performance. From the actress's she had to go to some artist'sstudio or to some exhibition or to see some celebrity -- either to pay a visitor to give an invitation or simply to have a chat. And everywhere she met with agay and friendly welcomeand was assured that she was goodthat she was sweetthat she was rare. . . . Those whom she called great and famous received her asone of themselvesas an equaland predicted with one voice thatwith hertalentsher tasteand her intelligenceshe would do great things if sheconcentrated herself. She sangshe played the pianoshe painted in oilsshecarvedshe took part in amateur performances; and all this not just anyhowbutall with talentwhether she made lanterns for an illumination or dressed up ortied somebody's cravat -- everything she did was exceptionally gracefulartisticand charming. But her talents showed themselves in nothing so clearlyas in her faculty for quickly becoming acquainted and on intimate terms withcelebrated people. No sooner did any one become ever so little celebratedandset people talking about himthan she made his acquaintancegot on friendlyterms the same dayand invited him to her house. Every new acquaintance shemade was a veritable fete for her. She adored celebrated peoplewas proud ofthemdreamed of them every night. She craved for themand never could satisfyher craving. The old ones departed and were forgottennew ones came to replacethembut to thesetooshe soon grew accustomed or was disappointed in themand began eagerly seeking for fresh great menfinding them and seeking for themagain. What for?
Between four and five she dined at home with her husband. His simplicitygood senseand kind-heartedness touched her and moved her up to enthusiasm. Shewas constantly jumping upimpulsively hugging his head and showering kisses onit.
"You are a clevergenerous manDymov" she used to say"butyou have one very serious defect. You take absolutely no interest in art. Youdon't believe in music or painting."
"I don't understand them" he would say mildly. "I have spentall my life in working at natural science and medicineand I have never hadtime to take an interest in the arts."
"Butyou knowthat's awfulDymov!"
"Why so? Your friends don't know a nything of science or medicinebutyou don't reproach them with it. Every one has his own line. I don't understandlandscapes and operasbut the way I look at it is that if one set of sensiblepeople devote their whole lives to themand other sensible people pay immensesums for themthey must be of use. I don't understand thembut notunderstanding does not imply disbelieving in them."
"Let me shake your honest hand!"
After dinner Olga Ivanovna would drive off to see her friendsthen to atheatre or to a concertand she returned home after midnight. So it was everyday.
On Wednesdays she had "At Homes." At these "At Homes" thehostess and her guests did not play cards and did not dancebut entertainedthemselves with various arts. An actor from the Dramatic Theatre recitedasinger sangartists sketched in the albums of which Olga Ivanovna had a greatnumberthe violoncellist playedand the hostess herself sketchedcarvedsangand played accompaniments. In the intervals between the recitationsmusicand singingthey talked and argued about literaturethe theatreandpainting. There were no ladiesfor Olga Ivanovna considered all ladieswearisome and vulgar except actresses and her dressmaker. Not one of theseentertainments passed without the hostess starting at every ring at the belland sayingwith a triumphant expression"It is he" meaning by"he" of coursesome new celebrity. Dymov was not in thedrawing-roomand no one remembered his existence. But exactly at half-pasteleven the door leading into the dining-room openedand Dymov would appear withhis good-naturedgentle smile and sayrubbing his hands:
"Come to suppergentlemen."
They all went into the dining-roomand every time found on the table exactlythe same things: a dish of oystersa piece of ham or vealsardinescheesecaviaremushroomsvodkaand two decanters of wine.
My dear _maitre d' hotel!_" Olga Ivanovna would sayclasping her handswith enthusiasm"you are simply fascinating! My friendslook at hisforehead! Dymovturn your profile. Look! he has the face of a Bengal tiger andan expression as kind and sweet as a gazelle. Ahthe darling!"
The visitors ateandlooking at Dymovthought"He really is a nicefellow"; but they soon forgot about himand went on talking about thetheatremusicand painting.
The young people were happyand their life flowed on without a hitch.
The third week of their honeymoon was spenthowevernot quite happily --sadlyindeed. Dymov caught erysipelas in the hospitalwas in bed for six daysand had to have his beautiful black hair cropped. Olga Ivanovna sat beside himand wept bitterlybut when he was better she put a white handkerchief on hisshaven head and began to paint him as a Bedouin. And they were both in goodspirits. Three days after he had begun to go back to the hospital he had anothermischance.
"I have no lucklittle mother" he said one day at dinner. "Ihad four dissections to do todayand I cut two of my fingers at one. And I didnot notice it till I got home."
Olga Ivanovna was alarmed. He smiledand told her that it did not matterand that he often cut his hands when he was dissecting.
"I get absorbedlittle motherand grow careless."
Olga Ivanovna dreaded symptoms of blood-poisoningand prayed about it everynightbut all went well. And again life flowed on peaceful and happyfree fromgrief and anxiety. The present was happyand to follow it spring was at handalready smiling in the distanceand promising a thousand delights. There wouldbe no end to their happiness. In AprilMay and June a summer villa a gooddistance out of town; walkssketchingfishingnightingales; and then fromJuly right on to autumn an artist's tour on the Volgaand in this tour OlgaIvanovna would take part as an indispensable member of the society. She hadalready had made for her two travelling dresses of linenhad bought paintsbrushescanvasesand a new palette for the journey. Almost every day Ryabovskyvisited her to see what progress she was making in her painting; when she showedhim her paintinghe used to thrust his hands deep into his pocketscompresshis lipssniffand say:
"Ye--es . . . ! That cloud of yours is screaming: it's not in theevening light. The foreground is somehow chewed upand there is somethingyouknownot the thing. . . . And your cottage is weighed down and whinespitifully. That corner ought to have been taken more in shadowbut on the wholeit is not bad; I like it."
And the more incomprehensible he talkedthe more readily Olga Ivanovnaunderstood him.
After dinner on the second day of Trinity weekDymov bought some sweets andsome savouries and went down to the villa to see his wife. He had not seen herfor a fortnightand missed her terribly. As he sat in the train and afterwardsas he looked for his villa in a big woodhe felt all the while hungry andwearyand dreamed of how he would have supper in freedom with his wifethentumble into bed and to sleep. And he was delighted as he looked at his parcelin which there was caviarecheeseand white salmon.
The sun was setting by the time he found his villa and recognized it. The oldservant told him that her mistress was not at homebut that most likely shewould soon be in. The villavery uninviting in appearancewith low ceilingspapered with writing-paper and with uneven floors full of crevicesconsistedonly of three rooms. In one there was a bedin the second there were canvasesbrushesgreasy papersand men's overcoats and hats lying about on the chairsand in the windowswhile in the third Dymov found three unknown men; two weredark-haired and had beardsthe other was clean-shaven and fatapparently anactor. There was a samovar boiling on the table.
"What do you want?" asked the actor in a bass voicelooking atDymov ungraciously. "Do you want Olga Ivanovna? Wait a minute; she will behere directly."
Dymov sat down and waited. One of the dark-haired menlooking sleepily andlistlessly at himpoured himself out a glass of teaand asked:
"Perhaps you would like some tea?"
Dymov was both hungry and thirstybut he refused tea for fear of spoilinghis supper. Soon he heard footsteps and a familiar laugh; a door slammedandOlga Ivanovna ran into the roomwearing a wide-brimmed hat and carrying a boxin her hand; she was followed by Ryabovskyrosy and good-humouredcarrying abig umbrella and a camp-stool.
"Dymov!" cried Olga Ivanovnaand she flushed crimson withpleasure. "Dymov!" she repeatedlaying her head and both arms on hisbosom. "Is that you? Why haven't you come for so long? Why? Why?"
"When could Ilittle mother? I am always busyand whenever I am freeit always happens somehow that the train does not fit."
"But how glad I am to see you! I have been dreaming about you the wholenightthe whole nightand I was afraid you must be ill. Ah! if you only knewhow sweet you are! You have come in the nick of time! You will be my salvation!You are the only person who can save me! There is to be a most original weddinghere tomorrow" she went onlaughingand tying her husband's cravat."A young telegraph clerk at the stationcalled Tchikeldyeevis going tobe married. He is a handsome young man and -- wellnot stupidand you knowthere is something strongbearlike in his face . . . you might paint him as ayoung Norman. We summer visitors take a great interest in himand have promisedto be at his wedding. . . . He is a lonelytimid mannot well offand ofcourse it would be a shame not to be sympathetic to him. Fancy! the wedding willbe after the service; then we shall all walk from the church to the bride'slodgings. . . you see the woodthe birds singingpatches of sunlight on thegrassand all of us spots of different colours against the bright greenbackground -- very originalin the style of the French impressionists. ButDymovwhat am I to go to the church in?" said Olga Ivanovnaand shelooked as though she were going to cry. "I have nothing hereliterallynothing! no dressno flowersno gloves . . . you must save me. Since you havecomefate itself bids you save me. Take the keysmy preciousgo home and getmy pink dress from the wardrobe. You remember it; it hangs in front. . . . Thenin the storeroomon the flooron the right sideyou will see two cardboardboxes. When you open the top one you will see tulleheaps of tulle and rags ofall sortsand under them flowers. Take out all the flowers carefullytry notto crush themdarling; I will choose among them later. . . . And buy me somegloves."
"Very well" said Dymov; "I will go tomorrow and send them toyou."
"Tomorrow?" asked Olga Ivanovnaand she looked at him surprised."You won't have time tomorrow. The first train goes tomorrow at nineandthe wedding's at eleven. Nodarlingit must be today; it absolutely must betoday. If you won't be able to come tomorrowsend them by a messenger. Comeyou must run along. . . . The passenger train will be in directly; don't missitdarling."
"Ohhow sorry I am to let you go!" said Olga Ivanovnaand tearscame into her eyes. "And why did I promise that telegraph clerklike asilly?"
Dymov hurriedly drank a glass of teatook a cracknelandsmiling gentlywent to the station. And the caviarethe cheeseand the white salmon wereeaten by the two dark gentlemen and the fat actor.
On a still moonlight night in July Olga Ivanovna was standing on the deck ofa Volga steamer and looking alternately at the water and at the picturesquebanks. Beside her was standing Ryabovskytelling her the black shadows on thewater were not shadowsbut a dreamthat it would be sweet to sink intoforgetfulnessto dieto become a memory in the sight of that enchanted waterwith the fantastic glimmerin sight of the fathomless sky and the mournfuldreamy shores that told of the vanity of our life and of the existence ofsomething higherblessedand eternal. The past was vulgar and uninterestingthe future was trivialand that marvellous nightunique in a lifetimewouldsoon be overwould blend with eternity; thenwhy live?
And Olga Ivanovna listened alternately to Ryabovsky's voice and the silenceof the nightand thought of her being immortal and never dying. The turquoisecolour of the watersuch as she had never seen beforethe skytheriver-banksthe black shadowsand the unaccountable joy that flooded her soulall told her that she would make a great artistand that somewhere in thedistancein the infinite space beyond the moonlightsuccessglorythe loveof the peoplelay awaiting her. . . . When she gazed steadily without blinkinginto the distanceshe seemed to see crowds of peoplelightstriumphantstrains of musiccries of enthusiasmshe herself in a white dressand flowersshowered upon her from all sides. She thoughttoothat beside herleaningwith his elbows on the rail of the steamerthere was standing a real great mana geniusone of God's elect. . . . All that he had created up to the presentwas finenewand extraordinarybut what he would create in timewhen withmaturity his rare talent reached its full developmentwould be astoundingimmeasurably sublime; and that could be seen by his faceby his manner ofexpressing himself and his attitude to nature. He talked of shadowsof thetones of eveningof the moonlightin a special wayin a language of his ownso that one could not help feeling the fascination of his power over nature. Hewas very handsomeoriginaland his lifefreeindependentaloof from allcommon careswas like the life of a bird.
"It's growing cooler" said Olga Ivanovnaand she gave a shudder.
Ryabovsky wrapped her in his cloakand said mournfully:
"I feel that I am in your power; I am a slave. Why are you so enchantingtoday?"
He kept staring intently at herand his eyes were terrible. And she wasafraid to look at him.
"I love you madly" he whisperedbreathing on her cheek. "Sayone word to me and I will not go on living; I will give up art . . ." hemuttered in violent emotion. "Love melove . . . ."
"Don't talk like that" said Olga Ivanovnacovering her eyes."It's dreadful! How about Dymov?"
"What of Dymov? Why Dymov? What have I to do with Dymov? The Volgathemoonbeautymy loveecstasyand there is no such thing as Dymov. . . . Ah! Idon't know . . . I don't care about the past; give me one momentoneinstant!"
Olga Ivanovna's heart began to throb. She tried to think about her husbandbut all her pastwith her weddingwith Dymovand with her "AtHomes" seemed to her pettytrivialdingyunnecessaryand farfaraway. . . . Yesreallywhat of Dymov? Why Dymov? What had she to do withDymov? Had he any existence in natureor was he only a dream?
"For hima simple and ordinary man the happiness he has had already isenough" she thoughtcovering her face with her hands. "Let themcondemn melet them curse mebut in spite of them all I will go to my ruin; Iwill go to my ruin! . . . One must experience everything in life. My God! howterrible and how glorious!"
"Well? Well?" muttered the artistembracing herand greedilykissing the hands with which she feebly tried to thrust him from her. "Youlove me? Yes? Yes? Ohwhat a night! marvellous night!"
"Yeswhat a night!" she whisperedlooking into his eyeswhichwere bright with tears.
Then she looked round quicklyput her arms round himand kissed him on thelips.
"We are nearing Kineshmo!" said some one on the other side of thedeck.
They heard heavy footsteps; it was a waiter from the refreshment-bar.
"Waiter" said Olga Ivanovnalaughing and crying with happiness"bring us some wine."
The artistpale with emotionsat on the seatlooking at Olga Ivanovna withadoringgrateful eyes; then he closed his eyesand saidsmiling languidly:
"I am tired."
And he leaned his head against the rail.
On the second of September the day was warm and stillbut overcast. In theearly morning a light mist had hung over the Volgaand after nine o'clock ithad begun to spout with rain. And there seemed no hope of the sky clearing. Overtheir morning tea Ryabovsky told Olga Ivanovna that painting was the mostungrateful and boring artthat he was not an artistthat none but foolsthought that he had any talentand all at oncefor no rhyme or reasonhesnatched up a knife and with it scraped over his very best sketch. After his teahe sat plunged in gloom at the window and gazed at the Volga. And now the Volgawas dingyall of one even colour without a gleam of lightcold-looking.Everythingeverything recalled the approach of drearygloomy autumn. And itseemed as though nature had removed now from the Volga the sumptuous greencovers from the banksthe brilliant reflections of the sunbeamsthetransparent blue distanceand all its smart gala arrayand had packed it awayin boxes till the coming springand the crows were flying above the Volga andcrying tauntingly"Barebare!"
Ryabovsky heard their cawingand thought he had already gone off and losthis talentthat everything in this world was relativeconditionaland stupidand that he ought not to have taken up with this woman. . . . In shorthe wasout of humour and depressed.
Olga Ivanovna sat behind the screen on the bedandpassing her fingersthrough her lovely flaxen hairpictured herself first in the drawing-roomthenin the bedroomthen in her husband's study; her imagination carried her to thetheatreto the dress-makerto her distinguished friends. Were they gettingsomething up now? Did they think of her? The season had begun by nowand itwould be time to think about her "At Homes." And Dymov? Dear Dymov!with what gentleness and childlike pathos he kept begging her in his letters tomake haste and come home! Every month he sent her seventy-five roublesand whenshe wrote him that she had lent the artists a hundred roubleshe sent thathundred too. What a kindgenerous-hearted man! The travelling wearied OlgaIvanovna; she was bored; and she longed to get away from the peasantsfrom thedamp smell of the riverand to cast off the feeling of physical uncleanlinessof which she was conscious all the timeliving in the peasants' huts andwandering from village to village. If Ryabovsky had not given his word to theartists that he would stay with them till the twentieth of Septemberthey mighthave gone away that very day. And how nice that would have been!
"My God!" moaned Ryabovsky. "Will the sun ever come out? Ican't go on with a sunny landscape without the sun. . . ."
"But you have a sketch with a cloudy sky" said Olga Ivanovnacoming from behind the screen. "Do you rememberin the right foregroundforest treeson the left a herd of cows and geese? You might finish itnow."
"Aie!" the artist scowled. "Finish it! Can you imagine I amsuch a fool that I don't know what I want to do?"
"How you have changed to me!" sighed Olga Ivanovna.
"Wella good thing too!"
Olga Ivanovna's face quivered; she moved away to the stove and began to cry.
"Wellthat's the last straw -- crying! Give over! I have a thousandreasons for tearsbut I am not crying."
"A thousand reasons!" cried Olga Ivanovna. "The chief one isthat you are weary of me. Yes!" she saidand broke into sobs. "If oneis to tell the truthyou are ashamed of our love. You keep trying to preventthe artists from noticing itthough it is impossible to conceal itand theyhave known all about it for ever so long."
"Olgaone thing I beg you" said the artist in an imploring voicelaying his hand on his heart -- "one thing; don't worry me! I want nothingelse from you!"
"But swear that you love me still!"
"This is agony!" the artist hissed through his teethand he jumpedup. "It will end by my throwing myself in the Volga or going out of mymind! Let me alone!"
"Comekill mekill me!" cried Olga Ivanovna. "Kill me!"
She sobbed againand went behind the screen. There was a swish of rain onthe straw thatch of the hut. Ryabovsky clutched his head and strode up and downthe hut; then with a resolute faceas though bent on proving something tosomebodyput on his capslung his gun over his shoulderand went out of thehut.
After he had goneOlga Ivanovna lay a long time on the bedcrying. At firstshe thought it would be a good thing to poison herselfso that when Ryabovskycame back he would find her dead; then her imagination carried her to herdrawing-roomto her husband's studyand she imagined herself sittingmotionless beside Dymov and enjoying the physical peace and cleanlinessand inthe evening sitting in the theatrelistening to Mazini. And a yearning forcivilizationfor the noise and bustle of the townfor celebrated people sent apang to her heart. A peasant woman came into the hut and began in a leisurelyway lighting the stove to get the dinner. There was a smell of charcoal fumesand the air was filled with bluish smoke. The artists came inin muddy highboots and with faces wet with rainexamined their sketchesand comfortedthemselves by saying that the Volga had its charms even in bad weather. On thewall the cheap clock went "tic-tic-tic." . . . The fliesfeelingchilledcrowded round the ikon in the cornerbuzzingand one could hear thecockroaches scurrying about among the thick portfolios under the seats. . . .
Ryabovsky came home as the sun was setting. He flung his cap on the tableandwithout removing his muddy bootssank pale and exhausted on the bench andclosed his eyes.
"I am tired . . ." he saidand twitched his eyebrowstrying toraise his eyelids.
To be nice to him and to show she was not crossOlga Ivanovna went up tohimgave him a silent kissand passed the comb through his fair hair. Shemeant to comb it for him.
"What's that?" he saidstarting as though something cold hadtouched himand he opened his eyes. "What is it? Please let mealone."
He thrust her offand moved away. And it seemed to her that there was a lookof aversion and annoyance on his face.
At that time the peasant woman cautiously carried himin both handsa plateof cabbage-soup. And Olga Ivanovna saw how she wetted her fat fingers in it. Andthe dirty peasant womanstanding with her body thrust forwardand thecabbage-soup which Ryabovsky began eating greedilyand the hutand their wholeway of lifewhich she at first had so loved for its simplicity and artisticdisorderseemed horrible to her now. She suddenly felt insultedand saidcoldly:
"We must part for a timeor else from boredom we shall quarrel inearnest. I am sick of this; I am going today."
"Going how? Astride on a broomstick?"
"Today is Thursdayso the steamer will be here at half-past nine."
"Eh? Yesyes. . . . Wellgothen . . ." Ryabovsky said softlywiping his mouth with a towel instead of a dinner napkin. "You are dull andhave nothing to do hereand one would have to be a great egoist to try and keepyou. Go homeand we shall meet again after the twentieth."
Olga Ivanovna packed in good spirits. Her cheeks positively glowed withpleasure. Could it really be trueshe asked herselfthat she would soon bewriting in her drawing-room and sleeping in her bedroomand dining with a clothon the table? A weight was lifted from her heartand she no longer felt angrywith the artist.
"My paints and brushes I will leave with youRyabovsky" she said."You can bring what's left. . . . Mindnowdon't be lazy here when I amgone; don't mopebut work. You are such a splendid fellowRyabovsky!"
At ten o'clock Ryabovsky gave her a farewell kissin orderas she thoughtto avoid kissing her on the steamer before the artistsand went with her to thelanding-stage. The steamer soon came up and carried her away.
She arrived home two and a half days later. Breathless with excitementshewentwithout taking off her hat or waterproofinto the drawing-room and thenceinto the dining-room. Dymovwith his waistcoat unbuttoned and no coatwassitting at the table sharpening a knife on a fork; before him lay a grouse on aplate. As Olga Ivanovna went into the flat she was convinced that it wasessential to hide everything from her husbandand that she would have thestrength and skill to do so; but nowwhen she saw his broadmildhappy smileand shiningjoyful eyesshe felt that to deceive this man was as vileasrevoltingand as impossible and out of her power as to bear false witnesstostealor to killand in a flash she resolved to tell him all that hadhappened. Letting him kiss and embrace hershe sank down on her knees beforehim and hid her face.
"What is itwhat is itlittle mother?" he asked tenderly."Were you homesick?"
She raised her facered with shameand gazed at him with a guilty andimploring lookbut fear and shame prevented her from telling him the truth.
"Nothing" she said; "it's just nothing. . . ."
"Let us sit down" he saidraising her and seating her at thetable. "That's righteat the grouse. You are starvingpoor darling."
She eagerly breathed in the atmosphere of home and ate the grousewhile hewatched her with tenderness and laughed with delight.
Apparentlyby the middle of the winter Dymov began to suspect that he wasbeing deceived. As though his conscience was not clearhe could not look hiswife straight in the facedid not smile with delight when he met herand toavoid being left alone with herhe often brought in to dinner his colleagueKorosteleva little close-cropped man with a wrinkled facewho kept buttoningand unbuttoning his reefer jacket with embarrassment when he talked with OlgaIvanovnaand then with his right hand nipped his left moustache. At dinner thetwo doctors talked about the fact that a displacement of the diaphragm wassometimes accompanied by irregularities of the heartor that a great number ofneurotic complaints were met with of lateor that Dymov had the day beforefound a cancer of the lower abdomen while dissecting a corpse with the diagnosisof pernicious anaemia. And it seemed as though they were talking of medicine togive Olga Ivanovna a chance of being silent -- that isof not lying. Afterdinner Korostelev sat down to the pianowhile Dymov sighed and said to him:
"Echbrother -- wellwell! Play something melancholy."
Hunching up his shoulders and stretching his fingers wide apartKorostelevplayed some chords and began singing in a tenor voice"Show me the abodewhere the Russian peasant would not groan" while Dymov sighed once morepropped his head on his fistand sank into thought.
Olga Ivanovna had been extremely imprudent in her conduct of late. Everymorning she woke up in a very bad humour and with the thought that she no longercared for Ryabovskyand thatthank Godit was all over now. But as she drankher coffee she reflected that Ryabovsky had robbed her of her husbandand thatnow she was left with neither her husband nor Ryabovsky; then she rememberedtalks she had heard among her acquaintances of a picture Ryabovsky was preparingfor the exhibitionsomething strikinga mixture of genre and landscapein thestyle of Polyenovabout which every one who had been into his studio went intoraptures; and thisof courseshe musedhe had created under her influenceand altogetherthanks to her influencehe had greatly changed for the better.Her influence was so beneficent and essential that if she were to leave him hemight perhaps go to ruin. And she rememberedtoothat the last time he hadcome to see her in a great-coat with flecks on it and a new tiehe had askedher languidly:
"Am I beautiful?"
And with his elegancehis long curlsand his blue eyeshe really was verybeautiful (or perhaps it only seemed so)and he had been affectionate to her.
Considering and remembering many things Olga Ivanovna dressed and in greatagitation drove to Ryabovsky's studio. She found him in high spiritsandenchanted with his really magnificent picture. He was dancing about and playingthe fool and answering serious questions with jokes. Olga Ivanovna was jealousof the picture and hated itbut from politeness she stood before the picturefor five minutes in silenceandheaving a sighas though before a holyshrinesaid softly:
"Yesyou have never painted anything like it before. Do you knowit ispositively awe-inspiring?"
And then she began beseeching him to love her and not to cast her offtohave pity on her in her misery and her wretchedness. She shed tearskissed hishandsinsisted on his swearing that he loved hertold him that without hergood influence he would go astray and be ruined. Andwhen she had spoilt hisgood-humourfeeling herself humiliatedshe would drive off to her dressmakeror to an actress of her acquaintance to try and get theatre tickets.
If she did not find him at his studio she left a letter in which she sworethat if he did not come to see her that day she would poison herself. He wasscaredcame to see herand stayed to dinner. Regardless of her husband'spresencehe would say rude things to herand she would answer him in the sameway. Both felt they were a burden to each otherthat they were tyrants andenemiesand were wrathfuland in their wrath did not notice that theirbehaviour was unseemlyand that even Korostelevwith his close-cropped headsaw it all. After dinner Ryabovsky made haste to say good-bye and get away.
"Where are you off to?" Olga Ivanovna would ask him in the halllooking at him with hatred.
Scowling and screwing up his eyeshe mentioned some lady of theiracquaintanceand it was evident that he was laughing at her jealousy and wantedto annoy her. She went to her bedroom and lay down on her bed; from jealousyangera sense of humiliation and shameshe bit the pillow and began sobbingaloud. Dymov left Korostelev in the drawing-roomwent into the bedroomandwith a desperate and embarrassed face said softly:
"Don't cry so loudlittle mother; there's no need. You must be quietabout it. You must not let people see. . . . You know what is done is doneandcan't be mended."
Not knowing how to ease the burden of her jealousywhich actually set hertemples throbbing with painand thinking still that things might be set rightshe would washpowder her tear-stained faceand fly off to the lady mentioned.
Not finding Ryabovsky with hershe would drive off to a secondthen to athird. At first she was ashamed to go about like thisbut afterwards she gotused to itand it would happen that in one evening she would make the round ofall her female acquaintances in search of Ryabovskyand they all understood it.
One day she said to Ryabovsky of her husband:
"That man crushes me with his magnanimity."
This phrase pleased her so much that when she met the artists who knew of heraffair with Ryabovsky she said every time of her husbandwith a vigorousmovement of her arm:
"That man crushes me with his magnanimity."
Their manner of life was the same as it had been the year before. OnWednesdays they were "At Home"; an actor recitedthe artistssketched. The violoncellist playeda singer sangand invariably at half-pasteleven the door leading to the dining-room opened and Dymovsmilingsaid:
"Come to suppergentlemen."
As beforeOlga Ivanovna hunted celebritiesfound themwas not satisfiedand went in pursuit of fresh ones. As beforeshe came back late every night;but now Dymov was notas last yearasleepbut sitting in his study at work ofsome sort. He went to bed at three o'clock and got up at eight.
One evening when she was getting ready to go to the theatre and standingbefore the pier glassDymov came into her bedroomwearing his dress-coat and awhite tie. He was smiling gently and looked into his wife's face joyfullyas inold days; his face was radiant.
"I have just been defending my thesis" he saidsitting down andsmoothing his knees.
"Defending?" asked Olga Ivanovna.
"Ohoh!" he laughedand he craned his neck to see his wife's facein the mirrorfor she was still standing with her back to himdoing up herhair. "Ohoh" he repeated"do you know it's very possible theymay offer me the Readership in General Pathology? It seems like it."
It was evident from his beamingblissful face that if Olga Ivanovna hadshared with him his joy and triumph he would have forgiven her everythingboththe present and the futureand would have forgotten everythingbut she did notunderstand what was meant by a "readership" or by "generalpathology"; besidesshe was afraid of being late for the theatreand shesaid nothing.
He sat there another two minutesand with a guilty smile went away.
It had been a very troubled day.
Dymov had a very bad headache; he had no breakfastand did not go to thehospitalbut spent the whole time lying on his sofa in the study. Olga Ivanovnawent as usual at midday to see Ryabovskyto show him her still-life sketchandto ask him why he had not been to see her the evening before. The sketch seemedto her worthlessand she had painted it only in order to have an additionalreason for going to the artist.
She went in to him without ringingand as she was taking off her goloshes inthe entry she heard a sound as of something running softly in the studiowith afeminine rustle of skirts; and as she hastened to peep in she caught a momentaryglimpse of a bit of brown petticoatwhich vanished behind a big picture drapedtogether with the easelwith black calicoto the floor. There could be nodoubt that a woman was hiding there. How often Olga Ivanovna herself had takenrefuge behind that picture!
Ryabovskyevidently much embarrassedheld out both hands to heras thoughsurprised at her arrivaland said with a forced smile:
"Aha! Very glad to see you! Anything nice to tell me?"
Olga Ivanovna's eyes filled with tears. She felt ashamed and bitterandwould not for a million roubles have consented to speak in the presence of theoutsiderthe rivalthe deceitful woman who was standing now behind thepictureand probably giggling malignantly.
"I have brought you a sketch" she said timidly in a thin voiceand her lips quivered. "_Nature morte._"
"Ah--ah! . . . A sketch?"
The artist took the sketch in his handsand as he examined it w alkedas itwere mechanicallyinto the other room.
Olga Ivanovna followed him humbly.
"_Nature morte_ . . . first-rate sort" he mutteredfalling intorhyme. "Kurort . . . sport . . . port . . ."
From the studio came the sound of hurried footsteps and the rustle of askirt.
So she had gone. Olga Ivanovna wanted to scream aloudto hit the artist onthe head with something heavybut she could see nothing through her tearswascrushed by her shameand felt herselfnot Olga Ivanovnanot an artistbut alittle insect.
"I am tired . . ." said the artist languidlylooking at the sketchand tossing his head as though struggling with drowsiness. "It's very niceof coursebut here a sketch todaya sketch last yearanother sketch in amonth . . . I wonder you are not bored with them. If I were you I should give uppainting and work seriously at music or something. You're not an artistyouknowbut a musician. But you can't think how tired I am! I'll tell them tobring us some teashall I?"
He went out of the roomand Olga Ivanovna heard him give some order to hisfootman. To avoid farewells and explanationsand above all to avoid burstinginto sobsshe ran as fast as she couldbefore Ryabovsky came backto theentryput on her goloshesand went out into the street; then she breathedeasilyand felt she was free for ever from Ryabovsky and from painting and fromthe burden of shame which had so crushed her in the studio. It was all over!
She drove to her dressmaker's; then to see Barnaywho had only arrived theday before; from Barnay to a music-shopand all the time she was thinking howshe would write Ryabovsky a coldcruel letter full of personal dignityand howin the spring or the summer she would go with Dymov to the Crimeafree herselffinally from the past thereand begin a new life.
