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Short Stories

Anton Chekhov

CONTENTS OF EACH BOOK

CONTENTS IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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  • [No stories]

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The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories

Translated by Constance Garnett


THE HORSE-STEALERS

A HOSPITAL assistant, called Yergunov, an empty-headed fellow, known throughout the district as a great braggart and drunkard, was returning one evening in Christmas week from the hamlet of Ryepino, where he had been to make some purchases for the hospital. That he might get home in good time and not be late, the doctor had lent him his very best horse.

At first it had been a still day, but at eight o’clock a violent snow-storm came on, and when he was only about four miles from home Yergunov completely lost his way.

He did not know how to drive, he did not know the road, and he drove on at random, hoping that the horse would find the way of itself. Two hours passed; the horse was exhausted, he himself was chilled, and already began to fancy that he was not going home, but back towards Ryepino. But at last above the uproar of the storm he heard the far-away barking of a dog, and a murky red blur came into sight ahead of him: little by little, the outlines of a high gate could be discerned, then a long fence on which there were nails with their points uppermost, and beyond the fence there stood the slanting crane of a well. The wind drove away the mist of snow from before the eyes, and where there had been a red blur, there sprang up a small, squat little house with a steep thatched roof. Of the three little windows one, covered on the inside with something red, was lighted up.

What sort of place was it? Yergunov remembered that to the right of the road, three and a half or four miles from the hospital, there was Andrey Tchirikov’s tavern. He remembered, too, that this Tchirikov, who had been lately killed by some sledge-drivers, had left a wife and a daughter called Lyubka, who had come to the hospital two years before as a patient. The inn had a bad reputation, and to visit it late in the evening, and especially with someone else’s horse, was not free from risk. But there was no help for it. Yergunov fumbled in his knapsack for his revolver, and, coughing sternly, tapped at the window-frame with his whip.

“Hey! who is within?” he cried. “Hey, granny! let me come in and get warm!”

With a hoarse bark a black dog rolled like a ball under the horse’s feet, then another white one, then another black one—there must have been a dozen of them. Yergunov looked to see which was the biggest, swung his whip and lashed at it with all his might. A small, long-legged puppy turned its sharp muzzle upwards and set up a shrill, piercing howl.

Yergunov stood for a long while at the window, tapping. But at last the hoar-frost on the trees near the house glowed red, and a muffled female figure appeared with a lantern in her hands.

“Let me in to get warm, granny,” said Yergunov. “I was driving to the hospital, and I have lost my way. It’s such weather, God preserve us. Don’t be afraid; we are your own people, granny.”

“All my own people are at home, and we didn’t invite strangers,” said the figure grimly. “And what are you knocking for? The gate is not locked.”

Yergunov drove into the yard and stopped at the steps.

“Bid your labourer take my horse out, granny,” said he.

“I am not granny.”

And indeed she was not a granny. While she was putting out the lantern the light fell on her face, and Yergunov saw black eyebrows, and recognized Lyubka.

“There are no labourers about now,” she said as she went into the house. “Some are drunk and asleep, and some have been gone to Ryepino since the morning. It’s a holiday. . . .”

As he fastened his horse up in the shed, Yergunov heard a neigh, and distinguished in the darkness another horse, and felt on it a Cossack saddle. So there must be someone else in the house besides the woman and her daughter. For greater security Yergunov unsaddled his horse, and when he went into the house, took with him both his purchases and his saddle.

The first room into which he went was large and very hot, and smelt of freshly washed floors. A short, lean peasant of about forty, with a small, fair beard, wearing a dark blue shirt, was sitting at the table under the holy images. It was Kalashnikov, an arrant scoundrel and horse-stealer, whose father and uncle kept a tavern in Bogalyovka, and disposed of the stolen horses where they could. He too had been to the hospital more than once, not for medical treatment, but to see the doctor about horses—to ask whether he had not one for sale, and whether his honour would not like to swop his bay mare for a dun-coloured gelding. Now his head was pomaded and a silver ear-ring glittered in his ear, and altogether he had a holiday air. Frowning and dropping his lower lip, he was looking intently at a big dog’s-eared picture-book. Another peasant lay stretched on the floor near the stove; his head, his shoulders, and his chest were covered with a sheepskin—he was probably asleep; beside his new boots, with shining bits of metal on the heels, there were two dark pools of melted snow.

Seeing the hospital assistant, Kalashnikov greeted him.

“Yes, it is weather,” said Yergunov, rubbing his chilled knees with his open hands. “The snow is up to one’s neck; I am soaked to the skin, I can tell you. And I believe my revolver is, too. . . .”

He took out his revolver, looked it all over, and put it back in his knapsack. But the revolver made no impression at all; the peasant went on looking at the book.

“Yes, it is weather. . . . I lost my way, and if it had not been for the dogs here, I do believe it would have been my death. There would have been a nice to-do. And where are the women?”

“The old woman has gone to Ryepino, and the girl is getting supper ready . . .” answered Kalashnikov.

Silence followed. Yergunov, shivering and gasping, breathed on his hands, huddled up, and made a show of being very cold and exhausted. The still angry dogs could be heard howling outside. It was dreary.

“You come from Bogalyovka, don’t you?” he asked the peasant sternly.

“Yes, from Bogalyovka.”

And to while away the time Yergunov began to think about Bogalyovka. It was a big village and it lay in a deep ravine, so that when one drove along the highroad on a moonlight night, and looked down into the dark ravine and then up at the sky, it seemed as though the moon were hanging over a bottomless abyss and it were the end of the world. The path going down was steep, winding, and so narrow that when one drove down to Bogalyovka on account of some epidemic or to vaccinate the people, one had to shout at the top of one’s voice, or whistle all the way, for if one met a cart coming up one could not pass. The peasants of Bogalyovka had the reputation of being good gardeners and horse-stealers. They had well-stocked gardens. In spring the whole village was buried in white cherry-blossom, and in the summer they sold cherries at three kopecks a pail. One could pay three kopecks and pick as one liked. Their women were handsome and looked well fed, they were fond of finery, and never did anything even on working-days, but spent all their time sitting on the ledge in front of their houses and searching in each other’s heads.

But at last there was the sound of footsteps. Lyubka, a girl of twenty, with bare feet and a red dress, came into the room. . . . She looked sideways at Yergunov and walked twice from one end of the room to the other. She did not move simply, but with tiny steps, thrusting forward her bosom; evidently she enjoyed padding about with her bare feet on the freshly washed floor, and had taken off her shoes on purpose.

Kalashnikov laughed at something and beckoned her with his finger. She went up to the table, and he showed her a picture of the Prophet Elijah, who, driving three horses abreast, was dashing up to the sky. Lyubka put her elbow on the table; her plait fell across her shoulder—a long chestnut plait tied with red ribbon at the end—and it almost touched the floor. She, too, smiled.

“A splendid, wonderful picture,” said Kalashnikov. “Wonderful,” he repeated, and motioned with his hand as though he wanted to take the reins instead of Elijah.

The wind howled in the stove; something growled and squeaked as though a big dog had strangled a rat.

“Ugh! the unclean spirits are abroad!” said Lyubka.

“That’s the wind,” said Kalashnikov; and after a pause he raised his eyes to Yergunov and asked:

“And what is your learned opinion, Osip Vassilyitch—are there devils in this world or not?”

“What’s one to say, brother?” said Yergunov, and he shrugged one shoulder. “If one reasons from science, of course there are no devils, for it’s a superstition; but if one looks at it simply, as you and I do now, there are devils, to put it shortly. . . . I have seen a great deal in my life. . . . When I finished my studies I served as medical assistant in the army in a regiment of the dragoons, and I have been in the war, of course. I have a medal and a decoration from the Red Cross, but after the treaty of San Stefano I returned to Russia and went into the service of the Zemstvo. And in consequence of my enormous circulation about the world, I may say I have seen more than many another has dreamed of. It has happened to me to see devils, too; that is, not devils with horns and a tail—that is all nonsense—but just, to speak precisely, something of the sort.”

“Where?” asked Kalashnikov.

“In various places. There is no need to go far. Last year I met him here—speak of him not at night—near this very inn. I was driving, I remember, to Golyshino; I was going there to vaccinate. Of course, as usual, I had the racing droshky and a horse, and all the necessary paraphernalia, and, what’s more, I had a watch and all the rest of it, so I was on my guard as I drove along, for fear of some mischance. There are lots of tramps of all sorts. I came up to the Zmeinoy Ravine—damnation take it—and was just going down it, when all at once somebody comes up to me—such a fellow! Black hair, black eyes, and his whole face looked smutted with soot . . . . He comes straight up to the horse and takes hold of the left rein: ‘Stop!’ He looked at the horse, then at me, then dropped the reins, and without saying a bad word, ‘Where are you going?’ says he. And he showed his teeth in a grin, and his eyes were spiteful-looking.

“‘Ah,’ thought I, ‘you are a queer customer!’ ‘I am going to vaccinate for the smallpox,’ said I. ‘And what is that to you?’ ‘Well, if that’s so,’ says he, ‘vaccinate me. He bared his arm and thrust it under my nose. Of course, I did not bandy words with him; I just vaccinated him to get rid of him. Afterwards I looked at my lancet and it had gone rusty.”

The peasant who was asleep near the stove suddenly turned over and flung off the sheepskin; to his great surprise, Yergunov recognized the stranger he had met that day at Zmeinoy Ravine. This peasant’s hair, beard, and eyes were black as soot; his face was swarthy; and, to add to the effect, there was a black spot the size of a lentil on his right cheek. He looked mockingly at the hospital assistant and said:

“I did take hold of the left rein—that was so; but about the smallpox you are lying, sir. And there was not a word said about the smallpox between us.”

Yergunov was disconcerted.

“I’m not talking about you,” he said. “Lie down, since you are lying down.”

The dark-skinned peasant had never been to the hospital, and Yergunov did not know who he was or where he came from; and now, looking at him, he made up his mind that the man must be a gypsy. The peasant got up and, stretching and yawning loudly, went up to Lyubka and Kalashnikov, and sat down beside them, and he, too, began looking at the book. His sleepy face softened and a look of envy came into it.

“Look, Merik,” Lyubka said to him; “get me such horses and I will drive to heaven.”

“Sinners can’t drive to heaven,” said Kalashnikov. “That’s for holiness.”

Then Lyubka laid the table and brought in a big piece of fat bacon, salted cucumbers, a wooden platter of boiled meat cut up into little pieces, then a frying-pan, in which there were sausages and cabbage spluttering. A cut-glass decanter of vodka, which diffused a smell of orange-peel all over the room when it was poured out, was put on the table also.

Yergunov was annoyed that Kalashnikov and the dark fellow Merik talked together and took no notice of him at all, behaving exactly as though he were not in the room. And he wanted to talk to them, to brag, to drink, to have a good meal, and if possible to have a little fun with Lyubka, who sat down near him half a dozen times while they were at supper, and, as though by accident, brushed against him with her handsome shoulders and passed her hands over her broad hips. She was a healthy, active girl, always laughing and never still: she would sit down, then get up, and when she was sitting down she would keep turning first her face and then her back to her neighbour, like a fidgety child, and never failed to brush against him with her elbows or her knees.

And he was displeased, too, that the peasants drank only a glass each and no more, and it was awkward for him to drink alone. But he could not refrain from taking a second glass, all the same, then a third, and he ate all the sausage. He brought himself to flatter the peasants, that they might accept him as one of the party instead of holding him at arm’s length.

“You are a fine set of fellows in Bogalyovka!” he said, and wagged his head.

“In what way fine fellows?” enquired Kalashnikov.

“Why, about horses, for instance. Fine fellows at stealing!”

“H’m! fine fellows, you call them. Nothing but thieves and drunkards.”

“They have had their day, but it is over,” said Merik, after a pause. “But now they have only Filya left, and he is blind.”

“Yes, there is no one but Filya,” said Kalashnikov, with a sigh. “Reckon it up, he must be seventy; the German settlers knocked out one of his eyes, and he does not see well with the other. It is cataract. In old days the police officer would shout as soon as he saw him: ‘Hey, you Shamil!’ and all the peasants called him that—he was Shamil all over the place; and now his only name is One-eyed Filya. But he was a fine fellow! Lyuba’s father, Andrey Grigoritch, and he stole one night into Rozhnovo—there were cavalry regiments stationed there—and carried off nine of the soldiers’ horses, the very best of them. They weren’t frightened of the sentry, and in the morning they sold all the horses for twenty roubles to the gypsy Afonka. Yes! But nowadays a man contrives to carry off a horse whose rider is drunk or asleep, and has no fear of God, but will take the very boots from a drunkard, and then slinks off and goes away a hundred and fifty miles with a horse, and haggles at the market, haggles like a Jew, till the policeman catches him, the fool. There is no fun in it; it is simply a disgrace! A paltry set of people, I must say.”

“What about Merik?” asked Lyubka.

“Merik is not one of us,” said Kalashnikov. “He is a Harkov man from Mizhiritch. But that he is a bold fellow, that’s the truth; there’s no gainsaying that he is a fine fellow.”

Lyubka looked slily and gleefully at Merik, and said:

“It wasn’t for nothing they dipped him in a hole in the ice.”

“How was that?” asked Yergunov.

“It was like this . . .” said Merik, and he laughed. “Filya carried off three horses from the Samoylenka tenants, and they pitched upon me. There were ten of the tenants at Samoylenka, and with their labourers there were thirty altogether, and all of them Molokans . . . . So one of them says to me at the market: ‘Come and have a look, Merik; we have brought some new horses from the fair.’ I was interested, of course. I went up to them, and the whole lot of them, thirty men, tied my hands behind me and led me to the river. ‘We’ll show you fine horses,’ they said. One hole in the ice was there already; they cut another beside it seven feet away. Then, to be sure, they took a cord and put a noose under my armpits, and tied a crooked stick to the other end, long enough to reach both holes. They thrust the stick in and dragged it through. I went plop into the ice-hole just as I was, in my fur coat and my high boots, while they stood and shoved me, one with his foot and one with his stick, then dragged me under the ice and pulled me out of the other hole.”

Lyubka shuddered and shrugged.

“At first I was in a fever from the cold,” Merik went on, “but when they pulled me out I was helpless, and lay in the snow, and the Molokans stood round and hit me with sticks on my knees and my elbows. It hurt fearfully. They beat me and they went away . . . and everything on me was frozen, my clothes were covered with ice. I got up, but I couldn’t move. Thank God, a woman drove by and gave me a lift.”

Meanwhile Yergunov had drunk five or six glasses of vodka; his heart felt lighter, and he longed to tell some extraordinary, wonderful story too, and to show that he, too, was a bold fellow and not afraid of anything.

“I’ll tell you what happened to us in Penza Province . . .” he began.

Either because he had drunk a great deal and was a little tipsy, or perhaps because he had twice been detected in a lie, the peasants took not the slightest notice of him, and even left off answering his questions. What was worse, they permitted themselves a frankness in his presence that made him feel uncomfortable and cold all over, and that meant that they took no notice of him.

Kalashnikov had the dignified manners of a sedate and sensible man; he spoke weightily, and made the sign of the cross over his mouth every time he yawned, and no one could have supposed that this was a thief, a heartless thief who had stripped poor creatures, who had already been twice in prison, and who had been sentenced by the commune to exile in Siberia, and had been bought off by his father and uncle, who were as great thieves and rogues as he was. Merik gave himself the airs of a bravo. He saw that Lyubka and Kalashnikov were admiring him, and looked upon himself as a very fine fellow, and put his arms akimbo, squared his chest, or stretched so that the bench creaked under him. . . .

After supper Kalashnikov prayed to the holy image without getting up from his seat, and shook hands with Merik; the latter prayed too, and shook Kalashnikov’s hand. Lyubka cleared away the supper, shook out on the table some peppermint biscuits, dried nuts, and pumpkin seeds, and placed two bottles of sweet wine.

“The kingdom of heaven and peace everlasting to Andrey Grigoritch,” said Kalashnikov, clinking glasses with Merik. “When he was alive we used to gather together here or at his brother Martin’s, and—my word! my word! what men, what talks! Remarkable conversations! Martin used to be here, and Filya, and Fyodor Stukotey. . . . It was all done in style, it was all in keeping. . . . And what fun we had! We did have fun, we did have fun!”

Lyubka went out and soon afterwards came back wearing a green kerchief and beads.

“Look, Merik, what Kalashnikov brought me to-day,” she said.

She looked at herself in the looking-glass, and tossed her head several times to make the beads jingle. And then she opened a chest and began taking out, first, a cotton dress with red and blue flowers on it, and then a red one with flounces which rustled and crackled like paper, then a new kerchief, dark blue, shot with many colours—and all these things she showed and flung up her hands, laughing as though astonished that she had such treasures.

Kalashnikov tuned the balalaika and began playing it, but Yergunov could not make out what sort of song he was singing, and whether it was gay or melancholy, because at one moment it was so mournful he wanted to cry, and at the next it would be merry. Merik suddenly jumped up and began tapping with his heels on the same spot, then, brandishing his arms, he moved on his heels from the table to the stove, from the stove to the chest, then he bounded up as though he had been stung, clicked the heels of his boots together in the air, and began going round and round in a crouching position. Lyubka waved both her arms, uttered a desperate shriek, and followed him. At first she moved sideways, like a snake, as though she wanted to steal up to someone and strike him from behind. She tapped rapidly with her bare heels as Merik had done with the heels of his boots, then she turned round and round like a top and crouched down, and her red dress was blown out like a bell. Merik, looking angrily at her, and showing his teeth in a grin, flew towards her in the same crouching posture as though he wanted to crush her with his terrible legs, while she jumped up, flung back her head, and waving her arms as a big bird does its wings, floated across the room scarcely touching the floor. . . .

“What a flame of a girl!” thought Yergunov, sitting on the chest, and from there watching the dance. “What fire! Give up everything for her, and it would be too little . . . .”

And he regretted that he was a hospital assistant, and not a simple peasant, that he wore a reefer coat and a chain with a gilt key on it instead of a blue shirt with a cord tied round the waist. Then he could boldly have sung, danced, flung both arms round Lyubka as Merik did. . . .

The sharp tapping, shouts, and whoops set the crockery ringing in the cupboard and the flame of the candle dancing.

The thread broke and the beads were scattered all over the floor, the green kerchief slipped off, and Lyubka was transformed into a red cloud flitting by and flashing black eyes, and it seemed as though in another second Merik’s arms and legs would drop off.

But finally Merik stamped for the last time, and stood still as though turned to stone. Exhausted and almost breathless, Lyubka sank on to his bosom and leaned against him as against a post, and he put his arms round her, and looking into her eyes, said tenderly and caressingly, as though in jest:

“I’ll find out where your old mother’s money is hidden, I’ll murder her and cut your little throat for you, and after that I will set fire to the inn. . . . People will think you have perished in the fire, and with your money I shall go to Kuban. I’ll keep droves of horses and flocks of sheep. . . .”

Lyubka made no answer, but only looked at him with a guilty air, and asked:

“And is it nice in Kuban, Merik?”

He said nothing, but went to the chest, sat down, and sank into thought; most likely he was dreaming of Kuban.

“It’s time for me to be going,” said Kalashnikov, getting up. “Filya must be waiting for me. Goodbye, Lyuba.”

Yergunov went out into the yard to see that Kalashnikov did not go off with his horse. The snowstorm still persisted. White clouds were floating about the yard, their long tails clinging to the rough grass and the bushes, while on the other side of the fence in the open country huge giants in white robes with wide sleeves were whirling round and falling to the ground, and getting up again to wave their arms and fight. And the wind, the wind! The bare birches and cherry-trees, unable to endure its rude caresses, bowed low down to the ground and wailed: “God, for what sin hast Thou bound us to the earth and will not let us go free?”

“Wo!” said Kalashnikov sternly, and he got on his horse; one half of the gate was opened, and by it lay a high snowdrift. “Well, get on!” shouted Kalashnikov. His little short-legged nag set off, and sank up to its stomach in the drift at once. Kalashnikov was white all over with the snow, and soon vanished from sight with his horse.

When Yergunov went back into the room, Lyubka was creeping about the floor picking up her beads; Merik was not there.