On getting home late in the evening she sat down in the drawing-roomwithouttaking off her thingsto begin the letter. Ryabovsky had told her she was notan artistand to pay him out she wrote to him now that he painted the samething every yearand said exactly the same thing every day; that he was at astandstilland that nothing more would come of him than had come already. Shewanted to writetoothat he owed a great deal to her good influenceand thatif he was going wrong it was only because her influence was paralysed by variousdubious persons like the one who had been hiding behind the picture that day.
"Little mother!" Dymov called from the studywithout opening thedoor.
"What is it?"
"Don't come in to mebut only come to the door -- that's right. . . .The day before yesterday I must have caught diphtheria at the hospitaland now. . . I am ill. Make haste and send for Korostelev."
Olga Ivanovna always called her husband by his surnameas she did all themen of her acquaintance; she disliked his Christian nameOsipbecause itreminded her of the Osip in Gogol and the silly pun on his name. But now shecried:
"Osipit cannot be!"
"Send for him; I feel ill" Dymov said behind the doorand shecould hear him go back to the sofa and lie down. "Send!" she heard hisvoice faintly.
"Good Heavens!" thought Olga Ivanovnaturning chill with horror."Whyit's dangerous!"
For no reason she took the candle and went into the bedroomand therereflecting what she must doglanced casually at herself in the pier glass. Withher palefrightened facein a jacket with sleeves high on the shoulderswithyellow ruches on her bosomand with stripes running in unusual directions onher skirtshe seemed to herself horrible and disgusting. She suddenly feltpoignantly sorry for Dymovfor his boundless love for herfor his young lifeand even for the desolate little bed in which he had not slept for so long; andshe remembered his habitualgentlesubmissive smile. She wept bitterlyandwrote an imploring letter to Korostelev. It was two o'clock in the night.
When towards eight o'clock in the morning Olga Ivanovnaher head heavy fromwant of sleep and her hair unbrushedcame out of her bedroomlookingunattractive and with a guilty expression on her facea gentleman with a blackbeardapparently the doctorpassed by her into the entry. There was a smell ofdrugs. Korostelev was standing near the study doortwisting his left moustachewith his right hand.
"Excuse meI can't let you go in" he said surlily to OlgaIvanovna; "it's catching. Besidesit's no usereally; he is deliriousanyway."
"Has he really got diphtheria?" Olga Ivanovna asked in a whisper.
"People who wantonly risk infection ought to be hauled up and punishedfor it" muttered Korostelevnot answering Olga Ivanovna's question."Do you know why he caught it? On Tuesday he was sucking up the mucusthrough a pipette from a boy with diphtheria. And what for? It was stupid. . . .Just from folly. . . ."
"Is it dangerousvery?" asked Olga Ivanovna.
"Yes; they say it is the malignant form. We ought to send for Shrekreally."
A little red-haired man with a long nose and a Jewish accent arrived; then atallstoopingshaggy individualwho looked like a head deacon; then a stoutyoung man with a red face and spectacles. These were doctors who came to watchby turns beside their colleague. Korostelev did not go home when his turn wasoverbut remained and wandered about the rooms like an uneasy spirit. The maidkept getting tea for the various doctorsand was constantly running to thechemistand there was no one to do the rooms. There was a dismal stillness inthe flat.
Olga Ivanovna sat in her bedroom and thought that God was punishing her forhaving deceived her husband. That silentunrepininguncomprehended creaturerobbed by his mildness of all personality and willweak from excessivekindnesshad been suffering in obscurity somewhere on his sofaand had notcomplained. And if he were to complain even in deliriumthe doctors watching byhis bedside would learn that diphtheria was not the only cause of hissufferings. They would ask Korostelev. He knew all about itand it was not fornothing that he looked at his friend's wife with eyes that seemed to say thatshe was the real chief criminal and diphtheria was only her accomplice. She didnot think now of the moonlight evening on the Volganor the words of lovenortheir poetical life in the peasant's hut. She thought only that from an idlewhimfrom self-indulgenceshe had sullied herself all over from head to footin something filthystickywhich one could never wash off. . . .
"Ohhow fearfully false I've been!" she thoughtrecalling thetroubled passion she had known with Ryabovsky. "Curse it all! . . ."
At four o'clock she dined with Korostelev. He did nothing but scowl and drinkred wineand did not eat a morsel. She ate nothingeither. At one minute shewas praying inwardly and vowing to God that if Dymov recovered she would lovehim again and be a faithful wife to him. Thenforgetting herself for a minuteshe would look at Korostelevand think: "Surely it must be dull to be ahumbleobscure personnot remarkable in any wayespecially with such awrinkled face and bad manners!"
Then it seemed to her that God would strike her dead that minute for nothaving once been in her husband's studyfor fear of infection. And altogethershe had a dulldespondent feeling and a conviction that her life was spoiltand that there was no setting it right anyhow. . . .
After dinner darkness came on. When Olga Ivanovna went into the drawing-roomKorostelev was asleep on the sofawith a gold-embroidered silk cushion underhis head.
"Khee-poo-ah" he snored -- "khee-poo-ah."
And the doctors as they came to sit up and went away again did not noticethis disorder. The fact that a strange man was asleep and snoring in thedrawing-roomand the sketches on the walls and the exquisite decoration of theroomand the fact that the lady of the house was dishevelled and untidy -- allthat aroused not the slightest interest now. One of the doctors chanced to laughat somethingand the laugh had a strange and timid sound that made one's heartac he.
When Olga Ivanovna went into the drawing-room next timeKorostelev was notasleepbut sitting up and smoking.
"He has diphtheria of the nasal cavity" he said in a low voice"and the heart is not working properly now. Things are in a bad wayreally."
"But you will send for Shrek?" said Olga Ivanovna.
"He has been already. It was he noticed that the diphtheria had passedinto the nose. What's the use of Shrek! Shrek's no use at allreally. He isShrekI am Korostelevand nothing more."
The time dragged on fearfully slowly. Olga Ivanovna lay down in her clotheson her bedthat had not been made all dayand sank into a doze. She dreamedthat the whole flat was filled up from floor to ceiling with a huge piece ofironand that if they could only get the iron out they would all belight-hearted and happy. Wakingshe realized that it was not the iron butDymov's illness that was weighing on her.
"Nature morteport . . ." she thoughtsinking into forgetfulnessagain. "Sport . . . Kurort . . . and what of Shrek? Shrek. . . trek . . .wreck. . . . And where are my friends now? Do they know that we are in trouble?Lordsave . . . spare! Shrek. . . trek . . ."
And again the iron was there. . . . The time dragged on slowlythough theclock on the lower storey struck frequently. And bells were continually ringingas the doctors arrived. . . . The house-maid came in with an empty glass on atrayand asked"Shall I make the bedmadam?" and getting no answerwent away.
The clock below struck the hour. She dreamed of the rain on the Volga; andagain some one came into her bedroomshe thought a stranger. Olga Ivanovnajumped upand recognized Korostelev.
"What time is it?" she asked.
"Wellwhat is it?"
"Whatindeed! . . . I've come to tell you he is passing. . . ."
He gave a sobsat down on the bed beside herand wiped away the tears withhis sleeve. She could not grasp it at oncebut turned cold all over and beganslowly crossing herself.
"He is passing" he repeated in a shrill voiceand again he gave asob. "He is dying because he sacrificed himself. What a loss forscience!" he said bitterly. "Compare him with all of us. He was agreat manan extraordinary man! What gifts! What hopes we all had of him!"Korostelev went onwringing his hands: "Merciful Godhe was a man ofscience; we shall never look on his like again. Osip Dymovwhat have you done-- aieaiemy God!"
Korostelev covered his face with both hands in despairand shook his head.
"And his moral force" he went onseeming to grow more and moreexasperated against some one. "Not a manbut a puregoodloving souland clean as crystal. He served science and died for science. And he worked likean ox night and day -- no one spared him -- and with his youth and his learninghe had to take a private practice and work at translations at night to pay forthese . . . vile rags!"
Korostelev looked with hatred at Olga Ivanovnasnatched at the sheet withboth hands and angrily tore itas though it were to blame.
"He did not spare himselfand others did not spare him. Ohwhat's theuse of talking!"
"Yeshe was a rare man" said a bass voice in the drawing-room.
Olga Ivanovna remembered her whole life with him from the beginning to theendwith all its detailsand suddenly she understood that he really was anextraordinaryrareandcompared with every one else she knewa great man.And remembering how her fathernow deadand all the other doctors had behavedto himshe realized that they really had seen in him a future celebrity. Thewallsthe ceilingthe lampand the carpet on the floorseemed to be winkingat her sarcasticallyas though they would say"You were blind! you wereblind!" With a wail she flung herself out of the bedroomdashed by someunknown man in the drawing-roomand ran into her husband's study. He was lyingmotionless on the sofacovered to the waist with a quilt. His face wasfearfully thin and sunkenand was of a greyish-yellow colour such as is neverseen in the living; only from the foreheadfrom the black eyebrows and from thefamiliar smilecould he be recognized as Dymov. Olga Ivanovna hurriedly felthis chesthis foreheadand his hands. The chest was still warmbut theforehead and hands were unpleasantly coldand the half-open eyes lookednot atOlga Ivanovnabut at the quilt.
"Dymov!" she called aloud"Dymov!" She wanted to explainto him that it had been a mistakethat all was not lostthat life might stillbe beautiful and happythat he was an extraordinaryraregreat manand thatshe would all her life worship him and bow down in homage and holy awe beforehim. . . .
"Dymov!" she called himpatting him on the shoulderunable tobelieve that he would never wake again. "Dymov! Dymov!"
In the drawing-room Korostelev was saying to the housemaid:
"Why keep asking? Go to the church beadle and enquire where they live.They'll wash the body and lay it outand do everything that is necessary."
A DREARY STORY
FROM THE NOTEBOOK OF AN OLD MAN
THERE is in Russia an emeritus Professor Nikolay Stepanovitcha chevalierand privy councillor; he has so many Russian and foreign decorations that whenhe has occasion to put them on the students nickname him "TheIkonstand." His acquaintances are of the most aristocratic; for the lasttwenty-five or thirty yearsat any ratethere has not been one singledistinguished man of learning in Russia with whom he has not been intimatelyacquainted. There is no one for him to make friends with nowadays; but if weturn to the pastthe long list of his famous friends winds up with such namesas PirogovKavelinand the poet Nekrasovall of whom bestowed upon him a warmand sincere affection. He is a member of all the Russian and of three foreignuniversities. And so onand so on. All that and a great deal more that might besaid makes up what is called my "name."
That is my name as known to the public. In Russia it is known to everyeducated manand abroad it is mentioned in the lecture-room with the addition"honoured and distinguished." It is one of those fortunate names toabuse which or to take which in vainin public or in printis considered asign of bad taste. And that is as it should be. You seemy name is closelyassociated with the conception of a highly distinguished man of great gifts andunquestionable usefulness. I have the industry and power of endurance of acameland that is importantand I have talentwhich is even more important.Moreoverwhile I am on this subjectI am a well-educatedmodestand honestfellow. I have never poked my nose into literature or politics; I have neversought popularity in polemics with the ignorant; I have never made speecheseither at public dinners or at the funerals of my friends. . . . In factthereis no slur on my learned nameand there is no complaint one can make againstit. It is fortunate.
The bearer of that namethat is Isee myself as a man of sixty-twowith abald headwith false teethand with an incurable tic douloureux. I am myselfas dingy and unsightly as my name is brilliant and splendid. My head and myhands tremble with weakness; my neckas Turgenev says of one of his heroinesis like the handle of a double bass; my chest is hollow; my shoulders narrow;when I talk or lecturemy mouth turns down at one corner; when I smilemywhole face is covered with aged-lookingdeathly wrinkles. There is nothingimpressive about my pitiful figure; onlyperhapswhen I have an attack of ticdouloureux my face wears a peculiar expressionthe sight of which must haveroused in every one the grim and impressive thought"Evidently that manwill soon die."
I stillas in the pastlecture fairly well; I can stillas in the pasthold the attention of my listeners for a couple of hours. My fervourtheliterary skill of my expositionand my humouralmost efface the defects of myvoicethough it is harshdryand monotonous as a praying beggar's. I writepoorly. That bit of my brain which presides over the faculty of authorshiprefuses to
work. My memory has grown weak; there is a lack of sequence in my ideasandwhen I put them on paper it always seems to me that I have lost the instinct fortheir organic connection; my construction is monotonous; my language is poor andtimid. Often I write what I do not mean; I have forgotten the beginning when Iam writing the end. Often I forget ordinary wordsand I always have to waste agreat deal of energy in avoiding superfluous phrases and unnecessary parenthesesin my lettersboth unmistakable proofs of a decline in mental activity. And itis noteworthy that the simpler the letter the more painful the effort to writeit. At a scientific article I feel far more intelligent and at ease than at aletter of congratulation or a minute of proceedings. Another point: I find iteasier to write German or English than to write Russian.
As regards my present manner of lifeI must give a foremost place to theinsomnia from which I have suffered of late. If I were asked what constitutedthe chief and fundamental feature of my existence nowI should answerInsomnia. As in the pastfrom habit I undress and go to bed exactly atmidnight. I fall asleep quicklybut before two o'clock I wake up and feel asthough I had not slept at all. Sometimes I get out of bed and light a lamp. Foran hour or two I walk up and down the room looking at the familiar photographsand pictures. When I am weary of walking aboutI sit down to my table. I sitmotionlessthinking of nothingconscious of no inclination; if a book is lyingbefore meI mechanically move it closer and read it without any interest -- inthat way not long ago I mechanically read through in one night a whole novelwith the strange title "The Song the Lark was Singing"; or to occupymy attention I force myself to count to a thousand; or I imagine the face of oneof my colleagues and begin trying to remember in what year and under whatcircumstances he entered the service. I like listening to sounds. Two rooms awayfrom me my daughter Liza says something rapidly in her sleepor my wife crossesthe drawing-room with a candle and invariably drops the matchbox; or a warpedcupboard creaks; or the burner of the lamp suddenly begins to hum -- and allthese soundsfor some reasonexcite me.
To lie awake at night means to be at every moment conscious of beingabnormaland so I look forward with impatience to the morning and the day whenI have a right to be awake. Many wearisome hours pass before the cock crows inthe yard. He is my first bringer of good tidings. As soon as he crows I knowthat within an hour the porter will wake up belowandcoughing angrilywillgo upstairs to fetch something. And then a pale light will begin graduallyglimmering at the windowsvoices will sound in the street. . . .
The day begins for me with the entrance of my wife. She comes in to me in herpetticoatbefore she has done her hairbut after she has washedsmelling offlower-scented eau-de-Colognelooking as though she had come in by chance.Every time she says exactly the same thing: "Excuse meI have just come infor a minute. . . . Have you had a bad night again?"
Then she puts out the lampsits down near the tableand begins talking. Iam no prophetbut I know what she will talk about. Every morning it is exactlythe same thing. Usuallyafter anxious inquiries concerning my healthshesuddenly mentions our son who is an officer serving at Warsaw. After thetwentieth of each month we send him fifty roublesand that serves as the chieftopic of our conversation.
"Of course it is difficult for us" my wife would sigh"butuntil he is completely on his own feet it is our duty to help him. The boy isamong strangershis pay is small. . . . Howeverif you likenext month wewon't send him fiftybut forty. What do you think?"
Daily experience might have taught my wife that constantly talking of ourexpenses does not reduce thembut my wife refuses to learn by experienceandregularly every morning discusses our officer sonand tells me that breadthank Godis cheaperwhile sugar is a halfpenny dearer -- with a tone and anair as though she were communicating interesting news.
I listenmechanically assentand probably because I have had a bad nightstrange and inappropriate thoughts intrude themselves upon me. I gaze at my wifeand wonder like a child. I ask myself in perplexityis it possible that thisoldvery stoutungainly womanwith her dull expression of petty anxiety andalarm about daily breadwith eyes dimmed by continual brooding over debts andmoney difficultieswho can talk of nothing but expenses and who smiles atnothing but things getting cheaper -- is it possible that this woman is no otherthan the slender Varya whom I fell in love with so passionately for her fineclear intelligencefor her pure soulher beautyandas Othello hisDesdemonafor her "sympathy" for my studies? Could that woman be noother than the Varya who had once borne me a son?
I look with strained attention into the face of this flabbyspiritlessclumsy old womanseeking in her my Varyabut of her past self nothing is leftbut her anxiety over my health and her manner of calling my salary "oursalary" and my cap "our cap." It is painful for me to look atherandto give her what little comfort I canI let her say what she likesand say nothing even when she passes unjust criticisms on other people orpitches into me for not having a private practice or not publishing text-books.
Our conversation always ends in the same way. My wife suddenly remembers withdismay that I have not had my tea.
"What am I thinking aboutsitting here?" she saysgetting up."The samovar has been on the table ever so longand here I stay gossiping.My goodness! how forgetful I am growing!"
She goes out quicklyand stops in the doorway to say:
"We owe Yegor five months' wages. Did you know it? You mustn't let theservants' wages run on; how many times I have said it! It's much easier to payten roubles a month than fifty roubles every five months!"
As she goes outshe stops to say:
"The person I am sorriest for is our Liza. The girl studies at theConservatoirealways mixes with people of good positionand goodness knows howshe is dressed. Her fur coat is in such a state she is ashamed to show herselfin the street. If she were somebody else's daughter it wouldn't matterbut ofcourse every one knows that her father is a distinguished professora privycouncillor."
And having reproached me with my rank and reputationshe goes away at last.That is how my day begins. It does not improve as it goes on.
As I am drinking my teamy Liza comes in wearing her fur coat and her capwith her music in her handalready quite ready to go to the Conservatoire. Sheis two-and-twenty. She looks youngeris prettyand rather like my wife in heryoung days. She kisses me tenderly on my forehead and on my handand says:
"Good-morningpapa; are you quite well?"
As a child she was very fond of ice-creamand I used often to take her to aconfectioner's. Ice-cream was for her the type of everything delightful. If shewanted to praise me she would say: "You are as nice as creampapa."We used to call one of her little fingers "pistachio ice" the next"cream ice" the third "raspberry" and so on. Usually whenshe came in to say good-morning to me I used to sit her on my kneekiss herlittle fingersand say:
"Creamy ice . . . pistachio . . . lemon. . . ."
And nowfrom old habitI kiss Liza's fingers and mutter: "Pistachio .. . cream . . . lemon. . ." but the effect is utterly different. I am coldas ice and I am ashamed. When my daughter comes in to me and touches my foreheadwith her lips I start as though a bee had stung me on the headgive a forcedsmileand turn my face away. Ever since I have been suffering fromsleeplessnessa question sticks in my brain like a nail. My daughter often seesmean old man and a distinguished manblush painfully at being in debt to myfootman; she sees how often anxiety over petty debts forces me to lay aside mywork and to walk u p and down the room for hours togetherthinking; but why isit she never comes to me in secret to whisper in my ear: "Fatherhere ismy watchhere are my braceletsmy earringsmy dresses. . . . Pawn them all;you want money . . ."? How is it thatseeing how her mother and I areplaced in a false position and do our utmost to hide our poverty from peopleshe does not give up her expensive pleasure of music lessons? I would not accepther watch nor her braceletsnor the sacrifice of her lessons -- God forbid!That isn't what I want.
I think at the same time of my sonthe officer at Warsaw. He is a cleverhonestand sober fellow. But that is not enough for me. I think if I had an oldfatherand if I knew there were moments when he was put to shame by hispovertyI should give up my officer's commission to somebody elseand shouldgo out to earn my living as a workman. Such thoughts about my children poisonme. What is the use of them? It is only a narrow-minded or embittered man whocan harbour evil thoughts about ordinary people because they are not heroes. Butenough of that!
At a quarter to ten I have to go and give a lecture to my dear boys. I dressand walk along the road which I have known for thirty yearsand which has itshistory for me. Here is the big grey house with the chemist's shop; at thispoint there used to stand a little houseand in it was a beershop; in thatbeershop I thought out my thesis and wrote my first love-letter to Varya. Iwrote it in pencilon a page headed "Historia morbi." Here there is agrocer's shop; at one time it was kept by a little Jewwho sold me cigaretteson credit; then by a fat peasant womanwho liked the students because"every one of them has a mother"; now there is a red-haired shopkeepersitting in ita very stolid man who drinks tea from a copper teapot. And hereare the gloomy gates of the Universitywhich have long needed doing up; I seethe bored porter in his sheep-skinthe broomthe drifts of snow. . . . On aboy coming fresh from the provinces and imagining that the temple of sciencemust really be a templesuch gates cannot make a healthy impression. Altogetherthe dilapidated condition of the University buildingsthe gloominess of thecorridorsthe griminess of the wallsthe lack of lightthe dejected aspect ofthe stepsthe hat-stands and the benchestake a prominent position amongpredisposing causes in the history of Russian pessimism. . . . Here is ourgarden . . . I fancy it has grown neither better nor worse since I was astudent. I don't like it. It would be far more sensible if there were tall pinesand fine oaks growing here instead of sickly-looking lime-treesyellow acaciasand skimpy pollard lilacs. The student whose state of mind is in the majority ofcases created by his surroundingsought in the place where he is studying tosee facing him at every turn nothing but what is loftystrong and elegant. . .. God preserve him from gaunt treesbroken windowsgrey wallsand doorscovered with torn American leather!
When I go to my own entrance the door is flung wide openand I am met by mycolleaguecontemporaryand namesakethe porter Nikolay. As he lets me in heclears his throat and says:
"A frostyour Excellency!"
Orif my great-coat is wet:
Then he runs on ahead of me and opens all the doors on my way. In my study hecarefully takes off my fur coatand while doing so manages to tell me some bitof University news. Thanks to the close intimacy existing between all theUniversity porters and beadleshe knows everything that goes on in the fourfacultiesin the officein the rector's private roomin the library. Whatdoes he not know? When in an evil day a rector or deanfor instanceretiresIhear him in conversation with the young porters mention the candidates for thepostexplain that such a one would not be confirmed by the ministerthatanother would himself refuse to accept itthen drop into fantastic detailsconcerning mysterious papers received in the officesecret conversationsalleged to have taken place between the minister and the trusteeand so on.With the exception of these detailshe almost always turns out to be right. Hisestimates of the candidatesthough originalare very correcttoo. If onewants to know in what year some one read his thesisentered the serviceretiredor diedthen summon to your assistance the vast memory of thatsoldierand he will not only tell you the yearthe month and the daybut willfurnish you also with the details that accompanied this or that event. Only onewho loves can remember like that.
He is the guardian of the University traditions. From the porters who werehis predecessors he has inherited many legends of University lifehas added tothat wealth much of his own gained during his time of serviceand if you careto hear he will tell you many long and intimate stories. He can tell one aboutextraordinary sages who knew _everything_about remarkable students who did notsleep for weeksabout numerous martyrs and victims of science; with him goodtriumphs over evilthe weak always vanquishes the strongthe wise man thefoolthe humble the proudthe young the old. There is no need to take allthese fables and legends for sterling coin; but filter themand you will haveleft what is wanted: our fine traditions and the names of real heroesrecognized as such by all.
In our society the knowledge of the learned world consists of anecdotes ofthe extraordinary absentmindedness of certain old professorsand two or threewitticisms variously ascribed to Gruberto meand to Babukin. For the educatedpublic that is not much. If it loved sciencelearned menand studentsasNikolay doesits literature would long ago have contained whole epicsrecordsof sayings and doings such asunfortunatelyit cannot boast of now.
After telling me a piece of newsNikolay assumes a severe expressionandconversation about business begins. If any outsider could at such times overhearNikolay's free use of our terminologyhe might perhaps imagine that he was alearned man disguised as a soldier. Andby the waythe rumours of theerudition of the University porters are greatly exaggerated. It is true thatNikolay knows more than a hundred Latin wordsknows how to put the skeletontogethersometimes prepares the apparatus and amuses the students by some longlearned quotationbut the by no means complicated theory of the circulation ofthe bloodfor instanceis as much a mystery to him now as it was twenty yearsago.
At the table in my studybending low over some book or preparationsitsPyotr Ignatyevitchmy demonstratora modest and industrious but by no meansclever man of five-and-thirtyalready bald and corpulent; he works from morningto nightreads a lotremembers well everything he has read -- and in that wayhe is not a manbut pure gold; in all else he is a carthorse orin otherwordsa learned dullard. The carthorse characteristics that show his lack oftalent are these: his outlook is narrow and sharply limited by his specialty;outside his special branch he is simple as a child.
"Fancy! what a misfortune! They say Skobelev is dead."
Nikolay crosses himselfbut Pyotr Ignatyevitch turns to me and asks:
"What Skobelev is that?"
Another time -- somewhat earlier -- I told him that Professor Perov was dead.Good Pyotr Ignatyevitch asked:
"What did he lecture on?"
I believe if Patti had sung in his very earif a horde of Chinese hadinvaded Russiaif there had been an earthquakehe would not have stirred alimbbut screwing up his eyewould have gone on calmly looking through hismicroscope. What is he to Hecuba or Hecuba to himin fact? I would give a gooddeal to see how this dry stick sleeps with his wife at night.
Another characteristic is his fanatical faith in the infallibility ofscienceandabove allof everything written by the Germans. He believes inhimselfin his preparations; knows the object of lifeand knows nothing of thedoubts and disappointments that turn the hair o f talent grey. He has a slavishreverence for authorities and a complete lack of any desire for independentthought. To change his convictions is difficultto argue with him impossible.How is one to argue with a man who is firmly persuaded that medicine is thefinest of sciencesthat doctors are the best of menand that the traditions ofthe medical profession are superior to those of any other? Of the evil past ofmedicine only one tradition has been preserved -- the white tie still worn bydoctors; for a learned -- in factfor any educated man the only traditions thatcan exist are those of the University as a wholewith no distinction betweenmedicinelawetc. But it would be hard for Pyotr Ignatyevitch to accept thesefactsand he is ready to argue with you till the day of judgment.
I have a clear picture in my mind of his future. In the course of his life hewill prepare many hundreds of chemicals of exceptional purity; he will write anumber of dry and very accurate memorandawill make some dozen conscientioustranslationsbut he won't do anything striking. To do that one must haveimaginationinventivenessthe gift of insightand Pyotr Ignatyevitch hasnothing of the kind. In shorthe is not a master in sciencebut a journeyman.
Pyotr IgnatyevitchNikolayand Italk in subdued tones. We are not quiteourselves. There is always a peculiar feeling when one hears through the doors amurmur as of the sea from the lecture-theatre. In the course of thirty years Ihave not grown accustomed to this feelingand I experience it every morning. Inervously button up my coatask Nikolay unnecessary questionslose my temper.. . . It is just as though I were frightened; it is not timiditythoughbutsomething different which I can neither describe nor find a name for.
Quite unnecessarilyI look at my watch and say: "Wellit's time to goin."
And we march into the room in the following order: foremost goes Nikolaywith the chemicals and apparatus or with a chart; after him I come; and then thecarthorse follows humblywith hanging head; orwhen necessarya dead body iscarried in first on a stretcherfollowed by Nikolayand so on. On my entrancethe students all stand upthen they sit downand the sound as of the sea issuddenly hushed. Stillness reigns.
I know what I am going to lecture aboutbut I don't know how I am going tolecturewhere I am going to begin or with what I am going to end. I haven't asingle sentence ready in my head. But I have only to look round the lecture-hall(it is built in the form of an amphitheatre) and utter the stereotyped phrase"Last lecture we stopped at . . ." when sentences spring up from mysoul in a long stringand I am carried away by my own eloquence. I speak withirresistible rapidity and passionand it seems as though there were no forcewhich could check the flow of my words. To lecture well -- that iswith profitto the listeners and without boring them -- one must havebesides talentexperience and a special knack; one must possess a clear conception of one's ownpowersof the audience to which one is lecturingand of the subject of one'slecture. Moreoverone must be a man who knows what he is doing; one must keep asharp lookoutand not for one second lose sight of what lies before one.
A good conductorinterpreting the thought of the composerdoes twentythings at once: reads the scorewaves his batonwatches the singermakes amotion sidewaysfirst to the drum then to the wind-instrumentsand so on. I dojust the same when I lecture. Before me a hundred and fifty facesall unlikeone another; three hundred eyes all looking straight into my face. My object isto dominate this many-headed monster. If every moment as I lecture I have aclear vision of the degree of its attention and its power of comprehensionitis in my power. The other foe I have to overcome is in myself. It is theinfinite variety of formsphenomenalawsand the multitude of ideas of my ownand other people's conditioned by them. Every moment I must have the skill tosnatch out of that vast mass of material what is most important and necessaryandas rapidly as my words flowclothe my thought in a form in which it can begrasped by the monster's intelligenceand may arouse its attentionand at thesame time one must keep a sharp lookout that one's thoughts are conveyednotjust as they comebut in a certain orderessential for the correct compositionof the picture I wish to sketch. FurtherI endeavour to make my dictionliterarymy definitions brief and precisemy wordingas far as possiblesimple and eloquent. Every minute I have to pull myself up and remember that Ihave only an hour and forty minutes at my disposal. In shortone has one's workcut out. At one and the same minute one has to play the part of savant andteacher and oratorand it's a bad thing if the orator gets the upper hand ofthe savant or of the teacher in oneor _vice versa_.
You lecture for a quarter of an hourfor half an hourwhen you notice thatthe students are beginning to look at the ceilingat Pyotr Ignatyevitch; one isfeeling for his handkerchiefanother shifts in his seatanother smiles at histhoughts. . . . That means that their attention is flagging. Something must bedone. Taking advantage of the first opportunityI make some pun. A broad grincomes on to a hundred and fifty facesthe eyes shine brightlythe sound of thesea is audible for a brief moment. . . . I laugh too. Their attention isrefreshedand I can go on.
No kind of sportno kind of game or diversionhas ever given me suchenjoyment as lecturing. Only at lectures have I been able to abandon myselfentirely to passionand have understood that inspiration is not an invention ofthe poetsbut exists in real lifeand I imagine Hercules after the mostpiquant of his exploits felt just such voluptuous exhaustion as I experienceafter every lecture.
That was in old times. Now at lectures I feel nothing but torture. Beforehalf an hour is over I am conscious of an overwhelming weakness in my legs andmy shoulders. I sit down in my chairbut I am not accustomed to lecture sittingdown; a minute later I get up and go on standingthen sit down again. There isa dryness in my mouthmy voice grows huskymy head begins to go round. . . .To conceal my condition from my audience I continually drink watercoughoftenblow my nose as though I were hindered by a coldmake puns inappropriatelyandin the end break off earlier than I ought to. But above all I am ashamed.
My conscience and my intelligence tell me that the very best thing I could donow would be to deliver a farewell lecture to the boysto say my last word tothemto bless themand give up my post to a man younger and stronger than me.ButGodbe my judgeI have not manly courage enough to act according to myconscience.
UnfortunatelyI am not a philosopher and not a theologian. I know perfectlywell that I cannot live more than another six months; it might be supposed thatI ought now to be chiefly concerned with the question of the shadowy life beyondthe graveand the visions that will visit my slumbers in the tomb. But for somereason my soul refuses to recognize these questionsthough my mind is fullyalive to their importance. Just as twentythirty years agoso nowon thethreshold of deathI am interested in nothing but science. As I yield up mylast breath I shall still believe that science is the most importantthe mostsplendidthe most essential thing in the life of man; that it always has beenand will be the highest manifestation of loveand that only by means of it willman conquer himself and nature. This faith is perhaps naive and may rest onfalse assumptionsbut it is not my fault that I believe that and nothing else;I cannot overcome in myself this belief.
But that is not the point. I only ask people to be indulgent to my weaknessand to realize that to tear from the lecture-theatre and his pupils a man who ismore interested in the history of the development of the bone medulla than inthe final object of creation would be equivalent to taking him and nailing himup in his coffin without waiting for him to be dead.
Sleeplessness and the consequent strain of combating increasing weaknessleads to something strange in me. In the middle of my lecture tears suddenlyrise in my throatmy eyes begin to smartand I feel a passionatehystericaldesire to stretch out my hands before me and break into loud lamentation. I wantto cry out in a loud voice that Ia famous manhave been sentenced by fate tothe death penaltythat within some six months another man will be in controlhere in the lecture-theatre. I want to shriek that I am poisoned; new ideas suchas I have not known before have poisoned the last days of my lifeand are stillstinging my brain like mosquitoes. And at that moment my position seems to me soawful that I want all my listeners to be horrifiedto leap up from their seatsand to rush in panic terrorwith desperate screamsto the exit.
It is not easy to get through such moments.
After my lecture I sit at home and work. I read journals and monographsorprepare my next lecture; sometimes I write something. I work with interruptionsas I have from time to time to see visitors.
There is a ring at the bell. It is a colleague come to discuss some businessmatter with me. He comes in to me with his hat and his stickandholding outboth these objects to mesays:
"Only for a minute! Only for a minute! Sit down_collega_! Only acouple of words."
To begin withwe both try to show each other that we are extraordinarilypolite and highly delighted to see each other. I make him sit down in aneasy-chairand he makes me sit down; as we do sowe cautiously pat each otheron the backtouch each other's buttonsand it looks as though we were feelingeach other and afraid of scorching our fingers. Both of us laughthough we saynothing amusing. When we are seated we bow our heads towards each other andbegin talking in subdued voices. However affectionately disposed we may be toone anotherwe cannot help adorning our conversation with all sorts of Chinesemannerismssuch as "As you so justly observed" or "I havealready had the honour to inform you"; we cannot help laughing if one of usmakes a jokehowever unsuccessfully. When we have finished with business mycolleague gets up impulsively andwaving his hat in the direction of my workbegins to say good-bye. Again we paw one another and laugh. I see him into thehall; when I assist my colleague to put on his coatwhile he does all he can todecline this high honour. Then when Yegor opens the door my colleague declaresthat I shall catch coldwhile I make a show of being ready to go even into thestreet with him. And when at last I go back into my study my face still goes onsmilingI suppose from inertia.
A little later another ring at the bell. Somebody comes into the halland isa long time coughing and taking off his things. Yegor announces a student. Itell him to ask him in. A minute later a young man of agreeable appearance comesin. For the last year he and I have been on strained relations; he answers medisgracefully at the examinationsand I mark him one. Every year I have someseven such hopefuls whomto express it in the students' slangI"chivy" or "floor." Those of them who fail in theirexamination through incapacity or illness usually bear their cross patiently anddo not haggle with me; those who come to the house and haggle with me are alwaysyouths of sanguine temperamentbroad natureswhose failure at examinationsspoils their appetites and hinders them from visiting the opera with their usualregularity. I let the first class off easilybut the second I chivy through awhole year.
"Sit down" I say to my visitor; "what have you to tellme?"
"Excuse meprofessorfor troubling you" he beginshesitatingand not looking me in the face. "I would not have ventured to trouble youif it had not been . . . I have been up for your examination five timesandhave been ploughed. . . . I beg yoube so good as to mark me for a passbecause . . ."
The argument which all the sluggards bring forward on their own behalf isalways the same; they have passed well in all their subjects and have only cometo grief in mineand that is the more surprising because they have always beenparticularly interested in my subject and knew it so well; their failure hasalways been entirely owing to some incomprehensible misunderstanding.
"Excuse memy friend" I say to the visitor; "I cannot markyou for a pass. Go and read up the lectures and come to me again. Then we shallsee."
A pause. I feel an impulse to torment the student a little for liking beerand the opera better than scienceand I saywith a sigh:
"To my mindthe best thing you can do now is to give up medicinealtogether. Ifwith your abilitiesyou cannot succeed in passing theexaminationit's evident that you have neither the desire nor the vocation fora doctor's calling."
The sanguine youth's face lengthens.
"Excuse meprofessor" he laughs"but that would be odd ofmeto say the least of it. After studying for five yearsall at once to giveit up."
"Ohwell! Better to have lost your five years than have to spend therest of your life in doing work you do not care for."
But at once I feel sorry for himand I hasten to add:
"Howeveras you think best. And so read a little more and comeagain."
"When?" the idle youth asks in a hollow voice.
"When you like. Tomorrow if you like."
And in his good-natured eyes I read:
"I can come all rightbut of course you will plough me againyoubeast!"
"Of course" I say"you won't know more science for going infor my examination another fifteen timesbut it is training your characterandyou must be thankful for that."
Silence follows. I get up and wait for my visitor to gobut he stands andlooks towards the windowfingers his beardand thinks. It grows boring.
The sanguine youth's voice is pleasant and mellowhis eyes are clever andironicalhis face is genialthough a little bloated from frequent indulgencein beer and overlong lying on the sofa; he looks as though he could tell me alot of interesting things about the operaabout his affairs of the heartandabout comrades whom he likes. Unluckilyit is not the thing to discuss thesesubjectsor else I should have been glad to listen to him.
"ProfessorI give you my word of honour that if you mark me for a passI . . . I'll . . ."
As soon as we reach the "word of honour" I wave my hands and sitdown to the table. The student ponders a minute longerand says dejectedly:
"In that casegood-bye. . . I beg your pardon."
"Good-byemy friend. Good luck to you."
He goes irresolutely into the hallslowly puts on his outdoor thingsandgoing out into the streetprobably ponders for some time longer; unable tothink of anythingexcept "old devil" inwardly addressed to mehegoes into a wretched restaurant to dine and drink beerand then home to bed."Peace be to thy asheshonest toiler."
A third ring at the bell. A young doctorin a pair of new black trousersgold spectaclesand of course a white tiewalks in. He introduces himself. Ibeg him to be seatedand ask what I can do for him. Not without emotiontheyoung devotee of science begins telling me that he has passed his examination asa doctor of medicineand that he has now only to write his dissertation. Hewould like to work with me under my guidanceand he would be greatly obliged tome if I would give him a subject for his dissertation.
"Very glad to be of use to youcolleague" I say"but justlet us come to an understanding as to the meaning of a dissertation. That wordis taken to mean a composition which is a product of independent creativeeffort. Is that not so? A work written on another man's subject and underanother man's guidance is called something different. . . ."
The doctor says nothing. I fly into a rage and jump up from my seat.
"Why is it you all come to me?" I cry angrily. "Do I keep ashop? I don't deal in subjects. For the tho usand and oneth time I ask you allto leave me in peace! Excuse my brutalitybut I am quite sick of it!"
The doctor remains silentbut a faint flush is apparent on his cheek-bones.His face expresses a profound reverence for my fame and my learningbut fromhis eyes I can see he feels a contempt for my voicemy pitiful figureand mynervous gesticulation. I impress him in my anger as a queer fish.
"I don't keep a shop" I go on angrily. "And it is a strangething! Why don't you want to be independent? Why have you such a distaste forindependence?"
I say a great dealbut he still remains silent. By degrees I calm downandof course give in. The doctor gets a subject from me for his theme not worth ahalfpennywrites under my supervision a dissertation of no use to any onewithdignity defends it in a dreary discussionand receives a degree of no use tohim.
The rings at the bell may follow one another endlesslybut I will confine mydescription here to four of them. The bell rings for the fourth timeand I hearfamiliar footstepsthe rustle of a dressa dear voice. . . .
Eighteen years ago a colleague of minean oculistdied leaving a littledaughter Katyaa child of sevenand sixty thousand roubles. In his will hemade me the child's guardian. Till she was ten years old Katya lived with us asone of the familythen she was sent to a boarding-schooland only spent thesummer holidays with us. I never had time to look after her education. I onlysuperintended it at leisure momentsand so I can say very little about herchildhood.
The first thing I rememberand like so much in remembranceis theextraordinary trustfulness with which she came into our house and let herself betreated by the doctorsa trustfulness which was always shining in her littleface. She would sit somewhere out of the waywith her face tied upinvariablywatching something with attention; whether she watched me writing or turningover the pages of a bookor watched my wife bustling aboutor the cookscrubbing a potato in the kitchenor the dog playingher eyes invariablyexpressed the same thought -- that is"Everything that is done in thisworld is nice and sensible." She was curiousand very fond of talking tome. Sometimes she would sit at the table opposite mewatching my movements andasking questions. It interested her to know what I was readingwhat I did atthe Universitywhether I was not afraid of the dead bodieswhat I did with mysalary.
"Do the students fight at the University?" she would ask.
"And do you make them go down on their knees?"
And she thought it funny that the students fought and I made them go down ontheir kneesand she laughed. She was a gentlepatientgood child. It happenednot infrequently that I saw something taken away from hersaw her punishedwithout reasonor her curiosity repressed; at such times a look of sadness wasmixed with the invariable expression of trustfulness on her face -- that wasall. I did not know how to take her part; only when I saw her sad I had aninclination to draw her to me and to commiserate her like some old nurse:"My poor little orphan one!"
I remembertoothat she was fond of fine clothes and of sprinkling herselfwith scent. In that respect she was like me. Itooam fond of pretty clothesand nice scent.
I regret that I had not time nor inclination to watch over the rise anddevelopment of the passion which took complete possession of Katya when she wasfourteen or fifteen. I mean her passionate love for the theatre. When she usedto come from boarding-school and stay with us for the summer holidaysshetalked of nothing with such pleasure and such warmth as of plays and actors. Shebored us with her continual talk of the theatre. My wife and children would notlisten to her. I was the only one who had not the courage to refuse to attend toher. When she had a longing to share her transportsshe used to come into mystudy and say in an imploring tone:
"Nikolay Stepanovitchdo let me talk to you about the theatre!"
I pointed to the clockand said:
"I'll give you half an hour -- begin."
Later on she used to bring with her dozens of portraits of actors andactresses which she worshipped; then she attempted several times to take part inprivate theatricalsand the upshot of it all was that when she left school shecame to me and announced that she was born to be an actress.
I had never shared Katya's inclinations for the theatre. To my mindif aplay is good there is no need to trouble the actors in order that it may makethe right impression; it is enough to read it. If the play is poorno actingwill make it good.
In my youth I often visited the theatreand now my family takes a box twicea year and carries me off for a little distraction. Of coursethat is notenough to give me the right to judge of the theatre. In my opinion the theatrehas become no better than it was thirty or forty years ago. Just as in the pastI can never find a glass of clean water in the corridors or foyers of thetheatre. Just as in the pastthe attendants fine me twenty kopecks for my furcoatthough there is nothing reprehensible in wearing a warm coat in winter. Asin the pastfor no sort of reasonmusic is played in the intervalswhich addssomething new and uncalled-for to the impression made by the play. As in thepastmen go in the intervals and drink spirits in the buffet. If no progresscan be seen in triflesI should look for it in vain in what is more important.When an actor wrapped from head to foot in stage traditions and conventionstries to recite a simple ordinary speech"To be or not to be" notsimplybut invariably with the accompaniment of hissing and convulsivemovements all over his bodyor when he tries to convince me at all costs thatTchatskywho talks so much with fools and is so fond of follyis a very clevermanand that "Woe from Wit" is not a dull playthe stage gives methe same feeling of conventionality which bored me so much forty years ago whenI was regaled with the classical howling and beating on the breast. And everytime I come out of the theatre more conservative than I go in.
The sentimental and confiding public may be persuaded that the stageeven inits present formis a school; but any one who is familiar with a school in itstrue sense will not be caught with that bait. I cannot say what will happen infifty or a hundred yearsbut in its actual condition the theatre can serve onlyas an entertainment. But this entertainment is too costly to be frequentlyenjoyed. It robs the state of thousands of healthy and talented young men andwomenwhoif they had not devoted themselves to the theatremight have beengood doctorsfarmersschoolmistressesofficers; it robs the public of theevening hours -- the best time for intellectual work and social intercourse. Isay nothing of the waste of money and the moral damage to the spectator when hesees murderfornicationor false witness unsuitably treated on the stage.
Katya was of an entirely different opinion. She assured me that the theatreeven in its present conditionwas superior to the lecture-hallto booksor toanything in the world. The stage was a power that united in itself all the artsand actors were missionaries. No art nor science was capable of producing sostrong and so certain an effect on the soul of man as the stageand it was withgood reason that an actor of medium quality enjoys greater popularity than thegreatest savant or artist. And no sort of public service could provide suchenjoyment and gratification as the theatre.
And one fine day Katya joined a troupe of actorsand went offI believe toUfataking away with her a good supply of moneya store of rainbow hopesandthe most aristocratic views of her work.
Her first letters on the journey were marvellous. I read themand was simplyamazed that those small sheets of paper could contain so much youthpurity ofspiritholy innocenceand at the same time subtle and apt judgments whichwould have done credit to a fine mas culine intellect. It was more like arapturous paean of praise she sent me than a mere description of the Volgathecountrythe towns she visitedher companionsher failures and successes;every sentence was fragrant with that confiding trustfulness I was accustomed toread in her face -- and at the same time there were a great many grammaticalmistakesand there was scarcely any punctuation at all.
Before six months had passed I received a highly poetical and enthusiasticletter beginning with the words"I have come to love . . ." Thisletter was accompanied by a photograph representing a young man with a shavenfacea wide-brimmed hatand a plaid flung over his shoulder. The letters thatfollowed were as splendid as beforebut now commas and stops made theirappearance in themthe grammatical mistakes disappearedand there was adistinctly masculine flavour about them. Katya began writing to me how splendidit would be to build a great theatre somewhere on the Volgaon a cooperativesystemand to attract to the enterprise the rich merchants and the steamerowners; there would be a great deal of money in it; there would be vastaudiences; the actors would play on co-operative terms. . . . Possibly all thiswas really excellentbut it seemed to me that such schemes could only originatefrom a man's mind.
However that may have beenfor a year and a half everything seemed to gowell: Katya was in lovebelieved in her workand was happy; but then I beganto notice in her letters unmistakable signs of falling off. It began withKatya's complaining of her companions -- this was the first and most ominoussymptom; if a young scientific or literary man begins his career with bittercomplaints of scientific and literary menit is a sure sign that he is worn outand not fit for his work. Katya wrote to me that her companions did not attendthe rehearsals and never knew their parts; that one could see in every one ofthem an utter disrespect for the public in the production of absurd playsandin their behaviour on the stage; that for the benefit of the Actors' Fundwhichthey only talked aboutactresses of the serious drama demeaned themselves bysinging chansonetteswhile tragic actors sang comic songs making fun ofdeceived husbands and the pregnant condition of unfaithful wivesand so on. Infactit was amazing that all this had not yet ruined the provincial stageandthat it could still maintain itself on such a rotten and unsubstantial footing.
In answer I wrote Katya a long andI must confessa very boring letter.Among other thingsI wrote to her:
"I have more than once happened to converse with old actorsvery worthymenwho showed a friendly disposition towards me; from my conversations withthem I could understand that their work was controlled not so much by their ownintelligence and free choice as by fashion and the mood of the public. The bestof them had had to play in their day in tragedyin operettain Parisianfarcesand in extravaganzasand they always seemed equally sure that they wereon the right path and that they were of use. Soas you seethe cause of theevil must be soughtnot in the actorsbutmore deeplyin the art itself andin the attitude of the whole of society to it."
This letter of mine only irritated Katya. She answered me:
"You and I are singing parts out of different operas. I wrote to younot of the worthy men who showed a friendly disposition to youbut of a band ofknaves who have nothing worthy about them. They are a horde of savages who havegot on the stage simply because no one would have taken them elsewhereand whocall themselves artists simply because they are impudent. There are numbers ofdull-witted creaturesdrunkardsintriguing schemers and slanderersbut thereis not one person of talent among them. I cannot tell you how bitter it is to methat the art I love has fallen into the hands of people I detest; how bitter itis that the best men look on at evil from afarnot caring to come closerandinstead of interveningwrite ponderous commonplaces and utterly uselesssermons. . . ." And so onall in the same style.
A little time passedand I got this letter: "I have been brutallydeceived. I cannot go on living. Dispose of my money as you think best. I lovedyou as my father and my only friend. Good-bye."
It turned out that _he_toobelonged to the "horde of savages."Later onfrom certain hintsI gathered that there had been an attempt atsuicide. I believe Katya tried to poison herself. I imagine that she must havebeen seriously ill afterwardsas the next letter I got was from Yaltawhereshe had most probably been sent by the doctors. Her last letter contained arequest to send her a thousand roubles to Yalta as quickly as possibleandended with these words:
"Excuse the gloominess of this letter; yesterday I buried mychild." After spending about a year in the Crimeashe returned home.
She had been about four years on her travelsand during those four yearsImust confessI had played a rather strange and unenviable part in regard toher. When in earlier days she had told me she was going on the stageand thenwrote to me of her love; when she was periodically overcome by extravaganceandI continually had to send her first one and then two thousand roubles; when shewrote to me of her intention of suicideand then of the death of her babyevery time I lost my headand all my sympathy for her sufferings found noexpression except thatafter prolonged reflectionI wrote longboring letterswhich I might just as well not have written. And yet I took a father's placewith her and loved her like a daughter!
Now Katya is living less than half a mile off. She has taken a flat of fiveroomsand has installed herself fairly comfortably and in the taste of the day.If any one were to undertake to describe her surroundingsthe mostcharacteristic note in the picture would be indolence. For the indolent bodythere are soft loungessoft stools; for indolent feet soft rugs; for indolenteyes fadeddingyor flat colours; for the indolent soul the walls are hungwith a number of cheap fans and trivial picturesin which the originality ofthe execution is more conspicuous than the subject; and the room contains amultitude of little tables and shelves filled with utterly useless articles ofno valueand shapeless rags in place of curtains. . . . All thistogether withthe dread of bright coloursof symmetryand of empty spacebears witness notonly to spiritual indolencebut also to a corruption of natural taste. For daystogether Katya lies on the lounge readingprincipally novels and stories. Sheonly goes out of the house once a dayin the afternoonto see me.
I go on working while Katya sits silent not far from me on the sofawrappingherself in her shawlas though she were cold. Either because I find hersympathetic or because I was used to her frequent visits when she was a littlegirlher presence does not prevent me from concentrating my attention. Fromtime to time I mechanically ask her some question; she gives very brief replies;orto rest for a minuteI turn round and watch her as she looks dreamily atsome medical journal or review. And at such moments I notice that her face haslost the old look of confiding trustfulness. Her expression now is coldapatheticand absent-mindedlike that of passengers who had to wait too longfor a train. She is dressedas in old dayssimply and beautifullybutcarelessly; her dress and her hair show visible traces of the sofas androcking-chairs in which she spends whole days at a stretch. And she has lost thecuriosity she had in old days. She has ceased to ask me questions nowas thoughshe had experienced everything in life and looked for nothing new from it.
Towards four o'clock there begins to be sounds of movement in the hall and inthe drawing-room. Liza has come back from the Conservatoireand has broughtsome girl-friends in with her. We hear them playing on the pianotrying theirvoices and laughing; in the dining-room Yegor is laying th e tablewith theclatter of crockery.
"Good-bye" said Katya. "I won't go in and see your peopletoday. They must excuse me. I haven't time. Come and see me."
While I am seeing her to the doorshe looks me up and down grimlyand sayswith vexation:
"You are getting thinner and thinner! Why don't you consult a doctor?I'll call at Sergey Fyodorovitch's and ask him to have a look at you."
"There's no needKatya."
"I can't think where your people's eyes are! They are a nice lotI mustsay!"
She puts on her fur coat abruptlyand as she does so two or three hairpinsdrop unnoticed on the floor from her carelessly arranged hair. She is too lazyand in too great a hurry to do her hair up; she carelessly stuffs the fallingcurls under her hatand goes away.
When I go into the dining-room my wife asks me:
"Was Katya with you just now? Why didn't she come in to see us? It'sreally strange . . . ."
"Mamma" Liza says to her reproachfully"let her aloneifshe doesn't want to. We are not going down on our knees to her."
"It's very neglectfulanyway. To sit for three hours in the studywithout remembering our existence! But of course she must do as she likes."
Varya and Liza both hate Katya. This hatred is beyond my comprehensionandprobably one would have to be a woman in order to understand it. I am ready tostake my life that of the hundred and fifty young men I see every day in thelecture-theatreand of the hundred elderly ones I meet every weekhardly onecould be found capable of understanding their hatred and aversion for Katya'spast -- that isfor her having been a mother without being a wifeand for herhaving had an illegitimate child; and at the same time I cannot recall one womanor girl of my acquaintance who would not consciously or unconsciously harboursuch feelings. And this is not because woman is purer or more virtuous than man:whyvirtue and purity are not very different from vice if they are not freefrom evil feeling. I attribute this simply to the backwardness of woman. Themournful feeling of compassion and the pang of conscience experienced by amodern man at the sight of suffering isto my mindfar greater proof ofculture and moral elevation than hatred and aversion. Woman is as tearful and ascoarse in her feelings now as she was in the Middle Agesand to my thinkingthose who advise that she should be educated like a man are quite right.
My wife also dislikes Katya for having been an actressfor ingratitudeforpridefor eccentricityand for the numerous vices which one woman can alwaysfind in another.
Besides my wife and daughter and methere are dining with us two or three ofmy daughter's friends and Alexandr Adolfovitch Gnekkerher admirer and suitor.He is a fair-haired young man under thirtyof medium heightvery stout andbroad-shoulderedwith red whiskers near his earsand little waxed moustacheswhich make his plump smooth face look like a toy. He is dressed in a very shortreefer jacketa flowered waistcoatbreeches very full at the top and verynarrow at the anklewith a large check pattern on themand yellow bootswithout heels. He has prominent eyes like a crab'shis cravat is like a crab'sneckand I even fancy there is a smell of crab-soup about the young man's wholeperson. He visits us every daybut no one in my family knows anything of hisorigin nor of the place of his educationnor of his means of livelihood. Heneither plays nor singsbut has some connection with music and singingsellssomebody's pianos somewhereis frequently at the Conservatoireis acquaintedwith all the celebritiesand is a steward at the concerts; he criticizes musicwith great authorityand I have noticed that people are eager to agree withhim.
Rich people always have dependents hanging about them; the arts and scienceshave the same. I believe there is not an art nor a science in the world freefrom "foreign bodies" after the style of this Mr. Gnekker. I am not amusicianand possibly I am mistaken in regard to Mr. Gnekkerof whomindeedI know very little. But his air of authority and the dignity with which he takeshis stand beside the piano when any one is playing or singing strike me as verysuspicious.
You may be ever so much of a gentleman and a privy councillorbut if youhave a daughter you cannot be secure of immunity from that petty bourgeoisatmosphere which is so often brought into your house and into your mood by theattentions of suitorsby matchmaking and marriage. I can never reconcilemyselffor instanceto the expression of triumph on my wife's face every timeGnekker is in our companynor can I reconcile myself to the bottles of Lafitteport and sherry which are only brought out on his accountthat he may see withhis own eyes the liberal and luxurious way in which we live. I cannot toleratethe habit of spasmodic laughter Liza has picked up at the Conservatoireand herway of screwing up her eyes whenever there are men in the room. Above allIcannot understand why a creature utterly alien to my habitsmy studiesmywhole manner of lifecompletely different from the people I likeshould comeand see me every dayand every day should dine with me. My wife and my servantsmysteriously whisper that he is a suitorbut still I don't understand hispresence; it rouses in me the same wonder and perplexity as if they were to seta Zulu beside me at the table. And it seems strange to metoothat mydaughterwhom I am used to thinking of as a childshould love that cravatthose eyesthose soft cheeks. . . .
In the old days I used to like my dinneror at least was indifferent aboutit; now it excites in me no feeling but weariness and irritation. Ever since Ibecame an "Excellency" and one of the Deans of the Faculty my familyhas for some reason found it necessary to make a complete change in our menu anddining habits. Instead of the simple dishes to which I was accustomed when I wasa student and when I was in practicenow they feed me with a puree with littlewhite things like circles floating about in itand kidneys stewed in madeira.My rank as a general and my fame have robbed me for ever of cabbage-soup andsavoury piesand goose with apple-sauceand bream with boiled grain. They haverobbed me of our maid-servant Agashaa chatty and laughter-loving old womaninstead of whom Yegora dull-witted and conceited fellow with a white glove onhis right handwaits at dinner. The intervals between the courses are shortbut they seem immensely long because there is nothing to occupy them. There isnone of the gaiety of the old daysthe spontaneous talkthe jokesthelaughter; there is nothing of mutual affection and the joy which used to animatethe childrenmy wifeand me when in old days we met together at meals. For methe celebrated man of sciencedinner was a time of rest and reunionand for mywife and children a fete -- brief indeedbut bright and joyous -- in which theyknew that for half an hour I belongednot to sciencenot to studentsbut tothem alone. Our real exhilaration from one glass of wine is gone for evergoneis Agashagone the bream with boiled graingone the uproar that greeted everylittle startling incident at dinnersuch as the cat and dog fighting under thetableor Katya's bandage falling off her face into her soup-plate.
To describe our dinner nowadays is as uninteresting as to eat it. My wife'sface wears a look of triumph and affected dignityand her habitual expressionof anxiety. She looks at our plates and says"I see you don't care for thejoint. Tell me; you don't like itdo you?" and I am obliged to answer:"There is no need for you to troublemy dear; the meat is very nice."And she will say: "You always stand up for meNikolay Stepanovitchandyou never tell the truth. Why is Alexandr Adolfovitch eating so little?"And so on in the same style all through dinner. Liza laughs spasmodically andscrews up her eyes. I watch them bothand it is only now at dinner that itbecomes absolutely evident to me that the inner life of these two has slippedaway out of my ken. I have a feeling as though I had once lived at home with areal wife and children and that now I am dining with visitorsin the house of asham wife who is not the real oneand am looking at a Liza who is not the realLiza. A startling change has taken place in both of them; I have missed the longprocess by which that change was effectedand it is no wonder that I can makenothing of it. Why did that change take place? I don't know. Perhaps the wholetrouble is that God has not given my wife and daughter the same strength ofcharacter as me. From childhood I have been accustomed to resisting externalinfluencesand have steeled myself pretty thoroughly. Such catastrophes in lifeas famethe rank of a generalthe transition from comfort to living beyond ourmeansacquaintance with celebritiesetc.have scarcely affected meand Ihave remained intact and unashamed; but on my wife and Lizawho have not beenthrough the same hardening process and are weakall this has fallen like anavalanche of snowoverwhelming them. Gnekker and the young ladies talk offuguesof counterpointof singers and pianistsof Bach and Brahmswhile mywifeafraid of their suspecting her of ignorance of musicsmiles to themsympathetically and mutters: "That's exquisite . . . really! You don't sayso! . . . Gnekker eats with solid dignityjests with solid dignityandcondescendingly listens to the remarks of the young ladies. From time to time heis moved to speak in bad Frenchand thenfor some reason or otherhe thinksit necessary to address me as _"Votre Excellence."_
And I am glum. Evidently I am a constraint to them and they are a constraintto me. I have never in my earlier days had a close knowledge of classantagonismbut now I am tormented by something of that sort. I am on thelookout for nothing but bad qualities in Gnekker; I quickly find themand amfretted at the thought that a man not of my circle is sitting here as mydaughter's suitor. His presence has a bad influence on me in other waystoo. Asa rulewhen I am alone or in the society of people I likenever think of myown achievementsorif I do recall themthey seem to me as trivial as thoughI had only completed my studies yesterday; but in the presence of people likeGnekker my achievements in science seem to be a lofty mountain the top of whichvanishes into the cloudswhile at its foot Gnekkers are running about scarcelyvisible to the naked eye.
After dinner I go into my study and there smoke my pipethe only one in thewhole daythe sole relic of my old bad habit of smoking from morning tillnight. While I am smoking my wife comes in and sits down to talk to me. Just asin the morningI know beforehand what our conversation is going to be about.
"I must talk to you seriouslyNikolay Stepanovitch" she begins."I mean about Liza. . . . Why don't you pay attention to it?"
"You pretend to notice nothing. But that is not right. We can't shirkresponsibility. . . . Gnekker has intentions in regard to Liza. . . . What doyou say?"
"That he is a bad man I can't saybecause I don't know himbut that Idon't like him I have told you a thousand times already."
"But you can't . . . you can't!"
She gets up and walks about in excitement.
"You can't take up that attitude to a serious step" she says."When it is a question of our daughter's happiness we must lay aside allpersonal feeling. I know you do not like him. . . . Very good . . . if we refusehim nowif we break it all offhow can you be sure that Liza will not have agrievance against us all her life? Suitors are not plentiful nowadaysgoodnessknowsand it may happen that no other match will turn up. . . . He is very muchin love with Lizaand she seems to like him. . . . Of coursehe has no settledpositionbut that can't be helped. Please Godin time he will get one. He isof good family and well off."
"Where did you learn that?"
"He told us so. His father has a large house in Harkov and an estate inthe neighbourhood. In shortNikolay Stepanovitchyou absolutely must go toHarkov."
"You will find out all about him there. . . . You know the professorsthere; they will help you. I would go myselfbut I am a woman. I cannot. . .."
"I am not going to Harkov" I say morosely.
My wife is frightenedand a look of intense suffering comes into her face.
"For God's sakeNikolay Stepanovitch" she implores mewith tearsin her voice --"for God's saketake this burden off me! I am soworried!"
It is painful for me to look at her.
"Very wellVarya" I say affectionately"if you wish itthen certainly I will go to Harkov and do all you want."
She presses her handkerchief to her eyes and goes off to her room to cryandI am left alone.