“A splendid girl!” thought Yergunov, as he lay down on the bench and put his coat under his head. “Oh, if only Merik were not here.” Lyubka excited him as she crept about the floor by the bench, and he thought that if Merik had not been there he would certainly have got up and embraced her, and then one would see what would happen. It was true she was only a girl, but not likely to be chaste; and even if she were—need one stand on ceremony in a den of thieves? Lyubka collected her beads and went out. The candle burnt down and the flame caught the paper in the candlestick. Yergunov laid his revolver and matches beside him, and put out the candle. The light before the holy images flickered so much that it hurt his eyes, and patches of light danced on the ceiling, on the floor, and on the cupboard, and among them he had visions of Lyubka, buxom, full-bosomed: now she was turning round like a top, now she was exhausted and breathless. . . .

“Oh, if the devils would carry off that Merik,” he thought.

The little lamp gave a last flicker, spluttered, and went out. Someone, it must have been Merik, came into the room and sat down on the bench. He puffed at his pipe, and for an instant lighted up a dark cheek with a patch on it. Yergunov’s throat was irritated by the horrible fumes of the tobacco smoke.

“What filthy tobacco you have got—damnation take it!” said Yergunov. “It makes me positively sick.”

“I mix my tobacco with the flowers of the oats,” answered Merik after a pause. “It is better for the chest.”

He smoked, spat, and went out again. Half an hour passed, and all at once there was the gleam of a light in the passage. Merik appeared in a coat and cap, then Lyubka with a candle in her hand.

“Do stay, Merik,” said Lyubka in an imploring voice.

“No, Lyuba, don’t keep me.”

“Listen, Merik,” said Lyubka, and her voice grew soft and tender. “I know you will find mother’s money, and will do for her and for me, and will go to Kuban and love other girls; but God be with you. I only ask you one thing, sweetheart: do stay!”

“No, I want some fun . . .” said Merik, fastening his belt.

“But you have nothing to go on. . . . You came on foot; what are you going on?”

Merik bent down to Lyubka and whispered something in her ear; she looked towards the door and laughed through her tears.

“He is asleep, the puffed-up devil . . .” she said.

Merik embraced her, kissed her vigorously, and went out. Yergunov thrust his revolver into his pocket, jumped up, and ran after him.

“Get out of the way!” he said to Lyubka, who hurriedly bolted the door of the entry and stood across the threshold. “Let me pass! Why are you standing here?”

“What do you want to go out for?”

“To have a look at my horse.”

Lyubka gazed up at him with a sly and caressing look.

“Why look at it? You had better look at me . . . .” she said, then she bent down and touched with her finger the gilt watch-key that hung on his chain.

“Let me pass, or he will go off on my horse,” said Yergunov. “Let me go, you devil!” he shouted, and giving her an angry blow on the shoulder, he pressed his chest against her with all his might to push her away from the door, but she kept tight hold of the bolt, and was like iron.

“Let me go!” he shouted, exhausted; “he will go off with it, I tell you.”

“Why should he? He won’t.” Breathing hard and rubbing her shoulder, which hurt, she looked up at him again, flushed a little and laughed. “Don’t go away, dear heart,” she said; “I am dull alone.”

Yergunov looked into her eyes, hesitated, and put his arms round her; she did not resist.

“Come, no nonsense; let me go,” he begged her. She did not speak.

“I heard you just now,” he said, “telling Merik that you love him.”

“I dare say. . . . My heart knows who it is I love.”

She put her finger on the key again, and said softly: “Give me that.”

Yergunov unfastened the key and gave it to her. She suddenly craned her neck and listened with a grave face, and her expression struck Yergunov as cold and cunning; he thought of his horse, and now easily pushed her aside and ran out into the yard. In the shed a sleepy pig was grunting with lazy regularity and a cow was knocking her horn. Yergunov lighted a match and saw the pig, and the cow, and the dogs, which rushed at him on all sides at seeing the light, but there was no trace of the horse. Shouting and waving his arms at the dogs, stumbling over the drifts and sticking in the snow, he ran out at the gate and fell to gazing into the darkness. He strained his eyes to the utmost, and saw only the snow flying and the snowflakes distinctly forming into all sorts of shapes; at one moment the white, laughing face of a corpse would peep out of the darkness, at the next a white horse would gallop by with an Amazon in a muslin dress upon it, at the next a string of white swans would fly overhead. . . . Shaking with anger and cold, and not knowing what to do, Yergunov fired his revolver at the dogs, and did not hit one of them; then he rushed back to the house.

When he went into the entry he distinctly heard someone scurry out of the room and bang the door. It was dark in the room. Yergunov pushed against the door; it was locked. Then, lighting match after match, he rushed back into the entry, from there into the kitchen, and from the kitchen into a little room where all the walls were hung with petticoats and dresses, where there was a smell of cornflowers and fennel, and a bedstead with a perfect mountain of pillows, standing in the corner by the stove; this must have been the old mother’s room. From there he passed into another little room, and here he saw Lyubka. She was lying on a chest, covered with a gay-coloured patchwork cotton quilt, pretending to be asleep. A little ikon-lamp was burning in the corner above the pillow.

“Where is my horse?” Yergunov asked.

Lyubka did not stir.

“Where is my horse, I am asking you?” Yergunov repeated still more sternly, and he tore the quilt off her. “I am asking you, she-devil!” he shouted.

She jumped up on her knees, and with one hand holding her shift and with the other trying to clutch the quilt, huddled against the wall . . . . She looked at Yergunov with repulsion and terror in her eyes, and, like a wild beast in a trap, kept cunning watch on his faintest movement.

“Tell me where my horse is, or I’ll knock the life out of you,” shouted Yergunov.

“Get away, dirty brute!” she said in a hoarse voice.

Yergunov seized her by the shift near the neck and tore it. And then he could not restrain himself, and with all his might embraced the girl. But hissing with fury, she slipped out of his arms, and freeing one hand—the other was tangled in the torn shift—hit him a blow with her fist on the skull.

His head was dizzy with the pain, there was a ringing and rattling in his ears, he staggered back, and at that moment received another blow—this time on the temple. Reeling and clutching at the doorposts, that he might not fall, he made his way to the room where his things were, and lay down on the bench; then after lying for a little time, took the matchbox out of his pocket and began lighting match after match for no object: he lit it, blew it out, and threw it under the table, and went on till all the matches were gone.

Meanwhile the air began to turn blue outside, the cocks began to crow, but his head still ached, and there was an uproar in his ears as though he were sitting under a railway bridge and hearing the trains passing over his head. He got, somehow, into his coat and cap; the saddle and the bundle of his purchases he could not find, his knapsack was empty: it was not for nothing that someone had scurried out of the room when he came in from the yard.

He took a poker from the kitchen to keep off the dogs, and went out into the yard, leaving the door open. The snow-storm had subsided and it was calm outside. . . . When he went out at the gate, the white plain looked dead, and there was not a single bird in the morning sky. On both sides of the road and in the distance there were bluish patches of young copse.

Yergunov began thinking how he would be greeted at the hospital and what the doctor would say to him; it was absolutely necessary to think of that, and to prepare beforehand to answer questions he would be asked, but this thought grew blurred and slipped away. He walked along thinking of nothing but Lyubka, of the peasants with whom he had passed the night; he remembered how, after Lyubka struck him the second time, she had bent down to the floor for the quilt, and how her loose hair had fallen on the floor. His mind was in a maze, and he wondered why there were in the world doctors, hospital assistants, merchants, clerks, and peasants instead of simple free men? There are, to be sure, free birds, free beasts, a free Merik, and they are not afraid of anyone, and don’t need anyone! And whose idea was it, who had decreed that one must get up in the morning, dine at midday, go to bed in the evening; that a doctor takes precedence of a hospital assistant; that one must live in rooms and love only one’s wife? And why not the contrary—dine at night and sleep in the day? Ah, to jump on a horse without enquiring whose it is, to ride races with the wind like a devil, over fields and forests and ravines, to make love to girls, to mock at everyone . . . .

Yergunov thrust the poker into the snow, pressed his forehead to the cold white trunk of a birch-tree, and sank into thought; and his grey, monotonous life, his wages, his subordinate position, the dispensary, the everlasting to-do with the bottles and blisters, struck him as contemptible, sickening.

“Who says it’s a sin to enjoy oneself?” he asked himself with vexation. “Those who say that have never lived in freedom like Merik and Kalashnikov, and have never loved Lyubka; they have been beggars all their lives, have lived without any pleasure, and have only loved their wives, who are like frogs.”

And he thought about himself that he had not hitherto been a thief, a swindler, or even a brigand, simply because he could not, or had not yet met with a suitable opportunity.

——

A year and a half passed. In spring, after Easter, Yergunov, who had long before been dismissed from the hospital and was hanging about without a job, came out of the tavern in Ryepino and sauntered aimlessly along the street.

He went out into the open country. Here there was the scent of spring, and a warm caressing wind was blowing. The calm, starry night looked down from the sky on the earth. My God, how infinite the depth of the sky, and with what fathomless immensity it stretched over the world! The world is created well enough, only why and with what right do people, thought Yergunov, divide their fellows into the sober and the drunken, the employed and the dismissed, and so on. Why do the sober and well fed sleep comfortably in their homes while the drunken and the hungry must wander about the country without a refuge? Why was it that if anyone had not a job and did not get a salary he had to go hungry, without clothes and boots? Whose idea was it? Why was it the birds and the wild beasts in the woods did not have jobs and get salaries, but lived as they pleased?

Far away in the sky a beautiful crimson glow lay quivering, stretched wide over the horizon. Yergunov stopped, and for a long time he gazed at it, and kept wondering why was it that if he had carried off someone else’s samovar the day before and sold it for drink in the taverns it would be a sin? Why was it?

Two carts drove by on the road; in one of them there was a woman asleep, in the other sat an old man without a cap on.

“Grandfather, where is that fire?” asked Yergunov.

“Andrey Tchirikov’s inn,” answered the old man.

And Yergunov recalled what had happened to him eighteen months before in the winter, in that very inn, and how Merik had boasted; and he imagined the old woman and Lyubka, with their throats cut, burning, and he envied Merik. And when he walked back to the tavern, looking at the houses of the rich publicans, cattle-dealers, and blacksmiths, he reflected how nice it would be to steal by night into some rich man’s house!


WARD NO. 6

I

IN the hospital yard there stands a small lodge surrounded by a perfect forest of burdocks, nettles, and wild hemp. Its roof is rusty, the chimney is tumbling down, the steps at the front-door are rotting away and overgrown with grass, and there are only traces left of the stucco. The front of the lodge faces the hospital; at the back it looks out into the open country, from which it is separated by the grey hospital fence with nails on it. These nails, with their points upwards, and the fence, and the lodge itself, have that peculiar, desolate, God-forsaken look which is only found in our hospital and prison buildings.

If you are not afraid of being stung by the nettles, come by the narrow footpath that leads to the lodge, and let us see what is going on inside. Opening the first door, we walk into the entry. Here along the walls and by the stove every sort of hospital rubbish lies littered about. Mattresses, old tattered dressing-gowns, trousers, blue striped shirts, boots and shoes no good for anything—all these remnants are piled up in heaps, mixed up and crumpled, mouldering and giving out a sickly smell.

The porter, Nikita, an old soldier wearing rusty good-conduct stripes, is always lying on the litter with a pipe between his teeth. He has a grim, surly, battered-looking face, overhanging eyebrows which give him the expression of a sheep-dog of the steppes, and a red nose; he is short and looks thin and scraggy, but he is of imposing deportment and his fists are vigorous. He belongs to the class of simple-hearted, practical, and dull-witted people, prompt in carrying out orders, who like discipline better than anything in the world, and so are convinced that it is their duty to beat people. He showers blows on the face, on the chest, on the back, on whatever comes first, and is convinced that there would be no order in the place if he did not.

Next you come into a big, spacious room which fills up the whole lodge except for the entry. Here the walls are painted a dirty blue, the ceiling is as sooty as in a hut without a chimney—it is evident that in the winter the stove smokes and the room is full of fumes. The windows are disfigured by iron gratings on the inside. The wooden floor is grey and full of splinters. There is a stench of sour cabbage, of smouldering wicks, of bugs, and of ammonia, and for the first minute this stench gives you the impression of having walked into a menagerie.

There are bedsteads screwed to the floor. Men in blue hospital dressing-gowns, and wearing nightcaps in the old style, are sitting and lying on them. These are the lunatics.

There are five of them in all here. Only one is of the upper class, the rest are all artisans. The one nearest the door—a tall, lean workman with shining red whiskers and tear-stained eyes—sits with his head propped on his hand, staring at the same point. Day and night he grieves, shaking his head, sighing and smiling bitterly. He takes a part in conversation and usually makes no answer to questions; he eats and drinks mechanically when food is offered him. From his agonizing, throbbing cough, his thinness, and the flush on his cheeks, one may judge that he is in the first stage of consumption. Next to him is a little, alert, very lively old man, with a pointed beard and curly black hair like a negro’s. By day he walks up and down the ward from window to window, or sits on his bed, cross-legged like a Turk, and, ceaselessly as a bullfinch whistles, softly sings and titters. He shows his childish gaiety and lively character at night also when he gets up to say his prayers—that is, to beat himself on the chest with his fists, and to scratch with his fingers at the door. This is the Jew Moiseika, an imbecile, who went crazy twenty years ago when his hat factory was burnt down.

And of all the inhabitants of Ward No. 6, he is the only one who is allowed to go out of the lodge, and even out of the yard into the street. He has enjoyed this privilege for years, probably because he is an old inhabitant of the hospital—a quiet, harmless imbecile, the buffoon of the town, where people are used to seeing him surrounded by boys and dogs. In his wretched gown, in his absurd night-cap, and in slippers, sometimes with bare legs and even without trousers, he walks about the streets, stopping at the gates and little shops, and begging for a copper. In one place they will give him some kvass, in another some bread, in another a copper, so that he generally goes back to the ward feeling rich and well fed. Everything that he brings back Nikita takes from him for his own benefit. The soldier does this roughly, angrily turning the Jew’s pockets inside out, and calling God to witness that he will not let him go into the street again, and that breach of the regulations is worse to him than anything in the world.

Moiseika likes to make himself useful. He gives his companions water, and covers them up when they are asleep; he promises each of them to bring him back a kopeck, and to make him a new cap; he feeds with a spoon his neighbour on the left, who is paralyzed. He acts in this way, not from compassion nor from any considerations of a humane kind, but through imitation, unconsciously dominated by Gromov, his neighbour on the right hand.

Ivan Dmitritch Gromov, a man of thirty-three, who is a gentleman by birth, and has been a court usher and provincial secretary, suffers from the mania of persecution. He either lies curled up in bed, or walks from corner to corner as though for exercise; he very rarely sits down. He is always excited, agitated, and overwrought by a sort of vague, undefined expectation. The faintest rustle in the entry or shout in the yard is enough to make him raise his head and begin listening: whether they are coming for him, whether they are looking for him. And at such times his face expresses the utmost uneasiness and repulsion.

I like his broad face with its high cheek-bones, always pale and unhappy, and reflecting, as though in a mirror, a soul tormented by conflict and long-continued terror. His grimaces are strange and abnormal, but the delicate lines traced on his face by profound, genuine suffering show intelligence and sense, and there is a warm and healthy light in his eyes. I like the man himself, courteous, anxious to be of use, and extraordinarily gentle to everyone except Nikita. When anyone drops a button or a spoon, he jumps up from his bed quickly and picks it up; every day he says good-morning to his companions, and when he goes to bed he wishes them good-night.

Besides his continually overwrought condition and his grimaces, his madness shows itself in the following way also. Sometimes in the evenings he wraps himself in his dressing-gown, and, trembling all over, with his teeth chattering, begins walking rapidly from corner to corner and between the bedsteads. It seems as though he is in a violent fever. From the way he suddenly stops and glances at his companions, it can be seen that he is longing to say something very important, but, apparently reflecting that they would not listen, or would not understand him, he shakes his head impatiently and goes on pacing up and down. But soon the desire to speak gets the upper hand of every consideration, and he will let himself go and speak fervently and passionately. His talk is disordered and feverish like delirium, disconnected, and not always intelligible, but, on the other hand, something extremely fine may be felt in it, both in the words and the voice. When he talks you recognize in him the lunatic and the man. It is difficult to reproduce on paper his insane talk. He speaks of the baseness of mankind, of violence trampling on justice, of the glorious life which will one day be upon earth, of the window-gratings, which remind him every minute of the stupidity and cruelty of oppressors. It makes a disorderly, incoherent potpourri of themes old but not yet out of date.

II

Some twelve or fifteen years ago an official called Gromov, a highly respectable and prosperous person, was living in his own house in the principal street of the town. He had two sons, Sergey and Ivan. When Sergey was a student in his fourth year he was taken ill with galloping consumption and died, and his death was, as it were, the first of a whole series of calamities which suddenly showered on the Gromov family. Within a week of Sergey’s funeral the old father was put on trial for fraud and misappropriation, and he died of typhoid in the prison hospital soon afterwards. The house, with all their belongings, was sold by auction, and Ivan Dmitritch and his mother were left entirely without means.

Hitherto in his father’s lifetime, Ivan Dmitritch, who was studying in the University of Petersburg, had received an allowance of sixty or seventy roubles a month, and had had no conception of poverty; now he had to make an abrupt change in his life. He had to spend his time from morning to night giving lessons for next to nothing, to work at copying, and with all that to go hungry, as all his earnings were sent to keep his mother. Ivan Dmitritch could not stand such a life; he lost heart and strength, and, giving up the university, went home.

Here, through interest, he obtained the post of teacher in the district school, but could not get on with his colleagues, was not liked by the boys, and soon gave up the post. His mother died. He was for six months without work, living on nothing but bread and water; then he became a court usher. He kept this post until he was dismissed owing to his illness.

He had never even in his young student days given the impression of being perfectly healthy. He had always been pale, thin, and given to catching cold; he ate little and slept badly. A single glass of wine went to his head and made him hysterical. He always had a craving for society, but, owing to his irritable temperament and suspiciousness, he never became very intimate with anyone, and had no friends. He always spoke with contempt of his fellow-townsmen, saying that their coarse ignorance and sleepy animal existence seemed to him loathsome and horrible. He spoke in a loud tenor, with heat, and invariably either with scorn and indignation, or with wonder and enthusiasm, and always with perfect sincerity. Whatever one talked to him about he always brought it round to the same subject: that life was dull and stifling in the town; that the townspeople had no lofty interests, but lived a dingy, meaningless life, diversified by violence, coarse profligacy, and hypocrisy; that scoundrels were well fed and clothed, while honest men lived from hand to mouth; that they needed schools, a progressive local paper, a theatre, public lectures, the co-ordination of the intellectual elements; that society must see its failings and be horrified. In his criticisms of people he laid on the colours thick, using only black and white, and no fine shades; mankind was divided for him into honest men and scoundrels: there was nothing in between. He always spoke with passion and enthusiasm of women and of love, but he had never been in love.

In spite of the severity of his judgments and his nervousness, he was liked, and behind his back was spoken of affectionately as Vanya. His innate refinement and readiness to be of service, his good breeding, his moral purity, and his shabby coat, his frail appearance and family misfortunes, aroused a kind, warm, sorrowful feeling. Moreover, he was well educated and well read; according to the townspeople’s notions, he knew everything, and was in their eyes something like a walking encyclopedia.

He had read a great deal. He would sit at the club, nervously pulling at his beard and looking through the magazines and books; and from his face one could see that he was not reading, but devouring the pages without giving himself time to digest what he read. It must be supposed that reading was one of his morbid habits, as he fell upon anything that came into his hands with equal avidity, even last year’s newspapers and calendars. At home he always read lying down.

III

One autumn morning Ivan Dmitritch, turning up the collar of his greatcoat and splashing through the mud, made his way by side-streets and back lanes to see some artisan, and to collect some payment that was owing. He was in a gloomy mood, as he always was in the morning. In one of the side-streets he was met by two convicts in fetters and four soldiers with rifles in charge of them. Ivan Dmitritch had very often met convicts before, and they had always excited feelings of compassion and discomfort in him; but now this meeting made a peculiar, strange impression on him. It suddenly seemed to him for some reason that he, too, might be put into fetters and led through the mud to prison like that. After visiting the artisan, on the way home he met near the post office a police superintendent of his acquaintance, who greeted him and walked a few paces along the street with him, and for some reason this seemed to him suspicious. At home he could not get the convicts or the soldiers with their rifles out of his head all day, and an unaccountable inward agitation prevented him from reading or concentrating his mind. In the evening he did not light his lamp, and at night he could not sleep, but kept thinking that he might be arrested, put into fetters, and thrown into prison. He did not know of any harm he had done, and could be certain that he would never be guilty of murder, arson, or theft in the future either; but was it not easy to commit a crime by accident, unconsciously, and was not false witness always possible, and, indeed, miscarriage of justice? It was not without good reason that the agelong experience of the simple people teaches that beggary and prison are ills none can be safe from. A judicial mistake is very possible as legal proceedings are conducted nowadays, and there is nothing to be wondered at in it. People who have an official, professional relation to other men’s sufferings—for instance, judges, police officers, doctors—in course of time, through habit, grow so callous that they cannot, even if they wish it, take any but a formal attitude to their clients; in this respect they are not different from the peasant who slaughters sheep and calves in the back-yard, and does not notice the blood. With this formal, soulless attitude to human personality the judge needs but one thing—time—in order to deprive an innocent man of all rights of property, and to condemn him to penal servitude. Only the time spent on performing certain formalities for which the judge is paid his salary, and then—it is all over. Then you may look in vain for justice and protection in this dirty, wretched little town a hundred and fifty miles from a railway station! And, indeed, is it not absurd even to think of justice when every kind of violence is accepted by society as a rational and consistent necessity, and every act of mercy—for instance, a verdict of acquittal—calls forth a perfect outburst of dissatisfied and revengeful feeling?

In the morning Ivan Dmitritch got up from his bed in a state of horror, with cold perspiration on his forehead, completely convinced that he might be arrested any minute. Since his gloomy thoughts of yesterday had haunted him so long, he thought, it must be that there was some truth in them. They could not, indeed, have come into his mind without any grounds whatever.

A policeman walking slowly passed by the windows: that was not for nothing. Here were two men standing still and silent near the house. Why were they silent? And agonizing days and nights followed for Ivan Dmitritch. Everyone who passed by the windows or came into the yard seemed to him a spy or a detective. At midday the chief of the police usually drove down the street with a pair of horses; he was going from his estate near the town to the police department; but Ivan Dmitritch fancied every time that he was driving especially quickly, and that he had a peculiar expression: it was evident that he was in haste to announce that there was a very important criminal in the town. Ivan Dmitritch started at every ring at the bell and knock at the gate, and was agitated whenever he came upon anyone new at his landlady’s; when he met police officers and gendarmes he smiled and began whistling so as to seem unconcerned. He could not sleep for whole nights in succession expecting to be arrested, but he snored loudly and sighed as though in deep sleep, that his landlady might think he was asleep; for if he could not sleep it meant that he was tormented by the stings of conscience—what a piece of evidence! Facts and common sense persuaded him that all these terrors were nonsense and morbidity, that if one looked at the matter more broadly there was nothing really terrible in arrest and imprisonment—so long as the conscience is at ease; but the more sensibly and logically he reasoned, the more acute and agonizing his mental distress became. It might be compared with the story of a hermit who tried to cut a dwelling-place for himself in a virgin forest; the more zealously he worked with his axe, the thicker the forest grew. In the end Ivan Dmitritch, seeing it was useless, gave up reasoning altogether, and abandoned himself entirely to despair and terror.

He began to avoid people and to seek solitude. His official work had been distasteful to him before: now it became unbearable to him. He was afraid they would somehow get him into trouble, would put a bribe in his pocket unnoticed and then denounce him, or that he would accidentally make a mistake in official papers that would appear to be fraudulent, or would lose other people’s money. It is strange that his imagination had never at other times been so agile and inventive as now, when every day he thought of thousands of different reasons for being seriously anxious over his freedom and honour; but, on the other hand, his interest in the outer world, in books in particular, grew sensibly fainter, and his memory began to fail him.

In the spring when the snow melted there were found in the ravine near the cemetery two half-decomposed corpses—the bodies of an old woman and a boy bearing the traces of death by violence. Nothing was talked of but these bodies and their unknown murderers. That people might not think he had been guilty of the crime, Ivan Dmitritch walked about the streets, smiling, and when he met acquaintances he turned pale, flushed, and began declaring that there was no greater crime than the murder of the weak and defenceless. But this duplicity soon exhausted him, and after some reflection he decided that in his position the best thing to do was to hide in his landlady’s cellar. He sat in the cellar all day and then all night, then another day, was fearfully cold, and waiting till dusk, stole secretly like a thief back to his room. He stood in the middle of the room till daybreak, listening without stirring. Very early in the morning, before sunrise, some workmen came into the house. Ivan Dmitritch knew perfectly well that they had come to mend the stove in the kitchen, but terror told him that they were police officers disguised as workmen. He slipped stealthily out of the flat, and, overcome by terror, ran along the street without his cap and coat. Dogs raced after him barking, a peasant shouted somewhere behind him, the wind whistled in his ears, and it seemed to Ivan Dmitritch that the force and violence of the whole world was massed together behind his back and was chasing after him.

He was stopped and brought home, and his landlady sent for a doctor. Doctor Andrey Yefimitch, of whom we shall have more to say hereafter, prescribed cold compresses on his head and laurel drops, shook his head, and went away, telling the landlady he should not come again, as one should not interfere with people who are going out of their minds. As he had not the means to live at home and be nursed, Ivan Dmitritch was soon sent to the hospital, and was there put into the ward for venereal patients. He could not sleep at night, was full of whims and fancies, and disturbed the patients, and was soon afterwards, by Andrey Yefimitch’s orders, transferred to Ward No. 6.

Within a year Ivan Dmitritch was completely forgotten in the town, and his books, heaped up by his landlady in a sledge in the shed, were pulled to pieces by boys.

IV

Ivan Dmitritch’s neighbour on the left hand is, as I have said already, the Jew Moiseika; his neighbour on the right hand is a peasant so rolling in fat that he is almost spherical, with a blankly stupid face, utterly devoid of thought. This is a motionless, gluttonous, unclean animal who has long ago lost all powers of thought or feeling. An acrid, stifling stench always comes from him.

Nikita, who has to clean up after him, beats him terribly with all his might, not sparing his fists; and what is dreadful is not his being beaten—that one can get used to—but the fact that this stupefied creature does not respond to the blows with a sound or a movement, nor by a look in the eyes, but only sways a little like a heavy barrel.

The fifth and last inhabitant of Ward No. 6 is a man of the artisan class who had once been a sorter in the post office, a thinnish, fair little man with a good-natured but rather sly face. To judge from the clear, cheerful look in his calm and intelligent eyes, he has some pleasant idea in his mind, and has some very important and agreeable secret. He has under his pillow and under his mattress something that he never shows anyone, not from fear of its being taken from him and stolen, but from modesty. Sometimes he goes to the window, and turning his back to his companions, puts something on his breast, and bending his head, looks at it; if you go up to him at such a moment, he is overcome with confusion and snatches something off his breast. But it is not difficult to guess his secret.

“Congratulate me,” he often says to Ivan Dmitritch; “I have been presented with the Stanislav order of the second degree with the star. The second degree with the star is only given to foreigners, but for some reason they want to make an exception for me,” he says with a smile, shrugging his shoulders in perplexity. “That I must confess I did not expect.”

“I don’t understand anything about that,” Ivan Dmitritch replies morosely.

“But do you know what I shall attain to sooner or later?” the former sorter persists, screwing up his eyes slyly. “I shall certainly get the Swedish ‘Polar Star.’ That’s an order it is worth working for, a white cross with a black ribbon. It’s very beautiful.”

Probably in no other place is life so monotonous as in this ward. In the morning the patients, except the paralytic and the fat peasant, wash in the entry at a big tab and wipe themselves with the skirts of their dressing-gowns; after that they drink tea out of tin mugs which Nikita brings them out of the main building. Everyone is allowed one mugful. At midday they have soup made out of sour cabbage and boiled grain, in the evening their supper consists of grain left from dinner. In the intervals they lie down, sleep, look out of window, and walk from one corner to the other. And so every day. Even the former sorter always talks of the same orders.

Fresh faces are rarely seen in Ward No. 6. The doctor has not taken in any new mental cases for a long time, and the people who are fond of visiting lunatic asylums are few in this world. Once every two months Semyon Lazaritch, the barber, appears in the ward. How he cuts the patients’ hair, and how Nikita helps him to do it, and what a trepidation the lunatics are always thrown into by the arrival of the drunken, smiling barber, we will not describe.

No one even looks into the ward except the barber. The patients are condemned to see day after day no one but Nikita.

A rather strange rumour has, however, been circulating in the hospital of late.

It is rumoured that the doctor has begun to visit Ward No. 6.

V

A strange rumour!

Dr. Andrey Yefimitch Ragin is a strange man in his way. They say that when he was young he was very religious, and prepared himself for a clerical career, and that when he had finished his studies at the high school in 1863 he intended to enter a theological academy, but that his father, a surgeon and doctor of medicine, jeered at him and declared point-blank that he would disown him if he became a priest. How far this is true I don’t know, but Andrey Yefimitch himself has more than once confessed that he has never had a natural bent for medicine or science in general.

However that may have been, when he finished his studies in the medical faculty he did not enter the priesthood. He showed no special devoutness, and was no more like a priest at the beginning of his medical career than he is now.

His exterior is heavy—coarse like a peasant’s, his face, his beard, his flat hair, and his coarse, clumsy figure, suggest an overfed, intemperate, and harsh innkeeper on the highroad. His face is surly-looking and covered with blue veins, his eyes are little and his nose is red. With his height and broad shoulders he has huge hands and feet; one would think that a blow from his fist would knock the life out of anyone, but his step is soft, and his walk is cautious and insinuating; when he meets anyone in a narrow passage he is always the first to stop and make way, and to say, not in a bass, as one would expect, but in a high, soft tenor: “I beg your pardon!” He has a little swelling on his neck which prevents him from wearing stiff starched collars, and so he always goes about in soft linen or cotton shirts. Altogether he does not dress like a doctor. He wears the same suit for ten years, and the new clothes, which he usually buys at a Jewish shop, look as shabby and crumpled on him as his old ones; he sees patients and dines and pays visits all in the same coat; but this is not due to niggardliness, but to complete carelessness about his appearance.

When Andrey Yefimitch came to the town to take up his duties the “institution founded to the glory of God” was in a terrible condition. One could hardly breathe for the stench in the wards, in the passages, and in the courtyards of the hospital. The hospital servants, the nurses, and their children slept in the wards together with the patients. They complained that there was no living for beetles, bugs, and mice. The surgical wards were never free from erysipelas. There were only two scalpels and not one thermometer in the whole hospital; potatoes were kept in the baths. The superintendent, the housekeeper, and the medical assistant robbed the patients, and of the old doctor, Andrey Yefimitch’s predecessor, people declared that he secretly sold the hospital alcohol, and that he kept a regular harem consisting of nurses and female patients. These disorderly proceedings were perfectly well known in the town, and were even exaggerated, but people took them calmly; some justified them on the ground that there were only peasants and working men in the hospital, who could not be dissatisfied, since they were much worse off at home than in the hospital—they couldn’t be fed on woodcocks! Others said in excuse that the town alone, without help from the Zemstvo, was not equal to maintaining a good hospital; thank God for having one at all, even a poor one. And the newly formed Zemstvo did not open infirmaries either in the town or the neighbourhood, relying on the fact that the town already had its hospital.

After looking over the hospital Andrey Yefimitch came to the conclusion that it was an immoral institution and extremely prejudicial to the health of the townspeople. In his opinion the most sensible thing that could be done was to let out the patients and close the hospital. But he reflected that his will alone was not enough to do this, and that it would be useless; if physical and moral impurity were driven out of one place, they would only move to another; one must wait for it to wither away of itself. Besides, if people open a hospital and put up with having it, it must be because they need it; superstition and all the nastiness and abominations of daily life were necessary, since in process of time they worked out to something sensible, just as manure turns into black earth. There was nothing on earth so good that it had not something nasty about its first origin.

When Andrey Yefimitch undertook his duties he was apparently not greatly concerned about the irregularities at the hospital. He only asked the attendants and nurses not to sleep in the wards, and had two cupboards of instruments put up; the superintendent, the housekeeper, the medical assistant, and the erysipelas remained unchanged.

Andrey Yefimitch loved intelligence and honesty intensely, but he had no strength of will nor belief in his right to organize an intelligent and honest life about him. He was absolutely unable to give orders, to forbid things, and to insist. It seemed as though he had taken a vow never to raise his voice and never to make use of the imperative. It was difficult for him to say “Fetch” or “Bring”; when he wanted his meals he would cough hesitatingly and say to the cook, “How about tea?. . .” or “How about dinner? . . .” To dismiss the superintendent or to tell him to leave off stealing, or to abolish the unnecessary parasitic post altogether, was absolutely beyond his powers. When Andrey Yefimitch was deceived or flattered, or accounts he knew to be cooked were brought him to sign, he would turn as red as a crab and feel guilty, but yet he would sign the accounts. When the patients complained to him of being hungry or of the roughness of the nurses, he would be confused and mutter guiltily: “Very well, very well, I will go into it later . . . . Most likely there is some misunderstanding. . .”

At first Andrey Yefimitch worked very zealously. He saw patients every day from morning till dinner-time, performed operations, and even attended confinements. The ladies said of him that he was attentive and clever at diagnosing diseases, especially those of women and children. But in process of time the work unmistakably wearied him by its monotony and obvious uselessness. To-day one sees thirty patients, and to-morrow they have increased to thirty-five, the next day forty, and so on from day to day, from year to year, while the mortality in the town did not decrease and the patients did not leave off coming. To be any real help to forty patients between morning and dinner was not physically possible, so it could but lead to deception. If twelve thousand patients were seen in a year it meant, if one looked at it simply, that twelve thousand men were deceived. To put those who were seriously ill into wards, and to treat them according to the principles of science, was impossible, too, because though there were principles there was no science; if he were to put aside philosophy and pedantically follow the rules as other doctors did, the things above all necessary were cleanliness and ventilation instead of dirt, wholesome nourishment instead of broth made of stinking, sour cabbage, and good assistants instead of thieves; and, indeed, why hinder people dying if death is the normal and legitimate end of everyone? What is gained if some shop-keeper or clerk lives an extra five or ten years? If the aim of medicine is by drugs to alleviate suffering, the question forces itself on one: why alleviate it? In the first place, they say that suffering leads man to perfection; and in the second, if mankind really learns to alleviate its sufferings with pills and drops, it will completely abandon religion and philosophy, in which it has hitherto found not merely protection from all sorts of trouble, but even happiness. Pushkin suffered terrible agonies before his death, poor Heine lay paralyzed for several years; why, then, should not some Andrey Yefimitch or Matryona Savishna be ill, since their lives had nothing of importance in them, and would have been entirely empty and like the life of an amoeba except for suffering?

Oppressed by such reflections, Andrey Yefimitch relaxed his efforts and gave up visiting the hospital every day.

VI

His life was passed like this. As a rule he got up at eight o’clock in the morning, dressed, and drank his tea. Then he sat down in his study to read, or went to the hospital. At the hospital the out-patients were sitting in the dark, narrow little corridor waiting to be seen by the doctor. The nurses and the attendants, tramping with their boots over the brick floors, ran by them; gaunt-looking patients in dressing-gowns passed; dead bodies and vessels full of filth were carried by; the children were crying, and there was a cold draught. Andrey Yefimitch knew that such surroundings were torture to feverish, consumptive, and impressionable patients; but what could be done? In the consulting-room he was met by his assistant, Sergey Sergeyitch—a fat little man with a plump, well-washed shaven face, with soft, smooth manners, wearing a new loosely cut suit, and looking more like a senator than a medical assistant. He had an immense practice in the town, wore a white tie, and considered himself more proficient than the doctor, who had no practice. In the corner of the consulting-room there stood a large ikon in a shrine with a heavy lamp in front of it, and near it a candle-stand with a white cover on it. On the walls hung portraits of bishops, a view of the Svyatogorsky Monastery, and wreaths of dried cornflowers. Sergey Sergeyitch was religious, and liked solemnity and decorum. The ikon had been put up at his expense; at his instructions some one of the patients read the hymns of praise in the consulting-room on Sundays, and after the reading Sergey Sergeyitch himself went through the wards with a censer and burned incense.

There were a great many patients, but the time was short, and so the work was confined to the asking of a few brief questions and the administration of some drugs, such as castor-oil or volatile ointment. Andrey Yefimitch would sit with his cheek resting in his hand, lost in thought and asking questions mechanically. Sergey Sergeyitch sat down too, rubbing his hands, and from time to time putting in his word.

“We suffer pain and poverty,” he would say, “because we do not pray to the merciful God as we should. Yes!”

Andrey Yefimitch never performed any operation when he was seeing patients; he had long ago given up doing so, and the sight of blood upset him. When he had to open a child’s mouth in order to look at its throat, and the child cried and tried to defend itself with its little hands, the noise in his ears made his head go round and brought tears to his eyes. He would make haste to prescribe a drug, and motion to the woman to take the child away.

He was soon wearied by the timidity of the patients and their incoherence, by the proximity of the pious Sergey Sergeyitch, by the portraits on the walls, and by his own questions which he had asked over and over again for twenty years. And he would go away after seeing five or six patients. The rest would be seen by his assistant in his absence.

With the agreeable thought that, thank God, he had no private practice now, and that no one would interrupt him, Andrey Yefimitch sat down to the table immediately on reaching home and took up a book. He read a great deal and always with enjoyment. Half his salary went on buying books, and of the six rooms that made up his abode three were heaped up with books and old magazines. He liked best of all works on history and philosophy; the only medical publication to which he subscribed was The Doctor, of which he always read the last pages first. He would always go on reading for several hours without a break and without being weary. He did not read as rapidly and impulsively as Ivan Dmitritch had done in the past, but slowly and with concentration, often pausing over a passage which he liked or did not find intelligible. Near the books there always stood a decanter of vodka, and a salted cucumber or a pickled apple lay beside it, not on a plate, but on the baize table-cloth. Every half-hour he would pour himself out a glass of vodka and drink it without taking his eyes off the book. Then without looking at it he would feel for the cucumber and bite off a bit.

At three o’clock he would go cautiously to the kitchen door; cough, and say, “Daryushka, what about dinner? . .”

After his dinner—a rather poor and untidily served one—Andrey Yefimitch would walk up and down his rooms with his arms folded, thinking. The clock would strike four, then five, and still he would be walking up and down thinking. Occasionally the kitchen door would creak, and the red and sleepy face of Daryushka would appear.

“Andrey Yefimitch, isn’t it time for you to have your beer?” she would ask anxiously.

“No, it’s not time yet . . .” he would answer. “I’ll wait a little . . . . I’ll wait a little. . .”

Towards the evening the postmaster, Mihail Averyanitch, the only man in town whose society did not bore Andrey Yefimitch, would come in. Mihail Averyanitch had once been a very rich landowner, and had served in the calvary, but had come to ruin, and was forced by poverty to take a job in the post office late in life. He had a hale and hearty appearance, luxuriant grey whiskers, the manners of a well-bred man, and a loud, pleasant voice. He was good-natured and emotional, but hot-tempered. When anyone in the post office made a protest, expressed disagreement, or even began to argue, Mihail Averyanitch would turn crimson, shake all over, and shout in a voice of thunder, “Hold your tongue!” so that the post office had long enjoyed the reputation of an institution which it was terrible to visit. Mihail Averyanitch liked and respected Andrey Yefimitch for his culture and the loftiness of his soul; he treated the other inhabitants of the town superciliously, as though they were his subordinates.

“Here I am,” he would say, going in to Andrey Yefimitch. “Good evening, my dear fellow! I’ll be bound, you are getting sick of me, aren’t you?”

“On the contrary, I am delighted,” said the doctor. “I am always glad to see you.”

The friends would sit on the sofa in the study and for some time would smoke in silence.

“Daryushka, what about the beer?” Andrey Yefimitch would say.