A little later lights are brought in. The armchair and the lamp-shade castfamiliar shadows that have long grown wearisome on the walls and on the floorand when I look at them I feel as though the night had come and with it myaccursed sleeplessness. I lie on my bedthen get up and walk about the roomthen lie down again. As a rule it is after dinnerat the approach of eveningthat my nervous excitement reaches its highest pitch. For no reason I begincrying and burying my head in the pillow. At such times I am afraid that someone may come in; I am afraid of suddenly dying; I am ashamed of my tearsandaltogether there is something insufferable in my soul. I feel that I can nolonger bear the sight of my lampof my booksof the shadows on the floor. Icannot bear the sound of the voices coming from the drawing-room. Some forceunseenuncomprehendedis roughly thrusting me out of my flat. I leap uphurriedlydressand cautiouslythat my family may not noticeslip out intothe street. Where am I to go?
The answer to that question has long been ready in my brain. To Katya.
As a rule she is lying on the sofa or in a lounge-chair reading. Seeing meshe raises her head languidlysits upand shakes hands.
"You are always lying down" I sayafter pausing and takingbreath. "That's not good for you. You ought to occupy yourself withsomething."
"I say you ought to occupy yourself in some way."
"With what? A woman can be nothing but a simple workwoman or anactress."
"Wellif you can't be a workwomanbe an actress."
She says nothing.
"You ought to get married" I sayhalf in jest.
"There is no one to marry. There's no reason toeither."
"You can't live like this."
"Without a husband? Much that matters; I could have as many men as Ilike if I wanted to."
"What is ugly?"
"Whywhat you have just said."
Noticing that I am hurt and wishing to efface the disagreeable impressionKatya says:
"Let us go; come this way."
She takes me into a very snug little roomand sayspointing to thewriting-table:
"Look . . . I have got that ready for you. You shall work here. Comehere every day and bring your work with you. They only hinder you there at home.Will you work here? Will you like to?"
Not to wound her by refusingI answer that I will work hereand that I likethe room very much. Then we both sit down in the snug little room and begintalking.
The warmsnug surroundings and the presence of a sympathetic person doesnotas in old daysarouse in me a feeling of pleasurebut an intense impulseto complain and grumble. I feel for some reason that if I lament and complain Ishall feel better.
"Things are in a bad way with memy dear -- very bad. . . ."
"What is it?"
"You see how it ismy dear; the best and holiest right of kings is theright of mercy. And I have always felt myself a kingsince I have madeunlimited use of that right. I have never judgedI have been indulgentI havereadily forgiven every oneright and left. Where others have protested andexpressed indignationI have only advised and persuaded. All my life it hasbeen my endeavour that my society should not be a burden to my familyto mystudentsto my colleaguesto my servants. And I know that this attitude topeople has had a good influence on all who have chanced to c ome into contactwith me. But now I am not a king. Something is happening to me that is onlyexcusable in a slave; day and night my brain is haunted by evil thoughtsandfeelings such as I never knew before are brooding in my soul. I am full ofhatredand contemptand indignationand loathingand dread. I have becomeexcessively severeexactingirritableungracioussuspicious. Even thingsthat in old days would have provoked me only to an unnecessary jest and agood-natured laugh now arouse an oppressive feeling in me. My reasoningtoohas undergone a change: in old days I despised money; now I harbour an evilfeelingnot towards moneybut towards the rich as though they were to blame:in old days I hated violence and tyrannybut now I hate the men who make use ofviolenceas though they were alone to blameand not all of us who do not knowhow to educate each other. What is the meaning of it? If these new ideas and newfeelings have come from a change of convictionswhat is that change due to? Canthe world have grown worse and I betteror was I blind before and indifferent?If this change is the result of a general decline of physical and intellectualpowers -- I am illyou knowand every day I am losing weight -- my position ispitiable; it means that my new ideas are morbid and abnormal; I ought to beashamed of them and think them of no consequence. . . ."
"Illness has nothing to do with it" Katya interrupts me;"it's simply that your eyes are openedthat's all. You have seen what inold daysfor some reasonyou refused to see. To my thinkingwhat you ought todo first of allis to break with your family for goodand go away."
"You are talking nonsense."
"You don't love them; why should you force your feelings? Can you callthem a family? Nonentities! If they died todayno one would notice theirabsence tomorrow."
Katya despises my wife and Liza as much as they hate her. One can hardly talkat this date of people's having a right to despise one another. But if one looksat it from Katya's standpoint and recognizes such a rightone can see she hasas much right to despise my wife and Liza as they have to hate her.
"Nonentities" she goes on. "Have you had dinner today? Howwas it they did not forget to tell you it was ready? How is it they stillremember your existence?"
"Katya" I say sternly"I beg you to be silent."
"You think I enjoy talking about them? I should be glad not to know themat all. Listenmy dear: give it all up and go away. Go abroad. The sooner thebetter."
"What nonsense! What about the University?"
"The Universitytoo. What is it to you? There's no sense in itanyway.You have been lecturing for thirty yearsand where are your pupils? Are many ofthem celebrated scientific men? Count them up! And to multiply the doctors whoexploit ignorance and pile up hundreds of thousands for themselvesthere is noneed to be a good and talented man. You are not wanted."
"Good heavens! how harsh you are!" I cry in horror. "How harshyou are! Be quiet or I will go away! I don't know how to answer the harsh thingsyou say!"
The maid comes in and summons us to tea. At the samovar our conversationthank Godchanges. After having had my grumble outI have a longing to giveway to another weakness of old agereminiscences. I tell Katya about my pastand to my great astonishment tell her incidents whichtill thenI did notsuspect of being still preserved in my memoryand she listens to me withtendernesswith prideholding her breath. I am particularly fond of tellingher how I was educated in a seminary and dreamed of going to the University.
"At times I used to walk about our seminary garden . . ." I wouldtell her. "If from some faraway tavern the wind floated sounds of a songand the squeaking of an accordionor a sledge with bells dashed by thegarden-fenceit was quite enough to send a rush of happinessfilling not onlymy heartbut even my stomachmy legsmy arms. . . . I would listen to theaccordion or the bells dying away in the distance and imagine myself a doctorand paint picturesone better than another. And hereas you seemy dreamshave come true. I have had more than I dared to dream of. For thirty years Ihave been the favourite professorI have had splendid comradesI have enjoyedfame and honour. I have lovedmarried from passionate lovehave had children.In factlooking back upon itI see my whole life as a fine compositionarranged with talent. Now all that is left to me is not to spoil the end. Forthat I must die like a man. If death is really a thing to dreadI must meet itas a teachera man of scienceand a citizen of a Christian country ought tomeet itwith courage and untroubled soul. But I am spoiling the end; I amsinkingI fly to youI beg for helpand you tell me 'Sink; that is what youought to do.' "
But here there comes a ring at the front-door. Katya and I recognize itandsay:
"It must be Mihail Fyodorovitch."
And a minute later my colleaguethe philologist Mihail Fyodorovitcha tallwell-built man of fiftyclean-shavenwith thick grey hair and black eyebrowswalks in. He is a good-natured man and an excellent comrade. He comes of afortunate and talented old noble family which has played a prominent part in thehistory of literature and enlightenment. He is himself intelligenttalentedand very highly educatedbut has his oddities. To a certain extent we are allodd and all queer fishbut in his oddities there is something exceptionalaptto cause anxiety among his acquaintances. I know a good many people for whom hisoddities completely obscure his good qualities.
Coming in to ushe slowly takes off his gloves and says in his velvety bass:
"Good-evening. Are you having tea? That's just right. It's diabolicallycold."
Then he sits down to the tabletakes a glassand at once begins talking.What is most characteristic in his manner of talking is the continually jestingtonea sort of mixture of philosophy and drollery as in Shakespeare'sgravediggers. He is always talking about serious thingsbut he never speaksseriously. His judgments are always harsh and railingbutthanks to his softevenjesting tonethe harshness and abuse do not jar upon the earand onesoon grows used to them. Every evening he brings with him five or six anecdotesfrom the Universityand he usually begins with them when he sits down to table.
"OhLord!" he sighstwitching his black eyebrows ironically."What comic people there are in the world!"
"Well?" asks Katya.
"As I was coming from my lecture this morning I met that old idiot N.N---- on the stairs. . . . He was going along as usualsticking out his chinlike a horselooking for some one to listen to his grumblings at his migraineat his wifeand his students who won't attend his lectures. 'Oh' I thought'he has seen me -- I am done for now; it is all up. . . .' "
And so on in the same style. Or he will begin like this:
"I was yesterday at our friend Z. Z----'s public lecture. I wonder howit is our alma mater -- don't speak of it after dark -- dare display in publicsuch noodles and patent dullards as that Z. Z---- Whyhe is a European fool!Upon my wordyou could not find another like him all over Europe! He lectures-- can you imagine? -- as though he were sucking a sugar-stick -- suesuesue;. . . he is in a nervous funk; he can hardly decipher his own manuscript; hispoor little thoughts crawl along like a bishop on a bicycleandwhat's worseyou can never make out what he is trying to say. The deadly dulness is awfulthe very flies expire. It can only be compared with the boredom in theassembly-hall at the yearly meeting when the traditional address is read -- damnit!"
And at once an abrupt transition:
"Three years ago -- Nikolay Stepanovitch here will remember it -- I hadto deliver that address. It was hotstiflingmy uniform cut me under the arms-- it was deadly! I read for half an hourfor an hourfor an hour and a halffor two hours. . . . 'Come' I thought; 'thank Godthere are only ten pagesleft!' And at the end there were four pages that there was no need to readandI reckoned to leave them out. 'So there are only six really' I thought; 'thatisonly six pages left to read.' Butonly fancyI chanced to glance beforemeandsitting in the front rowside by sidewere a general with a ribbon onhis breast and a bishop. The poor beggars were numb with boredom; they werestaring with their eyes wide open to keep awakeand yet they were trying to puton an expression of attention and to pretend that they understood what I wassaying and liked it. 'Well' I thought'since you like it you shall have it!I'll pay you out;' so I just gave them those four pages too."
As is usual with ironical peoplewhen he talks nothing in his face smilesbut his eyes and eyebrows. At such times there is no trace of hatred or spite inhis eyesbut a great deal of humourand that peculiar fox-like slyness whichis only to be noticed in very observant people. Since I am speaking about hiseyesI notice another peculiarity in them. When he takes a glass from Katyaorlistens to her speakingor looks after her as she goes out of the room for amomentI notice in his eyes something gentlebeseechingpure. . . .
The maid-servant takes away the samovar and puts on the table a large pieceof cheesesome fruitand a bottle of Crimean champagne -- a rather poor wineof which Katya had grown fond in the Crimea. Mihail Fyodorovitch takes two packsof cards off the whatnot and begins to play patience. According to himsomevarieties of patience require great concentration and attentionyet while helays out the cards he does not leave off distracting his attention with talk.Katya watches his cards attentivelyand more by gesture than by words helps himin his play. She drinks no more than a couple of wine-glasses of wine the wholeevening; I drink four glassesand the rest of the bottle falls to the share ofMihail Fyodorovitchwho can drink a great deal and never get drunk.
Over our patience we settle various questionsprincipally of the higherorderand what we care for most of all -- that isscience and learning -- ismore roughly handled than anything.
"Sciencethank Godhas outlived its day" says MihailFyodorovitch emphatically. "Its song is sung. Yesindeed. Mankind beginsto feel impelled to replace it by something different. It has grown on the soilof superstitionbeen nourished by superstitionand is now just as much thequintessence of superstition as its defunct granddamesalchemymetaphysicsand philosophy. Andafter allwhat has it given to mankind? Whythedifference between the learned Europeans and the Chinese who have no science istriflingpurely external. The Chinese know nothing of sciencebut what havethey lost thereby?"
"Flies know nothing of scienceeither" I observe"but whatof that?"
"There is no need to be angryNikolay Stepanovitch. I only say thishere between ourselves. . . I am more careful than you thinkand I am not goingto say this in public -- God forbid! The superstition exists in the multitudethat the arts and sciences are superior to agriculturecommercesuperior tohandicrafts. Our sect is maintained by that superstitionand it is not for youand me to destroy it. God forbid!"
After patience the younger generation comes in for a dressing too.
"Our audiences have degenerated" sighs Mihail Fyodorovitch."Not to speak of ideals and all the rest of itif only they were capableof work and rational thought! In factit's a case of 'I look with mournful eyeson the young men of today.' "
"Yes; they have degenerated horribly" Katya agrees. "Tell mehave you had one man of distinction among them for the last five or tenyears?"
"I don't know how it is with the other professorsbut I can't rememberany among mine."
"I have seen in my day many of your students and young scientific menand many actors -- wellI have never once been so fortunate as to meet -- Iwon't say a hero or a man of talentbut even an interesting man. It's all thesame grey mediocritypuffed up with self-conceit."
All this talk of degeneration always affects me as though I had accidentallyoverheard offensive talk about my own daughter. It offends me that these chargesare wholesaleand rest on such worn-out commonplaceson such wordy vapouringsas degeneration and absence of idealsor on references to the splendours of thepast. Every accusationeven if it is uttered in ladies' societyought to beformulated with all possible definitenessor it is not an accusationbut idledisparagementunworthy of decent people.
I am an old manI have been lecturing for thirty yearsbut I notice neitherdegeneration nor lack of idealsand I don't find that the present is worse thanthe past. My porter Nikolaywhose experience of this subject has its valuesays that the students of today are neither better nor worse than those of thepast.
If I were asked what I don't like in my pupils of todayI should answer thequestionnot straight off and not at lengthbut with sufficient definiteness.I know their failingsand so have no need to resort to vague generalities. Idon't like their smokingusing spirituous beveragesmarrying lateand oftenbeing so irresponsible and careless that they will let one of their number bestarving in their midst while they neglect to pay their subscriptions to theStudents' Aid Society. They don't know modern languagesand they don't expressthemselves correctly in Russian; no longer ago than yesterday my colleaguetheprofessor of hygienecomplained to me that he had to give twice as manylecturesbecause the students had a very poor knowledge of physics and wereutterly ignorant of meteorology. They are readily carried away by the influenceof the last new writerseven when they are not first-ratebut they takeabsolutely no interest in classics such as ShakespeareMarcus AureliusEpictetusor Pascaland this inability to distinguish the great from the smallbetrays their ignorance of practical life more than anything. All difficultquestions that have more or less a social character (for instance the migrationquestion) they settle by studying monographs on the subjectbut not by way ofscientific investigation or experimentthough that method is at their disposaland is more in keeping with their calling. They gladly become ward-surgeonsassistantsdemonstratorsexternal teachersand are ready to fill such postsuntil they are fortythough independencea sense of freedom and personalinitiativeare no less necessary in science thanfor instancein art orcommerce. I have pupils and listenersbut no successors and helpersand so Ilove them and am touched by thembut am not proud of them. And so onand soon. . . .
Such shortcomingshowever numerous they may becan only give rise to apessimistic or fault-finding temper in a faint-hearted and timid man. All thesefailings have a casualtransitory characterand are completely dependent onconditions of life; in some ten years they will have disappeared or given placeto other fresh defectswhich are all inevitable and will in their turn alarmthe faint-hearted. The students' sins often vex mebut that vexation is nothingin comparison with the joy I have been experiencing now for the last thirtyyears when I talk to my pupilslecture to themwatch their relationsandcompare them with people not of their circle.
Mihail Fyodorovitch speaks evil of everything. Katya listensand neither ofthem notices into what depths the apparently innocent diversion of finding faultwith their neighbours is gradually drawing them. They are not conscious how bydegrees simple talk passes into malicious mockery and jeeringand how they areboth beginning to drop into the habits and methods of slander.
"Killing types one meets with" says Mihail Fyodorovitch. "Iwent yesterday to our friend Yegor Petrovitch'sand there I found a studiousgentlemanone of your medicals in his third yearI believe. Such a face! . . .in the Dobrolubov stylethe imprint of profound thought on his brow; we got into talk. 'Such doingsyoung man' said I. 'I've read' said I'that someGerman -- I've forgotten his name -- has created from the human brain a new kindof alkaloididiotine.' What do you think? He believed itand there waspositively an expression of respect on his faceas though to say'See what wefellows can do!' And the other day I went to the theatre. I took my seat. In thenext row directly in front of me were sitting two men: one of 'us fellows' andapparently a law studentthe other a shaggy-looking figurea medical student.The latter was as drunk as a cobbler. He did not look at the stage at all. Hewas dozing with his nose on his shirt-front. But as soon as an actor beginsloudly reciting a monologueor simply raises his voiceour friend startspokes his neighbour in the ribsand asks'What is he saying? Is it elevating?''Yes' answers one of our fellows. 'B-r-r-ravo!' roars the medical student.'Elevating! Bravo!' He had gone to the theatreyou seethe drunken blockheadnot for the sake of artthe playbut for elevation! He wanted noblesentiments."
Katya listens and laughs. She has a strange laugh; she catches her breath inrhythmically regular gaspsvery much as though she were playing the accordionand nothing in her face is laughing but her nostrils. I grow depressed and don'tknow what to say. Beside myselfI fire upleap up from my seatand cry:
"Do leave off! Why are you sitting here like two toadspoisoning theair with your breath? Give over!"
And without waiting for them to finish their gossip I prepare to go home.Andindeedit is high time: it is past ten.
"I will stay a little longer" says Mihail Fyodorovitch. "Willyou allow meEkaterina Vladimirovna?"
"I will" answers Katya.
"_Bene!_ In that case have up another little bottle."
They both accompany me with candles to the halland while I put on my furcoatMihail Fyodorovitch says:
"You have grown dreadfully thin and older lookingNikolay Stepanovitch.What's the matter with you? Are you ill?"
"Yes; I am not very well."
"And you are not doing anything for it. . ." Katya puts in grimly.
"Why don't you? You can't go on like that! God helps those who helpthemselvesmy dear fellow. Remember me to your wife and daughterand make myapologies for not having been to see them. In a day or twobefore I go abroadI shall come to say good-bye. I shall be sure to. I am going away nextweek."
I come away from Katyairritated and alarmed by what has been said about mybeing illand dissatisfied with myself. I ask myself whether I really ought notto consult one of my colleagues. And at once I imagine how my colleagueafterlistening to mewould walk away to the window without speakingwould think amomentthen would turn round to me andtrying to prevent my reading the truthin his facewould say in a careless tone: "So far I see nothing seriousbut at the same time_collega_I advise you to lay aside your work. . .." And that would deprive me of my last hope.
Who is without hope? Now that I am diagnosing my illness and prescribing formyselffrom time to time I hope that I am deceived by my own illnessthat I ammistaken in regard to the albumen and the sugar I findand in regard to myheartand in regard to the swellings I have twice noticed in the mornings; whenwith the fervour of the hypochondriac I look through the textbooks oftherapeutics and take a different medicine every dayI keep fancying that Ishall hit upon something comforting. All that is petty.
Whether the sky is covered with clouds or the moon and the stars are shiningI turn my eyes towards it every evening and think that death is taking me soon.One would think that my thoughts at such times ought to be deep as the skybrilliantstriking. . . . But no! I think about myselfabout my wifeaboutLizaGnekkerthe studentspeople in general; my thoughts are evilpettyIam insincere with myselfand at such times my theory of life may be expressedin the words the celebrated Araktcheev said in one of his intimate letters:"Nothing good can exist in the world without eviland there is more evilthan good." That iseverything is disgusting; there is nothing to liveforand the sixty-two years I have already lived must be reckoned as wasted. Icatch myself in these thoughtsand try to persuade myself that they areaccidentaltemporaryand not deeply rooted in mebut at once I think:
"If sowhat drives me every evening to those two toads?"
And I vow to myself that I will never go to Katya's againthough I know Ishall go next evening.
Ringing the bell at the door and going upstairsI feel that I have no familynow and no desire to bring it back again. It is clear that the new Araktcheevthoughts are not casualtemporary visitorsbut have possession of my wholebeing. With my conscience ill at easedejectedlanguidhardly able to move mylimbsfeeling as though tons were added to my weightI get into bed andquickly drop asleep.
And then -- insomnia!
Summer comes on and life is changed.
One fine morning Liza comes in to me and says in a jesting tone:
"Comeyour Excellency! We are ready."
My Excellency is conducted into the streetand seated in a cab. As I goalonghaving nothing to doI read the signboards from right to left. The word"Traktir" reads " Ritkart"; that would just suit somebaron's family: Baroness Ritkart. Farther on I drive through fieldsby thegraveyardwhich makes absolutely no impression on methough I shall soon liein it; then I drive by forests and again by fields. There is nothing ofinterest. After two hours of drivingmy Excellency is conducted into the lowerstorey of a summer villa and installed in a smallvery cheerful little roomwith light blue hangings.
At night there is sleeplessness as beforebut in the morning I do not put agood face upon it and listen to my wifebut lie in bed. I do not sleepbut liein the drowsyhalf-conscious condition in which you know you are not asleepbut dreaming. At midday I get up and from habit sit down at my tablebut I donot work now; I amuse myself with French books in yellow coverssent me byKatya. Of courseit would be more patriotic to read Russian authorsbut I mustconfess I cherish no particular liking for them. With the exception of two orthree of the older writersall our literature of today strikes me as not beingliteraturebut a special sort of home industrywhich exists simply in order tobe encouragedthough people do not readily make use of its products. The verybest of these home products cannot be called remarkable and cannot be sincerelypraised without qualification. I must say the same of all the literary noveltiesI have read during the last ten or fifteen years; not one of them is remarkableand not one of them can be praised without a "but." Clevernessa goodtonebut no talent; talenta good tonebut no cleverness; or talentclevernessbut not a good tone.
I don't say the French books have talentclevernessand a good tone. Theydon't satisfy meeither. But they are not so tedious as the Russianand it isnot unusual to find in them the chief element of artistic creation -- thefeeling of personal freedom which is lacking in the Russian authors. I don'tremember one new book in which the author does not try from the first page toentangle himself in all sorts of conditions and contracts with his conscience.One is afraid to speak of the naked body; another ties himself up hand and footin psychological analysis; a third must have a "warm attitude to man";a fourth purposely scrawls whole descriptions of nature that he may not besuspected of writing with a purpose. . . . One is bent upon being middle-classin his workanother must be a noblemanand so on. There is intentionalnesscircumspectionand self-willbut they have neither the independence nor themanliness to write as they likeand therefore there is no creativeness.
All this applies to what is called belles-lettres.
As for serious treatises in Russian on sociologyfor instanceon artandso onI do not rea d them simply from timidity. In my childhood and early youthI had for some reason a terror of doorkeepers and attendants at the theatreandthat terror has remained with me to this day. I am afraid of them even now. Itis said that we are only afraid of what we do not understand. Andindeedit isvery difficult to understand why doorkeepers and theatre attendants are sodignifiedhaughtyand majestically rude. I feel exactly the same terror when Iread serious articles. Their extraordinary dignitytheir bantering lordly tonetheir familiar manner to foreign authorstheir ability to split straws withdignity -- all that is beyond my understanding; it is intimidating and utterlyunlike the quietgentlemanly tone to which I am accustomed when I read theworks of our medical and scientific writers. It oppresses me to read not onlythe articles written by serious Russiansbut even works translated or edited bythem. The pretentiousedifying tone of the preface; the redundancy of remarksmade by the translatorwhich prevent me from concentrating my attention; thequestion marks and "sic" in parenthesis scattered all over the book orarticle by the liberal translatorare to my mind an outrage on the author andon my independence as a reader.
Once I was summoned as an expert to a circuit court; in an interval one of myfellow-experts drew my attention to the rudeness of the public prosecutor to thedefendantsamong whom there were two ladies of good education. I believe I didnot exaggerate at all when I told him that the prosecutor s manner was no ruderthan that of the authors of serious articles to one another. Their manners areindeedso rude that I cannot speak of them without distaste. They treat oneanother and the writers they criticize either with superfluous respectat thesacrifice of their own dignityoron the contrarywith far more ruthlessnessthan I have shown in my notes and my thoughts in regard to my future son-in-lawGnekker. Accusations of irrationalityof evil intentionsandindeedof everysort of crimeform an habitual ornament of serious articles. And thatas youngmedical men are fond of saying in their monographsis the _ultima ratio!_ Suchways must infallibly have an effect on the morals of the younger generation ofwritersand so I am not at all surprised that in the new works with which ourliterature has been enriched during the last ten or fifteen years the heroesdrink too much vodka and the heroines are not over-chaste.
I read French booksand I look out of the window which is open; I can seethe spikes of my garden-fencetwo or three scraggy treesand beyond the fencethe roadthe fieldsand beyond them a broad stretch of pine-wood. Often Iadmire a boy and girlboth flaxen-headed and raggedwho clamber on the fenceand laugh at my baldness. In their shining little eyes I read"Go upgoupthou baldhead!" They are almost the only people who care nothing for mycelebrity or my rank.
Visitors do not come to me every day now. I will only mention the visits ofNikolay and Pyotr Ignatyevitch. Nikolay usually comes to me on holidayswithsome pretext of businessthough really to see me. He arrives very muchexhilarateda thing which never occurs to him in the winter.
"What have you to tell me?" I askgoing out to him in the hall.
"Your Excellency!" he sayspressing his hand to his heart andlooking at me with the ecstasy of a lover -- "your Excellency! God be mywitness! Strike me dead on the spot! _Gaudeamus egitur juventus!_"
And he greedily kisses me on the shoulderon the sleeveand on the buttons.
"Is everything going well?" I ask him.
"Your Excellency! So help me God! . . ."
He persists in grovelling before me for no sort of reasonand soon bores meso I send him away to the kitchenwhere they give him dinner.
Pyotr Ignatyevitch comes to see me on holidaystoowith the special objectof seeing me and sharing his thoughts with me. He usually sits down near mytablemodestneatand reasonableand does not venture to cross his legs orput his elbows on the table. All the timein a softevenlittle voiceinrounded bookish phraseshe tells me variousto his mindvery interesting andpiquant items of news which he has read in the magazines and journals. They areall alike and may be reduced to this type: "A Frenchman has made adiscovery; some one elsea Germanhas denounced himproving that thediscovery was made in 1870 by some American; while a third personalso aGermantrumps them both by proving they both had made fools of themselvesmistaking bubbles of air for dark pigment under the microscope. Even when hewants to amuse mePyotr Ignatyevitch tells me things in the same lengthycircumstantial manner as though he were defending a thesisenumerating indetail the literary sources from which he is deriving his narrativedoing hisutmost to be accurate as to the date and number of the journals and the name ofevery one concernedinvariably mentioning it in full -- Jean Jacques Petitnever simply Petit. Sometimes he stays to dinner with usand then during thewhole of dinner-time he goes on telling me the same sort of piquant anecdotesreducing every one at table to a state of dejected boredom. If Gnekker and Lizabegin talking before him of fugues and counterpointBrahms and Bachhe dropshis eyes modestlyand is overcome with embarrassment; he is ashamed that suchtrivial subjects should be discussed before such serious people as him and me.
In my present state of mind five minutes of him is enough to sicken me asthough I had been seeing and hearing him for an eternity. I hate the poorfellow. His softsmooth voice and bookish language exhaust meand his storiesstupefy me. . . . He cherishes the best of feelings for meand talks to mesimply in order to give me pleasureand I repay him by looking at him as thoughI wanted to hypnotize himand think"Gogogo! . . ." But he isnot amenable to thought-suggestionand sits on and on and on. . . .
While he is with me I can never shake off the thought"It's possiblewhen I die he will be appointed to succeed me" and my poor lecture-hallpresents itself to me as an oasis in which the spring is died up; and I amungracioussilentand surly with Pyotr Ignatyevitchas though he were toblame for such thoughtsand not I myself. When he beginsas usualpraising upthe German savantsinstead of making fun of him good-humouredlyas I used todoI mutter sullenly:
"Assesyour Germans! . . ."
That is like the late Professor Nikita Krylovwho oncewhen he was bathingwith Pirogov at Revel and vexed at the water's being very coldburst out with"Scoundrelsthese Germans!" I behave badly with Pyotr Ignatyevitchand only when he is going awayand from the window I catch a glimpse of hisgrey hat behind the garden-fenceI want to call out and say"Forgive memy dear fellow!"
Dinner is even drearier than in the winter. Gnekkerwhom now I hate anddespisedines with us almost every day. I used to endure his presence insilencenow I aim biting remarks at him which make my wife and daughter blush.Carried away by evil feelingI often say things that are simply stupidand Idon't know why I say them. So on one occasion it happened that I stared a longtime at Gnekkerand_a propos_ of nothingI fired off:
"An eagle may perchance swoop down below a cockBut never will the fowlsoar upwards to the clouds. .
And the most vexatious thing is that the fowl Gnekker shows himself muchcleverer than the eagle professor. Knowing that my wife and daughter are on hissidehe takes up the line of meeting my gibes with condescending silenceasthough to say:
"The old chap is in his dotage; what's the use of talking to him?"
Or he makes fun of me good-naturedly. It is wonderful how petty a man maybecome! I am capable of dreaming all dinner-time of how Gnekker will turn out tobe an adventurerhow my wife and Liza will come to see their mistakeand how Iwill taunt them -- and such absurd thoughts at the time when I am standing withone foot in th e grave!
There are nowtoomisunderstandings of which in the old days I had no ideaexcept from hearsay. Though I am ashamed of itI will describe one thatoccurred the other day after dinner.
I was sitting in my room smoking a pipe; my wife came in as usualsat downand began saying what a good thing it would be for me to go to Harkov now whileit is warm and I have free timeand there find out what sort of person ourGnekker is.
"Very good; I will go" I assented.
My wifepleased with megot up and was going to the doorbut turned backand said:
"By the wayI have another favour to ask of you. I know you will beangrybut it is my duty to warn you. . . . Forgive my saying itNikolayStepanovitchbut all our neighbours and acquaintances have begun talking aboutyour being so often at Katya's. She is clever and well-educated; I don't denythat her company may be agreeable; but at your age and with your social positionit seems strange that you should find pleasure in her society. . . . Besidesshe has such a reputation that . . ."
All the blood suddenly rushed to my brainmy eyes flashed fireI leaped upandclutching at my head and stamping my feetshouted in a voice unlike myown:
"Let me alone! let me alone! let me alone!"
Probably my face was terriblemy voice was strangefor my wife suddenlyturned pale and began shrieking aloud in a despairing voice that was utterlyunlike her own. LizaGnekkerthen Yegorcame running in at our shouts. . . .
"Let me alone!" I cried; "let me alone! Go away!"
My legs turned numb as though they had ceased to exist; I felt myself fallinginto someone's arms; for a little while I still heard weepingthen sank into aswoon which lasted two or three hours.
Now about Katya; she comes to see me every day towards eveningand of courseneither the neighbours nor our acquaintances can avoid noticing it. She comes infor a minute and carries me off for a drive with her. She has her own horse anda new chaise bought this summer. Altogether she lives in an expensive style; shehas taken a big detached villa with a large gardenand has taken all her townretinue with her -- two maidsa coachman . . . I often ask her:
"Katyawhat will you live on when you have spent your father'smoney?"
"Then we shall see" she answers.
"That moneymy deardeserves to be treated more seriously. It wasearned by a good manby honest labour."
"You have told me that already. I know it."
At first we drive through the open countrythen through the pine-wood whichis visible from my window. Nature seems to me as beautiful as it always hasbeenthough some evil spirit whispers to me that these pines and fir treesbirdsand white clouds on the skywill not notice my absence when in three orfour months I am dead. Katya loves drivingand she is pleased that it is fineweather and that I am sitting beside her. She is in good spirits and does notsay harsh things.
"You are a very good manNikolay Stepanovitch" she says."You are a rare specimenand there isn't an actor who would understand howto play you. Me or Mihail Fyodorovitchfor instanceany poor actor could dobut not you. And I envy youI envy you horribly! Do you know what I stand for?What?"
She ponders for a minuteand then asks me:
"Nikolay StepanovitchI am a negative phenomenon! Yes?"
"Yes" I answer.
"H'm! what am I to do?"
What answer was I to make her? It is easy to say "work" or"give your possessions to the poor" or "know yourself" andbecause it is so easy to say thatI don't know what to answer.
My colleagues when they teach therapeutics advise "the individual studyof each separate case." One has but to obey this advice to gain theconviction that the methods recommended in the textbooks as the best and asproviding a safe basis for treatment turn out to be quite unsuitable inindividual cases. It is just the same in moral ailments.
But I must make some answerand I say:
"You have too much free timemy dear; you absolutely must take up someoccupation. After allwhy shouldn't you be an actress again if it is yourvocation?"
"Your tone and manner suggest that you are a victim. I don't like thatmy dear; it is your own fault. Rememberyou began with falling out with peopleand methodsbut you have done nothing to make either better. You did notstruggle with evilbut were cast down by itand you are not the victim of thestrugglebut of your own impotence. Wellof course you were young andinexperienced then; now it may all be different. Yesreallygo on the stage.You will workyou will serve a sacred art."
"Don't pretendNikolay Stepanovitch" Katya interrupts me."Let us make a compact once for all; we will talk about actorsactressesand authorsbut we will let art alone. You are a splendid and rare personbutyou don't know enough about art sincerely to think it sacred. You have noinstinct or feeling for art. You have been hard at work all your lifeand havenot had time to acquire that feeling. Altogether . . . I don't like talk aboutart" she goes on nervously. "I don't like it! Andmy goodnesshowthey have vulgarized it!"
"Who has vulgarized it?"
"They have vulgarized it by drunkennessthe newspapers by theirfamiliar attitudeclever people by philosophy."
"Philosophy has nothing to do with it."
"Yesit has. If any one philosophizes about itit shows he does notunderstand it."
To avoid bitterness I hasten to change the subjectand then sit a long timesilent. Only when we are driving out of the wood and turning towards Katya'svilla I go back to my former questionand say:
"You have still not answered mewhy you don't want to go on thestage."
"Nikolay Stepanovitchthis is cruel!" she criesand suddenlyflushes all over. "You want me to tell you the truth aloud? Very wellif .. . if you like it! I have no talent! No talent and . . . and a great deal ofvanity! So there!"
After making this confession she turns her face away from meand to hide thetrembling of her hands tugs violently at the reins.
As we are driving towards her villa we see Mihail Fyodorovitch walking nearthe gateimpatiently awaiting us.
"That Mihail Fyodorovitch again!" says Katya with vexation."Do rid me of himplease! I am sick and tired of him . . . botherhim!"
Mihail Fyodorovitch ought to have gone abroad long agobut he puts off goingfrom week to. week. Of late there have been certain changes in him. He looksasit weresunkenhas taken to drinking until he is tipsya thing which neverused to happen to himand his black eyebrows are beginning to turn grey. Whenour chaise stops at the gate he does not conceal his joy and his impatience. Hefussily helps me and Katya outhurriedly asks questionslaughsrubs hishandsand that gentleimploringpure expressionwhich I used to notice onlyin his eyesis now suffused all over his face. He is glad and at the same timehe is ashamed of his gladnessashamed of his habit of spending every eveningwith Katya. And he thinks it necessary to explain his visit by some obviousabsurdity such as: "I was driving byand I thought I would just look infor a minute."
We all three go indoors; first we drink teathen the familiar packs ofcardsthe big piece of cheesethe fruitand the bottle of Crimean champagneare put upon the table. The subjects of our conversation are not new; they arejust the same as in the winter. We fall foul of the Universitythe studentsand literature and the theatre; the air grows thick and stifling with evilspeakingand poisoned by the breathnot of two toads as in the winterbut ofthree. Besides the velvety baritone laugh and the giggle like the gasp of aconcertinathe maid who waits upon us hears an unpleasant cracked "Hehe!" like the chuckle of a general in a vaudeville.
There are terrible nights with thunderlightningrainand windsuch asare called among the people "sparrow nights." There has been one suchnight in my personal life.
I woke up after midnight and leaped suddenly out of bed. It seemed to me forsome reason that I was just immedi ately going to die. Why did it seem so? I hadno sensation in my body that suggested my immediate deathbut my soul wasoppressed with terroras though I had suddenly seen a vast menacing glow offire.
I rapidly struck a lightdrank some water straight out of the decanterthenhurried to the open window. The weather outside was magnificent. There was asmell of hay and some other very sweet scent. I could see the spikes of thefencethe gauntdrowsy trees by the windowthe roadthe dark streak ofwoodlandthere was a serenevery bright moon in the sky and not a singlecloudperfect stillnessnot one leaf stirring. I felt that everything waslooking at me and waiting for me to die. . . .
It was uncanny. I closed the window and ran to my bed. I felt for my pulseand not finding it in my wristtried to find it in my templethen in my chinand again in my wristand everything I touched was cold and clammy with sweat.My breathing came more and more rapidlymy body was shiveringall my insidewas in commotion; I had a sensation on my face and on my bald head as thoughthey were covered with spiders' webs.
What should I do? Call my family? No; it would be no use. I could not imaginewhat my wife and Liza would do when they came in to me.
I hid my head under the pillowclosed my eyesand waited and waited. . . .My spine was cold; it seemed to be drawn inwardsand I felt as though deathwere coming upon me stealthily from behind
"Kee-vee! kee-vee!" I heard a sudden shriek in the night'sstillnessand did not know where it was -- in my breast or in the street --"Kee-vee! kee-vee!"
"My Godhow terrible!" I would have drunk some more waterbut bythen it was fearful to open my eyes and I was afraid to raise my head. I waspossessed by unaccountable animal terrorand I cannot understand why I was sofrightened: was it that I wanted to liveor that some new unknown pain was instore for me?
Upstairsoverheadsome one moaned or laughed. I listened. Soon afterwardsthere was a sound of footsteps on the stairs. Some one came hurriedly downthenwent up again. A minute later there was a sound of steps downstairs again; someone stopped near my door and listened.
"Who is there?" I cried.
The door opened. I boldly opened my eyesand saw my wife. Her face was paleand her eyes were tear-stained.
"You are not asleepNikolay Stepanovitch?" she asked.
"What is it? "
"For God's sakego up and have a look at Liza; there is something thematter with her. . . ."
"Very goodwith pleasure" I mutteredgreatly relieved at notbeing alone. "Very goodthis minute. . . ."
I followed my wifeheard what she said to meand was too agitated tounderstand a word. Patches of light from her candle danced about the stairsourlong shadows trembled. My feet caught in the skirts of my dressing-gown; Igasped for breathand felt as though something were pursuing me and trying tocatch me from behind.
"I shall die on the spothere on the staircase" I thought."On the spot. . . ." But we passed the staircasethe dark corridorwith the Italian windowsand went into Liza's room. She was sitting on the bedin her nightdresswith her bare feet hanging downand she was moaning.
"Ohmy God! Ohmy God!" she was mutteringscrewing up her eyesat our candle. "I can't bear it."
"Lizamy child" I said"what is it?"
Seeing meshe began crying outand flung herself on my neck.
"My kind papa! . . ." she sobbed -- "my deargood papa . . .my darlingmy petI don't know what is the matter with me. . . . I ammiserable!"
She hugged mekissed meand babbled fond words I used to hear from her whenshe was a child.
"Calm yourselfmy child. God be with you" I said. "There isno need to cry. I am miserabletoo."
I tried to tuck her in; my wife gave her waterand we awkwardly stumbled byher bedside; my shoulder jostled against her shoulderand meanwhile I wasthinking how we used to give our children their bath together.
"Help her! help her!" my wife implored me. "Dosomething!"
What could I do? I could do nothing. There was some load on the girl's heart;but I did not understandI knew nothing about itand could only mutter:
"It's nothingit's nothing; it will pass. Sleepsleep!"
To make things worsethere was a sudden sound of dogs howlingat firstsubdued and uncertainthen loudtwo dogs howling together. I had neverattached significance to such omens as the howling of dogs or the shrieking ofowlsbut on that occasion it sent a pang to my heartand I hastened to explainthe howl to myself.
"It's nonsense" I thought"the influence of one organism onanother. The intensely strained condition of my nerves has infected my wifeLizathe dog -- that is all. . . . Such infection explains presentimentsforebodings. . . ."
When a little later I went back to my room to write a prescription for LizaI no longer thought I should die at oncebut only had such a weightsuch afeeling of oppression in my soul that I felt actually sorry that I had not diedon the spot. For a long time I stood motionless in the middle of the roompondering what to prescribe for Liza. But the moans overhead ceasedand Idecided to prescribe nothingand yet I went on standing there. . . .
There was a deathlike stillnesssuch a stillnessas some author hasexpressed it"it rang in one's ears." Time passed slowly; the streaksof moonlight on the window-sill did not shift their positionbut seemed asthough frozen. . . . It was still some time before dawn.
But the gate in the fence creakedsome one stole in andbreaking a twigfrom one of those scraggy treescautiously tapped on the window with it.
"Nikolay Stepanovitch" I heard a whisper. "NikolayStepanovitch."
I opened the windowand fancied I was dreaming: under the windowhuddledagainst the wallstood a woman in a black dresswith the moonlight bright uponherlooking at me with great eyes. Her face was palesternand weird-lookingin the moonlightlike marbleher chin was quivering.
"It is I" she said -- " I . . . Katya."
In the moonlight all women's eyes look big and blackall people look tallerand palerand that was probably why I had not recognized her for the firstminute.
"What is it?"
"Forgive me! " she said. "I suddenly felt unbearably miserable. . . I couldn't stand itso came here. There was a light in your window and .. . and I ventured to knock. . . . I beg your pardon. Ah! if you knew howmiserable I am! What are you doing just now?"
"Nothing. . . . I can't sleep."
"I had a feeling that there was something wrongbut that isnonsense."
Her brows were liftedher eyes shone with tearsand her whole face waslighted up with the familiar look of trustfulness which I had not seen for solong.
"Nikolay Stepanovitch" she said imploringlystretching out bothhands to me"my precious friendI beg youI implore you. . . . If youdon't despise my affection and respect for youconsent to what I ask ofyou."
"What is it?"
"Take my money from me!"
"Come! what an idea! What do I want with your money?"
"You'll go away somewhere for your health. . . . You ought to go foryour health. Will you take it? Yes? Nikolay Stepanovitch darlingyes?"
She looked greedily into my face and repeated: "Yesyou will takeit?"
"Nomy dearI won't take it . . " I said. "Thank you."
She turned her back upon me and bowed her head. Probably I refused her in atone which made further conversation about money impossible.
"Go home to bed" I said. "We will see each othertomorrow."
"So you don't consider me your friend?" she asked dejectedly.
"I don't say that. But your money would be no use to me now."
"I beg your pardon . . ." she saiddropping her voice a wholeoctave. "I understand you . . . to be indebted to a person like me . . . aretired actress. . . . Butgood-bye. . . ."
And she went away so quickly that I had not time even to say good-bye.
I am in Harkov.
As it would be useless to contend against my present mood andindeedbeyondmy powerI have made up my mind that the last days of my life shall at least beirreproachable externally. If I am unjust in regard to my wife and daughterwhich I fully recognizeI will try and do as she wishes; since she wants me togo to HarkovI go to Harkov. BesidesI have become of late so indifferent toeverything that it is really all the same to me where I goto Harkovor toParisor to Berditchev.
I arrived here at middayand have put up at the hotel not far from thecathedral. The train was joltingthere were draughtsand now I am sitting onmy bedholding my head and expecting tic douloureux. I ought to have gone todayto see some professors of my acquaintancebut I have neither strength norinclination.
The old corridor attendant comes in and asks whether I have brought mybed-linen. I detain him for five minutesand put several questions to him aboutGnekkeron whose account I have come here. The attendant turns out to be anative of Harkov; he knows the town like the fingers of his handbut does notremember any household of the surname of Gnekker. I question him about theestate -- the same answer.
The clock in the corridor strikes onethen twothen three. . . . These lastmonths in which I am waiting for death seem much longer than the whole of mylife. And I have never before been so ready to resign myself to the slowness oftime as now. In the old dayswhen one sat in the station and waited for atrainor presided in an examination-rooma quarter of an hour would seem aneternity. Now I can sit all night on my bed without movingand quiteunconcernedly reflect that tomorrow will be followed by another night as longand colourlessand the day after tomorrow.
In the corridor it strikes fivesixseven. . . . It grows dark.
There is a dull pain in my cheekthe tic beginning. To occupy myself withthoughtsI go back to my old point of viewwhen I was not so indifferentandask myself why Ia distinguished mana privy councilloram sitting in thislittle hotel roomon this bed with the unfamiliar grey quilt. Why am I lookingat that cheap tin washing-stand and listening to the whirr of the wretched clockin the corridor? Is all this in keeping with my fame and my lofty position? AndI answer these questions with a jeer. I am amused by the naivete with which Iused in my youth to exaggerate the value of renown and of the exceptionalposition which celebrities are supposed to enjoy. I am famousmy name ispronounced with reverencemy portrait has been both in the _Niva_ and in the_Illustrated News of the World_; I have read my biography even in a Germanmagazine. And what of all that? Here I am sitting utterly alone in a strangetownon a strange bedrubbing my aching cheek with my hand. . . . Domesticworriesthe hard-heartedness of creditorsthe rudeness of the railwayservantsthe inconveniences of the passport systemthe expensive andunwholesome food in the refreshment-roomsthe general rudeness and coarsenessin social intercourse -- all thisand a great deal more which would take toolong to reckon upaffects me as much as any working man who is famous only inhis alley. In what waydoes my exceptional position find expression? Admittingthat I am celebrated a thousand times overthat I am a hero of whom my countryis proud. They publish bulletins of my illness in every paperletters ofsympathy come to me by post from my colleaguesmy pupilsthe general public;but all that does not prevent me from dying in a strange bedin miseryinutter loneliness. Of courseno one is to blame for that; but I in myfoolishness dislike my popularity. I feel as though it had cheated me.
At ten o'clock I fall asleepand in spite of the tic I sleep soundlyandshould have gone on sleeping if I had not been awakened. Soon after one came asudden knock at the door.
"Who is there?"
"You might have waited till tomorrow" I say angrilytaking thetelegram from the attendant. "Now I shall not get to sleep again."
"I am sorry. Your light was burningso I thought you were notasleep."
I tear open the telegram and look first at the signature. From my wife.
"What does she want?"
"Gnekker was secretly married to Liza yesterday. Return."
I read the telegramand my dismay does not last long. I am dismayednot bywhat Liza and Gnekker have donebut by the indifference with which I hear oftheir marriage. They say philosophers and the truly wise are indifferent. It isfalse: indifference is the paralysis of the soul; it is premature death.
I go to bed againand begin trying to think of something to occupy my mind.What am I to think about? I feel as though everything had been thought overalready and there is nothing which could hold my attention now.
When daylight comes I sit up in bed with my arms round my kneesand to passthe time I try to know myself. "Know thyself" is excellent and usefuladvice; it is only a pity that the ancients never thought to indicate the meansof following this precept.
When I have wanted to understand somebody or myself I have considerednotthe actionsin which everything is relativebut the desires.
"Tell me what you wantand I will tell you what manner of man youare."
And now I examine myself: what do I want?
I want our wivesour childrenour friendsour pupilsto love in usnotour famenot the brand and not the labelbut to love us as ordinary men.Anything else? I should like to have had helpers and successors. Anything else?I should like to wake up in a hundred years' time and to have just a peep out ofone eye at what is happening in science. I should have liked to have livedanother ten years. . . What further? Whynothing further. I think and thinkand can think of nothing more. And however much I might thinkand however farmy thoughts might travelit is clear to me that there is nothing vitalnothingof great importance in my desires. In my passion for sciencein my desire tolivein this sitting on a strange bedand in this striving to know myself --in all the thoughtsfeelingsand ideas I form about everythingthere is nocommon bond to connect it all into one whole. Every feeling and every thoughtexists apart in me; and in all my criticisms of sciencethe theatreliteraturemy pupilsand in all the pictures my imagination drawseven themost skilful analyst could not find what is called a general ideaor the god ofa living man.
And if there is not thatthen there is nothing.
In a state so poverty-strickena serious ailmentthe fear of deaththeinfluences of circumstance and men were enough to turn upside down and scatterin fragments all which I had once looked upon as my theory of lifeand in whichI had seen the meaning and joy of my existence. So there is nothing surprisingin the fact that I have over-shadowed the last months of my life with thoughtsand feelings only worthy of a slave and barbarianand that now I am indifferentand take no heed of the dawn. When a man has not in him what is loftier andmightier than all external impressions a bad cold is really enough to upset hisequilibrium and make him begin to see an owl in every birdto hear a doghowling in every sound. And all his pessimism or optimism with his thoughtsgreat and small have at such times significance as symptoms and nothing more.
I am vanquished. If it is soit is useless to thinkit is useless to talk.I will sit and wait in silence for what is to come.
In the morning the corridor attendant brings me tea and a copy of the localnewspaper. Mechanically I read the advertisements on the first pagethe leadingarticlethe extracts from the newspapers and journalsthe chronicle of events.. . . In the latter I findamong other thingsthe following paragraph:"Our distinguished savantProfessor Nikolay Stepanovitch So-and-soarrived yesterday in Harkovand is staying in the So-and-so Hotel."
Apparentlyillustrious names are created to live on their own accountapartfrom those that bear them. Now my name is promenading tranquilly about Harkov;in another three monthsprinted in gold letters on my monumentit will shinebright as the sun itselfwhile I s hall be already under the moss.
A light tap at the door. Somebody wants me.
"Who is there? Come in."
The door opensand I step back surprised and hurriedly wrap my dressing-gownround me. Before me stands Katya.
"How do you do?" she saysbreathless with running upstairs."You didn't expect me? I have come heretoo. . . . I have cometoo!"
She sits down and goes onhesitating and not looking at me.
"Why don't you speak to me? I have cometoo . . . today. . . . I foundout that you were in this hoteland have come to you."
"Very glad to see you" I sayshrugging my shoulders"but Iam surprised. You seem to have dropped from the skies. What have you comefor?"
"Oh . . . I've simply come."
Silence. Suddenly she jumps up impulsively and comes to me.
"Nikolay Stepanovitch" she saysturning pale and pressing herhands on her bosom -- "Nikolay StepanovitchI cannot go on living likethis! I cannot! For God's sake tell me quicklythis minutewhat I am to do!Tell mewhat am I to do?"
"What can I tell you?" I ask in perplexity. "I can donothing."
"Tell meI beseech you" she goes onbreathing hard and tremblingall over. "I swear that I cannot go on living like this. It's too much forme!"
She sinks on a chair and begins sobbing. She flings her head backwrings herhandstaps with her feet; her hat falls off and hangs bobbing on its elastic;her hair is ruffled.
"Help me! help me! "she implores me. "I cannot go on!"
She takes her handkerchief out of her travelling-bagand with it pulls outseveral letterswhich fall from her lap to the floor. I pick them upand onone of them I recognize the handwriting of Mihail Fyodorovitch and accidentallyread a bit of a word "passionat. . ."
"There is nothing I can tell youKatya" I say.
"Help me!" she sobsclutching at my hand and kissing it. "Youare my fatheryou knowmy only friend! You are clevereducated; you havelived so long; you have been a teacher! Tell mewhat am I to do?"
"Upon my wordKatyaI don't know. . . ."
I am utterly at a loss and confusedtouched by her sobsand hardly able tostand.
"Let us have lunchKatya" I saywith a forced smile. "Giveover crying."
And at once I add in a sinking voice:
"I shall soon be goneKatya. . . ."
"Only one wordonly one word!" she weepsstretching out her handsto me.
"What am I to do?"
"You are a queer girlreally . . ." I mutter. "I don'tunderstand it! So sensibleand all at once crying your eyes out. . . ."
A silence follows. Katya straightens her hairputs on her hatthen crumplesup the letters and stuffs them in her bag -- and all this deliberatelyinsilence. Her faceher bosomand her gloves are wet with tearsbut herexpression now is cold and forbidding. . . . I look at herand feel ashamedthat I am happier than she. The absence of what my philosophic colleagues call ageneral idea I have detected in myself only just before deathin the decline ofmy dayswhile the soul of this poor girl has known and will know no refuge allher lifeall her life!
"Let us have lunchKatya" I say.
"Nothank you" she answers coldly. Another minute passes insilence. "I don't like Harkov" I say; "it's so grey here -- sucha grey town."
"Yesperhaps. . . . It's ugly. I am here not for longpassing through.I am going on today."
"To the Crimea . . . that isto the Caucasus."
"Oh! For long?"
"I don't know."
Katya gets upandwith a cold smileholds out her hand without looking atme.
I want to ask her"Thenyou won't be at my funeral?" but she doesnot look at me; her hand is cold andas it werestrange. I escort her to thedoor in silence. She goes outwalks down the long corridor without lookingback; she knows that I am looking after herand most likely she will look backat the turn.
Noshe did not look back. I've seen her black dress for the last time: hersteps have died away. Farewellmy treasure!
THE PRIVY COUNCILLOR
AT the beginning of April in 1870 my motherKlavdia Arhipovnathe widow ofa lieutenantreceived from her brother Ivana privy councillor in Petersburga letter in whichamong other thingsthis passage occurred: "My livertrouble forces me to spend every summer abroadand as I have not at the momentthe money in hand for a trip to Marienbadit is very possibledear sisterthat I may spend this summer with you at Kotchuevko. . . ."
On reading the letter my mother turned pale and began trembling all over;then an expression of mingled tears and laughter came into her face. She begancrying and laughing. This conflict of tears and laughter always reminds me ofthe flickering and spluttering of a brightly burning candle when one sprinklesit with water. Reading the letter once moremother called together all thehouseholdand in a voice broken with emotion began explaining to us that therehad been four Gundasov brothers: one Gundasov had died as a baby; another hadgone to the warand hetoowas dead; the thirdwithout offence to him be itsaidwas an actor; the fourth . . .
"The fourth has risen far above us" my mother brought outtearfully. "My own brotherwe grew up together; and I am all of a trembleall of a tremble! . . . A privy councillor with the rank of a general! How shallI meet himmy angel brother? What can Ia foolishuneducated womantalk tohim about? It's fifteen years since I've seen him! Andryushenka" my motherturned to me"you must rejoicelittle stupid! It's a piece of luck foryou that God is sending him to us!"
After we had heard a detailed history of the Gundasovsthere followed a fussand bustle in the place such as I had been accustomed to see only beforeChristmas and Easter. The sky above and the water in the river were all thatescaped; everything else was subjected to a merciless cleansingscrubbingpainting. If the sky had been lower and smaller and the river had not flowed soswiftlythey would have scoured themtoowith bath-brick and rubbed themtoowith tow. Our walls were as white as snowbut they were whitewashed; thefloors were bright and shiningbut they were washed every day. The cat Bobtail(as a small child I had cut off a good quarter of his tail with the knife usedfor chopping the sugarand that was why he was called Bobtail) was carried offto the kitchen and put in charge of Anisya; Fedka was told that if any of thedogs came near the front-door "God would punish him." But no one wasso badly treated as the poor sofaseasy-chairsand rugs! They had neverbefore been so violently beaten as on this occasion in preparation for ourvisitor. My pigeons took fright at the loud thud of the sticksand werecontinually flying up into the sky.
The tailor Spiridonthe only tailor in the whole district who ventured tomake for the gentrycame over from Novostroevka. He was a hard-working capableman who did not drink and was not without a certain fancy and feeling for formbut yet he was an atrocious tailor. His work was ruined by hesitation. . . . Theidea that his cut was not fashionable enough made him alter everything half adozen timeswalk all the way to the town simply to study the dandiesand inthe end dress us in suits that even a caricaturist would have called _outre_ andgrotesque. We cut a dash in impossibly narrow trousers and in such short jacketsthat we always felt quite abashed in the presence of young ladies.
This Spiridon spent a long time taking my measure. He measured me all overlengthways and crosswaysas though he meant to put hoops round me like abarrel; then he spent a long time noting down my measurements with a thickpencil on a bit of paperand ticked off all the measurements with triangularsigns. When he had finished with me he set to work on my tutorYegorAlexyevitch Pobyedimsky. My beloved tutor was then at the stage when young menwatch the growth of their moustache and are critical of their clothesand soyou can imagine the devout awe with which Spiridon approached him. YegorAlexyevitch had to throw back his headto straddle his legs like an inverted Vfirst lift up his armsthen let them fall. Spiridon measured him several timeswalking round him during the process like a love-sick pigeon round its mategoing down on one kneebending double. . . . My motherwearyexhausted by herexertions and heated by ironingwatched these lengthy proceedingsand said:
"Mind nowSpiridonyou will have to answer for it to God if you spoilthe cloth! And it will be the worse for you if you don't make them fit!"
Mother's words threw Spiridon first into a feverthen into a perspirationfor he was convinced that he would not make them fit. He received one roubletwenty kopecks for making my suitand for Pobyedimsky's two roublesbut weprovided the cloththe liningand the buttons. The price cannot be consideredexcessiveas Novostroevka was about seven miles from usand the tailor came tofit us four times. When he came to try the things on and we squeezed ourselvesinto the tight trousers and jackets adorned with basting threadsmother alwaysfrowned contemptuously and expressed her surprise:
"Goodness knows what the fashions are coming to nowadays! I ampositively ashamed to look at them. If brother were not used to Petersburg Iwould not get you fashionable clothes!"
Spiridonrelieved that the blame was thrown on the fashion and not on himshrugged his shoulders and sighedas though to say:
"There's no help for it; it's the spirit of the age!"
The excitement with which we awaited the arrival of our guest can only becompared with the strained suspense with which spiritualists wait from minute tominute the appearance of a ghost. Mother went about with a sick headacheandwas continually melting into tears. I lost my appetiteslept badlyand did notlearn my lessons. Even in my dreams I was haunted by an impatient longing to seea general -- that isa man with epaulettes and an embroidered collar stickingup to his earsand with a naked sword in his handsexactly like the one whohung over the sofa in the drawing-room and glared with terrible black eyes ateverybody who dared to look at him. Pobyedimsky was the only one who felthimself in his element. He was neither terrified nor delightedand merely fromtime to timewhen he heard the history of the Gundasov familysaid:
"Yesit will be pleasant to have some one fresh to talk to."
My tutor was looked upon among us as an exceptional nature. He was a youngman of twentywith a pimply faceshaggy locksa low foreheadand anunusually long nose. His nose was so big that when he wanted to look close atanything he had to put his head on one side like a bird. To our thinkingtherewas not a man in the province cleverermore cultivatedor more stylish. He hadleft the high-school in the class next to the topand had then entered aveterinary collegefrom which he was expelled before the end of the firsthalf-year. The reason of his expulsion he carefully concealedwhich enabled anyone who wished to do so to look upon my instructor as an injured and to someextent a mysterious person. He spoke littleand only of intellectual subjects;he ate meat during the fastsand looked with contempt and condescension on thelife going on around himwhich did not prevent himhoweverfrom takingpresentssuch as suits of clothesfrom my motherand drawing funny faces withred teeth on my kites. Mother disliked him for his "pride" but stoodin awe of his cleverness.
Our visitor did not keep us long waiting. At the beginning of May twowagon-loads of big boxes arrived from the station. These boxes looked somajestic that the drivers instinctively took off their hats as they lifted themdown.
"There must be uniforms and gunpowder in those boxes" I thought.
Why "gunpowder"? Probably the conception of a general was closelyconnected in my mind with cannons and gunpowder.
When I woke up on the morning of the tenth of Maynurse told me in a whisperthat "my uncle had come." I dressed rapidlyandwashing after afashionflew out of my bedroom without saying my prayers. In the vestibule Icame upon a tallsolid gentleman with fashionable whiskers and afoppish-looking overcoat. Half dead with devout aweI went up to him andremembering the ceremonial mother had impressed upon meI scraped my footbefore himmade a very low bowand craned forward to kiss his hand; but thegentleman did not allow me to kiss his hand: he informed me that he was not myunclebut my uncle's footmanPyotr. The appearance of this Pyotrfar betterdressed than Pobyedimsky or meexcited in me the utmost astonishmentwhichtotell the truthhas lasted to this day. Can such dignifiedrespectable peoplewith stern and intellectual faces really be footmen? And what for?
Pyotr told me that my uncle was in the garden with my mother. I rushed intothe garden.
Natureknowing nothing of the history of the Gundasov family and the rank ofmy unclefelt far more at ease and unconstrained than I. There was a clamourgoing on in the garden such as one only bears at fairs. Masses of starlingsflitting through the air and hopping about the walks were noisily chattering asthey hunted for cockchafers. There were swarms of sparrows in the lilac-busheswhich threw their tenderfragrant blossoms straight in one's face. Wherever oneturnedfrom every direction came the note of the golden oriole and the shrillcry of the hoopoe and the red-legged falcon. At any other time I should havebegun chasing dragon-flies or throwing stones at a crow which was sitting on alow mound under an aspen-treewith his blunt beak turned away; but at thatmoment I was in no mood for mischief. My heart was throbbingand I felt a coldsinking at my stomach; I was preparing myself to confront a gentleman withepauletteswith a naked swordand with terrible eyes!
But imagine my disappointment! A dapper little foppish gentleman in whitesilk trouserswith a white cap on his headwas walking beside my mother in thegarden. With his hands behind him and his head thrown backevery now and thenrunning on ahead of motherhe looked quite young. There was so much life andmovement in his whole figure that I could only detect the treachery of age whenI came close up behind and saw beneath his cap a fringe of close-cropped silverhair. Instead of the staid dignity and stolidity of a generalI saw an almostschoolboyish nimbleness; instead of a collar sticking up to his earsanordinary light blue necktie. Mother and my uncle were walking in the avenuetalking together. I went softly up to them from behindand waited for one ofthem to look round.