They would drink their first bottle still in silence, the doctor brooding and Mihail Averyanitch with a gay and animated face, like a man who has something very interesting to tell. The doctor was always the one to begin the conversation.

“What a pity,” he would say quietly and slowly, not looking his friend in the face (he never looked anyone in the face)—“what a great pity it is that there are no people in our town who are capable of carrying on intelligent and interesting conversation, or care to do so. It is an immense privation for us. Even the educated class do not rise above vulgarity; the level of their development, I assure you, is not a bit higher than that of the lower orders.”

“Perfectly true. I agree.”

“You know, of course,” the doctor went on quietly and deliberately, “that everything in this world is insignificant and uninteresting except the higher spiritual manifestations of the human mind. Intellect draws a sharp line between the animals and man, suggests the divinity of the latter, and to some extent even takes the place of the immortality which does not exist. Consequently the intellect is the only possible source of enjoyment. We see and hear of no trace of intellect about us, so we are deprived of enjoyment. We have books, it is true, but that is not at all the same as living talk and converse. If you will allow me to make a not quite apt comparison: books are the printed score, while talk is the singing.”

“Perfectly true.”

A silence would follow. Daryushka would come out of the kitchen and with an expression of blank dejection would stand in the doorway to listen, with her face propped on her fist.

“Eh!” Mihail Averyanitch would sigh. “To expect intelligence of this generation!”

And he would describe how wholesome, entertaining, and interesting life had been in the past. How intelligent the educated class in Russia used to be, and what lofty ideas it had of honour and friendship; how they used to lend money without an IOU, and it was thought a disgrace not to give a helping hand to a comrade in need; and what campaigns, what adventures, what skirmishes, what comrades, what women! And the Caucasus, what a marvellous country! The wife of a battalion commander, a queer woman, used to put on an officer’s uniform and drive off into the mountains in the evening, alone, without a guide. It was said that she had a love affair with some princeling in the native village.

“Queen of Heaven, Holy Mother...” Daryushka would sigh.

“And how we drank! And how we ate! And what desperate liberals we were!”

Andrey Yefimitch would listen without hearing; he was musing as he sipped his beer.

“I often dream of intellectual people and conversation with them,” he said suddenly, interrupting Mihail Averyanitch. “My father gave me an excellent education, but under the influence of the ideas of the sixties made me become a doctor. I believe if I had not obeyed him then, by now I should have been in the very centre of the intellectual movement. Most likely I should have become a member of some university. Of course, intellect, too, is transient and not eternal, but you know why I cherish a partiality for it. Life is a vexatious trap; when a thinking man reaches maturity and attains to full consciousness he cannot help feeling that he is in a trap from which there is no escape. Indeed, he is summoned without his choice by fortuitous circumstances from non-existence into life . . . what for? He tries to find out the meaning and object of his existence; he is told nothing, or he is told absurdities; he knocks and it is not opened to him; death comes to him—also without his choice. And so, just as in prison men held together by common misfortune feel more at ease when they are together, so one does not notice the trap in life when people with a bent for analysis and generalization meet together and pass their time in the interchange of proud and free ideas. In that sense the intellect is the source of an enjoyment nothing can replace.”

“Perfectly true.”

Not looking his friend in the face, Andrey Yefimitch would go on, quietly and with pauses, talking about intellectual people and conversation with them, and Mihail Averyanitch would listen attentively and agree: “Perfectly true.”

“And you do not believe in the immortality of the soul?” he would ask suddenly.

“No, honoured Mihail Averyanitch; I do not believe it, and have no grounds for believing it.”

“I must own I doubt it too. And yet I have a feeling as though I should never die. Oh, I think to myself: ‘Old fogey, it is time you were dead!’ But there is a little voice in my soul says: ‘Don’t believe it; you won’t die.’”

Soon after nine o’clock Mihail Averyanitch would go away. As he put on his fur coat in the entry he would say with a sigh:

“What a wilderness fate has carried us to, though, really! What’s most vexatious of all is to have to die here. Ech! . .”

VII

After seeing his friend out Andrey Yefimitch would sit down at the table and begin reading again. The stillness of the evening, and afterwards of the night, was not broken by a single sound, and it seemed as though time were standing still and brooding with the doctor over the book, and as though there were nothing in existence but the books and the lamp with the green shade. The doctor’s coarse peasant-like face was gradually lighted up by a smile of delight and enthusiasm over the progress of the human intellect. Oh, why is not man immortal? he thought. What is the good of the brain centres and convolutions, what is the good of sight, speech, self-consciousness, genius, if it is all destined to depart into the soil, and in the end to grow cold together with the earth’s crust, and then for millions of years to fly with the earth round the sun with no meaning and no object? To do that there was no need at all to draw man with his lofty, almost godlike intellect out of non-existence, and then, as though in mockery, to turn him into clay. The transmutation of substances! But what cowardice to comfort oneself with that cheap substitute for immortality! The unconscious processes that take place in nature are lower even than the stupidity of man, since in stupidity there is, anyway, consciousness and will, while in those processes there is absolutely nothing. Only the coward who has more fear of death than dignity can comfort himself with the fact that his body will in time live again in the grass, in the stones, in the toad. To find one’s immortality in the transmutation of substances is as strange as to prophesy a brilliant future for the case after a precious violin has been broken and become useless.

When the clock struck, Andrey Yefimitch would sink back into his chair and close his eyes to think a little. And under the influence of the fine ideas of which he had been reading he would, unawares, recall his past and his present. The past was hateful—better not to think of it. And it was the same in the present as in the past. He knew that at the very time when his thoughts were floating together with the cooling earth round the sun, in the main building beside his abode people were suffering in sickness and physical impurity: someone perhaps could not sleep and was making war upon the insects, someone was being infected by erysipelas, or moaning over too tight a bandage; perhaps the patients were playing cards with the nurses and drinking vodka. According to the yearly return, twelve thousand people had been deceived; the whole hospital rested as it had done twenty years ago on thieving, filth, scandals, gossip, on gross quackery, and, as before, it was an immoral institution extremely injurious to the health of the inhabitants. He knew that Nikita knocked the patients about behind the barred windows of Ward No. 6, and that Moiseika went about the town every day begging alms.

On the other hand, he knew very well that a magical change had taken place in medicine during the last twenty-five years. When he was studying at the university he had fancied that medicine would soon be overtaken by the fate of alchemy and metaphysics; but now when he was reading at night the science of medicine touched him and excited his wonder, and even enthusiasm. What unexpected brilliance, what a revolution! Thanks to the antiseptic system operations were performed such as the great Pirogov had considered impossible even in spe. Ordinary Zemstvo doctors were venturing to perform the resection of the kneecap; of abdominal operations only one per cent. was fatal; while stone was considered such a trifle that they did not even write about it. A radical cure for syphilis had been discovered. And the theory of heredity, hypnotism, the discoveries of Pasteur and of Koch, hygiene based on statistics, and the work of Zemstvo doctors!

Psychiatry with its modern classification of mental diseases, methods of diagnosis, and treatment, was a perfect Elborus in comparison with what had been in the past. They no longer poured cold water on the heads of lunatics nor put strait-waistcoats upon them; they treated them with humanity, and even, so it was stated in the papers, got up balls and entertainments for them. Andrey Yefimitch knew that with modern tastes and views such an abomination as Ward No. 6 was possible only a hundred and fifty miles from a railway in a little town where the mayor and all the town council were half-illiterate tradesmen who looked upon the doctor as an oracle who must be believed without any criticism even if he had poured molten lead into their mouths; in any other place the public and the newspapers would long ago have torn this little Bastille to pieces.

“But, after all, what of it?” Andrey Yefimitch would ask himself, opening his eyes. “There is the antiseptic system, there is Koch, there is Pasteur, but the essential reality is not altered a bit; ill-health and mortality are still the same. They get up balls and entertainments for the mad, but still they don’t let them go free; so it’s all nonsense and vanity, and there is no difference in reality between the best Vienna clinic and my hospital.” But depression and a feeling akin to envy prevented him from feeling indifferent; it must have been owing to exhaustion. His heavy head sank on to the book, he put his hands under his face to make it softer, and thought: “I serve in a pernicious institution and receive a salary from people whom I am deceiving. I am not honest, but then, I of myself am nothing, I am only part of an inevitable social evil: all local officials are pernicious and receive their salary for doing nothing. . . . And so for my dishonesty it is not I who am to blame, but the times.... If I had been born two hundred years later I should have been different. . .”

When it struck three he would put out his lamp and go into his bedroom; he was not sleepy.

VIII

Two years before, the Zemstvo in a liberal mood had decided to allow three hundred roubles a year to pay for additional medical service in the town till the Zemstvo hospital should be opened, and the district doctor, Yevgeny Fyodoritch Hobotov, was invited to the town to assist Andrey Yefimitch. He was a very young man—not yet thirty—tall and dark, with broad cheek-bones and little eyes; his forefathers had probably come from one of the many alien races of Russia. He arrived in the town without a farthing, with a small portmanteau, and a plain young woman whom he called his cook. This woman had a baby at the breast. Yevgeny Fyodoritch used to go about in a cap with a peak, and in high boots, and in the winter wore a sheepskin. He made great friends with Sergey Sergeyitch, the medical assistant, and with the treasurer, but held aloof from the other officials, and for some reason called them aristocrats. He had only one book in his lodgings, “The Latest Prescriptions of the Vienna Clinic for 1881.” When he went to a patient he always took this book with him. He played billiards in the evening at the club: he did not like cards. He was very fond of using in conversation such expressions as “endless bobbery,” “canting soft soap,” “shut up with your finicking. . .”

He visited the hospital twice a week, made the round of the wards, and saw out-patients. The complete absence of antiseptic treatment and the cupping roused his indignation, but he did not introduce any new system, being afraid of offending Andrey Yefimitch. He regarded his colleague as a sly old rascal, suspected him of being a man of large means, and secretly envied him. He would have been very glad to have his post.

IX

On a spring evening towards the end of March, when there was no snow left on the ground and the starlings were singing in the hospital garden, the doctor went out to see his friend the postmaster as far as the gate. At that very moment the Jew Moiseika, returning with his booty, came into the yard. He had no cap on, and his bare feet were thrust into goloshes; in his hand he had a little bag of coppers.

“Give me a kopeck!” he said to the doctor, smiling, and shivering with cold. Andrey Yefimitch, who could never refuse anyone anything, gave him a ten-kopeck piece.

“How bad that is!” he thought, looking at the Jew’s bare feet with their thin red ankles. “Why, it’s wet.”

And stirred by a feeling akin both to pity and disgust, he went into the lodge behind the Jew, looking now at his bald head, now at his ankles. As the doctor went in, Nikita jumped up from his heap of litter and stood at attention.

“Good-day, Nikita,” Andrey Yefimitch said mildly. “That Jew should be provided with boots or something, he will catch cold.”

“Certainly, your honour. I’ll inform the superintendent.”

“Please do; ask him in my name. Tell him that I asked.”

The door into the ward was open. Ivan Dmitritch, lying propped on his elbow on the bed, listened in alarm to the unfamiliar voice, and suddenly recognized the doctor. He trembled all over with anger, jumped up, and with a red and wrathful face, with his eyes starting out of his head, ran out into the middle of the road.

“The doctor has come!” he shouted, and broke into a laugh. “At last! Gentlemen, I congratulate you. The doctor is honouring us with a visit! Cursed reptile!” he shrieked, and stamped in a frenzy such as had never been seen in the ward before. “Kill the reptile! No, killing’s too good. Drown him in the midden-pit!”

Andrey Yefimitch, hearing this, looked into the ward from the entry and asked gently: “What for?”

“What for?” shouted Ivan Dmitritch, going up to him with a menacing air and convulsively wrapping himself in his dressing-gown. “What for? Thief!” he said with a look of repulsion, moving his lips as though he would spit at him. “Quack! hangman!”

“Calm yourself,” said Andrey Yefimitch, smiling guiltily. “I assure you I have never stolen anything; and as to the rest, most likely you greatly exaggerate. I see you are angry with me. Calm yourself, I beg, if you can, and tell me coolly what are you angry for?”

“What are you keeping me here for?”

“Because you are ill.”

“Yes, I am ill. But you know dozens, hundreds of madmen are walking about in freedom because your ignorance is incapable of distinguishing them from the sane. Why am I and these poor wretches to be shut up here like scapegoats for all the rest? You, your assistant, the superintendent, and all your hospital rabble, are immeasurably inferior to every one of us morally; why then are we shut up and you not? Where’s the logic of it?”

“Morality and logic don’t come in, it all depends on chance. If anyone is shut up he has to stay, and if anyone is not shut up he can walk about, that’s all. There is neither morality nor logic in my being a doctor and your being a mental patient, there is nothing but idle chance.”

“That twaddle I don’t understand. . .” Ivan Dmitritch brought out in a hollow voice, and he sat down on his bed.

Moiseika, whom Nikita did not venture to search in the presence of the doctor, laid out on his bed pieces of bread, bits of paper, and little bones, and, still shivering with cold, began rapidly in a singsong voice saying something in Yiddish. He most likely imagined that he had opened a shop.

“Let me out,” said Ivan Dmitritch, and his voice quivered.

“I cannot.”

“But why, why?”

“Because it is not in my power. Think, what use will it be to you if I do let you out? Go. The townspeople or the police will detain you or bring you back.”

“Yes, yes, that’s true,” said Ivan Dmitritch, and he rubbed his forehead. “It’s awful! But what am I to do, what?”

Andrey Yefimitch liked Ivan Dmitritch’s voice and his intelligent young face with its grimaces. He longed to be kind to the young man and soothe him; he sat down on the bed beside him, thought, and said:

“You ask me what to do. The very best thing in your position would be to run away. But, unhappily, that is useless. You would be taken up. When society protects itself from the criminal, mentally deranged, or otherwise inconvenient people, it is invincible. There is only one thing left for you: to resign yourself to the thought that your presence here is inevitable.”

“It is no use to anyone.”

“So long as prisons and madhouses exist someone must be shut up in them. If not you, I. If not I, some third person. Wait till in the distant future prisons and madhouses no longer exist, and there will be neither bars on the windows nor hospital gowns. Of course, that time will come sooner or later.”

Ivan Dmitritch smiled ironically.

“You are jesting,” he said, screwing up his eyes. “Such gentlemen as you and your assistant Nikita have nothing to do with the future, but you may be sure, sir, better days will come! I may express myself cheaply, you may laugh, but the dawn of a new life is at hand; truth and justice will triumph, and—our turn will come! I shall not live to see it, I shall perish, but some people’s great-grandsons will see it. I greet them with all my heart and rejoice, rejoice with them! Onward! God be your help, friends!”

With shining eyes Ivan Dmitritch got up, and stretching his hands towards the window, went on with emotion in his voice:

“From behind these bars I bless you! Hurrah for truth and justice! I rejoice!”

“I see no particular reason to rejoice,” said Andrey Yefimitch, who thought Ivan Dmitritch’s movement theatrical, though he was delighted by it. “Prisons and madhouses there will not be, and truth, as you have just expressed it, will triumph; but the reality of things, you know, will not change, the laws of nature will still remain the same. People will suffer pain, grow old, and die just as they do now. However magnificent a dawn lighted up your life, you would yet in the end be nailed up in a coffin and thrown into a hole.”

“And immortality?”

“Oh, come, now!”

“You don’t believe in it, but I do. Somebody in Dostoevsky or Voltaire said that if there had not been a God men would have invented him. And I firmly believe that if there is no immortality the great intellect of man will sooner or later invent it.”

“Well said,” observed Andrey Yefimitch, smiling with pleasure; “its a good thing you have faith. With such a belief one may live happily even shut up within walls. You have studied somewhere, I presume?”

“Yes, I have been at the university, but did not complete my studies.”

“You are a reflecting and a thoughtful man. In any surroundings you can find tranquillity in yourself. Free and deep thinking which strives for the comprehension of life, and complete contempt for the foolish bustle of the world—those are two blessings beyond any that man has ever known. And you can possess them even though you lived behind threefold bars. Diogenes lived in a tub, yet he was happier than all the kings of the earth.”

“Your Diogenes was a blockhead,” said Ivan Dmitritch morosely. “Why do you talk to me about Diogenes and some foolish comprehension of life?” he cried, growing suddenly angry and leaping up. “I love life; I love it passionately. I have the mania of persecution, a continual agonizing terror; but I have moments when I am overwhelmed by the thirst for life, and then I am afraid of going mad. I want dreadfully to live, dreadfully!”

He walked up and down the ward in agitation, and said, dropping his voice:

“When I dream I am haunted by phantoms. People come to me, I hear voices and music, and I fancy I am walking through woods or by the seashore, and I long so passionately for movement, for interests . . . . Come, tell me, what news is there?” asked Ivan Dmitritch; “what’s happening?”

“Do you wish to know about the town or in general?”

“Well, tell me first about the town, and then in general.”

“Well, in the town it is appallingly dull. . . . There’s no one to say a word to, no one to listen to. There are no new people. A young doctor called Hobotov has come here recently.”

“He had come in my time. Well, he is a low cad, isn’t he?”

“Yes, he is a man of no culture. It’s strange, you know. . . . Judging by every sign, there is no intellectual stagnation in our capital cities; there is a movement—so there must be real people there too; but for some reason they always send us such men as I would rather not see. It’s an unlucky town!”

“Yes, it is an unlucky town,” sighed Ivan Dmitritch, and he laughed. “And how are things in general? What are they writing in the papers and reviews?”

It was by now dark in the ward. The doctor got up, and, standing, began to describe what was being written abroad and in Russia, and the tendency of thought that could be noticed now. Ivan Dmitritch listened attentively and put questions, but suddenly, as though recalling something terrible, clutched at his head and lay down on the bed with his back to the doctor.

“What’s the matter?” asked Andrey Yefimitch.

“You will not hear another word from me,” said Ivan Dmitritch rudely. “Leave me alone.”

“Why so?”

“I tell you, leave me alone. Why the devil do you persist?”

Andrey Yefimitch shrugged his shoulders, heaved a sigh, and went out. As he crossed the entry he said: “You might clear up here, Nikita . . . there’s an awfully stuffy smell.”

“Certainly, your honour.”

“What an agreeable young man!” thought Andrey Yefimitch, going back to his flat. “In all the years I have been living here I do believe he is the first I have met with whom one can talk. He is capable of reasoning and is interested in just the right things.”

While he was reading, and afterwards, while he was going to bed, he kept thinking about Ivan Dmitritch, and when he woke next morning he remembered that he had the day before made the acquaintance of an intelligent and interesting man, and determined to visit him again as soon as possible.

X

Ivan Dmitritch was lying in the same position as on the previous day, with his head clutched in both hands and his legs drawn up. His face was not visible.

“Good-day, my friend,” said Andrey Yefimitch. “You are not asleep, are you?”

“In the first place, I am not your friend,” Ivan Dmitritch articulated into the pillow; “and in the second, your efforts are useless; you will not get one word out of me.”

“Strange,” muttered Andrey Yefimitch in confusion. “Yesterday we talked peacefully, but suddenly for some reason you took offence and broke off all at once. . . . Probably I expressed myself awkwardly, or perhaps gave utterance to some idea which did not fit in with your convictions. . . .”

“Yes, a likely idea!” said Ivan Dmitritch, sitting up and looking at the doctor with irony and uneasiness. His eyes were red. “You can go and spy and probe somewhere else, it’s no use your doing it here. I knew yesterday what you had come for.”

“A strange fancy,” laughed the doctor. “So you suppose me to be a spy?”

“Yes, I do. . . . A spy or a doctor who has been charged to test me—it’s all the same ——”

“Oh excuse me, what a queer fellow you are really!”

The doctor sat down on the stool near the bed and shook his head reproachfully.

“But let us suppose you are right,” he said, “let us suppose that I am treacherously trying to trap you into saying something so as to betray you to the police. You would be arrested and then tried. But would you be any worse off being tried and in prison than you are here? If you are banished to a settlement, or even sent to penal servitude, would it be worse than being shut up in this ward? I imagine it would be no worse. . . . What, then, are you afraid of?”

These words evidently had an effect on Ivan Dmitritch. He sat down quietly.

It was between four and five in the afternoon—the time when Andrey Yefimitch usually walked up and down his rooms, and Daryushka asked whether it was not time for his beer. It was a still, bright day.