"What a delightful place you have hereKlavdia!" said my uncle."How charming and lovely it is! Had I known before that you had such acharming placenothing would have induced me to go abroad all theseyears."
My uncle stooped down rapidly and sniffed at a tulip. Everything he saw movedhim to rapture and excitementas though he had never been in a garden on asunny day before. The queer man moved about as though he were on springsandchattered incessantlywithout allowing mother to utter a single word. All of asudden Pobyedimsky came into sight from behind an elder-tree at the turn of theavenue. His appearance was so unexpected that my uncle positively started andstepped back a pace. On this occasion my tutor was attired in his best Invernesscape with sleevesin whichespecially back-viewhe looked remarkably like awindmill. He had a solemn and majestic air. Pressing his hat to his bosom inSpanish stylehe took a step towards my uncle and made a bow such as a marquismakes in a melodramabending forwarda little to one side.
"I have the honour to present myself to your high excellency" hesaid aloud: "the teacher and instructor of your nephewformerly a pupil ofthe veterinary instituteand a nobleman by birthPobyedimsky!"
This politeness on the part of my tutor pleased my mother very much. She gavea smileand waited in thrilled suspense to hear what clever thing he would saynext; but my tutorexpecting his dignified address to be answered with equaldignity -- that isthat my uncle would say "H'm!" like a general andhold out two fingers -- was greatly confused and abashed when the latter laughedgenially and shook hands with him. He muttered something incoherentcleared histhroatand walked away.
"Come! isn't that charming?" laughed my uncle. "Just look! hehas made his little flourish and thinks he's a very clever fellow! I do likethat -- upon my soul I do! What youthful aplombwhat life in that foolishflourish! And what boy is this?" he askedsuddenly turning and looking atme.
"That is my Andryushenka" my mother introduced meflushingcrimson. "My consolation. . ."
I made a scrape with my foot on the sand and dropped a low bow.
"A fine fellow . . . a fine fellow . . ." muttered my uncletakinghis hand from my lips and stroking me on the head. "So your name isAndrusha? Yesyes. . . . H'm! . . . upon my soul! . . . Do you learnlessons?"
My motherexaggerating and embellishing as all mothers dobegan to describemy achievements in the sciences and the excellence of my behaviourand I walkedround my uncle andfollowing the ceremonial laid down for meI continuedmaking low bows. Then my mother began throwing out hints that with my remarkableabilities it would not be amiss for me to get a government nomination to thecadet school; but at the point when I was to have burst into tears and beggedfor my uncle's protectionmy uncle suddenly stopped and flung up his hands inamazement.
"My goo-oodness! What's that?" he asked.
Tatyana Ivanovnathe wife of our bailiffFyodor Petrovnawas comingtowards us. She was carrying a starched white petticoat and a longironing-board. As she passed us she looked shyly at the visitor through hereyelashes and flushed crimson.
"Wonders will never cease . . ." my uncle filtered through histeethlooking after her with friendly interest. "You have a fresh surpriseat every stepsister . . . upon my soul!"
"She's a beauty . . ." said mother. "They chose her as a bridefor Fyodorthough she lived over seventy miles from here. . . ."
Not every one would have called Tatyana a beauty. She was a plump littlewoman of twentywith black eyebrows and a graceful figurealways rosy andattractive-lookingbut in her face and in her whole person there was not onestriking featurenot one bold line to catch the eyeas though nature hadlacked inspiration and confidence when creating her. Tatyana Ivanovna was shybashfuland modest in her behaviour; she moved softly and smoothlysaidlittleseldom laughedand her whole life was as regular as her face and asflat as her smoothtidy hair. My uncle screwed up his eyes looking after herand smiled. Mother looked intently at his smiling face and grew serious.
"And sobrotheryou've never married!" she sighed.
"No; I've not married."
"Why not?" asked mother softly.
"How can I tell you? It has happened so. In my youth I was too hard atworkI had no time to liveand when I longed to live -- I looked round -- andthere I had fifty years on my back already. I was too late! Howevertalkingabout it . . . is depressing."
My mother and my uncle both sighed at once and walked onand I left them andflew off to find my tutorthat I might share my impressions with him.Pobyedimsky was standing in the middle of the yardlooking majestically at theheavens.
"One can see he is a man of culture!" he saidtwisting his headround. "I hope we shall get on together."
An hour later mother came to us.
"I am in troublemy dears!" she begansighing. "You seebrother has brought a valet with himand the valetGod bless himis not oneyou can put in the kitchen or in the hall; we must give him a room apart. Ican't think what I am to do! I tell you whatchildrencouldn't you move outsomewhere -- to Fyodor's lodgefor instance -- and give your room to the valet?What do you say?"
We gave our ready consentfor living in the lodge was a great deal more freethan in the houseunder mother's eye.
"It's a nuisanceand that's a fact!" said mother. "Brothersays he won't have dinner in the middle of the daybut between six and sevenas they do in Petersburg. I am simply distracted with worry! By seven o'clockthe dinner will be done to rags in the oven. Reallymen don't understandanything about housekeepingthough they have so much intellect. Ohdear! weshall have to cook two dinners every day! You will have dinner at midday asbeforechildrenwhile your poor old mother has to wait till sevenfor thesake of her brother."
Then my mother heaved a deep sighbade me try and please my unclewhosecoming was a piece of luck for me for which we must thank Godand hurried offto the kitchen. Pobyedimsky and I moved into the lodge the same day. We wereinstalled in a room which formed the passage from the entry to the bailiff'sbedroom.
Contrary to my expectationslife went on just as beforedrearily andmonotonouslyin spite of my uncle's arrival and our move into new quarters. Wewere excused lessons "on account of the visitor. "Pobyedimskywhonever read anything or occupied himself in any wayspent most of his timesitting on his bedwith his long nose thrust into the airthinking. Sometimeshe would get uptry on his new suitand sit down again to relapse intocontemplation and silence. Only one thing worried himthe flieswhich he usedmercilessly to squash between his hands. After dinner he usually"rested" and his snores were a cause of annoyance to the wholehousehold. I ran about the garden from morning to nightor sat in the lodgesticking my kites together. For the first two or three weeks we did not see myuncle often. For days together he sat in his own room workingin spite of theflies and the heat. His extraordinary capacity for sitting as though glued tohis table produced upon us the effect of an inexplicable conjuring trick. To usidlersknowing nothing of systematic workhis industry seemed simplymiraculous. Getting up at ninehe sat down to his tableand did not leave ittill dinner-time; after dinner he set to work againand went on till late atnight. Whenever I peeped through the keyhole I invariably saw the same thing: myuncle sitting at the table working. The work consisted in his writing with onehand while he turned over the leaves of a book with the otherandstrange tosayhe kept moving all over -- swinging his leg as though it were a pendulumwhistlingand nodding his head in time. He had an extremely careless andfrivolous expression all the whileas though he were not workingbut playingat noughts and crosses. I always saw him wearing a smart short jacket and ajauntily tied cravatand he always smelteven through the keyholeof delicatefeminine perfumery. He only left his room for dinnerbut he ate little.
"I can't make brother out!" mother complained of him. "Everyday we kill a turkey and pigeons on purpose for himI make a _compote_ with myown handsand he eats a plateful of broth and a bit of meat the size of afinger and gets up from the table. I begin begging him to eat; he comes back anddrinks a glass of milk. And what is there in thatin a glass of milk? It's nobetter than washing up water! You may die of a diet like that. . . . If I try topersuade himhe laughs and makes a joke of it. . . . No; he does not care forour farepoor dear!"
We spent the evenings far more gaily than the days. As a ruleby the timethe sun was setting and long shadows were lying across the yardwe -- that isTatyana IvanovnaPobyedimskyand I -- were sitting on the steps of the lodge.We did not talk till it grew quite dusk. Andindeedwhat is one to talk ofwhen every subject has been talked over already? There was only one thing newmy uncle's arrivaland even that subject was soon exhausted. My tutor nevertook his eyes off Tatyana Ivanovna 's faceand frequently heaved deep sighs. .. . At the time I did not understand those sighsand did not try to fathomtheir significance; now they explain a great deal to me.
When the shadows merged into one thick mass of shadethe bailiff Fyodorwould come in from shooting or from the field. This Fyodor gave me the impression of being a fierce and even a terrible man. The son of a Russianized gipsyfrom Izyumskoeswarthy-faced and curly-headedwith big black eyes and a mattedbeardhe was never called among our Kotchuevko peasants by any name but"The Devil." Andindeedthere was a great deal of the gipsy abouthim apart from his appearance. He could notfor instancestay at homeandwent off for days together into the country or into the woods to shoot. He wasgloomyill-humouredtaciturnwas afraid of nobodyand refused to recognizeany authority. He was rude to motheraddressed me familiarlyand wascontemptuous of Pobyedimsky's learning. All this we forgave himlooking uponhim as a hot-tempered and nervous man; mother liked him becausein spite of hisgipsy naturehe was ideally honest and industrious. He loved his TatyanaIvanovna passionatelylike a gipsybut this love took in him a gloomy formasthough it cost him suffering. He was never affectionate to his wife in ourpresencebut simply rolled his eyes angrily at her and twisted his mouth.
When he came in from the fields he would noisily and angrily put down hisgunwould come out to us on the stepsand sit down beside his wife. Afterresting a littlehe would ask his wife a few questions about household mattersand then sink into silence.
"Let us sing" I would suggest.
My tutor would tune his guitarand in a deep deacon's bass strike up"In the midst of the valley." We would begin singing. My tutor tookthe bassFyodor sang in a hardly audible tenorwhile I sang soprano in unisonwith Tatyana Ivanovna.
When the whole sky was covered with stars and the frogs had left offcroakingthey would bring in our supper from the kitchen. We went into thelodge and sat down to the meal. My tutor and the gipsy ate greedilywith such asound that it was hard to tell whether it was the bones crunching or their jawsand Tatyana Ivanovna and I scarcely succeeded in getting our share. After supperthe lodge was plunged in deep sleep.
One eveningit was at the end of Maywe were sitting on the stepswaitingfor supper. A shadow suddenly fell across usand Gundasov stood before us asthough he had sprung out of the earth. He looked at us for a long timethenclasped his hands and laughed gaily.
"An idyll!" he said. "They sing and dream in the moonlight!It's charmingupon my soul! May I sit down and dream with you?"
We looked at one another and said nothing. My uncle sat down on the bottomstepyawnedand looked at the sky. A silence followed. Pobyedimskywho hadfor a long time been wanting to talk to somebody freshwas delighted at theopportunityand was the first to break the silence. He had only one subject forintellectual conversationthe epizootic diseases. It sometimes happens thatafter one has been in an immense crowdonly some one countenance of thethousands remains long imprinted on the memory; in the same wayof all thatPobyedimsky had heardduring his six months at the veterinary instituteheremembered only one passage:
"The epizootics do immense damage to the stock of the country. It is theduty of society to work hand in hand with the government in waging war uponthem."
Before saying this to Gundasovmy tutor cleared his throat three timesandseveral timesin his excitementwrapped himself up in his Inverness. Onhearing about the epizooticsmy uncle looked intently at my tutor and made asound between a snort and a laugh.
"Upon my soulthat's charming!" he saidscrutinizing us as thoughwe were mannequins. "This is actually life. . . . This is really whatreality is bound to be. Why are you silentPelagea Ivanovna?" he saidaddressing Tatyana Ivanovna.
She coughedovercome with confusion.
"Talkmy friendssing . . . play! . . . Don't lose time. You knowtimethe rascalruns away and waits for no man! Upon my soulbefore you havetime to look roundold age is upon you. . . . Then it is too late to live!That's how it isPelagea Ivanovna. . . . We mustn't sit still and be silent. .. ."
At that point supper was brought out from the kitchen. Uncle went into thelodge with usand to keep us company ate five curd fritters and the wing of aduck. He ate and looked at us. He was touched and delighted by us all. Whateversilly nonsense my precious tutor talkedand whatever Tatyana Ivanovna didhethought charming and delightful. When after supper Tatyana Ivanovna sat quietlydown and took up her knittinghe kept his eyes fixed on her fingers and chattedaway without ceasing.
"Make all the haste you can to livemy friends. . ." he said."God forbid you should sacrifice the present for the future! There isyouthhealthfire in the present; the future is smoke and deception! As soonas you are twenty begin to live."
Tatyana Ivanovna dropped a knitting-needle. My uncle jumped uppicked up theneedleand handed it to Tatyana Ivanovna with a bowand for the first time inmy life I learnt that there were people in the world more refined thanPobyedimsky.
"Yes . . ." my uncle went on"lovemarrydo silly things.Foolishness is a great deal more living and healthy than our straining andstriving after rational life."
My uncle talked a great dealso much that he bored us; I sat on a boxlistening to him and dropping to sleep. It distressed me that he did not onceall the evening pay attention to me. He left the lodge at two o'clockwhenovercome with drowsinessI was sound asleep.
From that time forth my uncle took to coming to the lodge every evening. Hesang with ushad supper with usand always stayed on till two o'clock in themorningchatting incessantlyalways about the same subject. His evening andnight work was given upand by the end of Junewhen the privy councillor hadlearned to eat mother's turkey and _compote_his work by day was abandoned too.My uncle tore himself away from his table and plunged into "life." Inthe daytime he walked up and down the gardenhe whistled to the workmen andhindered them from workingmaking them tell him their various histories. Whenhis eye fell on Tatyana Ivanovna he ran up to herandif she were carryinganythingoffered his assistancewhich embarrassed her dreadfully.
As the summer advanced my uncle grew more and more frivolousvolatileandcareless. Pobyedimsky was completely disillusioned in regard to him.
"He is too one-sided" he said. "There is nothing to show thathe is in the very foremost ranks of the service. And he doesn't even know how totalk. At every word it's 'upon my soul.' NoI don't like him!"
From the time that my uncle began visiting the lodge there was a noticeablechange both in Fyodor and my tutor. Fyodor gave up going out shootingcame homeearlysat more taciturn than everand stared with particular ill-humour at hiswife. In my uncle's presence my tutor gave up talking about epizooticsfrownedand even laughed sarcastically.
"Here comes our little bantam cock!" he growled on one occasionwhen my uncle was coming into the lodge.
I put down this change in them both to their being offended with my uncle. Myabsent-minded uncle mixed up their namesand to the very day of his departurefailed to distinguish which was my tutor and which was Tatyana Ivanovna'shusband. Tatyana Ivanovna herself he sometimes called NastasyasometimesPelageaand sometimes Yevdokia. Touched and delighted by ushe laughed andbehaved exactly as though in the company of small children. . . . All thisofcoursemight well offend young men. It was not a case of offended pridehoweverbutas I realize nowsubtler feelings.
I remember one evening I was sitting on the box struggling with sleep. Myeyelids felt glued together and my bodytired out by running about all daydrooped sideways. But I struggled against sleep and tried to look on. It wasabout midnight. Tatyana Ivanovnarosy and unassuming as alwayswas sitting ata little table sewing at her husband's shirt. Fyodorsullen and gloomywasstaring at her from one cornerand in the other sat Pobyedimskysnortingangrily and retreating into the high collar of his shi rt. My uncle was walkingup and down the room thinking. Silence reigned; nothing was to be heard but therustling of the linen in Tatyana Ivanovna's hands. Suddenly my uncle stood stillbefore Tatyana Ivanovnaand said:
"You are all so youngso freshso niceyou live so peacefully in thisquiet placethat I envy you. I have become attached to your way of life here;my heart aches when I remember I have to go away. . . . You may believe in mysincerity!"
Sleep closed my eyes and I lost myself. When some sound waked memy unclewas standing before Tatyana Ivanovnalooking at her with a softened expression.His cheeks were flushed.
"My life has been wasted" he said. "I have not lived! Youryoung face makes me think of my own lost youthand I should be ready to sithere watching you to the day of my death. It would be a pleasure to me to takeyou with me to Petersburg."
"What for?" Fyodor asked in a husky voice.
"I should put her under a glass case on my work-table. I should admireher and show her to other people. You knowPelagea Ivanovnawe have no womenlike you there. Among us there is wealthdistinctionsometimes beautybut wehave not this true sort of lifethis healthy serenity. . . ."
My uncle sat down facing Tatyana Ivanovna and took her by the hand.
"So you won't come with me to Petersburg?" he laughed. "Inthat case give me your little hand. . . . A charming little hand! . . . Youwon't give it? Comeyou miser! let me kiss itanyway. . . ."
At that moment there was the scrape of a chair. Fyodor jumped upand withheavymeasured steps went up to his wife. His face was palegreyandquivering. He brought his fist down on the table with a bangand said in ahollow voice:
"I won't allow it!
At the same moment Pobyedimsky jumped up from his chair. Hetoopale andangrywent up to Tatyana Ivanovnaand hetoostruck the table with his fist.
"I . . . I won't allow it!" he said.
"Whatwhat's the matter?" asked my uncle in surprise.
"I won't allow it!" repeated Fyodorbanging on the table.
My uncle jumped up and blinked nervously. He tried to speakbut in hisamazement and alarm could not utter a word; with an embarrassed smileheshuffled out of the lodge with the hurried step of an old manleaving his hatbehind. Whena little latermy mother ran into the lodgeFyodor andPobyedimsky were still hammering on the table like blacksmiths and repeating"I won't allow it!"
"What has happened here?" asked mother. "Why has my brotherbeen taken ill? What's the matter?"
Looking at Tatyana's palefrightened face and at her infuriated husbandmother probably guessed what was the matter. She sighed and shook her head.
"Come! give over banging on the table!" she said. "Leave offFyodor! And why are you thumpingYegor Alexyevitch? What have you got to dowith it?"
Pobyedimsky was startled and confused. Fyodor looked intently at himthen athis wifeand began walking about the room. When mother had gone out of thelodgeI saw what for long afterwards I looked upon as a dream. I saw Fyodorseize my tutorlift him up in the airand thrust him out of the door.
When I woke up in the morning my tutor's bed was empty. To my question wherehe was nurse told me in a whisper that he had been taken off early in themorning to the hospitalas his arm was broken. Distressed at this intelligenceand remembering the scene of the previous eveningI went out of doors. It was agrey day. The sky was covered with storm-clouds and there was a wind blowingdustbits of paperand feathers along the ground. . . . It felt as though rainwere coming. There was a look of boredom in the servants and in the animals.When I went into the house I was told not to make such a noise with my feetasmother was ill and in bed with a migraine. What was I to do? I went outside thegatesat down on the little bench thereand fell to trying to discover themeaning of what I had seen and heard the day before. From our gate there was aroad whichpassing the forge and the pool which never dried upran into themain road. I looked at the telegraph-postsabout which clouds of dust werewhirlingand at the sleepy birds sitting on the wiresand I suddenly felt sodreary that I began to cry.
A dusty wagonette crammed full of townspeopleprobably going to visit theshrinedrove by along the main road. The wagonette was hardly out of sight whena light chaise with a pair of horses came into view. In it was Akim Nikititchthe police inspectorstanding up and holding on to the coachman's belt. To mygreat surprisethe chaise turned into our road and flew by me in at the gate.While I was puzzling why the police inspector had come to see usI heard anoiseand a carriage with three horses came into sight on the road. In thecarriage stood the police captaindirecting his coachman towards our gate.
"And why is he coming?" I thoughtlooking at the dusty policecaptain. "Most probably Pobyedimsky has complained of Fyodor to himandthey have come to take him to prison."
But the mystery was not so easily solved. The police inspector and the policecaptain were only the first instalmentfor five minutes had scarcely passedwhen a coach drove in at our gate. It dashed by me so swiftly that I could onlyget a glimpse of a red beard.
Lost in conjecture and full of misgivingsI ran to the house. In the passagefirst of all I saw mother; she was pale and looking with horror towards thedoorfrom which came the sounds of men's voices. The visitors had taken her bysurprise in the very throes of migraine.
"Who has comemother?" I asked.
"Sister" I heard my uncle's voice"will you send insomething to eat for the governor and me?"
"It is easy to say 'something to eat' " whispered my mothernumbwith horror. "What have I time to get ready now? I am put to shame in myold age!"
Mother clutched at her head and ran into the kitchen. The governor's suddenvisit stirred and overwhelmed the whole household. A ferocious slaughterfollowed. A dozen fowlsfive turkeyseight duckswere killedand in thefluster the old ganderthe progenitor of our whole flock of geese and a greatfavourite of mother'swas beheaded. The coachmen and the cook seemed frenziedand slaughtered birds at randomwithout distinction of age or breed. For thesake of some wretched sauce a pair of valuable pigeonsas dear to me as thegander was to motherwere sacrificed. It was a long while before I couldforgive the governor their death.
In the eveningwhen the governor and his suiteafter a sumptuous dinnerhad got into their carriages and driven awayI went into the house to look atthe remains of the feast. Glancing into the drawing-room from the passageI sawmy uncle and my mother. My unclewith his hands behind his backwas walkingnervously up and down close to the wallshrugging his shoulders. Motherexhausted and looking much thinnerwas sitting on the sofa and watching hismovements with heavy eyes.
"Excuse mesisterbut this won't do at all" my uncle grumbledwrinkling up his face. "I introduced the governor to youand you didn'toffer to shake hands. You covered him with confusionpoor fellow! Nothatwon't do. . . . Simplicity is a very good thingbut there must be limits to it.. . . Upon my soul! And then that dinner! How can one give people such things?What was that messfor instancethat they served for the fourth course?"
"That was duck with sweet sauce . . ." mother answered softly.
"Duck! Forgive mesisterbut . . . but here I've got heartburn! I amill!"
My uncle made a sourtearful faceand went on:
"It was the devil sent that governor! As though I wanted his visit! Pff!. . . heartburn! I can't work or sleep . . . I am completely out of sorts. . . .And I can't understand how you can live here without anything to do . . . inthis boredom! Here I've got a pain coming under my shoulder-blade! . . ."
My uncle frownedand walked about more rapidly than ever.
"Brother" my mother inquired softly"what would it cost togo abroad?"
"At least three thousand . . ." my uncle answered in a te arfulvoice. "I would gobut where am I to get it? I haven't a farthing. Pff! .. . heartburn!"
My uncle stopped to look dejectedly at the greyovercast prospect from thewindowand began pacing to and fro again.
A silence followed. . . . Mother looked a long while at the ikonponderingsomethingthen she began cryingand said:
"I'll give you the three thousandbrother. . . ."
Three days later the majestic boxes went off to the stationand the privycouncillor drove off after them. As he said good-bye to mother he shed tearsand it was a long time before he took his lips from her handsbut when he gotinto his carriage his face beamed with childlike pleasure. . . . Radiant andhappyhe settled himself comfortablykissed his hand to my motherwho wascryingand all at once his eye was caught by me. A look of the utmostastonishment came into his face.
"What boy is this?" he asked.
My motherwho had declared my uncle's coming was a piece of luck for which Imust thank Godwas bitterly mortified at this question. I was in no mood forquestions. I looked at my uncle's happy faceand for some reason I feltfearfully sorry for him. I could not resist jumping up to the carriage andhugging that frivolous manweak as all men are. Looking into his face andwanting to say something pleasantI asked:
"Unclehave you ever been in a battle?"
"Ahthe dear boy . . ." laughed my unclekissing me. "Acharming boyupon my soul! How naturalhow living it all isupon my soul! . .."
The carriage set off. . . . I looked after himand long afterwards thatfarewell "upon my soul" was ringing in my ears.
THE MAN IN A CASE
AT the furthest end of the village of Mironositskoe some belated sportsmenlodged for the night in the elder Prokofy's barn. There were two of themtheveterinary surgeon Ivan Ivanovitch and the schoolmaster Burkin. Ivan Ivanovitchhad a rather strange double-barrelled surname -- Tchimsha-Himalaisky -- whichdid not suit him at alland he was called simply Ivan Ivanovitch all over theprovince. He lived at a stud-farm near the townand had come out shooting nowto get a breath of fresh air. Burkinthe high-school teacherstayed everysummer at Count P-----'sand had been thoroughly at home in this district foryears.
They did not sleep. Ivan Ivanovitcha talllean old fellow with longmoustacheswas sitting outside the doorsmoking a pipe in the moonlight.Burkin was lying within on the hayand could not be seen in the darkness.
They were telling each other all sorts of stories. Among other thingstheyspoke of the fact that the elder's wifeMavraa healthy and by no means stupidwomanhad never been beyond her native villagehad never seen a town nor arailway in her lifeand had spent the last ten years sitting behind the stoveand only at night going out into the street.
"What is there wonderful in that!" said Burkin. "There areplenty of people in the worldsolitary by temperamentwho try to retreat intotheir shell like a hermit crab or a snail. Perhaps it is an instance of atavisma return to the period when the ancestor of man was not yet a social animal andlived alone in his denor perhaps it is only one of the diversities of humancharacter -- who knows? I am not a natural science manand it is not mybusiness to settle such questions; I only mean to say that people like Mavra arenot uncommon. There is no need to look far; two months ago a man calledByelikova colleague of minethe Greek masterdied in our town. You haveheard of himno doubt. He was remarkable for always wearing goloshes and a warmwadded coatand carrying an umbrella even in the very finest weather. And hisumbrella was in a caseand his watch was in a case made of grey chamoisleatherand when he took out his penknife to sharpen his pencilhis penknifetoowas in a little case; and his face seemed to be in a case toobecause healways hid it in his turned-up collar. He wore dark spectacles and flannelvestsstuffed up his ears with cotton-wooland when he got into a cab alwaystold the driver to put up the hood. In shortthe man displayed a constant andinsurmountable impulse to wrap himself in a coveringto make himselfso tospeaka case which would isolate him and protect him from external influences.Reality irritated himfrightened himkept him in continual agitationandperhaps to justify his timidityhis aversion for the actualhe always praisedthe past and what had never existed; and even the classical languages which hetaught were in reality for him goloshes and umbrellas in which he shelteredhimself from real life.
" 'Ohhow sonoroushow beautiful is the Greek language!' he would saywith a sugary expression; and as though to prove his words he would screw up hiseyes andraising his fingerwould pronounce 'Anthropos!'
"And Byelikov tried to hide his thoughts also in a case. The only thingsthat were clear to his mind were government circulars and newspaper articles inwhich something was forbidden. When some proclamation prohibited the boys fromgoing out in the streets after nine o'clock in the eveningor some articledeclared carnal love unlawfulit was to his mind clear and definite; it wasforbiddenand that was enough. For him there was always a doubtful elementsomething vague and not fully expressedin any sanction or permission. When adramatic club or a reading-room or a tea-shop was licensed in the townhe wouldshake his head and say softly:
"It is all rightof course; it is all very nicebut I hope it won'tlead to anything!"
"Every sort of breach of orderdeviation or departure from ruledepressed himthough one would have thought it was no business of his. If oneof his colleagues was late for church or if rumours reached him of some prank ofthe high-school boysor one of the mistresses was seen late in the evening inthe company of an officerhe was much disturbedand said he hoped that nothingwould come of it. At the teachers' meetings he simply oppressed us with hiscautionhis circumspectionand his characteristic reflection on theill-behaviour of the young people in both male and female high-schoolstheuproar in the classes.
"Ohhe hoped it would not reach the ears of the authorities; ohhehoped nothing would come of it; and he thought it would be a very good thing ifPetrov were expelled from the second class and Yegorov from the fourth. Anddoyou knowby his sighshis despondencyhis black spectacles on his pale littlefacea little face like a pole-cat'syou knowhe crushed us alland we gavewayreduced Petrov's and Yegorov's marks for conductkept them inand in theend expelled them both. He had a strange habit of visiting our lodgings. Hewould come to a teacher'swould sit downand remain silentas though he werecarefully inspecting something. He would sit like this in silence for an hour ortwo and then go away. This he called 'maintaining good relations with hiscolleagues'; and it was obvious that coming to see us and sitting there wastiresome to himand that he came to see us simply because he considered it hisduty as our colleague. We teachers were afraid of him. And even the headmasterwas afraid of him. Would you believe itour teachers were all intellectualright-minded peoplebrought up on Turgenev and Shtchedrinyet this littlechapwho always went about with goloshes and an umbrellahad the wholehigh-school under his thumb for fifteen long years! High-schoolindeed -- hehad the whole town under his thumb! Our ladies did not get up privatetheatricals on Saturdays for fear he should hear of itand the clergy dared noteat meat or play cards in his presence. Under the influence of people likeByelikov we have got into the way of being afraid of everything in our town forthe last ten or fifteen years. They are afraid to speak aloudafraid to sendlettersafraid to make acquaintancesafraid to read booksafraid to help thepoorto teach people to read and write. . . ."
Ivan Ivanovitch cleared his throatmeaning to say somethingbut firstlighted his pipeg azed at the moonand then saidwith pauses:
"Yesintellectualright minded people read Shtchedrin and TurgenevBuckleand all the rest of themyet they knocked under and put up with it. . .that's just how it is."
"Byelikov lived in the same house as I did" Burkin went on"on the same storeyhis door facing mine; we often saw each otherand Iknew how he lived when he was at home. And at home it was the same story:dressing-gownnightcapblindsboltsa perfect succession of prohibitions andrestrictions of all sortsand --'OhI hope nothing will come of it!' Lentenfare was bad for himyet he could not eat meatas people might perhaps sayByelikov did not keep the fastsand he ate freshwater fish with butter -- not aLenten dishyet one could not say that it was meat. He did not keep a femaleservant for fear people might think evil of himbut had as cook an old man ofsixtycalled Afanasyhalf-witted and given to tipplingwho had once been anofficer's servant and could cook after a fashion. This Afanasy was usuallystanding at the door with his arms folded; with a deep sighhe would mutteralways the same thing:
" 'There are plenty of _them_ about nowadays!'
"Byelikov had a little bedroom like a box; his bed had curtains. When hewent to bed he covered his head over; it was hot and stuffy; the wind batteredon the closed doors; there was a droning noise in the stove and a sound of sighsfrom the kitchen -- ominous sighs. . . . And he felt frightened under thebed-clothes. He was afraid that something might happenthat Afanasy mightmurder himthat thieves might break inand so he had troubled dreams allnightand in the morningwhen we went together to the high-schoolhe wasdepressed and paleand it was evident that the high-school full of peopleexcited dread and aversion in his whole beingand that to walk beside me wasirksome to a man of his solitary temperament.
" 'They make a great noise in our classes' he used to sayas thoughtrying to find an explanation for his depression. 'It's beyond anything.'
"And the Greek masterthis man in a case -- would you believe it? --almost got married."
Ivan Ivanovitch glanced quickly into the barnand said:
"You are joking!"
"Yesstrange as it seemshe almost got married. A new teacher ofhistory and geographyMilhail Savvitch Kovalenkoa Little Russianwasappointed. He camenot alonebut with his sister Varinka. He was a talldarkyoung man with huge handsand one could see from his face that he had a bassvoiceandin facthe had a voice that seemed to come out of a barrel --'boomboomboom!' And she was not so youngabout thirtybut shetoowastallwell-madewith black eyebrows and red cheeks -- in factshe was aregular sugar-plumand so sprightlyso noisy; she was always singing LittleRussian songs and laughing. For the least thing she would go off into a ringinglaugh -- 'Ha-ha-ha!' We made our first thorough acquaintance with the Kovalenkosat the headmaster's name-day party. Among the glum and intensely bored teacherswho came even to the name-day party as a duty we suddenly saw a new Aphroditerisen from the waves; she walked with her arms akimbolaughedsangdanced. .. . She sang with feeling 'The Winds do Blow' then another songand anotherand she fascinated us all -- alleven Byelikov. He sat down by her and saidwith a honeyed smile:
" 'The Little Russian reminds one of the ancient Greek in its softnessand agreeable resonance.'
"That flattered herand she began telling him with feeling andearnestness that they had a farm in the Gadyatchsky districtand that her mammalived at the farmand that they had such pearssuch melonssuch _kabaks_! TheLittle Russians call pumpkins _kabaks_ (i.e.pothouses)while their pothousesthey call _shinki_and they make a beetroot soup with tomatoes and auberginesin it'which was so nice -- awfully nice!'
"We listened and listenedand suddenly the same idea dawned upon usall:
" 'It would be a good thing to make a match of it' the headmaster'swife said to me softly.
"We all for some reason recalled the fact that our friend Byelikov wasnot marriedand it now seemed to us strange that we had hitherto failed toobserveand had in fact completely lost sight ofa detail so important in hislife. What was his attitude to woman? How had he settled this vital question forhimself? This had not interested us in the least till then; perhaps we had noteven admitted the idea that a man who went out in all weathers in goloshes andslept under curtains could be in love.
" 'He is a good deal over forty and she is thirty' the headmaster'swife went ondeveloping her idea. 'I believe she would marry him.'
"All sorts of things are done in the provinces through boredomallsorts of unnecessary and nonsensical things! And that is because what isnecessary is not done at all. What need was there for instancefor us to make amatch for this Byelikovwhom one could not even imagine married? Theheadmaster's wifethe inspector's wifeand all our high-school ladiesgrewlivelier and even better-lookingas though they had suddenly found a new objectin life. The headmaster's wife would take a box at the theatreand we beheldsitting in her box Varinkawith such a fanbeaming and happyand beside herByelikova little bent figurelooking as though he had been extracted from hishouse by pincers. I would give an evening partyand the ladies would insist onmy inviting Byelikov and Varinka. In shortthe machine was set in motion. Itappeared that Varinka was not averse to matrimony. She had not a very cheerfullife with her brother; they could do nothing but quarrel and scold one anotherfrom morning till night. Here is a scenefor instance. Kovalenko would becoming along the streeta tallsturdy young ruffianin an embroidered shirthis love-locks falling on his forehead under his capin one hand a bundle ofbooksin the other a thick knotted stickfollowed by his sisteralso withbooks in her hand.
" 'But you haven't read itMihalik!' she would be arguing loudly. 'Itell youI swear you have not read it at all!'
" 'And I tell you I have read it' cries Kovalenkothumping his stickon the pavement.
" 'Ohmy goodnessMihalik! why are you so cross? We are arguing aboutprinciples.'
" 'I tell you that I have read it!' Kovalenko would shoutmore loudlythan ever.
"And at homeif there was an outsider presentthere was sure to be askirmish. Such a life must have been wearisomeand of course she must havelonged for a home of her own. Besidesthere was her age to be considered; therewas no time left to pick and choose; it was a case of marrying anybodyeven aGreek master. Andindeedmost of our young ladies don't mind whom they marryso long as they do get married. However that may beVarinka began to show anunmistakable partiality for Byelikov.
"And Byelikov? He used to visit Kovalenko just as he did us. He wouldarrivesit downand remain silent. He would sit quietand Varinka would singto him 'The Winds do Blow' or would look pensively at him with her dark eyesor would suddenly go off into a peal -- 'Ha-ha-ha!'
"Suggestion plays a great part in love affairsand still more ingetting married. Everybody -- both his colleagues and the ladies -- beganassuring Byelikov that he ought to get marriedthat there was nothing left forhim in life but to get married; we all congratulated himwith solemncountenances delivered ourselves of various platitudessuch as 'Marriage is aserious step.' BesidesVarinka was good-looking and interesting; she was thedaughter of a civil councillorand had a farm; and what was moreshe was thefirst woman who had been warm and friendly in her manner to him. His head wasturnedand he decided that he really ought to get married."
"Wellat that point you ought to have taken away his goloshes andumbrella" said Ivan Ivanovitch.
"Only fancy! that turned out to be impossible. He put Varinka's portraiton his tablekept coming to see me and talking about Varinkaand home life
saying marriage was a serious step. He was frequently at Kovalenko'sbut he didnot alter his manner of life in the least; on the contraryindeedhisdetermination to get married seemed to have a depressing effect on him. He grewthinner and palerand seemed to retreat further and further into his case.
" 'I like Varvara Savvishna' he used to say to mewith a faint and wrysmile'and I know that every one ought to get marriedbut . . . you know allthis has happened so suddenly. . . . One must think a little.'
" 'What is there to think over?' I used to say to him. 'Get married --that is all.'
" 'No; marriage is a serious step. One must first weigh the dutiesbefore onethe responsibilities . . . that nothing may go wrong afterwards. Itworries me so much that I don't sleep at night. And I must confess I am afraid:her brother and she have a strange way of thinking; they look at thingsstrangelyyou knowand her disposition is very impetuous. One may get marriedand thenthere is no knowingone may find oneself in an unpleasant position.'
"And he did not make an offer; he kept putting it offto the greatvexation of the headmaster's wife and all our ladies; he went on weighing hisfuture duties and responsibilitiesand meanwhile he went for a walk withVarinka almost every day -- possibly he thought that this was necessary in hisposition -- and came to see me to talk about family life. And in all probabilityin the end he would have proposed to herand would have made one of thoseunnecessarystupid marriages such as are made by thousands among us from beingbored and having nothing to doif it had not been for a _kolossalischescandal_. I must mention that Varinka's brotherKovalenkodetested Byelikovfrom the first day of their acquaintanceand could not endure him.
" 'I don't understand' he used to say to usshrugging his shoulders--'I don't understand how you can put up with that sneakthat nasty phiz. Ugh!how can you live here! The atmosphere is stifling and unclean! Do you callyourselves schoolmastersteachers? You are paltry government clerks. You keepnot a temple of sciencebut a department for red tape and loyal behaviourandit smells as sour as a police-station. Nomy friends; I will stay with you fora whileand then I will go to my farm and there catch crabs and teach theLittle Russians. I shall goand you can stay here with your Judas -- damn hissoul!'
"Or he would laugh till he criedfirst in a loud bassthen in ashrillthin laughand ask mewaving his hands:
" 'What does he sit here for? What does he want? He sits and stares.'
"He even gave Byelikov a nickname'The Spider.' And it will readily beunderstood that we avoided talking to him of his sister's being about to marry'The Spider.'
"And on one occasionwhen the headmaster's wife hinted to him what agood thing it would be to secure his sister's future with such a reliableuniversally respected man as Byelikovhe frowned and muttered:
" 'It's not my business; let her marry a reptile if she likes. I don'tlike meddling in other people's affairs.'
"Now hear what happened next. Some mischievous person drew a caricatureof Byelikov walking along in his goloshes with his trousers tucked upunder hisumbrellawith Varinka on his arm; belowthe inscription 'Anthropos in love.'The expression was caught to a marvelyou know. The artist must have worked formore than one nightfor the teachers of both the boys' and girls' high-schoolsthe teachers of the seminarythe government officialsall received a copy.Byelikov received onetoo. The caricature made a very painful impression onhim.
"We went out together; it was the first of Maya Sundayand all of usthe boys and the teachershad agreed to meet at the high-school and then to gofor a walk together to a wood beyond the town. We set offand he was green inthe face and gloomier than a storm-cloud.
'What wickedill-natured people there are!' he saidand his lips quivered.
"I felt really sorry for him. We were walking alongand all of a sudden-- would you believe it? -- Kovalenko came bowling along on a bicycleand afterhimalso on a bicycleVarinkaflushed and exhaustedbut good-humoured andgay.
" 'We are going on ahead' she called. 'What lovely weather! Awfullylovely!'
"And they both disappeared from our sight. Byelikov turned white insteadof greenand seemed petrified. He stopped short and stared at me. . . .
" 'What is the meaning of it? Tell meplease!' he asked. 'Can my eyeshave deceived me? Is it the proper thing for high-school masters and ladies toride bicycles?'
" 'What is there improper about it?' I said. 'Let them ride and enjoythemselves.'
" 'But how can that be?' he criedamazed at my calm. 'What are yousaying?'
"And he was so shocked that he was unwilling to go onand returnedhome.
"Next day he was continually twitching and nervously rubbing his handsand it was evident from his face that he was unwell. And he left before his workwas overfor the first time in his life. And he ate no dinner. Towards eveninghe wrapped himself up warmlythough it was quite warm weatherand sallied outto the Kovalenkos'. Varinka was out; he found her brotherhowever.
" 'Pray sit down' Kovalenko said coldlywith a frown. His face lookedsleepy; he had just had a nap after dinnerand was in a very bad humour.
"Byelikov sat in silence for ten minutesand then began:
" 'I have come to see you to relieve my mind. I am veryvery muchtroubled. Some scurrilous fellow has drawn an absurd caricature of me andanother personin whom we are both deeply interested. I regard it as a duty toassure you that I have had no hand in it. . . . I have given no sort of groundfor such ridicule -- on the contraryI have always behaved in every way like agentleman.'
"Kovalenko sat sulky and silent. Byelikov waited a littleand went onslowly in a mournful voice:
" 'And I have something else to say to you. I have been in the servicefor yearswhile you have only lately entered itand I consider it my duty asan older colleague to give you a warning. You ride on a bicycleand thatpastime is utterly unsuitable for an educator of youth.'
" 'Why so?' asked Kovalenko in his bass.
" 'Surely that needs no explanationMihail Savvitch -- surely you canunderstand that? If the teacher rides a bicyclewhat can you expect the pupilsto do? You will have them walking on their heads next! And so long as there isno formal permission to do soit is out of the question. I was horrifiedyesterday! When I saw your sister everything seemed dancing before my eyes. Alady or a young girl on a bicycle -- it's awful!'
" 'What is it you want exactly?'
" 'All I want is to warn youMihail Savvitch. You are a young manyouhave a future before youyou must be veryvery careful in your behaviourandyou are so careless -- ohso careless! You go about in an embroidered shirtare constantly seen in the street carrying booksand now the bicycletoo. Theheadmaster will learn that you and your sister ride the bicycleand then itwill reach the higher authorities. . . . Will that be a good thing?'
" 'It's no business of anybody else if my sister and I do bicycle!' saidKovalenkoand he turned crimson. 'And damnation take any one who meddles in myprivate affairs!'
"Byelikov turned pale and got up.
" 'If you speak to me in that tone I cannot continue' he said. 'And Ibeg you never to express yourself like that about our superiors in my presence;you ought to be respectful to the authorities.'
" 'Whyhave I said any harm of the authorities?' asked Kovalenkolooking at him wrathfully. 'Please leave me alone. I am an honest manand donot care to talk to a gentleman like you. I don't like sneaks!'
"Byelikov flew into a nervous flutterand began hurriedly putting onhis coatwith an expression of horror on his face. It was the first time in hislife he had been spoken to so rudely.
" 'You can say what you please' he saidas he went out from the entryto the landing on the staircase. 'I ought only to warn you: possibly some on emay have overheard usand that our conversation may not be misunderstood andharm come of itI shall be compelled to inform our headmaster of ourconversation . . . in its main features. I am bound to do so.'
" 'Inform him? You can go and make your report!'
"Kovalenko seized him from behind by the collar and gave him a pushandByelikov rolled downstairsthudding with his goloshes. The staircase was highand steepbut he rolled to the bottom unhurtgot upand touched his nose tosee whether his spectacles were all right. But just as he was falling down thestairs Varinka came inand with her two ladies; they stood below staringandto Byelikov this was more terrible than anything. I believe he would rather havebroken his neck or both legs than have been an object of ridicule. 'Whynow thewhole town would hear of it; it would come to the headmaster's earswould reachthe higher authorities -- ohit might lead to something! There would be anothercaricatureand it would all end in his being asked to resign his post. . . .
"When he got upVarinka recognized himandlooking at his ridiculousfacehis crumpled overcoatand his goloshesnot understanding what hadhappened and supposing that he had slipped down by accidentcould not restrainherselfand laughed loud enough to be heard by all the flats:
"And this pealingringing 'Ha-ha-ha!' was the last straw that put anend to everything: to the proposed match and to Byelikov's earthly existence. Hedid not hear what Varinka said to him; he saw nothing. On reaching homethefirst thing he did was to remove her portrait from the table; then he went tobedand he never got up again.
"Three days later Afanasy came to me and asked whether we should notsend for the doctoras there was something wrong with his master. I went in toByelikov. He lay silent behind the curtaincovered with a quilt; if one askedhim a questionhe said 'Yes' or 'No' and not another sound. He lay there whileAfanasygloomy and scowlinghovered about himsighing heavilyand smellinglike a pothouse.
"A month later Byelikov died. We all went to his funeral -- that isboth the high-schools and the seminary. Now when he was lying in his coffin hisexpression was mildagreeableeven cheerfulas though he were glad that hehad at last been put into a case which he would never leave again. Yeshe hadattained his ideal! Andas though in his honourit was dullrainy weather onthe day of his funeraland we all wore goloshes and took our umbrellas.Varinkatoowas at the funeraland when the coffin was lowered into the graveshe burst into tears. I have noticed that Little Russian women are alwayslaughing or crying -- no intermediate mood.
"One must confess that to bury people like Byelikov is a great pleasure.As we were returning from the cemetery we wore discreet Lenten faces; no onewanted to display this feeling of pleasure -- a feeling like that we hadexperienced longlong ago as children when our elders had gone out and we ranabout the garden for an hour or twoenjoying complete freedom. Ahfreedomfreedom! The merest hintthe faintest hope of its possibility gives wings tothe souldoes it not?
"We returned from the cemetery in a good humour. But not more than aweek had passed before life went on as in the pastas gloomyoppressiveandsenseless -- a life not forbidden by government prohibitionbut not fullypermittedeither: it was no better. Andindeedthough we had buried Byelikovhow many such men in cases were lefthow many more of them there will be!"
"That's just how it is" said Ivan Ivanovitch and he lighted hispipe.
"How many more of them there will be!" repeated Burkin.
The schoolmaster came out of the barn. He was a shortstout mancompletelybaldwith a black beard down to his waist. The two dogs came out with him.
"What a moon!" he saidlooking upwards.
It was midnight. On the right could be seen the whole villagea long streetstretching far away for four miles. All was buried in deep silent slumber; not amovementnot a sound; one could hardly believe that nature could be so still.When on a moonlight night you see a broad village streetwith its cottageshaystacksand slumbering willowsa feeling of calm comes over the soul; inthis peacewrapped away from caretoiland sorrow in the darkness of nightit is mildmelancholybeautifuland it seems as though the stars look downupon it kindly and with tendernessand as though there were no evil on earthand all were well. On the left the open country began from the end of thevillage; it could be seen stretching far away to the horizonand there was nomovementno sound in that whole expanse bathed in moonlight.
"Yesthat is just how it is" repeated Ivan Ivanovitch; "andisn't our living in townairless and crowdedour writing useless papersourplaying _vint_ -- isn't that all a sort of case for us? And our spending ourwhole lives among trivialfussy men and sillyidle womenour talking and ourlistening to all sorts of nonsense -- isn't that a case for ustoo? If youlikeI will tell you a very edifying story."
"No; it's time we were asleep" said Burkin. "Tell ittomorrow."
They went into the barn and lay down on the hay. And they were both coveredup and beginning to doze when they suddenly heard light footsteps -- patterpatter. . . . Some one was walking not far from the barnwalking a little andstoppingand a minute laterpatterpatter again. . . . The dogs begangrowling.
"That's Mavra" said Burkin.
The footsteps died away.
"You see and hear that they lie" said Ivan Ivanovitchturningover on the other side"and they call you a fool for putting up with theirlying. You endure insult and humiliationand dare not openly say that you areon the side of the honest and the freeand you lie and smile yourself; and allthat for the sake of a crust of breadfor the sake of a warm cornerfor thesake of a wretched little worthless rank in the service. Noone can't go onliving like this."
"Wellyou are off on another tack nowIvan Ivanovitch" said theschoolmaster. "Let us go to sleep!
And ten minutes later Burkin was asleep. But Ivan Ivanovitch kept sighing andturning over from side to side; then he got upwent outside againandsittingin the doorwaylighted his pipe.
THE whole sky had been overcast with rain-clouds from early morning; it was astill daynot hotbut heavyas it is in grey dull weather when the cloudshave been hanging over the country for a long whilewhen one expects rain andit does not come. Ivan Ivanovitchthe veterinary surgeonand Burkinthehigh-school teacherwere already tired from walkingand the fields seemed tothem endless. Far ahead of them they could just see the windmills of the villageof Mironositskoe; on the right stretched a row of hillocks which disappeared inthe distance behind the villageand they both knew that this was the bank ofthe riverthat there were meadowsgreen willowshomesteads thereand that ifone stood on one of the hillocks one could see from it the same vast plaintelegraph-wiresand a train which in the distance looked like a crawlingcaterpillarand that in clear weather one could even see the town. Nowinstill weatherwhen all nature seemed mild and dreamyIvan Ivanovitch andBurkin were filled with love of that countrysideand both thought how greathow beautiful a land it was.
"Last time we were in Prokofy's barn" said Burkin"you wereabout to tell me a story."
"Yes; I meant to tell you about my brother."
Ivan Ivanovitch heaved a deep sigh and lighted a pipe to begin to tell hisstorybut just at that moment the rain began. And five minutes later heavy raincame downcovering the skyand it was hard to tell when it would be over. IvanIvanovitch and Burkin stopped in hesitation; the dogsalready drenchedstoodwith their tails between their legs gazing at them feelingly.
"We must take shelter somewhere" said Burkin. "Let us go toAlehin's; it's close by."
They turned aside a nd walked through mown fieldssometimes going straightforwardsometimes turning to the righttill they came out on the road. Soonthey saw poplarsa gardenthen the red roofs of barns; there was a gleam ofthe riverand the view opened on to a broad expanse of water with a windmilland a white bath-house: this was Sofinowhere Alehin lived.
The watermill was at workdrowning the sound of the rain; the dam wasshaking. Here wet horses with drooping heads were standing near their cartsandmen were walking about covered with sacks. It was dampmuddyand desolate; thewater looked cold and malignant. Ivan Ivanovitch and Burkin were alreadyconscious of a feeling of wetnessmessinessand discomfort all over; theirfeet were heavy with mudand whencrossing the damthey went up to the barnsthey were silentas though they were angry with one another.
In one of the barns there was the sound of a winnowing machinethe door wasopenand clouds of dust were coming from it. In the doorway was standing Alehinhimselfa man of fortytall and stoutwith long hairmore like a professoror an artist than a landowner. He had on a white shirt that badly neededwashinga rope for a beltdrawers instead of trousersand his bootstoowere plastered up with mud and straw. His eyes and nose were black with dust. Herecognized Ivan Ivanovitch and Burkinand was apparently much delighted to seethem.
"Go into the housegentlemen" he saidsmiling; "I'll comedirectlythis minute."
It was a big two-storeyed house. Alehin lived in the lower storeywitharched ceilings and little windowswhere the bailiffs had once lived; hereeverything was plainand there was a smell of rye breadcheap vodkaandharness. He went upstairs into the best rooms only on rare occasionswhenvisitors came. Ivan Ivanovitch and Burkin were met in the house by amaid-servanta young woman so beautiful that they both stood still and lookedat one another.
"You can't imagine how delighted I am to see youmy friends" saidAlehingoing into the hall with them. "It is a surprise! Pelagea" hesaidaddressing the girl"give our visitors something to change into.Andby the wayI will change too. Only I must first go and washfor I almostthink I have not washed since spring. Wouldn't you like to come into thebath-house? and meanwhile they will get things ready here."
Beautiful Pelagealooking so refined and softbrought them towels and soapand Alehin went to the bath-house with his guests.
"It's a long time since I had a wash" he saidundressing. "Ihave got a nice bath-houseas you see -- my father built it -- but I somehownever have time to wash."
He sat down on the steps and soaped his long hair and his neckand the waterround him turned brown.
"YesI must say" said Ivan Ivanovitch meaninglylooking at hishead.
"It's a long time since I washed . . ." said Alehin withembarrassmentgiving himself a second soapingand the water near him turneddark bluelike ink.
Ivan Ivanovitch went outsideplunged into the water with a loud splashandswam in the rainflinging his arms out wide. He stirred the water into waveswhich set the white lilies bobbing up and down; he swam to the very middle ofthe millpond and divedand came up a minute later in another placeand swamonand kept on divingtrying to touch the bottom.
"Ohmy goodness!" he repeated continuallyenjoying himselfthoroughly. "Ohmy goodness!" He swam to the milltalked to thepeasants therethen returned and lay on his back in the middle of the pondturning his face to the rain. Burkin and Alehin were dressed and ready to gobut he still went on swimming and diving. "Ohmy goodness! . . ." hesaid. "OhLordhave mercy on me! . . ."
"That's enough!" Burkin shouted to him.
They went back to the house. And only when the lamp was lighted in the bigdrawing-room upstairsand Burkin and Ivan Ivanovitchattired in silkdressing-gowns and warm slipperswere sitting in arm-chairs; and Alehinwashedand combedin a new coatwas walking about the drawing-roomevidentlyenjoying the feeling of warmthcleanlinessdry clothesand light shoes; andwhen lovely Pelageastepping noiselessly on the carpet and smiling softlyhanded tea and jam on a tray -- only then Ivan Ivanovitch began on his storyand it seemed as though not only Burkin and Alehin were listeningbut also theladiesyoung and oldand the officers who looked down upon them sternly andcalmly from their gold frames.
"There are two of us brothers" he began --"IIvanIvanovitchand my brotherNikolay Ivanovitchtwo years younger. I went in fora learned profession and became a veterinary surgeonwhile Nikolay sat in agovernment office from the time he was nineteen. Our fatherTchimsha-Himalaiskywas a kantonistbut he rose to be an officer and left us alittle estate and the rank of nobility. After his death the little estate wentin debts and legal expenses; butanywaywe had spent our childhood runningwild in the country. Like peasant childrenwe passed our days and nights in thefields and the woodslooked after horsesstripped the bark off the treesfishedand so on. . . . Andyou knowwhoever has once in his life caughtperch or has seen the migrating of the thrushes in autumnwatched how theyfloat in flocks over the village on brightcool dayshe will never be a realtownsmanand will have a yearning for freedom to the day of his death. Mybrother was miserable in the government office. Years passed byand he went onsitting in the same placewent on writing the same papers and thinking of oneand the same thing -- how to get into the country. And this yearning by degreespassed into a definite desireinto a dream of buying himself a little farmsomewhere on the banks of a river or a lake.
"He was a gentlegood-natured fellowand I was fond of himbut Inever sympathized with this desire to shut himself up for the rest of his lifein a little farm of his own. It's the correct thing to say that a man needs nomore than six feet of earth. But six feet is what a corpse needsnot a man. Andthey saytoonowthat if our intellectual classes are attracted to the landand yearn for a farmit's a good thing. But these farms are just the same assix feet of earth. To retreat from townfrom the strugglefrom the bustle oflifeto retreat and bury oneself in one's farm -- it's not lifeit's egoismlazinessit's monasticism of a sortbut monasticism without good works. A mandoes not need six feet of earth or a farmbut the whole globeall naturewhere he can have room to display all the qualities and peculiarities of hisfree spirit.
"My brother Nikolaysitting in his government officedreamed of how hewould eat his own cabbageswhich would fill the whole yard with such a savourysmelltake his meals on the green grasssleep in the sunsit for whole hourson the seat by the gate gazing at the fields and the forest. Gardening books andthe agricultural hints in calendars were his delighthis favourite spiritualsustenance; he enjoyed reading newspaperstoobut the only things he read inthem were the advertisements of so many acres of arable land and a grass meadowwith farm-houses and buildingsa rivera gardena mill and millpondsforsale. And his imagination pictured the garden-pathsflowers and fruitstarlingcotesthe carp in the pondand all that sort of thingyou know. Theseimaginary pictures were of different kinds according to the advertisements whichhe came acrossbut for some reason in every one of them he had always to havegooseberries. He could not imagine a homesteadhe could not picture an idyllicnookwithout gooseberries.
" 'Country life has its conveniences' he would sometimes say. 'You siton the verandah and you drink teawhile your ducks swim on the pondthere is adelicious smell everywhereand . . . and the gooseberries are growing.'
"He used to draw a map of his propertyand in every map there were thesame things -- (a) house for the family(b) servants' quarters(c) kitchen-garden(d) gooseberry-bushes. He lived parsimoniouslywas frugal in food anddrinkhis clothes were beyond description; he looked like a beggarbut kept onsaving and putting money in the bank. He grew fearfully avaricious. I did notlike to look at himand I used to give him something and send him presents forChristmas and Easterbut he used to save that too. Once a man is absorbed by anidea there is no doing anything with him.
"Years passed: he was transferred to another province. He was overfortyand he was still reading the advertisements in the papers and saving up.Then I heard he was married. Still with the same object of buying a farm andhaving gooseberrieshe married an elderly and ugly widow without a trace offeeling for hersimply because she had filthy lucre. He went on living frugallyafter marrying herand kept her short of foodwhile he put her money in thebank in his name.
"Her first husband had been a postmasterand with him she wasaccustomed to pies and home-made wineswhile with her second husband she didnot get enough black bread; she began to pine away with this sort of lifeandthree years later she gave up her soul to God. And I need hardly say that mybrother never for one moment imagined that he was responsible for her death.Moneylike vodkamakes a man queer. In our town there was a merchant whobefore he diedordered a plateful of honey and ate up all his money and lotterytickets with the honeyso that no one might get the benefit of it. While I wasinspecting cattle at a railway-stationa cattle-dealer fell under an engine andhad his leg cut off. We carried him into the waiting-roomthe blood was flowing-- it was a horrible thing -- and he kept asking them to look for his leg andwas very much worried about it; there were twenty roubles in the boot on the legthat had been cut offand he was afraid they would be lost."
"That's a story from a different opera" said Burkin.
"After his wife's death" Ivan Ivanovitch went onafter thinkingfor half a minute"my brother began looking out for an estate for himself.Of courseyou may look about for five years and yet end by making a mistakeand buying something quite different from what you have dreamed of. My brotherNikolay bought through an agent a mortgaged estate of three hundred and thirtyacreswith a house for the familywith servants' quarterswith a parkbutwith no orchardno gooseberry-bushesand no duck-pond; there was a riverbutthe water in it was the colour of coffeebecause on one side of the estatethere was a brickyard and on the other a factory for burning bones. But NikolayIvanovitch did not grieve much; he ordered twenty gooseberry-bushesplantedthemand began living as a country gentleman.
"Last year I went to pay him a visit. I thought I would go and see whatit was like. In his letters my brother called his estate 'Tchumbaroklov Wastealias Himalaiskoe.' I reached 'alias Himalaiskoe' in the afternoon. It was hot.Everywhere there were ditchesfenceshedgesfir-trees planted in rowsandthere was no knowing how to get to the yardwhere to put one's horse. I went upto the houseand was met by a fat red dog that looked like a pig. It wanted tobarkbut it was too lazy. The cooka fatbarefooted womancame out of thekitchenand shetoolooked like a pigand said that her master was restingafter dinner. I went in to see my brother. He was sitting up in bed with a quiltover his legs; he had grown olderfatterwrinkled; his cheekshis noseandhis mouth all stuck out -- he looked as though he might begin grunting into thequilt at any moment.
"We embraced each otherand shed tears of joy and of sadness at thethought that we had once been young and now were both grey-headed and near thegrave. He dressedand led me out to show me the estate.
" 'Wellhow are you getting on here?' I asked.
" 'Ohall rightthank God; I am getting on very well.'
"He was no more a poor timid clerkbut a real landownera gentleman.He was already accustomed to ithad grown used to itand liked it. He ate agreat dealwent to the bath-housewas growing stoutwas already at law withthe village commune and both factoriesand was very much offended when thepeasants did not call him 'Your Honour.' And he concerned himself with thesalvation of his soul in a substantialgentlemanly mannerand performed deedsof charitynot simplybut with an air of consequence. And what deeds ofcharity! He treated the peasants for every sort of disease with soda and castoroiland on his name-day had a thanksgiving service in the middle of thevillageand then treated the peasants to a gallon of vodka -- he thought thatwas the thing to do. Ohthose horrible gallons of vodka! One day the fatlandowner hauls the peasants up before the district captain for trespassandnext dayin honour of a holidaytreats them to a gallon of vodkaand theydrink and shout 'Hurrah!' and when they are drunk bow down to his feet. A changeof life for the betterand being well-fed and idle develop in a Russian themost insolent self-conceit. Nikolay Ivanovitchwho at one time in thegovernment office was afraid to have any views of his ownnow could say nothingthat was not gospel truthand uttered such truths in the tone of a primeminister. 'Education is essentialbut for the peasants it is premature.''Corporal punishment is harmful as a rulebut in some cases it is necessary andthere is nothing to take its place.'
" 'I know the peasants and understand how to treat them' he would say.'The peasants like me. I need only to hold up my little finger and the peasantswill do anything I like.'
"And all thisobservewas uttered with a wisebenevolent smile. Herepeated twenty times over 'We noblemen' 'I as a noble'; obviously he did notremember that our grandfather was a peasantand our father a soldier. Even oursurname Tchimsha-Himalaiskyin reality so incongruousseemed to him nowmelodiousdistinguishedand very agreeable.
"But the point just now is not hebut myself. I want to tell you aboutthe change that took place in me during the brief hours I spent at his countryplace. In the eveningwhen we were drinking teathe cook put on the table aplateful of gooseberries. They were not boughtbut his own gooseberriesgathered for the first time since the bushes were planted. Nikolay Ivanovitchlaughed and looked for a minute in silence at the gooseberrieswith tears inhis eyes; he could not speak for excitement. Then he put one gooseberry in hismouthlooked at me with the triumph of a child who has at last received hisfavourite toyand said:
" 'How delicious!'
"And he ate them greedilycontinually repeating'Ahhow delicious! Dotaste them!'