“I came out for a walk after dinner, and here I have come, as you see,” said the doctor. “It is quite spring.”

“What month is it? March?” asked Ivan Dmitritch.

“Yes, the end of March.”

“Is it very muddy?”

“No, not very. There are already paths in the garden.”

“It would be nice now to drive in an open carriage somewhere into the country,” said Ivan Dmitritch, rubbing his red eyes as though he were just awake, “then to come home to a warm, snug study, and . . . and to have a decent doctor to cure one’s headache. . . . It’s so long since I have lived like a human being. It’s disgusting here! Insufferably disgusting!”

After his excitement of the previous day he was exhausted and listless, and spoke unwillingly. His fingers twitched, and from his face it could be seen that he had a splitting headache.

“There is no real difference between a warm, snug study and this ward,” said Andrey Yefimitch. “A man’s peace and contentment do not lie outside a man, but in himself.”

“What do you mean?”

“The ordinary man looks for good and evil in external things—that is, in carriages, in studies—but a thinking man looks for it in himself.”

“You should go and preach that philosophy in Greece, where it’s warm and fragrant with the scent of pomegranates, but here it is not suited to the climate. With whom was it I was talking of Diogenes? Was it with you?”

“Yes, with me yesterday.”

“Diogenes did not need a study or a warm habitation; it’s hot there without. You can lie in your tub and eat oranges and olives. But bring him to Russia to live: he’d be begging to be let indoors in May, let alone December. He’d be doubled up with the cold.”

“No. One can be insensible to cold as to every other pain. Marcus Aurelius says: ‘A pain is a vivid idea of pain; make an effort of will to change that idea, dismiss it, cease to complain, and the pain will disappear.’ That is true. The wise man, or simply the reflecting, thoughtful man, is distinguished precisely by his contempt for suffering; he is always contented and surprised at nothing.”

“Then I am an idiot, since I suffer and am discontented and surprised at the baseness of mankind.”

“You are wrong in that; if you will reflect more on the subject you will understand how insignificant is all that external world that agitates us. One must strive for the comprehension of life, and in that is true happiness.”

“Comprehension . . .” repeated Ivan Dmitritch frowning. “External, internal. . . . Excuse me, but I don’t understand it. I only know,” he said, getting up and looking angrily at the doctor—“I only know that God has created me of warm blood and nerves, yes, indeed! If organic tissue is capable of life it must react to every stimulus. And I do! To pain I respond with tears and outcries, to baseness with indignation, to filth with loathing. To my mind, that is just what is called life. The lower the organism, the less sensitive it is, and the more feebly it reacts to stimulus; and the higher it is, the more responsively and vigorously it reacts to reality. How is it you don’t know that? A doctor, and not know such trifles! To despise suffering, to be always contented, and to be surprised at nothing, one must reach this condition”—and Ivan Dmitritch pointed to the peasant who was a mass of fat—“or to harden oneself by suffering to such a point that one loses all sensibility to it—that is, in other words, to cease to live. You must excuse me, I am not a sage or a philosopher,” Ivan Dmitritch continued with irritation, “and I don’t understand anything about it. I am not capable of reasoning.”

“On the contrary, your reasoning is excellent.”

“The Stoics, whom you are parodying, were remarkable people, but their doctrine crystallized two thousand years ago and has not advanced, and will not advance, an inch forward, since it is not practical or living. It had a success only with the minority which spends its life in savouring all sorts of theories and ruminating over them; the majority did not understand it. A doctrine which advocates indifference to wealth and to the comforts of life, and a contempt for suffering and death, is quite unintelligible to the vast majority of men, since that majority has never known wealth or the comforts of life; and to despise suffering would mean to it despising life itself, since the whole existence of man is made up of the sensations of hunger, cold, injury, and a Hamlet-like dread of death. The whole of life lies in these sensations; one may be oppressed by it, one may hate it, but one cannot despise it. Yes, so, I repeat, the doctrine of the Stoics can never have a future; from the beginning of time up to to-day you see continually increasing the struggle, the sensibility to pain, the capacity of responding to stimulus.”

Ivan Dmitritch suddenly lost the thread of his thoughts, stopped, and rubbed his forehead with vexation.

“I meant to say something important, but I have lost it,” he said. “What was I saying? Oh, yes! This is what I mean: one of the Stoics sold himself into slavery to redeem his neighbour, so, you see, even a Stoic did react to stimulus, since, for such a generous act as the destruction of oneself for the sake of one’s neighbour, he must have had a soul capable of pity and indignation. Here in prison I have forgotten everything I have learned, or else I could have recalled something else. Take Christ, for instance: Christ responded to reality by weeping, smiling, being sorrowful and moved to wrath, even overcome by misery. He did not go to meet His sufferings with a smile, He did not despise death, but prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that this cup might pass Him by.”

Ivan Dmitritch laughed and sat down.

“Granted that a man’s peace and contentment lie not outside but in himself,” he said, “granted that one must despise suffering and not be surprised at anything, yet on what ground do you preach the theory? Are you a sage? A philosopher?”

“No, I am not a philosopher, but everyone ought to preach it because it is reasonable.”

“No, I want to know how it is that you consider yourself competent to judge of ‘comprehension,’ contempt for suffering, and so on. Have you ever suffered? Have you any idea of suffering? Allow me to ask you, were you ever thrashed in your childhood?”

“No, my parents had an aversion for corporal punishment.”

“My father used to flog me cruelly; my father was a harsh, sickly Government clerk with a long nose and a yellow neck. But let us talk of you. No one has laid a finger on you all your life, no one has scared you nor beaten you; you are as strong as a bull. You grew up under your father’s wing and studied at his expense, and then you dropped at once into a sinecure. For more than twenty years you have lived rent free with heating, lighting, and service all provided, and had the right to work how you pleased and as much as you pleased, even to do nothing. You were naturally a flabby, lazy man, and so you have tried to arrange your life so that nothing should disturb you or make you move. You have handed over your work to the assistant and the rest of the rabble while you sit in peace and warmth, save money, read, amuse yourself with reflections, with all sorts of lofty nonsense, and” (Ivan Dmitritch looked at the doctor’s red nose) “with boozing; in fact, you have seen nothing of life, you know absolutely nothing of it, and are only theoretically acquainted with reality; you despise suffering and are surprised at nothing for a very simple reason: vanity of vanities, the external and the internal, contempt for life, for suffering and for death, comprehension, true happiness—that’s the philosophy that suits the Russian sluggard best. You see a peasant beating his wife, for instance. Why interfere? Let him beat her, they will both die sooner or later, anyway; and, besides, he who beats injures by his blows, not the person he is beating, but himself. To get drunk is stupid and unseemly, but if you drink you die, and if you don’t drink you die. A peasant woman comes with toothache . . . well, what of it? Pain is the idea of pain, and besides ‘there is no living in this world without illness; we shall all die, and so, go away, woman, don’t hinder me from thinking and drinking vodka.’ A young man asks advice, what he is to do, how he is to live; anyone else would think before answering, but you have got the answer ready: strive for ‘comprehension’ or for true happiness. And what is that fantastic ‘true happiness’? There’s no answer, of course. We are kept here behind barred windows, tortured, left to rot; but that is very good and reasonable, because there is no difference at all between this ward and a warm, snug study. A convenient philosophy. You can do nothing, and your conscience is clear, and you feel you are wise . . . . No, sir, it is not philosophy, it’s not thinking, it’s not breadth of vision, but laziness, fakirism, drowsy stupefaction. Yes,” cried Ivan Dmitritch, getting angry again, “you despise suffering, but I’ll be bound if you pinch your finger in the door you will howl at the top of your voice.”

“And perhaps I shouldn’t howl,” said Andrey Yefimitch, with a gentle smile.

“Oh, I dare say! Well, if you had a stroke of paralysis, or supposing some fool or bully took advantage of his position and rank to insult you in public, and if you knew he could do it with impunity, then you would understand what it means to put people off with comprehension and true happiness.”

“That’s original,” said Andrey Yefimitch, laughing with pleasure and rubbing his hands. “I am agreeably struck by your inclination for drawing generalizations, and the sketch of my character you have just drawn is simply brilliant. I must confess that talking to you gives me great pleasure. Well, I’ve listened to you, and now you must graciously listen to me.”

XI

The conversation went on for about an hour longer, and apparently made a deep impression on Andrey Yefimitch. He began going to the ward every day. He went there in the mornings and after dinner, and often the dusk of evening found him in conversation with Ivan Dmitritch. At first Ivan Dmitritch held aloof from him, suspected him of evil designs, and openly expressed his hostility. But afterwards he got used to him, and his abrupt manner changed to one of condescending irony.

Soon it was all over the hospital that the doctor, Andrey Yefimitch, had taken to visiting Ward No. 6. No one—neither Sergey Sergevitch, nor Nikita, nor the nurses—could conceive why he went there, why he stayed there for hours together, what he was talking about, and why he did not write prescriptions. His actions seemed strange. Often Mihail Averyanitch did not find him at home, which had never happened in the past, and Daryushka was greatly perturbed, for the doctor drank his beer now at no definite time, and sometimes was even late for dinner.

One day—it was at the end of June—Dr. Hobotov went to see Andrey Yefimitch about something. Not finding him at home, he proceeded to look for him in the yard; there he was told that the old doctor had gone to see the mental patients. Going into the lodge and stopping in the entry, Hobotov heard the following conversation:

“We shall never agree, and you will not succeed in converting me to your faith,” Ivan Dmitritch was saying irritably; “you are utterly ignorant of reality, and you have never known suffering, but have only like a leech fed beside the sufferings of others, while I have been in continual suffering from the day of my birth till to-day. For that reason, I tell you frankly, I consider myself superior to you and more competent in every respect. It’s not for you to teach me.”

“I have absolutely no ambition to convert you to my faith,” said Andrey Yefimitch gently, and with regret that the other refused to understand him. “And that is not what matters, my friend; what matters is not that you have suffered and I have not. Joy and suffering are passing; let us leave them, never mind them. What matters is that you and I think; we see in each other people who are capable of thinking and reasoning, and that is a common bond between us however different our views. If you knew, my friend, how sick I am of the universal senselessness, ineptitude, stupidity, and with what delight I always talk with you! You are an intelligent man, and I enjoyed your company.”

Hobotov opened the door an inch and glanced into the ward; Ivan Dmitritch in his night-cap and the doctor Andrey Yefimitch were sitting side by side on the bed. The madman was grimacing, twitching, and convulsively wrapping himself in his gown, while the doctor sat motionless with bowed head, and his face was red and look helpless and sorrowful. Hobotov shrugged his shoulders, grinned, and glanced at Nikita. Nikita shrugged his shoulders too.

Next day Hobotov went to the lodge, accompanied by the assistant. Both stood in the entry and listened.

“I fancy our old man has gone clean off his chump!” said Hobotov as he came out of the lodge.

“Lord have mercy upon us sinners!” sighed the decorous Sergey Sergeyitch, scrupulously avoiding the puddles that he might not muddy his polished boots. “I must own, honoured Yevgeny Fyodoritch, I have been expecting it for a long time.”

XII

After this Andrey Yefimitch began to notice a mysterious air in all around him. The attendants, the nurses, and the patients looked at him inquisitively when they met him, and then whispered together. The superintendent’s little daughter Masha, whom he liked to meet in the hospital garden, for some reason ran away from him now when he went up with a smile to stroke her on the head. The postmaster no longer said, “Perfectly true,” as he listened to him, but in unaccountable confusion muttered, “Yes, yes, yes . . .” and looked at him with a grieved and thoughtful expression; for some reason he took to advising his friend to give up vodka and beer, but as a man of delicate feeling he did not say this directly, but hinted it, telling him first about the commanding officer of his battalion, an excellent man, and then about the priest of the regiment, a capital fellow, both of whom drank and fell ill, but on giving up drinking completely regained their health. On two or three occasions Andrey Yefimitch was visited by his colleague Hobotov, who also advised him to give up spirituous liquors, and for no apparent reason recommended him to take bromide.

In August Andrey Yefimitch got a letter from the mayor of the town asking him to come on very important business. On arriving at the town hall at the time fixed, Andrey Yefimitch found there the military commander, the superintendent of the district school, a member of the town council, Hobotov, and a plump, fair gentleman who was introduced to him as a doctor. This doctor, with a Polish surname difficult to pronounce, lived at a pedigree stud-farm twenty miles away, and was now on a visit to the town.

“There’s something that concerns you,” said the member of the town council, addressing Andrey Yefimitch after they had all greeted one another and sat down to the table. “Here Yevgeny Fyodoritch says that there is not room for the dispensary in the main building, and that it ought to be transferred to one of the lodges. That’s of no consequence—of course it can be transferred, but the point is that the lodge wants doing up.”

“Yes, it would have to be done up,” said Andrey Yefimitch after a moment’s thought. “If the corner lodge, for instance, were fitted up as a dispensary, I imagine it would cost at least five hundred roubles. An unproductive expenditure!”

Everyone was silent for a space.

“I had the honour of submitting to you ten years ago,” Andrey Yefimitch went on in a low voice, “that the hospital in its present form is a luxury for the town beyond its means. It was built in the forties, but things were different then. The town spends too much on unnecessary buildings and superfluous staff. I believe with a different system two model hospitals might be maintained for the same money.”

“Well, let us have a different system, then!” the member of the town council said briskly.

“I have already had the honour of submitting to you that the medical department should be transferred to the supervision of the Zemstvo.”

“Yes, transfer the money to the Zemstvo and they will steal it,” laughed the fair-haired doctor.

“That’s what it always comes to,” the member of the council assented, and he also laughed.

Andrey Yefimitch looked with apathetic, lustreless eyes at the fair-haired doctor and said: “One should be just.”

Again there was silence. Tea was brought in. The military commander, for some reason much embarrassed, touched Andrey Yefimitch’s hand across the table and said: “You have quite forgotten us, doctor. But of course you are a hermit: you don’t play cards and don’t like women. You would be dull with fellows like us.”

They all began saying how boring it was for a decent person to live in such a town. No theatre, no music, and at the last dance at the club there had been about twenty ladies and only two gentlemen. The young men did not dance, but spent all the time crowding round the refreshment bar or playing cards.

Not looking at anyone and speaking slowly in a low voice, Andrey Yefimitch began saying what a pity, what a terrible pity it was that the townspeople should waste their vital energy, their hearts, and their minds on cards and gossip, and should have neither the power nor the inclination to spend their time in interesting conversation and reading, and should refuse to take advantage of the enjoyments of the mind. The mind alone was interesting and worthy of attention, all the rest was low and petty. Hobotov listened to his colleague attentively and suddenly asked:

“Andrey Yefimitch, what day of the month is it?”

Having received an answer, the fair-haired doctor and he, in the tone of examiners conscious of their lack of skill, began asking Andrey Yefimitch what was the day of the week, how many days there were in the year, and whether it was true that there was a remarkable prophet living in Ward No. 6.

In response to the last question Andrey Yefimitch turned rather red and said: “Yes, he is mentally deranged, but he is an interesting young man.”

They asked him no other questions.

When he was putting on his overcoat in the entry, the military commander laid a hand on his shoulder and said with a sigh:

“It’s time for us old fellows to rest!”

As he came out of the hall, Andrey Yefimitch understood that it had been a committee appointed to enquire into his mental condition. He recalled the questions that had been asked him, flushed crimson, and for some reason, for the first time in his life, felt bitterly grieved for medical science.

“My God. . .” he thought, remembering how these doctors had just examined him; “why, they have only lately been hearing lectures on mental pathology; they had passed an examination—what’s the explanation of this crass ignorance? They have not a conception of mental pathology!”

And for the first time in his life he felt insulted and moved to anger.

In the evening of the same day Mihail Averyanitch came to see him. The postmaster went up to him without waiting to greet him, took him by both hands, and said in an agitated voice:

“My dear fellow, my dear friend, show me that you believe in my genuine affection and look on me as your friend!” And preventing Andrey Yefimitch from speaking, he went on, growing excited: “I love you for your culture and nobility of soul. Listen to me, my dear fellow. The rules of their profession compel the doctors to conceal the truth from you, but I blurt out the plain truth like a soldier. You are not well! Excuse me, my dear fellow, but it is the truth; everyone about you has been noticing it for a long time. Dr. Yevgeny Fyodoritch has just told me that it is essential for you to rest and distract your mind for the sake of your health. Perfectly true! Excellent! In a day or two I am taking a holiday and am going away for a sniff of a different atmosphere. Show that you are a friend to me, let us go together! Let us go for a jaunt as in the good old days.”

“I feel perfectly well,” said Andrey Yefimitch after a moment’s thought. “I can’t go away. Allow me to show you my friendship in some other way.”

To go off with no object, without his books, without his Daryushka, without his beer, to break abruptly through the routine of life, established for twenty years—the idea for the first minute struck him as wild and fantastic, but he remembered the conversation at the Zemstvo committee and the depressing feelings with which he had returned home, and the thought of a brief absence from the town in which stupid people looked on him as a madman was pleasant to him.

“And where precisely do you intend to go?” he asked.

“To Moscow, to Petersburg, to Warsaw. . . . I spent the five happiest years of my life in Warsaw. What a marvellous town! Let us go, my dear fellow!”

XIII

A week later it was suggested to Andrey Yefimitch that he should have a rest—that is, send in his resignation—a suggestion he received with indifference, and a week later still, Mihail Averyanitch and he were sitting in a posting carriage driving to the nearest railway station. The days were cool and bright, with a blue sky and a transparent distance. They were two days driving the hundred and fifty miles to the railway station, and stayed two nights on the way. When at the posting station the glasses given them for their tea had not been properly washed, or the drivers were slow in harnessing the horses, Mihail Averyanitch would turn crimson, and quivering all over would shout:

“Hold your tongue! Don’t argue!”

And in the carriage he talked without ceasing for a moment, describing his campaigns in the Caucasus and in Poland. What adventures he had had, what meetings! He talked loudly and opened his eyes so wide with wonder that he might well be thought to be lying. Moreover, as he talked he breathed in Andrey Yefimitch’s face and laughed into his ear. This bothered the doctor and prevented him from thinking or concentrating his mind.

In the train they travelled, from motives of economy, third-class in a non-smoking compartment. Half the passengers were decent people. Mihail Averyanitch soon made friends with everyone, and moving from one seat to another, kept saying loudly that they ought not to travel by these appalling lines. It was a regular swindle! A very different thing riding on a good horse: one could do over seventy miles a day and feel fresh and well after it. And our bad harvests were due to the draining of the Pinsk marshes; altogether, the way things were done was dreadful. He got excited, talked loudly, and would not let others speak. This endless chatter to the accompaniment of loud laughter and expressive gestures wearied Andrey Yefimitch.

“Which of us is the madman?” he thought with vexation. “I, who try not to disturb my fellow-passengers in any way, or this egoist who thinks that he is cleverer and more interesting than anyone here, and so will leave no one in peace?”

In Moscow Mihail Averyanitch put on a military coat without epaulettes and trousers with red braid on them. He wore a military cap and overcoat in the street, and soldiers saluted him. It seemed to Andrey Yefimitch, now, that his companion was a man who had flung away all that was good and kept only what was bad of all the characteristics of a country gentleman that he had once possessed. He liked to be waited on even when it was quite unnecessary. The matches would be lying before him on the table, and he would see them and shout to the waiter to give him the matches; he did not hesitate to appear before a maidservant in nothing but his underclothes; he used the familiar mode of address to all footmen indiscriminately, even old men, and when he was angry called them fools and blockheads. This, Andrey Yefimitch thought, was like a gentleman, but disgusting.

First of all Mihail Averyanitch led his friend to the Iversky Madonna. He prayed fervently, shedding tears and bowing down to the earth, and when he had finished, heaved a deep sigh and said:

“Even though one does not believe it makes one somehow easier when one prays a little. Kiss the ikon, my dear fellow.”

Andrey Yefimitch was embarrassed and he kissed the image, while Mihail Averyanitch pursed up his lips and prayed in a whisper, and again tears came into his eyes. Then they went to the Kremlin and looked there at the Tsar-cannon and the Tsar-bell, and even touched them with their fingers, admired the view over the river, visited St. Saviour’s and the Rumyantsev museum.

They dined at Tyestov’s. Mihail Averyanitch looked a long time at the menu, stroking his whiskers, and said in the tone of a gourmand accustomed to dine in restaurants:

“We shall see what you give us to eat to-day, angel!”

XIV

The doctor walked about, looked at things, ate and drank, but he had all the while one feeling: annoyance with Mihail Averyanitch. He longed to have a rest from his friend, to get away from him, to hide himself, while the friend thought it was his duty not to let the doctor move a step away from him, and to provide him with as many distractions as possible. When there was nothing to look at he entertained him with conversation. For two days Andrey Yefimitch endured it, but on the third he announced to his friend that he was ill and wanted to stay at home for the whole day; his friend replied that in that case he would stay too—that really he needed rest, for he was run off his legs already. Andrey Yefimitch lay on the sofa, with his face to the back, and clenching his teeth, listened to his friend, who assured him with heat that sooner or later France would certainly thrash Germany, that there were a great many scoundrels in Moscow, and that it was impossible to judge of a horse’s quality by its outward appearance. The doctor began to have a buzzing in his ears and palpitations of the heart, but out of delicacy could not bring himself to beg his friend to go away or hold his tongue. Fortunately Mihail Averyanitch grew weary of sitting in the hotel room, and after dinner he went out for a walk.

As soon as he was alone Andrey Yefimitch abandoned himself to a feeling of relief. How pleasant to lie motionless on the sofa and to know that one is alone in the room! Real happiness is impossible without solitude. The fallen angel betrayed God probably because he longed for solitude, of which the angels know nothing. Andrey Yefimitch wanted to think about what he had seen and heard during the last few days, but he could not get Mihail Averyanitch out of his head.

“Why, he has taken a holiday and come with me out of friendship, out of generosity,” thought the doctor with vexation; “nothing could be worse than this friendly supervision. I suppose he is good-natured and generous and a lively fellow, but he is a bore. An insufferable bore. In the same way there are people who never say anything but what is clever and good, yet one feels that they are dull-witted people.”

For the following days Andrey Yefimitch declared himself ill and would not leave the hotel room; he lay with his face to the back of the sofa, and suffered agonies of weariness when his friend entertained him with conversation, or rested when his friend was absent. He was vexed with himself for having come, and with his friend, who grew every day more talkative and more free-and-easy; he could not succeed in attuning his thoughts to a serious and lofty level.

“This is what I get from the real life Ivan Dmitritch talked about,” he thought, angry at his own pettiness. “It’s of no consequence, though. . . . I shall go home, and everything will go on as before . . . .”

It was the same thing in Petersburg too; for whole days together he did not leave the hotel room, but lay on the sofa and only got up to drink beer.

Mihail Averyanitch was all haste to get to Warsaw.

“My dear man, what should I go there for?” said Andrey Yefimitch in an imploring voice. “You go alone and let me get home! I entreat you!”

“On no account,” protested Mihail Averyanitch. “It’s a marvellous town.”

Andrey Yefimitch had not the strength of will to insist on his own way, and much against his inclination went to Warsaw. There he did not leave the hotel room, but lay on the sofa, furious with himself, with his friend, and with the waiters, who obstinately refused to understand Russian; while Mihail Averyanitch, healthy, hearty, and full of spirits as usual, went about the town from morning to night, looking for his old acquaintances. Several times he did not return home at night. After one night spent in some unknown haunt he returned home early in the morning, in a violently excited condition, with a red face and tousled hair. For a long time he walked up and down the rooms muttering something to himself, then stopped and said:

“Honour before everything.”

After walking up and down a little longer he clutched his head in both hands and pronounced in a tragic voice: “Yes, honour before everything! Accursed be the moment when the idea first entered my head to visit this Babylon! My dear friend,” he added, addressing the doctor, “you may despise me, I have played and lost; lend me five hundred roubles!”

Andrey Yefimitch counted out five hundred roubles and gave them to his friend without a word. The latter, still crimson with shame and anger, incoherently articulated some useless vow, put on his cap, and went out. Returning two hours later he flopped into an easy-chair, heaved a loud sigh, and said:

“My honour is saved. Let us go, my friend; I do not care to remain another hour in this accursed town. Scoundrels! Austrian spies!”

By the time the friends were back in their own town it was November, and deep snow was lying in the streets. Dr. Hobotov had Andrey Yefimitch’s post; he was still living in his old lodgings, waiting for Andrey Yefimitch to arrive and clear out of the hospital apartments. The plain woman whom he called his cook was already established in one of the lodges.

Fresh scandals about the hospital were going the round of the town. It was said that the plain woman had quarrelled with the superintendent, and that the latter had crawled on his knees before her begging forgiveness. On the very first day he arrived Andrey Yefimitch had to look out for lodgings.

“My friend,” the postmaster said to him timidly, “excuse an indiscreet question: what means have you at your disposal?”

Andrey Yefimitch, without a word, counted out his money and said: “Eighty-six roubles.”

“I don’t mean that,” Mihail Averyanitch brought out in confusion, misunderstanding him; “I mean, what have you to live on?”

“I tell you, eighty-six roubles . . . I have nothing else.”

Mihail Averyanitch looked upon the doctor as an honourable man, yet he suspected that he had accumulated a fortune of at least twenty thousand. Now learning that Andrey Yefimitch was a beggar, that he had nothing to live on he was for some reason suddenly moved to tears and embraced his friend.

XV

Andrey Yefimitch now lodged in a little house with three windows. There were only three rooms besides the kitchen in the little house. The doctor lived in two of them which looked into the street, while Daryushka and the landlady with her three children lived in the third room and the kitchen. Sometimes the landlady’s lover, a drunken peasant who was rowdy and reduced the children and Daryushka to terror, would come for the night. When he arrived and established himself in the kitchen and demanded vodka, they all felt very uncomfortable, and the doctor would be moved by pity to take the crying children into his room and let them lie on his floor, and this gave him great satisfaction.

He got up as before at eight o’clock, and after his morning tea sat down to read his old books and magazines: he had no money for new ones. Either because the books were old, or perhaps because of the change in his surroundings, reading exhausted him, and did not grip his attention as before. That he might not spend his time in idleness he made a detailed catalogue of his books and gummed little labels on their backs, and this mechanical, tedious work seemed to him more interesting than reading. The monotonous, tedious work lulled his thoughts to sleep in some unaccountable way, and the time passed quickly while he thought of nothing. Even sitting in the kitchen, peeling potatoes with Daryushka or picking over the buckwheat grain, seemed to him interesting. On Saturdays and Sundays he went to church. Standing near the wall and half closing his eyes, he listened to the singing and thought of his father, of his mother, of the university, of the religions of the world; he felt calm and melancholy, and as he went out of the church afterwards he regretted that the service was so soon over. He went twice to the hospital to talk to Ivan Dmitritch. But on both occasions Ivan Dmitritch was unusually excited and ill-humoured; he bade the doctor leave him in peace, as he had long been sick of empty chatter, and declared, to make up for all his sufferings, he asked from the damned scoundrels only one favour—solitary confinement. Surely they would not refuse him even that? On both occasions when Andrey Yefimitch was taking leave of him and wishing him good-night, he answered rudely and said:

“Go to hell!”

And Andrey Yefimitch did not know now whether to go to him for the third time or not. He longed to go.

In old days Andrey Yefimitch used to walk about his rooms and think in the interval after dinner, but now from dinner-time till evening tea he lay on the sofa with his face to the back and gave himself up to trivial thoughts which he could not struggle against. He was mortified that after more than twenty years of service he had been given neither a pension nor any assistance. It is true that he had not done his work honestly, but, then, all who are in the Service get a pension without distinction whether they are honest or not. Contemporary justice lies precisely in the bestowal of grades, orders, and pensions, not for moral qualities or capacities, but for service whatever it may have been like. Why was he alone to be an exception? He had no money at all. He was ashamed to pass by the shop and look at the woman who owned it. He owed thirty-two roubles for beer already. There was money owing to the landlady also. Daryushka sold old clothes and books on the sly, and told lies to the landlady, saying that the doctor was just going to receive a large sum of money.

He was angry with himself for having wasted on travelling the thousand roubles he had saved up. How useful that thousand roubles would have been now! He was vexed that people would not leave him in peace. Hobotov thought it his duty to look in on his sick colleague from time to time. Everything about him was revolting to Andrey Yefimitch—his well-fed face and vulgar, condescending tone, and his use of the word “colleague,” and his high top-boots; the most revolting thing was that he thought it was his duty to treat Andrey Yefimitch, and thought that he really was treating him. On every visit he brought a bottle of bromide and rhubarb pills.

Mihail Averyanitch, too, thought it his duty to visit his friend and entertain him. Every time he went in to Andrey Yefimitch with an affectation of ease, laughed constrainedly, and began assuring him that he was looking very well to-day, and that, thank God, he was on the highroad to recovery, and from this it might be concluded that he looked on his friend’s condition as hopeless. He had not yet repaid his Warsaw debt, and was overwhelmed by shame; he was constrained, and so tried to laugh louder and talk more amusingly. His anecdotes and descriptions seemed endless now, and were an agony both to Andrey Yefimitch and himself.

In his presence Andrey Yefimitch usually lay on the sofa with his face to the wall, and listened with his teeth clenched; his soul was oppressed with rankling disgust, and after every visit from his friend he felt as though this disgust had risen higher, and was mounting into his throat.

To stifle petty thoughts he made haste to reflect that he himself, and Hobotov, and Mihail Averyanitch, would all sooner or later perish without leaving any trace on the world. If one imagined some spirit flying by the earthly globe in space in a million years he would see nothing but clay and bare rocks. Everything—culture and the moral law—would pass away and not even a burdock would grow out of them. Of what consequence was shame in the presence of a shopkeeper, of what consequence was the insignificant Hobotov or the wearisome friendship of Mihail Averyanitch? It was all trivial and nonsensical.

But such reflections did not help him now. Scarcely had he imagined the earthly globe in a million years, when Hobotov in his high top-boots or Mihail Averyanitch with his forced laugh would appear from behind a bare rock, and he even heard the shamefaced whisper: “The Warsaw debt. . . . I will repay it in a day or two, my dear fellow, without fail. . . .”

XVI

One day Mihail Averyanitch came after dinner when Andrey Yefimitch was lying on the sofa. It so happened that Hobotov arrived at the same time with his bromide. Andrey Yefimitch got up heavily and sat down, leaning both arms on the sofa.

“You have a much better colour to-day than you had yesterday, my dear man,” began Mihail Averyanitch. “Yes, you look jolly. Upon my soul, you do!”

“It’s high time you were well, dear colleague,” said Hobotov, yawning. “I’ll be bound, you are sick of this bobbery.”

“And we shall recover,” said Mihail Averyanitch cheerfully. “We shall live another hundred years! To be sure!”

“Not a hundred years, but another twenty,” Hobotov said reassuringly. “It’s all right, all right, colleague; don’t lose heart. . . . Don’t go piling it on!”

“We’ll show what we can do,” laughed Mihail Averyanitch, and he slapped his friend on the knee. “We’ll show them yet! Next summer, please God, we shall be off to the Caucasus, and we will ride all over it on horseback—trot, trot, trot! And when we are back from the Caucasus I shouldn’t wonder if we will all dance at the wedding.” Mihail Averyanitch gave a sly wink. “We’ll marry you, my dear boy, we’ll marry you. . . .”

Andrey Yefimitch felt suddenly that the rising disgust had mounted to his throat, his heart began beating violently.

“That’s vulgar,” he said, getting up quickly and walking away to the window. “Don’t you understand that you are talking vulgar nonsense?”

He meant to go on softly and politely, but against his will he suddenly clenched his fists and raised them above his head.

“Leave me alone,” he shouted in a voice unlike his own, blushing crimson and shaking all over. “Go away, both of you!”

Mihail Averyanitch and Hobotov got up and stared at him first with amazement and then with alarm.

“Go away, both!” Andrey Yefimitch went on shouting. “Stupid people! Foolish people! I don’t want either your friendship or your medicines, stupid man! Vulgar! Nasty!”

Hobotov and Mihail Averyanitch, looking at each other in bewilderment, staggered to the door and went out. Andrey Yefimitch snatched up the bottle of bromide and flung it after them; the bottle broke with a crash on the door-frame.

“Go to the devil!” he shouted in a tearful voice, running out into the passage. “To the devil!”

When his guests were gone Andrey Yefimitch lay down on the sofa, trembling as though in a fever, and went on for a long while repeating: “Stupid people! Foolish people!”

When he was calmer, what occurred to him first of all was the thought that poor Mihail Averyanitch must be feeling fearfully ashamed and depressed now, and that it was all dreadful. Nothing like this had ever happened to him before. Where was his intelligence and his tact? Where was his comprehension of things and his philosophical indifference?

The doctor could not sleep all night for shame and vexation with himself, and at ten o’clock next morning he went to the post office and apologized to the postmaster.

“We won’t think again of what has happened,” Mihail Averyanitch, greatly touched, said with a sigh, warmly pressing his hand. “Let bygones be bygones. Lyubavkin,” he suddenly shouted so loud that all the postmen and other persons present started, “hand a chair; and you wait,” he shouted to a peasant woman who was stretching out a registered letter to him through the grating. “Don’t you see that I am busy? We will not remember the past,” he went on, affectionately addressing Andrey Yefimitch; “sit down, I beg you, my dear fellow.”

For a minute he stroked his knees in silence, and then said:

“I have never had a thought of taking offence. Illness is no joke, I understand. Your attack frightened the doctor and me yesterday, and we had a long talk about you afterwards. My dear friend, why won’t you treat your illness seriously? You can’t go on like this . . . . Excuse me speaking openly as a friend,” whispered Mihail Averyanitch. “You live in the most unfavourable surroundings, in a crowd, in uncleanliness, no one to look after you, no money for proper treatment. . . . My dear friend, the doctor and I implore you with all our hearts, listen to our advice: go into the hospital! There you will have wholesome food and attendance and treatment. Though, between ourselves, Yevgeny Fyodoritch is mauvais ton, yet he does understand his work, you can fully rely upon him. He has promised me he will look after you.”

Andrey Yefimitch was touched by the postmaster’s genuine sympathy and the tears which suddenly glittered on his cheeks.

“My honoured friend, don’t believe it!” he whispered, laying his hand on his heart; “don’t believe them. It’s all a sham. My illness is only that in twenty years I have only found one intelligent man in the whole town, and he is mad. I am not ill at all, it’s simply that I have got into an enchanted circle which there is no getting out of. I don’t care; I am ready for anything.”

“Go into the hospital, my dear fellow.”

“I don’t care if it were into the pit.”

“Give me your word, my dear man, that you will obey Yevgeny Fyodoritch in everything.”

“Certainly I will give you my word. But I repeat, my honoured friend, I have got into an enchanted circle. Now everything, even the genuine sympathy of my friends, leads to the same thing—to my ruin. I am going to my ruin, and I have the manliness to recognize it.”

“My dear fellow, you will recover.”

“What’s the use of saying that?” said Andrey Yefimitch, with irritation. “There are few men who at the end of their lives do not experience what I am experiencing now. When you are told that you have something such as diseased kidneys or enlarged heart, and you begin being treated for it, or are told you are mad or a criminal—that is, in fact, when people suddenly turn their attention to you—you may be sure you have got into an enchanted circle from which you will not escape. You will try to escape and make things worse. You had better give in, for no human efforts can save you. So it seems to me.”

Meanwhile the public was crowding at the grating. That he might not be in their way, Andrey Yefimitch got up and began to take leave. Mihail Averyanitch made him promise on his honour once more, and escorted him to the outer door.

Towards evening on the same day Hobotov, in his sheepskin and his high top-boots, suddenly made his appearance, and said to Andrey Yefimitch in a tone as though nothing had happened the day before:

“I have come on business, colleague. I have come to ask you whether you would not join me in a consultation. Eh?”

Thinking that Hobotov wanted to distract his mind with an outing, or perhaps really to enable him to earn something, Andrey Yefimitch put on his coat and hat, and went out with him into the street. He was glad of the opportunity to smooth over his fault of the previous day and to be reconciled, and in his heart thanked Hobotov, who did not even allude to yesterday’s scene and was evidently sparing him. One would never have expected such delicacy from this uncultured man.

“Where is your invalid?” asked Andrey Yefimitch.

“In the hospital. . . . I have long wanted to show him to you. A very interesting case.”

They went into the hospital yard, and going round the main building, turned towards the lodge where the mental cases were kept, and all this, for some reason, in silence. When they went into the lodge Nikita as usual jumped up and stood at attention.

“One of the patients here has a lung complication.” Hobotov said in an undertone, going into the yard with Andrey Yefimitch. “You wait here, I’ll be back directly. I am going for a stethoscope.”

And he went away.

XVII

It was getting dusk. Ivan Dmitritch was lying on his bed with his face thrust unto his pillow; the paralytic was sitting motionless, crying quietly and moving his lips. The fat peasant and the former sorter were asleep. It was quiet.

Andrey Yefimitch sat down on Ivan Dmitritch’s bed and waited. But half an hour passed, and instead of Hobotov, Nikita came into the ward with a dressing-gown, some underlinen, and a pair of slippers in a heap on his arm.

“Please change your things, your honour,” he said softly. “Here is your bed; come this way,” he added, pointing to an empty bedstead which had obviously recently been brought into the ward. “It’s all right; please God, you will recover.”

Andrey Yefimitch understood it all. Without saying a word he crossed to the bed to which Nikita pointed and sat down; seeing that Nikita was standing waiting, he undressed entirely and he felt ashamed. Then he put on the hospital clothes; the drawers were very short, the shirt was long, and the dressing-gown smelt of smoked fish.

“Please God, you will recover,” repeated Nikita, and he gathered up Andrey Yefimitch’s clothes into his arms, went out, and shut the door after him.

“No matter . . .” thought Andrey Yefimitch, wrapping himself in his dressing-gown in a shamefaced way and feeling that he looked like a convict in his new costume. “It’s no matter. . . . It does not matter whether it’s a dress-coat or a uniform or this dressing-gown.”

But how about his watch? And the notebook that was in the side-pocket? And his cigarettes? Where had Nikita taken his clothes? Now perhaps to the day of his death he would not put on trousers, a waistcoat, and high boots. It was all somehow strange and even incomprehensible at first. Andrey Yefimitch was even now convinced that there was no difference between his landlady’s house and Ward No. 6, that everything in this world was nonsense and vanity of vanities. And yet his hands were trembling, his feet were cold, and he was filled with dread at the thought that soon Ivan Dmitritch would get up and see that he was in a dressing-gown. He got up and walked across the room and sat down again.

Here he had been sitting already half an hour, an hour, and he was miserably sick of it: was it really possible to live here a day, a week, and even years like these people? Why, he had been sitting here, had walked about and sat down again; he could get up and look out of window and walk from corner to corner again, and then what? Sit so all the time, like a post, and think? No, that was scarcely possible.

Andrey Yefimitch lay down, but at once got up, wiped the cold sweat from his brow with his sleeve and felt that his whole face smelt of smoked fish. He walked about again.

“It’s some misunderstanding . . .” he said, turning out the palms of his hands in perplexity. “It must be cleared up. There is a misunderstanding.”

Meanwhile Ivan Dmitritch woke up; he sat up and propped his cheeks on his fists. He spat. Then he glanced lazily at the doctor, and apparently for the first minute did not understand; but soon his sleepy face grew malicious and mocking.

“Aha! so they have put you in here, too, old fellow?” he said in a voice husky from sleepiness, screwing up one eye. “Very glad to see you. You sucked the blood of others, and now they will suck yours. Excellent!”

“It’s a misunderstanding . . .” Andrey Yefimitch brought out, frightened by Ivan Dmitritch’s words; he shrugged his shoulders and repeated: “It’s some misunderstanding.”

Ivan Dmitritch spat again and lay down.

“Cursed life,” he grumbled, “and what’s bitter and insulting, this life will not end in compensation for our sufferings, it will not end with apotheosis as it would in an opera, but with death; peasants will come and drag one’s dead body by the arms and the legs to the cellar. Ugh! Well, it does not matter. . . . We shall have our good time in the other world. . . . I shall come here as a ghost from the other world and frighten these reptiles. I’ll turn their hair grey.”