"They were sour and unripebutas Pushkin says:
" 'Dearer to us the falsehood that exalts
Than hosts of baser truths.'
"I saw a happy man whose cherished dream was so obviously fulfilledwhohad attained his object in lifewho had gained what he wantedwho wassatisfied with his fate and himself. There is alwaysfor some reasonanelement of sadness mingled with my thoughts of human happinessandon thisoccasionat the sight of a happy man I was overcome by an oppressive feelingthat was close upon despair. It was particularly oppressive at night. A bed wasmade up for me in the room next to my brother's bedroomand I could hear thathe was awakeand that he kept getting up and going to the plate of gooseberriesand taking one. I reflected how many satisfiedhappy people there really are!'What a suffocating force it is! You look at life: the insolence and idleness ofthe strongthe ignorance and brutishness of the weakincredible poverty allabout usovercrowdingdegenerationdrunkennesshypocrisylying. . . . Yetall is calm and stillness in the houses and in the streets; of the fiftythousand living in a townthere is not one who would cry outwho would givevent to his indignation aloud. We see the people going to market for provisionseating by daysleeping by nighttalking their silly nonse nsegettingmarriedgrowing oldserenely escorting their dead to the cemetery; but we donot see and we do not hear those who sufferand what is terrible in life goeson somewhere behind the scenes. . . . Everything is quiet and peacefulandnothing protests but mute statistics: so many people gone out of their mindssomany gallons of vodka drunkso many children dead from malnutrition. . . . Andthis order of things is evidently necessary; evidently the happy man only feelsat ease because the unhappy bear their burdens in silenceand without thatsilence happiness would be impossible. It's a case of general hypnotism. Thereought to be behind the door of every happycontented man some one standing witha hammer continually reminding him with a tap that there are unhappy people;that however happy he may belife will show him her laws sooner or latertrouble will come for him -- diseasepovertylossesand no one will see orhearjust as now he neither sees nor hears others. But there is no man with ahammer; the happy man lives at his easeand trivial daily cares faintly agitatehim like the wind in the aspen-tree -- and all goes well.
"That night I realized that Itoowas happy and contented" IvanIvanovitch went ongetting up. "Itooat dinner and at the hunt liked tolay down the law on life and religionand the way to manage the peasantry. Itooused to say that science was lightthat culture was essentialbut for thesimple people reading and writing was enough for the time. Freedom is ablessingI used to say; we can no more do without it than without airbut wemust wait a little. YesI used to talk like thatand now I ask'For whatreason are we to wait?' " asked Ivan Ivanovitchlooking angrily at Burkin."Why waitI ask you? What grounds have we for waiting? I shall be tolditcan't be done all at once; every idea takes shape in life graduallyin its duetime. But who is it says that? Where is the proof that it's right? You will fallback upon the natural order of thingsthe uniformity of phenomena; but is thereorder and uniformity in the fact that Ia livingthinking manstand over achasm and wait for it to close of itselfor to fill up with mud at the verytime when perhaps I might leap over it or build a bridge across it? And againwait for the sake of what? Wait till there's no strength to live? And meanwhileone must liveand one wants to live!
"I went away from my brother's early in the morningand ever since thenit has been unbearable for me to be in town. I am oppressed by its peace andquiet; I am afraid to look at the windowsfor there is no spectacle morepainful to me now than the sight of a happy family sitting round the tabledrinking tea. I am old and am not fit for the struggle; I am not even capable ofhatred; I can only grieve inwardlyfeel irritated and vexed; but at night myhead is hot from the rush of ideasand I cannot sleep. . . . Ahif I wereyoung!"
Ivan Ivanovitch walked backwards and forwards in excitementand repeated:"If I were young!"
He suddenly went up to Alehin and began pressing first one of his hands andthen the other.
"Pavel Konstantinovitch" he said in an imploring voice"don't be calm and contenteddon't let yourself be put to sleep! While youare youngstrongconfidentbe not weary in well-doing! There is no happinessand there ought not to be; but if there is a meaning and an object in lifethatmeaning and object is not our happinessbut something greater and morerational. Do good!"
And all this Ivan Ivanovitch said with a pitifulimploring smileas thoughhe were asking him a personal favour.
Then all three sat in arm-chairs at different ends of the drawing-room andwere silent. Ivan Ivanovitch's story had not satisfied either Burkin or Alehin.When the generals and ladies gazed down from their gilt frameslooking in thedusk as though they were aliveit was dreary to listen to the story of the poorclerk who ate gooseberries. They felt inclinedfor some reasonto talk aboutelegant peopleabout women. And their sitting in the drawing-room whereeverything -- the chandeliers in their coversthe arm-chairsand the carpetunder their feet -- reminded them that those very people who were now lookingdown from their frames had once moved aboutsatdrunk tea in this roomandthe fact that lovely Pelagea was moving noiselessly about was better than anystory.
Alehin was fearfully sleepy; he had got up earlybefore three o'clock in themorningto look after his workand now his eyes were closing; but he wasafraid his visitors might tell some interesting story after he had goneand helingered on. He did not go into the question whether what Ivan Ivanovitch hadjust said was right and true. His visitors did not talk of groatsnor of haynor of tarbut of something that had no direct bearing on his lifeand he wasglad and wanted them to go on.
"It's bed-timethough" said Burkingetting up. "Allow me towish you good-night."
Alehin said good-night and went downstairs to his own domainwhile thevisitors remained upstairs. They were both taken for the night to a big roomwhere there stood two old wooden beds decorated with carvingsand in the cornerwas an ivory crucifix. The big cool bedswhich had been made by the lovelyPelageasmelt agreeably of clean linen.
Ivan Ivanovitch undressed in silence and got into bed.
"Lord forgive us sinners!" he saidand put his head under thequilt.
His pipe lying on the table smelt strongly of stale tobaccoand Burkin couldnot sleep for a long whileand kept wondering where the oppressive smell camefrom.
The rain was pattering on the window-panes all night.
AT lunch next day there were very nice piescrayfishand mutton cutlets;and while we were eatingNikanorthe cookcame up to ask what the visitorswould like for dinner. He was a man of medium heightwith a puffy face andlittle eyes; he was close-shavenand it looked as though his moustaches had notbeen shavedbut had been pulled out by the roots. Alehin told us that thebeautiful Pelagea was in love with this cook. As he drank and was of a violentcharactershe did not want to marry himbut was willing to live with himwithout. He was very devoutand his religious convictions would not allow himto "live in sin"; he insisted on her marrying himand would consentto nothing elseand when he was drunk he used to abuse her and even beat her.Whenever he got drunk she used to hide upstairs and soband on such occasionsAlehin and the servants stayed in the house to be ready to defend her in case ofnecessity.
We began talking about love.
"How love is born" said Alehin"why Pelagea does not lovesomebody more like herself in her spiritual and external qualitiesand why shefell in love with Nikanorthat ugly snout -- we all call him 'The Snout' -- howfar questions of personal happiness are of consequence in love -- all that isknown; one can take what view one likes of it. So far only one incontestabletruth has been uttered about love: 'This is a great mystery.' Everything elsethat has been written or said about love is not a conclusionbut only astatement of questions which have remained unanswered. The explanation whichwould seem to fit one case does not apply in a dozen othersand the very bestthingto my mindwould be to explain every case individually withoutattempting to generalize. We oughtas the doctors sayto individualize eachcase."
"Perfectly true" Burkin assented.
"We Russians of the educated class have a partiality for these questionsthat remain unanswered. Love is usually poeticizeddecorated with rosesnightingales; we Russians decorate our loves with these momentous questionsandselect the most uninteresting of themtoo. In Moscowwhen I was a studentIhad a friend who shared my lifea charming ladyand every time I took her inmy arms she was thinking what I would allow her a month for housekeeping andwhat was the price of beef a pound. In the same waywhen we are in love we arenever tired of asking ourselves questi ons: whether it is honourable ordishonourablesensible or stupidwhat this love is leading up toand so on.Whether it is a good thing or not I don't knowbut that it is in the wayunsatisfactoryand irritatingI do know."
It looked as though he wanted to tell some story. People who lead a solitaryexistence always have something in their hearts which they are eager to talkabout. In town bachelors visit the baths and the restaurants on purpose to talkand sometimes tell the most interesting things to bath attendants and waiters;in the countryas a rulethey unbosom themselves to their guests. Now from thewindow we could see a grey skytrees drenched in the rain; in such weather wecould go nowhereand there was nothing for us to do but to tell stories and tolisten.
"I have lived at Sofino and been farming for a long time" Alehinbegan"ever since I left the University. I am an idle gentleman byeducationa studious person by disposition; but there was a big debt owing onthe estate when I came hereand as my father was in debt partly because he hadspent so much on my educationI resolved not to go awaybut to work till Ipaid off the debt. I made up my mind to this and set to worknotI mustconfesswithout some repugnance. The land here does not yield muchand if oneis not to farm at a loss one must employ serf labour or hired labourerswhichis almost the same thingor put it on a peasant footing -- that iswork thefields oneself and with one's family. There is no middle path. But in those daysI did not go into such subtleties. I did not leave a clod of earth unturned; Igathered together all the peasantsmen and womenfrom the neighbouringvillages; the work went on at a tremendous pace. I myself ploughed and sowed andreapedand was bored doing itand frowned with disgustlike a village catdriven by hunger to eat cucumbers in the kitchen-garden. My body achedand Islept as I walked. At first it seemed to me that I could easily reconcile thislife of toil with my cultured habits; to do soI thoughtall that is necessaryis to maintain a certain external order in life. I established myself upstairshere in the best roomsand ordered them to bring me there coffee and liquorafter lunch and dinnerand when I went to bed I read every night the _YyesnikEvropi_. But one day our priestFather Ivancame and drank up all my liquor atone sitting; and the _Yyesnik Evropi_ went to the priest's daughters; as in thesummerespecially at the haymakingI did not succeed in getting to my bed atalland slept in the sledge in the barnor somewhere in the forester's lodgewhat chance was there of reading? Little by little I moved downstairsbegandining in the servants' kitchenand of my former luxury nothing is left but theservants who were in my father's serviceand whom it would be painful to turnaway.
"In the first years I was elected here an honourary justice of thepeace. I used to have to go to the town and take part in the sessions of thecongress and of the circuit courtand this was a pleasant change for me. Whenyou live here for two or three months without a breakespecially in the winteryou begin at last to pine for a black coat. And in the circuit court there werefrock-coatsand uniformsand dress-coatstooall lawyersmen who havereceived a general education; I had some one to talk to. After sleeping in thesledge and dining in the kitchento sit in an arm-chair in clean linenin thinbootswith a chain on one's waistcoatis such luxury!
"I received a warm welcome in the town. I made friends eagerly. And ofall my acquaintanceships the most intimate andto tell the truththe mostagreeable to me was my acquaintance with Luganovitchthe vice-president of thecircuit court. You both know him: a most charming personality. It all happenedjust after a celebrated case of incendiarism; the preliminary investigationlasted two days; we were exhausted. Luganovitch looked at me and said:
" 'Look herecome round to dinner with me.'
"This was unexpectedas I knew Luganovitch very littleonlyofficiallyand I had never been to his house. I only just went to my hotel roomto change and went off to dinner. And here it was my lot to meet Anna AlexyevnaLuganovitch's wife. At that time she was still very youngnot more thantwenty-twoand her first baby had been born just six months before. It is all athing of the past; and now I should find it difficult to define what there wasso exceptional in herwhat it was in her attracted me so much; at the timeatdinnerit was all perfectly clear to me. I saw a lovely younggoodintelligentfascinating womansuch as I had never met before; and I felt herat once some one close and already familiaras though that facethose cordialintelligent eyesI had seen somewhere in my childhoodin the album which layon my mother's chest of drawers.
"Four Jews were charged with being incendiarieswere regarded as a gangof robbersandto my mindquite groundlessly. At dinner I was very muchexcitedI was uncomfortableand I don't know what I saidbut Anna Alexyevnakept shaking her head and saying to her husband:
" 'Dmitryhow is this?'
"Luganovitch is a good-natured manone of those simple-hearted peoplewho firmly maintain the opinion that once a man is charged before a court he isguiltyand to express doubt of the correctness of a sentence cannot be doneexcept in legal form on paperand not at dinner and in private conversation.
" 'You and I did not set fire to the place' he said softly'and yousee we are not condemnedand not in prison.'
"And both husband and wife tried to make me eat and drink as much aspossible. From some trifling detailsfrom the way they made the coffeetogetherfor instanceand from the way they understood each other at half awordI could gather that they lived in harmony and comfortand that they wereglad of a visitor. After dinner they played a duet on the piano; then it gotdarkand I went home. That was at the beginning of spring.
"After that I spent the whole summer at Sofino without a breakand Ihad no time to think of the towneitherbut the memory of the gracefulfair-haired woman remained in my mind all those days; I did not think of herbut it was as though her light shadow were lying on my heart.
"In the late autumn there was a theatrical performance for somecharitable object in the town. I went into the governor's box (I was invited togo there in the interval); I lookedand there was Anna Alexyevna sitting besidethe governor's wife; and again the same irresistiblethrilling impression ofbeauty and sweetcaressing eyesand again the same feeling of nearness. We satside by sidethen went to the foyer.
" 'You've grown thinner' she said; 'have you been ill?'
" 'YesI've had rheumatism in my shoulderand in rainy weather I can'tsleep.'
" 'You look dispirited. In the springwhen you came to dinneryou wereyoungermore confident. You were full of eagernessand talked a great dealthen; you were very interestingand I really must confess I was a littlecarried away by you. For some reason you often came back to my memory during thesummerand when I was getting ready for the theatre today I thought I shouldsee you.'
"And she laughed.
" 'But you look dispirited today' she repeated; 'it makes you seemolder.'
"The next day I lunched at the Luganovitchs'. After lunch they drove outto their summer villain order to make arrangements there for the winterand Iwent with them. I returned with them to the townand at midnight drank tea withthem in quiet domestic surroundingswhile the fire glowedand the young motherkept going to see if her baby girl was asleep. And after thatevery time I wentto town I never failed to visit the Luganovitchs. They grew used to meand Igrew used to them. As a rule I went in unannouncedas though I were one of thefamily.
" 'Who is there?' I would hear from a faraway roomin the drawlingvoice that seemed to me so lovely.
" 'It is Pavel Konstantinovitch' answered the maid or the nurs e.
"Anna Alexyevna would come out to me with an anxious faceand would askevery time:
" 'Why is it so long since you have been? Has anything happened?'
"Her eyesthe elegant refined hand she gave meher indoor dresstheway she did her hairher voiceher stepalways produced the same impressionon me of something new and extraordinary in my lifeand very important. Wetalked together for hourswere silentthinking each our own thoughtsor sheplayed for hours to me on the piano. If there were no one at home I stayed andwaitedtalked to the nurseplayed with the childor lay on the sofa in thestudy and read; and when Anna Alexyevna came back I met her in the halltookall her parcels from herand for some reason I carried those parcels every timewith as much lovewith as much solemnityas a boy.
"There is a proverb that if a peasant woman has no troubles she will buya pig. The Luganovitchs had no troublesso they made friends with me. If I didnot come to the town I must be ill or something must have happened to meandboth of them were extremely anxious. They were worried that Ian educated manwith a knowledge of languagesshouldinstead of devoting myself to science orliterary worklive in the countryrush round like a squirrel in a rageworkhard with never a penny to show for it. They fancied that I was unhappyandthat I only talkedlaughedand ate to conceal my sufferingsand even atcheerful moments when I felt happy I was aware of their searching eyes fixedupon me. They were particularly touching when I really was depressedwhen I wasbeing worried by some creditor or had not money enough to pay interest on theproper day. The two of themhusband and wifewould whisper together at thewindow; then he would come to me and say with a grave face:
" 'If you really are in need of money at the momentPavelKonstantinovitchmy wife and I beg you not to hesitate to borrow from us.'
"And he would blush to his ears with emotion. And it would happen thatafter whispering in the same way at the windowhe would come up to mewith redearsand say:
" 'My wife and I earnestly beg you to accept this present.'
"And he would give me studsa cigar-caseor a lampand I would sendthem gamebutterand flowers from the country. They bothby the wayhadconsiderable means of their own. In early days I often borrowed moneyand wasnot very particular about it -- borrowed wherever I could -- but nothing in theworld would have induced me to borrow from the Luganovitchs. But why talk of it?
"I was unhappy. At homein the fieldsin the barnI thought of her; Itried to understand the mystery of a beautifulintelligent young woman'smarrying some one so uninterestingalmost an old man (her husband was overforty)and having children by him; to understand the mystery of thisuninterestinggoodsimple-hearted manwho argued with such wearisome goodsenseat balls and evening parties kept near the more solid peoplelookinglistless and superfluouswith a submissiveuninterested expressionas thoughhe had been brought there for salewho yet believed in his right to be happyto have children by her; and I kept trying to understand why she had met himfirst and not meand why such a terrible mistake in our lives need havehappened.
"And when I went to the town I saw every time from her eyes that she wasexpecting meand she would confess to me herself that she had had a peculiarfeeling all that day and had guessed that I should come. We talked a long timeand were silentyet we did not confess our love to each otherbut timidly andjealously concealed it. We were afraid of everything that might reveal oursecret to ourselves. I loved her tenderlydeeplybut I reflected and keptasking myself what our love could lead to if we had not the strength to fightagainst it. It seemed to be incredible that my gentlesad love could all atonce coarsely break up the even tenor of the life of her husbandher childrenand all the household in which I was so loved and trusted. Would it behonourable? She would go away with mebut where? Where could I take her? Itwould have been a different matter if I had had a beautifulinteresting life --iffor instanceI had been struggling for the emancipation of my countryorhad been a celebrated man of sciencean artist or a painter; but as it was itwould mean taking her from one everyday humdrum life to another as humdrum orperhaps more so. And how long would our happiness last? What would happen to herin case I was illin case I diedor if we simply grew cold to one another?
"And she apparently reasoned in the same way. She thought of herhusbandher childrenand of her motherwho loved the husband like a son. Ifshe abandoned herself to her feelings she would have to lieor else to tell thetruthand in her position either would have been equally terrible andinconvenient. And she was tormented by the question whether her love would bringme happiness -- would she not complicate my lifewhichas it waswas hardenough and full of all sorts of trouble? She fancied she was not young enoughfor methat she was not industrious nor energetic enough to begin a new lifeand she often talked to her husband of the importance of my marrying a girl ofintelligence and merit who would be a capable housewife and a help to me -- andshe would immediately add that it would be difficult to find such a girl in thewhole town.
"Meanwhile the years were passing. Anna Alexyevna already had twochildren. When I arrived at the Luganovitchs' the servants smiled cordiallythechildren shouted that Uncle Pavel Konstantinovitch had comeand hung on myneck; every one was overjoyed. They did not understand what was passing in mysouland thought that Itoowas happy. Every one looked on me as a noblebeing. And grown-ups and children alike felt that a noble being was walkingabout their roomsand that gave a peculiar charm to their manner towards measthough in my presence their lifetoowas purer and more beautiful. AnnaAlexyevna and I used to go to the theatre togetheralways walking there; weused to sit side by side in the stallsour shoulders touching. I would take theopera-glass from her hands without a wordand feel at that minute that she wasnear methat she was minethat we could not live without each other; but bysome strange misunderstandingwhen we came out of the theatre we always saidgood-bye and parted as though we were strangers. Goodness knows what people weresaying about us in the town alreadybut there was not a word of truth in itall!
"In the latter years Anna Alexyevna took to going away for frequentvisits to her mother or to her sister; she began to suffer from low spiritsshebegan to recognize that her life was spoilt and unsatisfiedand at times shedid not care to see her husband nor her children. She was already being treatedfor neurasthenia.
"We were silent and still silentand in the presence of outsiders shedisplayed a strange irritation in regard to me; whatever I talked aboutshedisagreed with meand if I had an argument she sided with my opponent. If Idropped anythingshe would say coldly:
" 'I congratulate you.'
"If I forgot to take the opera-glass when we were going to the theatreshe would say afterwards:
" 'I knew you would forget it.'
"Luckily or unluckilythere is nothing in our lives that does not endsooner or later. The time of parting cameas Luganovitch was appointedpresident in one of the western provinces. They had to sell their furnituretheir horsestheir summer villa. When they drove out to the villaandafterwards looked back as they were going awayto look for the last time at thegardenat the green roofevery one was sadand I realized that I had to saygoodbye not only to the villa. It was arranged that at the end of August weshould see Anna Alexyevna off to the Crimeawhere the doctors were sending herand that a little later Luganovitch and the children would set off for thewestern province.
"We were a great crowd to see Anna Alexye vna off. When she had saidgood-bye to her husband and her children and there was only a minute left beforethe third bellI ran into her compartment to put a basketwhich she had almostforgottenon the rackand I had to say good-bye. When our eyes met in thecompartment our spiritual fortitude deserted us both; I took her in my armsshepressed her face to my breastand tears flowed from her eyes. Kissing her faceher shouldersher hands wet with tears -- ohhow unhappy we were! -- Iconfessed my love for herand with a burning pain in my heart I realized howunnecessaryhow pettyand how deceptive all that had hindered us from lovingwas. I understood that when you love you must eitherin your reasonings aboutthat lovestart from what is highestfrom what is more important thanhappiness or unhappinesssin or virtue in their accepted meaningor you mustnot reason at all.
"I kissed her for the last timepressed her handand parted for ever.The train had already started. I went into the next compartment -- it was empty-- and until I reached the next station I sat there crying. Then I walked hometo Sofino. . . ."
While Alehin was telling his storythe rain left off and the sun came out.Burkin and Ivan Ivanovitch went out on the balconyfrom which there was abeautiful view over the garden and the mill-pondwhich was shining now in thesunshine like a mirror. They admired itand at the same time they were sorrythat this man with the kindclever eyeswho had told them this story with suchgenuine feelingshould be rushing round and round this huge estate like asquirrel on a wheel instead of devoting himself to science or something elsewhich would have made his life more pleasant; and they thought what a sorrowfulface Anna Alexyevna must have had when he said good-bye to her in therailway-carriage and kissed her face and shoulders. Both of them had met her inthe townand Burkin knew her and thought her beautiful.
THE LOTTERY TICKET
IVAN DMITRITCHa middle-class man who lived with his family on an income oftwelve hundred a year and was very well satisfied with his lotsat down on thesofa after supper and began reading the newspaper.
"I forgot to look at the newspaper today" his wife said to him asshe cleared the table. "Look and see whether the list of drawings isthere."
"Yesit is" said Ivan Dmitritch; "but hasn't your ticketlapsed?"
"No; I took the interest on Tuesday."
"What is the number?"
"Series 9499number 26."
"All right . . . we will look . . . 9499 and 26."
Ivan Dmitritch had no faith in lottery luckand would notas a rulehaveconsented to look at the lists of winning numbersbut nowas he had nothingelse to do and as the newspaper was before his eyeshe passed his fingerdownwards along the column of numbers. And immediatelyas though in mockery ofhis scepticismno further than the second line from the tophis eye was caughtby the figure 9499! Unable to believe his eyeshe hurriedly dropped the paperon his knees without looking to see the number of the ticketandjust asthough some one had given him a douche of cold waterhe felt an agreeable chillin the pit of the stomach; tingling and terrible and sweet!
"Masha9499 is there!" he said in a hollow voice.
His wife looked at his astonished and panic-stricken faceand realized thathe was not joking.
"9499?" she askedturning pale and dropping the folded tableclothon the table.
"Yesyes . . . it really is there!"
"And the number of the ticket?"
"Ohyes! There's the number of the ticket too. But stay . . . wait! NoI say! Anywaythe number of our series is there! Anywayyou understand. . .."
Looking at his wifeIvan Dmitritch gave a broadsenseless smilelike ababy when a bright object is shown it. His wife smiled too; it was as pleasantto her as to him that he only mentioned the seriesand did not try to find outthe number of the winning ticket. To torment and tantalize oneself with hopes ofpossible fortune is so sweetso thrilling!
"It is our series" said Ivan Dmitritchafter a long silence."So there is a probability that we have won. It's only a probabilitybutthere it is!"
"Wait a little. We have plenty of time to be disappointed. It's on thesecond line from the topso the prize is seventy-five thousand. That's notmoneybut powercapital! And in a minute I shall look at the listand there-- 26! Eh? I saywhat if we really have won?"
The husband and wife began laughing and staring at one another in silence.The possibility of winning bewildered them; they could not have saidcould nothave dreamedwhat they both needed that seventy-five thousand forwhat theywould buywhere they would go. They thought only of the figures 9499 and75000 and pictured them in their imaginationwhile somehow they could notthink of the happiness itself which was so possible.
Ivan Dmitritchholding the paper in his handwalked several times fromcorner to cornerand only when he had recovered from the first impression begandreaming a little.
"And if we have won" he said -- "whyit will be a new lifeit will be a transformation! The ticket is yoursbut if it were mine I shouldfirst of allof coursespend twenty-five thousand on real property in theshape of an estate; ten thousand on immediate expensesnew furnishing . . .travelling . . . paying debtsand so on. . . . The other forty thousand I wouldput in the bank and get interest on it."
"Yesan estatethat would be nice" said his wifesitting downand dropping her hands in her lap.
"Somewhere in the Tula or Oryol provinces. . . . In the first place weshouldn't need a summer villaand besidesit would always bring in anincome."
And pictures came crowding on his imaginationeach more gracious andpoetical than the last. And in all these pictures he saw himself well-fedserenehealthyfelt warmeven hot! Hereafter eating a summer soupcold asicehe lay on his back on the burning sand close to a stream or in the gardenunder a lime-tree. . . . It is hot. . . . His little boy and girl are crawlingabout near himdigging in the sand or catching ladybirds in the grass. He dozessweetlythinking of nothingand feeling all over that he need not go to theoffice todaytomorrowor the day after. Ortired of lying stillhe goes tothe hayfieldor to the forest for mushroomsor watches the peasants catchingfish with a net. When the sun sets he takes a towel and soap and saunters to thebathing-shedwhere he undresses at his leisureslowly rubs his bare chest withhis handsand goes into the water. And in the waternear the opaque soapycircleslittle fish flit to and fro and green water-weeds nod their heads.After bathing there is tea with cream and milk rolls. . . . In the evening awalk or _vint_ with the neighbours.
"Yesit would be nice to buy an estate" said his wifealsodreamingand from her face it was evident that she was enchanted by herthoughts.
Ivan Dmitritch pictured to himself autumn with its rainsits cold eveningsand its St. Martin's summer. At that season he would have to take longer walksabout the garden and beside the riverso as to get thoroughly chilledand thendrink a big glass of vodka and eat a salted mushroom or a soused cucumberandthen -- drink another. . . . The children would come running from thekitchen-gardenbringing a carrot and a radish smelling of fresh earth. . . .And thenhe would lie stretched full length on the sofaand in leisurelyfashion turn over the pages of some illustrated magazineorcovering his facewith it and unbuttoning his waistcoatgive himself up to slumber.
The St. Martin's summer is followed by cloudygloomy weather. It rains dayand nightthe bare trees weepthe wind is damp and cold. The dogsthe horsesthe fowls -- all are wetdepresseddowncast. There is nowhere to walk; onecan't go out for days together; one has to pace up and down the roomlookingdespondently at the grey window. It is dreary!
Ivan Dmitritch stopped and looked at his wife.
"I should go abro adyou knowMasha" he said.
And he began thinking how nice it would be in late autumn to go abroadsomewhere to the South of France . . . to Italy . . . . to India!
"I should certainly go abroad too" his wife said. "But lookat the number of the ticket!"
"Waitwait! . . ."
He walked about the room and went on thinking. It occurred to him: what ifhis wife really did go abroad? It is pleasant to travel aloneor in the societyof lightcareless women who live in the presentand not such as think and talkall the journey about nothing but their childrensighand tremble with dismayover every farthing. Ivan Dmitritch imagined his wife in the train with amultitude of parcelsbasketsand bags; she would be sighing over somethingcomplaining that the train made her head achethat she had spent so much money.. . . At the stations he would continually be having to run for boiling waterbread and butter. . . . She wouldn't have dinner because of its being too dear.. . .
"She would begrudge me every farthing" he thoughtwith a glanceat his wife. "The lottery ticket is hersnot mine! Besideswhat is theuse of her going abroad? What does she want there? She would shut herself up inthe hoteland not let me out of her sight. . . . I know!"
And for the first time in his life his mind dwelt on the fact that his wifehad grown elderly and plainand that she was saturated through and through withthe smell of cookingwhile he was still youngfreshand healthyand mightwell have got married again.
"Of courseall that is silly nonsense" he thought; "but . .. why should she go abroad? What would she make of it? And yet she would goofcourse. . . . I can fancy . . . In reality it is all one to herwhether it isNaples or Klin. She would only be in my way. I should be dependent upon her. Ican fancy howlike a regular womanshe will lock the money up as soon as shegets it. . . . She will hide it from me. . . . She will look after her relationsand grudge me every farthing."
Ivan Dmitritch thought of her relations. All those wretched brothers andsisters and aunts and uncles would come crawling about as soon as they heard ofthe winning ticketwould begin whining like beggarsand fawning upon them withoilyhypocritical smiles. Wretcheddetestable people! If they were givenanythingthey would ask for more; while if they were refusedthey would swearat themslander themand wish them every kind of misfortune.
Ivan Dmitritch remembered his own relationsand their facesat which he hadlooked impartially in the paststruck him now as repulsive and hateful.
"They are such reptiles!" he thought.
And his wife's facetoostruck him as repulsive and hateful. Anger surgedup in his heart against herand he thought malignantly:
"She knows nothing about moneyand so she is stingy. If she won it shewould give me a hundred roublesand put the rest away under lock and key."
And he looked at his wifenot with a smile nowbut with hatred. She glancedat him tooand also with hatred and anger. She had her own daydreamsher ownplansher own reflections; she understood perfectly well what her husband'sdreams were. She knew who would be the first to try and grab her winnings.
"It's very nice making daydreams at other people's expense!" iswhat her eyes expressed. "Nodon't you dare!"
Her husband understood her look; hatred began stirring again in his breastand in order to annoy his wife he glanced quicklyto spite her at the fourthpage on the newspaper and read out triumphantly:
"Series 9499number 46! Not 26!"
Hatred and hope both disappeared at onceand it began immediately to seem toIvan Dmitritch and his wife that their rooms were dark and small andlow-pitchedthat the supper they had been eating was not doing them goodbutlying heavy on their stomachsthat the evenings were long and wearisome. . . .
"What the devil's the meaning of it?" said Ivan Dmitritchbeginning to be ill-humoured. "Wherever one steps there are bits of paperunder one's feetcrumbshusks. The rooms are never swept! One is simply forcedto go out. Damnation take my soul entirely! I shall go and hang myself on thefirst aspen-tree!"