Moiseika returned, and, seeing the doctor, held out his hand.

“Give me one little kopeck,” he said.

XVIII

Andrey Yefimitch walked away to the window and looked out into the open country. It was getting dark, and on the horizon to the right a cold crimson moon was mounting upwards. Not far from the hospital fence, not much more than two hundred yards away, stood a tall white house shut in by a stone wall. This was the prison.

“So this is real life,” thought Andrey Yefimitch, and he felt frightened.

The moon and the prison, and the nails on the fence, and the far-away flames at the bone-charring factory were all terrible. Behind him there was the sound of a sigh. Andrey Yefimitch looked round and saw a man with glittering stars and orders on his breast, who was smiling and slyly winking. And this, too, seemed terrible.

Andrey Yefimitch assured himself that there was nothing special about the moon or the prison, that even sane persons wear orders, and that everything in time will decay and turn to earth, but he was suddenly overcome with desire; he clutched at the grating with both hands and shook it with all his might. The strong grating did not yield.

Then that it might not be so dreadful he went to Ivan Dmitritch’s bed and sat down.

“I have lost heart, my dear fellow,” he muttered, trembling and wiping away the cold sweat, “I have lost heart.”

“You should be philosophical,” said Ivan Dmitritch ironically.

“My God, my God. . . . Yes, yes. . . . You were pleased to say once that there was no philosophy in Russia, but that all people, even the paltriest, talk philosophy. But you know the philosophizing of the paltriest does not harm anyone,” said Andrey Yefimitch in a tone as if he wanted to cry and complain. “Why, then, that malignant laugh, my friend, and how can these paltry creatures help philosophizing if they are not satisfied? For an intelligent, educated man, made in God’s image, proud and loving freedom, to have no alternative but to be a doctor in a filthy, stupid, wretched little town, and to spend his whole life among bottles, leeches, mustard plasters! Quackery, narrowness, vulgarity! Oh, my God!”

“You are talking nonsense. If you don’t like being a doctor you should have gone in for being a statesman.”

“I could not, I could not do anything. We are weak, my dear friend . . . . I used to be indifferent. I reasoned boldly and soundly, but at the first coarse touch of life upon me I have lost heart. . . . Prostration. . . . . We are weak, we are poor creatures . . . and you, too, my dear friend, you are intelligent, generous, you drew in good impulses with your mother’s milk, but you had hardly entered upon life when you were exhausted and fell ill. . . . Weak, weak!”

Andrey Yefimitch was all the while at the approach of evening tormented by another persistent sensation besides terror and the feeling of resentment. At last he realized that he was longing for a smoke and for beer.

“I am going out, my friend,” he said. “I will tell them to bring a light; I can’t put up with this. . . . I am not equal to it. . . .”

Andrey Yefimitch went to the door and opened it, but at once Nikita jumped up and barred his way.

“Where are you going? You can’t, you can’t!” he said. “It’s bedtime.”

“But I’m only going out for a minute to walk about the yard,” said Andrey Yefimitch.

“You can’t, you can’t; it’s forbidden. You know that yourself.”

“But what difference will it make to anyone if I do go out?” asked Andrey Yefimitch, shrugging his shoulders. “I don’t understand. Nikita, I must go out!” he said in a trembling voice. “I must.”

“Don’t be disorderly, it’s not right,” Nikita said peremptorily.

“This is beyond everything,” Ivan Dmitritch cried suddenly, and he jumped up. “What right has he not to let you out? How dare they keep us here? I believe it is clearly laid down in the law that no one can be deprived of freedom without trial! It’s an outrage! It’s tyranny!”

“Of course it’s tyranny,” said Andrey Yefimitch, encouraged by Ivan Dmitritch’s outburst. “I must go out, I want to. He has no right! Open, I tell you.”

“Do you hear, you dull-witted brute?” cried Ivan Dmitritch, and he banged on the door with his fist. “Open the door, or I will break it open! Torturer!”

“Open the door,” cried Andrey Yefimitch, trembling all over; “I insist!”

“Talk away!” Nikita answered through the door, “talk away. . . .”

“Anyhow, go and call Yevgeny Fyodoritch! Say that I beg him to come for a minute!”

“His honour will come of himself to-morrow.”

“They will never let us out,” Ivan Dmitritch was going on meanwhile. “They will leave us to rot here! Oh, Lord, can there really be no hell in the next world, and will these wretches be forgiven? Where is justice? Open the door, you wretch! I am choking!” he cried in a hoarse voice, and flung himself upon the door. “I’ll dash out my brains, murderers!”

Nikita opened the door quickly, and roughly with both his hands and his knee shoved Andrey Yefimitch back, then swung his arm and punched him in the face with his fist. It seemed to Andrey Yefimitch as though a huge salt wave enveloped him from his head downwards and dragged him to the bed; there really was a salt taste in his mouth: most likely the blood was running from his teeth. He waved his arms as though he were trying to swim out and clutched at a bedstead, and at the same moment felt Nikita hit him twice on the back.

Ivan Dmitritch gave a loud scream. He must have been beaten too.

Then all was still, the faint moonlight came through the grating, and a shadow like a net lay on the floor. It was terrible. Andrey Yefimitch lay and held his breath: he was expecting with horror to be struck again. He felt as though someone had taken a sickle, thrust it into him, and turned it round several times in his breast and bowels. He bit the pillow from pain and clenched his teeth, and all at once through the chaos in his brain there flashed the terrible unbearable thought that these people, who seemed now like black shadows in the moonlight, had to endure such pain day by day for years. How could it have happened that for more than twenty years he had not known it and had refused to know it? He knew nothing of pain, had no conception of it, so he was not to blame, but his conscience, as inexorable and as rough as Nikita, made him turn cold from the crown of his head to his heels. He leaped up, tried to cry out with all his might, and to run in haste to kill Nikita, and then Hobotov, the superintendent and the assistant, and then himself; but no sound came from his chest, and his legs would not obey him. Gasping for breath, he tore at the dressing-gown and the shirt on his breast, rent them, and fell senseless on the bed.

XIX

Next morning his head ached, there was a droning in his ears and a feeling of utter weakness all over. He was not ashamed at recalling his weakness the day before. He had been cowardly, had even been afraid of the moon, had openly expressed thoughts and feelings such as he had not expected in himself before; for instance, the thought that the paltry people who philosophized were really dissatisfied. But now nothing mattered to him.

He ate nothing; he drank nothing. He lay motionless and silent.

“It is all the same to me,” he thought when they asked him questions. “I am not going to answer. . . . It’s all the same to me.”

After dinner Mihail Averyanitch brought him a quarter pound of tea and a pound of fruit pastilles. Daryushka came too and stood for a whole hour by the bed with an expression of dull grief on her face. Dr. Hobotov visited him. He brought a bottle of bromide and told Nikita to fumigate the ward with something.

Towards evening Andrey Yefimitch died of an apoplectic stroke. At first he had a violent shivering fit and a feeling of sickness; something revolting as it seemed, penetrating through his whole body, even to his finger-tips, strained from his stomach to his head and flooded his eyes and ears. There was a greenness before his eyes. Andrey Yefimitch understood that his end had come, and remembered that Ivan Dmitritch, Mihail Averyanitch, and millions of people believed in immortality. And what if it really existed? But he did not want immortality—and he thought of it only for one instant. A herd of deer, extraordinarily beautiful and graceful, of which he had been reading the day before, ran by him; then a peasant woman stretched out her hand to him with a registered letter . . . . Mihail Averyanitch said something, then it all vanished, and Andrey Yefimitch sank into oblivion for ever.

The hospital porters came, took him by his arms and legs, and carried him away to the chapel.

There he lay on the table, with open eyes, and the moon shed its light upon him at night. In the morning Sergey Sergeyitch came, prayed piously before the crucifix, and closed his former chief’s eyes.

Next day Andrey Yefimitch was buried. Mihail Averyanitch and Daryushka were the only people at the funeral.


THE PETCHENYEG

IVAN ABRAMITCH ZHMUHIN, a retired Cossack officer, who had once served in the Caucasus, but now lived on his own farm, and who had once been young, strong, and vigorous, but now was old, dried up, and bent, with shaggy eyebrows and a greenish-grey moustache, was returning from the town to his farm one hot summer’s day. In the town he had confessed and received absolution, and had made his will at the notary’s (a fortnight before he had had a slight stroke), and now all the while he was in the railway carriage he was haunted by melancholy, serious thoughts of approaching death, of the vanity of vanities, of the transitoriness of all things earthly. At the station of Provalye—there is such a one on the Donetz line—a fair-haired, plump, middle-aged gentleman with a shabby portfolio stepped into the carriage and sat down opposite. They got into conversation.

“Yes,” said Ivan Abramitch, looking pensively out of window, “it is never too late to marry. I myself married when I was forty-eight; I was told it was late, but it has turned out that it was not late or early, but simply that it would have been better not to marry at all. Everyone is soon tired of his wife, but not everyone tells the truth, because, you know, people are ashamed of an unhappy home life and conceal it. It’s ‘Manya this’ and ‘Manya that’ with many a man by his wife’s side, but if he had his way he’d put that Manya in a sack and drop her in the water. It’s dull with one’s wife, it’s mere foolishness. And it’s no better with one’s children, I make bold to assure you. I have two of them, the rascals. There’s nowhere for them to be taught out here in the steppe; I haven’t the money to send them to school in Novo Tcherkask, and they live here like young wolves. Next thing they will be murdering someone on the highroad.”

The fair-haired gentleman listened attentively, answered questions briefly in a low voice, and was apparently a gentleman of gentle and modest disposition. He mentioned that he was a lawyer, and that he was going to the village Dyuevka on business.

“Why, merciful heavens, that is six miles from me!” said Zhmuhin in a tone of voice as though someone were disputing with him. “But excuse me, you won’t find horses at the station now. To my mind, the very best thing you can do, you know, is to come straight to me, stay the night, you know, and in the morning drive over with my horses.”

The lawyer thought a moment and accepted the invitation.

When they reached the station the sun was already low over the steppe. They said nothing all the way from the station to the farm: the jolting prevented conversation. The trap bounded up and down, squeaked, and seemed to be sobbing, and the lawyer, who was sitting very uncomfortably, stared before him, miserably hoping to see the farm. After they had driven five or six miles there came into view in the distance a low-pitched house and a yard enclosed by a fence made of dark, flat stones standing on end; the roof was green, the stucco was peeling off, and the windows were little narrow slits like screwed-up eyes. The farm stood in the full sunshine, and there was no sign either of water or trees anywhere round. Among the neighbouring landowners and the peasants it was known as the Petchenyegs’ farm. Many years before, a land surveyor, who was passing through the neighbourhood and put up at the farm, spent the whole night talking to Ivan Abramitch, was not favourably impressed, and as he was driving away in the morning said to him grimly:

“You are a Petchenyeg,[*] my good sir!”

[*] The Petchenyegs were a tribe of wild Mongolian nomads who made frequent inroads upon the Russians in the tenth and eleventh centuries.—Translator’s Note.

From this came the nickname, the Petchenyegs’ farm, which stuck to the place even more when Zhmuhin’s boys grew up and began to make raids on the orchards and kitchen-gardens. Ivan Abramitch was called “You Know,” as he usually talked a very great deal and frequently made use of that expression.

In the yard near a barn Zhmuhin’s sons were standing, one a young man of nineteen, the other a younger lad, both barefoot and bareheaded. Just at the moment when the trap drove into the yard the younger one flung high up a hen which, cackling, described an arc in the air; the elder shot at it with a gun and the hen fell dead on the earth.

“Those are my boys learning to shoot birds flying,” said Zhmuhin.

In the entry the travellers were met by a little thin woman with a pale face, still young and beautiful; from her dress she might have been taken for a servant.

“And this, allow me to introduce her,” said Zhmuhin, “is the mother of my young cubs. Come, Lyubov Osipovna,” he said, addressing her, “you must be spry, mother, and get something for our guest. Let us have supper. Look sharp!”

The house consisted of two parts: in one was the parlour and beside it old Zhmuhin’s bedroom, both stuffy rooms with low ceilings and multitudes of flies and wasps, and in the other was the kitchen in which the cooking and washing was done and the labourers had their meals; here geese and turkey-hens were sitting on their eggs under the benches, and here were the beds of Lyubov Osipovna and her two sons. The furniture in the parlour was unpainted and evidently roughly made by a carpenter; guns, game-bags, and whips were hanging on the walls, and all this old rubbish was covered with the rust of years and looked grey with dust. There was not one picture; in the corner was a dingy board which had at one time been an ikon.

A young Little Russian woman laid the table and handed ham, then beetroot soup. The visitor refused vodka and ate only bread and cucumbers.

“How about ham?” asked Zhmuhin.

“Thank you, I don’t eat it,” answered the visitor, “I don’t eat meat at all.”

“Why is that?”

“I am a vegetarian. Killing animals is against my principles.”

Zhmuhin thought a minute and then said slowly with a sigh:

“Yes . . . to be sure. . . . I saw a man who did not eat meat in town, too. It’s a new religion they’ve got now. Well, it’s good. We can’t go on always shooting and slaughtering, you know; we must give it up some day and leave even the beasts in peace. It’s a sin to kill, it’s a sin, there is no denying it. Sometimes one kills a hare and wounds him in the leg, and he cries like a child. . . . So it must hurt him!”

“Of course it hurts him; animals suffer just like human beings.”

“That’s true,” Zhmuhin assented. “I understand that very well,” he went on, musing, “only there is this one thing I don’t understand: suppose, you know, everyone gave up eating meat, what would become of the domestic animals—fowls and geese, for instance?”

“Fowls and geese would live in freedom like wild birds.”

“Now I understand. To be sure, crows and jackdaws get on all right without us. Yes. . . . Fowls and geese and hares and sheep, all will live in freedom, rejoicing, you know, and praising God; and they will not fear us, peace and concord will come. Only there is one thing, you know, I can’t understand,” Zhmuhin went on, glancing at the ham. “How will it be with the pigs? What is to be done with them?”

“They will be like all the rest—that is, they will live in freedom.”

“Ah! Yes. But allow me to say, if they were not slaughtered they would multiply, you know, and then good-bye to the kitchen-gardens and the meadows. Why, a pig, if you let it free and don’t look after it, will ruin everything in a day. A pig is a pig, and it is not for nothing it is called a pig. . . .”

They finished supper. Zhmuhin got up from the table and for a long while walked up and down the room, talking and talking. . . . He was fond of talking of something important or serious and was fond of meditating, and in his old age he had a longing to reach some haven, to be reassured, that he might not be so frightened of dying. He had a longing for meekness, spiritual calm, and confidence in himself, such as this guest of theirs had, who had satisfied his hunger on cucumbers and bread, and believed that doing so made him more perfect; he was sitting on a chest, plump and healthy, keeping silent and patiently enduring his boredom, and in the dusk when one glanced at him from the entry he looked like a big round stone which one could not move from its place. If a man has something to lay hold of in life he is all right.

Zhmuhin went through the entry to the porch, and then he could be heard sighing and saying reflectively to himself: “Yes. . . . To be sure. . . . “ By now it was dark, and here and there stars could be seen in the sky. They had not yet lighted up indoors. Someone came into the parlour as noiselessly as a shadow and stood still near the door. It was Lyubov Osipovna, Zhmuhin’s wife.

“Are you from the town?” she asked timidly, not looking at her visitor.

“Yes, I live in the town.”

“Perhaps you are something in the learned way, sir; be so kind as to advise us. We ought to send in a petition.”

“To whom?” asked the visitor.

“We have two sons, kind gentleman, and they ought to have been sent to school long ago, but we never see anyone and have no one to advise us. And I know nothing. For if they are not taught they will have to serve in the army as common Cossacks. It’s not right, sir! They can’t read and write, they are worse than peasants, and Ivan Abramitch himself can’t stand them and won’t let them indoors. But they are not to blame. The younger one, at any rate, ought to be sent to school, it is such a pity!” she said slowly, and there was a quiver in her voice; and it seemed incredible that a woman so small and so youthful could have grown-up children. “Oh, it’s such a pity!”

“You don’t know anything about it, mother, and it is not your affair,” said Zhmuhin, appearing in the doorway. “Don’t pester our guest with your wild talk. Go away, mother!”

Lyubov Osipovna went out, and in the entry repeated once more in a thin little voice: “Oh, it’s such a pity!”

A bed was made up for the visitor on the sofa in the parlour, and that it might not be dark for him they lighted the lamp before the ikon. Zhmuhin went to bed in his own room. And as he lay there he thought of his soul, of his age, of his recent stroke which had so frightened him and made him think of death. He was fond of philosophizing when he was in quietness by himself, and then he fancied that he was a very earnest, deep thinker, and that nothing in this world interested him but serious questions. And now he kept thinking and he longed to pitch upon some one significant thought unlike others, which would be a guide to him in life, and he wanted to think out principles of some sort for himself so as to make his life as deep and earnest as he imagined that he felt himself to be. It would be a good thing for an old man like him to abstain altogether from meat, from superfluities of all sorts. The time when men give up killing each other and animals would come sooner or later, it could not but be so, and he imagined that time to himself and clearly pictured himself living in peace with all the animals, and suddenly he thought again of the pigs, and everything was in a tangle in his brain.

“It’s a queer business, Lord have mercy upon us,” he muttered, sighing heavily. “Are you asleep?” he asked.

“No.”

Zhmuhin got out of bed and stopped in the doorway with nothing but his shirt on, displaying to his guest his sinewy legs, that looked as dry as sticks.

“Nowadays, you know,” he began, “all sorts of telegraphs, telephones, and marvels of all kinds, in fact, have come in, but people are no better than they were. They say that in our day, thirty or forty years ago, men were coarse and cruel; but isn’t it just the same now? We certainly did not stand on ceremony in our day. I remember in the Caucasus when we were stationed by a little river with nothing to do for four whole months—I was an under-officer at that time—something queer happened, quite in the style of a novel. Just on the banks of that river, you know, where our division was encamped, a wretched prince whom we had killed not long before was buried. And at night, you know, the princess used to come to his grave and weep. She would wail and wail, and moan and moan, and make us so depressed we couldn’t sleep, and that’s the fact. We couldn’t sleep one night, we couldn’t sleep a second; well, we got sick of it. And from a common-sense point of view you really can’t go without your sleep for the devil knows what (excuse the expression). We took that princess and gave her a good thrashing, and she gave up coming. There’s an instance for you. Nowadays, of course, there is not the same class of people, and they are not given to thrashing and they live in cleaner style, and there is more learning, but, you know, the soul is just the same: there is no change. Now, look here, there’s a landowner living here among us; he has mines, you know; all sorts of tramps without passports who don’t know where to go work for him. On Saturdays he has to settle up with the workmen, but he doesn’t care to pay them, you know, he grudges the money. So he’s got hold of a foreman who is a tramp too, though he does wear a hat. ‘Don’t you pay them anything,’ he says, ‘not a kopeck; they’ll beat you, and let them beat you,’ says he, ‘but you put up with it, and I’ll pay you ten roubles every Saturday for it.’ So on the Saturday evening the workmen come to settle up in the usual way; the foreman says to them: ‘Nothing!’ Well, word for word, as the master said, they begin swearing and using their fists. . . . They beat him and they kick him . . . you know, they are a set of men brutalized by hunger—they beat him till he is senseless, and then they go each on his way. The master gives orders for cold water to be poured on the foreman, then flings ten roubles in his face. And he takes it and is pleased too, for indeed he’d be ready to be hanged for three roubles, let alone ten. Yes . . . and on Monday a new gang of workmen arrive; they work, for they have nowhere to go . . . . On Saturday it is the same story over again.”

The visitor turned over on the other side with his face to the back of the sofa and muttered something.

“And here’s another instance,” Zhmuhin went on. “We had the Siberian plague here, you know—the cattle die off like flies, I can tell you—and the veterinary surgeons came here, and strict orders were given that the dead cattle were to be buried at a distance deep in the earth, that lime was to be thrown over them, and so on, you know, on scientific principles. My horse died too. I buried it with every precaution, and threw over three hundredweight of lime over it. And what do you think? My fine fellows—my precious sons, I mean—dug it up, skinned it, and sold the hide for three roubles; there’s an instance for you. So people have grown no better, and however you feed a wolf he will always look towards the forest; there it is. It gives one something to think about, eh? How do you look at it?”

On one side a flash of lightning gleamed through a chink in the window-blinds. There was the stifling feeling of a storm coming, the gnats were biting, and Zhmuhin, as he lay in his bedroom meditating, sighed and groaned and said to himself: “Yes, to be sure ——” and there was no possibility of getting to sleep. Somewhere far, far away there was a growl of thunder.

“Are you asleep?”

“No,” answered the visitor.

Zhmuhin got up, and thudding with his heels walked through the parlour and the entry to the kitchen to get a drink of water.

“The worst thing in the world, you know, is stupidity,” he said a little later, coming back with a dipper. “My Lyubov Osipovna is on her knees saying her prayers. She prays every night, you know, and bows down to the ground, first that her children may be sent to school; she is afraid her boys will go into the army as simple Cossacks, and that they will be whacked across their backs with sabres. But for teaching one must have money, and where is one to get it? You may break the floor beating your head against it, but if you haven’t got it you haven’t. And the other reason she prays is because, you know, every woman imagines there is no one in the world as unhappy as she is. I am a plain-spoken man, and I don’t want to conceal anything from you. She comes of a poor family, a village priest’s daughter. I married her when she was seventeen, and they accepted my offer chiefly because they hadn’t enough to eat; it was nothing but poverty and misery, while I have anyway land, you see—a farm—and after all I am an officer; it was a step up for her to marry me, you know. On the very first day when she was married she cried, and she has been crying ever since, all these twenty years; she has got a watery eye. And she’s always sitting and thinking, and what do you suppose she is thinking about? What can a woman think about? Why, nothing. I must own I don’t consider a woman a human being.”

The visitor got up abruptly and sat on the bed.

“Excuse me, I feel stifled,” he said; “I will go outside.”

Zhmuhin, still talking about women, drew the bolt in the entry and they both went out. A full moon was floating in the sky just over the yard, and in the moonlight the house and barn looked whiter than by day; and on the grass brilliant streaks of moonlight, white too, stretched between the black shadows. Far away on the right could be seen the steppe, above it the stars were softly glowing—and it was all mysterious, infinitely far away, as though one were gazing into a deep abyss; while on the left heavy storm-clouds, black as soot, were piling up one upon another above the steppe; their edges were lighted up by the moon, and it looked as though there were mountains there with white snow on their peaks, dark forests, the sea. There was a flash of lightning, a faint rumble of thunder, and it seemed as though a battle were being fought in the mountains.

Quite close to the house a little night-owl screeched monotonously:

“Asleep! asleep!”

“What time is it now?” asked the visitor.

“Just after one.”

“How long it is still to dawn!”

They went back to the house and lay down again. It was time to sleep, and one can usually sleep so splendidly before rain; but the old man had a hankering after serious, weighty thoughts; he wanted not simply to think but to meditate, and he meditated how good it would be, as death was near at hand, for the sake of his soul to give up the idleness which so imperceptibly swallowed up day after day, year after year, leaving no trace; to think out for himself some great exploit—for instance, to walk on foot far, far away, or to give up meat like this young man. And again he pictured to himself the time when animals would not be killed, pictured it clearly and distinctly as though he were living through that time himself; but suddenly it was all in a tangle again in his head and all was muddled.

The thunderstorm had passed over, but from the edges of the storm-clouds came rain softly pattering on the roof. Zhmuhin got up, stretching and groaning with old age, and looked into the parlour. Noticing that his visitor was not asleep, he said:

“When we were in the Caucasus, you know, there was a colonel there who was a vegetarian, too; he didn’t eat meat, never went shooting, and would not let his servants catch fish. Of course, I understand that every animal ought to live in freedom and enjoy its life; only I don’t understand how a pig can go about where it likes without being looked after. . . .”

The visitor got up and sat down. His pale, haggard face expressed weariness and vexation; it was evident that he was exhausted, and only his gentleness and the delicacy of his soul prevented him from expressing his vexation in words.

“It’s getting light,” he said mildly. “Please have the horse brought round for me.”

“Why so? Wait a little and the rain will be over.”

“No, I entreat you,” said the visitor in horror, with a supplicating voice; “it is essential for me to go at once.”

And he began hurriedly dressing.

By the time the horse was harnessed the sun was rising. It had just left off raining, the clouds were racing swiftly by, and the patches of blue were growing bigger and bigger in the sky. The first rays of the sun were timidly reflected below in the big puddles. The visitor walked through the entry with his portfolio to get into the trap, and at that moment Zhmuhin’s wife, pale, and it seemed paler than the day before, with tear-stained eyes, looked at him intently without blinking, with the naïve expression of a little girl, and it was evident from her dejected face that she was envying him his freedom—oh, with what joy she would have gone away from there!—and she wanted to say something to him, most likely to ask advice about her children. And what a pitiable figure she was! This was not a wife, not the head of a house, not even a servant, but more like a dependent, a poor relation not wanted by anyone, a nonentity . . . . Her husband, fussing about, talking unceasingly, was seeing his visitor off, continually running in front of him, while she huddled up to the wall with a timid, guilty air, waiting for a convenient minute to speak.

“Please come again another time,” the old man kept repeating incessantly; “what we have we are glad to offer, you know.”

The visitor hurriedly got into the trap, evidently with relief, as though he were afraid every minute that they would detain him. The trap lurched about as it had the day before, squeaked, and furiously rattled the pail that was tied on at the back. He glanced round at Zhmuhin with a peculiar expression; it looked as though he wanted to call him a Petchenyeg, as the surveyor had once done, or some such name, but his gentleness got the upper hand. He controlled himself and said nothing. But in the gateway he suddenly could not restrain himself; he got up and shouted loudly and angrily:

“You have bored me to death.”

And he disappeared through the gate.

Near the barn Zhmuhin’s sons were standing; the elder held a gun, while the younger had in his hands a grey cockerel with a bright red comb. The younger flung up the cockerel with all his might; the bird flew upwards higher than the house and turned over in the air like a pigeon. The elder boy fired and the cockerel fell like a stone.

The old man, overcome with confusion, not knowing how to explain the visitor’s strange, unexpected shout, went slowly back into the house. And sitting down at the table he spent a long while meditating on the intellectual tendencies of the day, on the universal immorality, on the telegraph, on the telephone, on velocipedes, on how unnecessary it all was; little by little he regained his composure, then slowly had a meal, drank five glasses of tea, and lay down for a nap.


A DEAD BODY

A STILL August night. A mist is rising slowly from the fields and casting an opaque veil over everything within eyesight. Lighted up by the moon, the mist gives the impression at one moment of a calm, boundless sea, at the next of an immense white wall. The air is damp and chilly. Morning is still far off. A step from the bye-road which runs along the edge of the forest a little fire is gleaming. A dead body, covered from head to foot with new white linen, is lying under a young oak-tree. A wooden ikon is lying on its breast. Beside the corpse almost on the road sits the “watch”—two peasants performing one of the most disagreeable and uninviting of peasants’ duties. One, a tall young fellow with a scarcely perceptible moustache and thick black eyebrows, in a tattered sheepskin and bark shoes, is sitting on the wet grass, his feet stuck out straight in front of him, and is trying to while away the time with work. He bends his long neck, and breathing loudly through his nose, makes a spoon out of a big crooked bit of wood; the other—a little scraggy, pock-marked peasant with an aged face, a scanty moustache, and a little goat’s beard—sits with his hands dangling loose on his knees, and without moving gazes listlessly at the light. A small camp-fire is lazily burning down between them, throwing a red glow on their faces. There is perfect stillness. The only sounds are the scrape of the knife on the wood and the crackling of damp sticks in the fire.

“Don’t you go to sleep, Syoma . . .” says the young man.

“I . . . I am not asleep . . .” stammers the goat-beard.

“That’s all right. . . . It would be dreadful to sit here alone, one would be frightened. You might tell me something, Syoma.”

“You are a queer fellow, Syomushka! Other people will laugh and tell a story and sing a song, but you—there is no making you out. You sit like a scarecrow in the garden and roll your eyes at the fire. You can’t say anything properly . . . when you speak you seem frightened. I dare say you are fifty, but you have less sense than a child. Aren’t you sorry that you are a simpleton?”

“I am sorry,” the goat-beard answers gloomily.

“And we are sorry to see your foolishness, you may be sure. You are a good-natured, sober peasant, and the only trouble is that you have no sense in your head. You should have picked up some sense for yourself if the Lord has afflicted you and given you no understanding. You must make an effort, Syoma. . . . You should listen hard when anything good’s being said, note it well, and keep thinking and thinking. . . . If there is any word you don’t understand, you should make an effort and think over in your head in what meaning the word is used. Do you see? Make an effort! If you don’t gain some sense for yourself you’ll be a simpleton and of no account at all to your dying day.”

All at once a long drawn-out, moaning sound is heard in the forest. Something rustles in the leaves as though torn from the very top of the tree and falls to the ground. All this is faintly repeated by the echo. The young man shudders and looks enquiringly at his companion.

“It’s an owl at the little birds,” says Syoma, gloomily.

“Why, Syoma, it’s time for the birds to fly to the warm countries!”

“To be sure, it is time.”

“It is chilly at dawn now. It is co-old. The crane is a chilly creature, it is tender. Such cold is death to it. I am not a crane, but I am frozen. . . . Put some more wood on!”

Syoma gets up and disappears in the dark undergrowth. While he is busy among the bushes, breaking dry twigs, his companion puts his hand over his eyes and starts at every sound. Syoma brings an armful of wood and lays it on the fire. The flame irresolutely licks the black twigs with its little tongues, then suddenly, as though at the word of command, catches them and throws a crimson light on the faces, the road, the white linen with its prominences where the hands and feet of the corpse raise it, the ikon. The “watch” is silent. The young man bends his neck still lower and sets to work with still more nervous haste. The goat-beard sits motionless as before and keeps his eyes fixed on the fire. . . .

“Ye that love not Zion . . . shall be put to shame by the Lord.” A falsetto voice is suddenly heard singing in the stillness of the night, then slow footsteps are audible, and the dark figure of a man in a short monkish cassock and a broad-brimmed hat, with a wallet on his shoulders, comes into sight on the road in the crimson firelight.

“Thy will be done, O Lord! Holy Mother!” the figure says in a husky falsetto. “I saw the fire in the outer darkness and my soul leapt for joy. . . . At first I thought it was men grazing a drove of horses, then I thought it can’t be that, since no horses were to be seen. ‘Aren’t they thieves,’ I wondered, ‘aren’t they robbers lying in wait for a rich Lazarus? Aren’t they the gypsy people offering sacrifices to idols? And my soul leapt for joy. ‘Go, Feodosy, servant of God,’ I said to myself, ‘and win a martyr’s crown!’ And I flew to the fire like a light-winged moth. Now I stand before you, and from your outer aspect I judge of your souls: you are not thieves and you are not heathens. Peace be to you!”

“Good-evening.”

“Good orthodox people, do you know how to reach the Makuhinsky Brickyards from here?”

“It’s close here. You go straight along the road; when you have gone a mile and a half there will be Ananova, our village. From the village, father, you turn to the right by the river-bank, and so you will get to the brickyards. It’s two miles from Ananova.”

“God give you health. And why are you sitting here?”

“We are sitting here watching. You see, there is a dead body. . . .”

“What? what body? Holy Mother!”

The pilgrim sees the white linen with the ikon on it, and starts so violently that his legs give a little skip. This unexpected sight has an overpowering effect upon him. He huddles together and stands as though rooted to the spot, with wide-open mouth and staring eyes. For three minutes he is silent as though he could not believe his eyes, then begins muttering:

“O Lord! Holy Mother! I was going along not meddling with anyone, and all at once such an affliction.”

“What may you be?” enquires the young man. “Of the clergy?”

“No . . . no. . . . I go from one monastery to another. . . . Do you know Mi . . . Mihail Polikarpitch, the foreman of the brickyard? Well, I am his nephew. . . . Thy will be done, O Lord! Why are you here?”

“We are watching . . . we are told to.”

“Yes, yes . . .” mutters the man in the cassock, passing his hand over his eyes. “And where did the deceased come from?”

“He was a stranger.”

“Such is life! But I’ll . . . er . . . be getting on, brothers. . . . I feel flustered. I am more afraid of the dead than of anything, my dear souls! And only fancy! while this man was alive he wasn’t noticed, while now when he is dead and given over to corruption we tremble before him as before some famous general or a bishop. . . . Such is life; was he murdered, or what?”

“The Lord knows! Maybe he was murdered, or maybe he died of himself.”

“Yes, yes. . . . Who knows, brothers? Maybe his soul is now tasting the joys of Paradise.”

“His soul is still hovering here, near his body,” says the young man. “It does not depart from the body for three days.”

“H’m, yes! . . . How chilly the nights are now! It sets one’s teeth chattering. . . . So then I am to go straight on and on? . . .”

“Till you get to the village, and then you turn to the right by the river-bank.”

“By the river-bank. . . . To be sure. . . . Why am I standing still? I must go on. Farewell, brothers.”

The man in the cassock takes five steps along the road and stops.

“I’ve forgotten to put a kopeck for the burying,” he says. “Good orthodox friends, can I give the money?”

“You ought to know best, you go the round of the monasteries. If he died a natural death it would go for the good of his soul; if it’s a suicide it’s a sin.”

“That’s true. . . . And maybe it really was a suicide! So I had better keep my money. Oh, sins, sins! Give me a thousand roubles and I would not consent to sit here. . . . Farewell, brothers.”

The cassock slowly moves away and stops again.

“I can’t make up my mind what I am to do,” he mutters. “To stay here by the fire and wait till daybreak. . . . I am frightened; to go on is dreadful, too. The dead man will haunt me all the way in the darkness. . . . The Lord has chastised me indeed! Over three hundred miles I have come on foot and nothing happened, and now I am near home and there’s trouble. I can’t go on. . . .”

“It is dreadful, that is true.”

“I am not afraid of wolves, of thieves, or of darkness, but I am afraid of the dead. I am afraid of them, and that is all about it. Good orthodox brothers, I entreat you on my knees, see me to the village.”

“We’ve been told not to go away from the body.”

“No one will see, brothers. Upon my soul, no one will see! The Lord will reward you a hundredfold! Old man, come with me, I beg! Old man! Why are you silent?”

“He is a bit simple,” says the young man.

“You come with me, friend; I will give you five kopecks.”

“For five kopecks I might,” says the young man, scratching his head, “but I was told not to. If Syoma here, our simpleton, will stay alone, I will take you. Syoma, will you stay here alone?”

“I’ll stay,” the simpleton consents.

“Well, that’s all right, then. Come along!” The young man gets up, and goes with the cassock. A minute later the sound of their steps and their talk dies away. Syoma shuts his eyes and gently dozes. The fire begins to grow dim, and a big black shadow falls on the dead body.


A HAPPY ENDING

LYUBOV GRIGORYEVNA, a substantial, buxom lady of forty who undertook matchmaking and many other matters of which it is usual to speak only in whispers, had come to see Stytchkin, the head guard, on a day when he was off duty. Stytchkin, somewhat embarrassed, but, as always, grave, practical, and severe, was walking up and down the room, smoking a cigar and saying:

“Very pleased to make your acquaintance. Semyon Ivanovitch recommended you on the ground that you may be able to assist me in a delicate and very important matter affecting the happiness of my life. I have, Lyubov Grigoryevna, reached the age of fifty-two; that is a period of life at which very many have already grown-up children. My position is a secure one. Though my fortune is not large, yet I am in a position to support a beloved being and children at my side. I may tell you between ourselves that apart from my salary I have also money in the bank which my manner of living has enabled me to save. I am a practical and sober man, I lead a sensible and consistent life, so that I may hold myself up as an example to many. But one thing I lack—a domestic hearth of my own and a partner in life, and I live like a wandering Magyar, moving from place to place without any satisfaction. I have no one with whom to take counsel, and when I am ill no one to give me water, and so on. Apart from that, Lyubov Grigoryevna, a married man has always more weight in society than a bachelor. . . . I am a man of the educated class, with money, but if you look at me from a point of view, what am I? A man with no kith and kin, no better than some Polish priest. And therefore I should be very desirous to be united in the bonds of Hymen—that is, to enter into matrimony with some worthy person.”

“An excellent thing,” said the matchmaker, with a sigh.

“I am a solitary man and in this town I know no one. Where can I go, and to whom can I apply, since all the people here are strangers to me? That is why Semyon Ivanovitch advised me to address myself to a person who is a specialist in this line, and makes the arrangement of the happiness of others her profession. And therefore I most earnestly beg you, Lyubov Grigoryevna, to assist me in ordering my future. You know all the marriageable young ladies in the town, and it is easy for you to accommodate me.”

“I can. . . .”

“A glass of wine, I beg you. . . .”

With an habitual gesture the matchmaker raised her glass to her mouth and tossed it off without winking.

“I can,” she repeated. “And what sort of bride would you like, Nikolay Nikolayitch?”

“Should I like? The bride fate sends me.”

“Well, of course it depends on your fate, but everyone has his own taste, you know. One likes dark ladies, the other prefers fair ones.”

“You see, Lyubov Grigoryevna,” said Stytchkin, sighing sedately, “I am a practical man and a man of character; for me beauty and external appearance generally take a secondary place, for, as you know yourself, beauty is neither bowl nor platter, and a pretty wife involves a great deal of anxiety. The way I look at it is, what matters most in a woman is not what is external, but what lies within—that is, that she should have soul and all the qualities. A glass of wine, I beg. . . . Of course, it would be very agreeable that one’s wife should be rather plump, but for mutual happiness it is not of great consequence; what matters is the mind. Properly speaking, a woman does not need mind either, for if she has brains she will have too high an opinion of herself, and take all sorts of ideas into her head. One cannot do without education nowadays, of course, but education is of different kinds. It would be pleasing for one’s wife to know French and German, to speak various languages, very pleasing; but what’s the use of that if she can’t sew on one’s buttons, perhaps? I am a man of the educated class: I am just as much at home, I may say, with Prince Kanitelin as I am with you here now. But my habits are simple, and I want a girl who is not too much a fine lady. Above all, she must have respect for me and feel that I have made her happiness.”

“To be sure.”

“Well, now as regards the essential. . . . I do not want a wealthy bride; I would never condescend to anything so low as to marry for money. I desire not to be kept by my wife, but to keep her, and that she may be sensible of it. But I do not want a poor girl either. Though I am a man of means, and am marrying not from mercenary motives, but from love, yet I cannot take a poor girl, for, as you know yourself, prices have gone up so, and there will be children.”

“One might find one with a dowry,” said the matchmaker.

“A glass of wine, I beg. . . .”

There was a pause of five minutes.

The matchmaker heaved a sigh, took a sidelong glance at the guard, and asked:

“Well, now, my good sir . . . do you want anything in the bachelor line? I have some fine bargains. One is a French girl and one is a Greek. Well worth the money.”

The guard thought a moment and said:

“No, I thank you. In view of your favourable disposition, allow me to enquire now how much you ask for your exertions in regard to a bride?”

“I don’t ask much. Give me twenty-five roubles and the stuff for a dress, as is usual, and I will say thank you . . . but for the dowry, that’s a different account.”

Stytchkin folded his arms over his chest and fell to pondering in silence. After some thought he heaved a sigh and said:

“That’s dear. . . .”

“It’s not at all dear, Nikolay Nikolayitch! In old days when there were lots of weddings one did do it cheaper, but nowadays what are our earnings? If you make fifty roubles in a month that is not a fast, you may be thankful. It’s not on weddings we make our money, my good sir.”

Stytchkin looked at the matchmaker in amazement and shrugged his shoulders.

“H’m! . . . Do you call fifty roubles little?” he asked.

“Of course it is little! In old days we sometimes made more than a hundred.”

“H’m! I should never have thought it was possible to earn such a sum by these jobs. Fifty roubles! It is not every man that earns as much! Pray drink your wine. . . .”

The matchmaker drained her glass without winking. Stytchkin looked her over from head to foot in silence, then said:

“Fifty roubles. . . . Why, that is six hundred roubles a year. . . . Please take some more. . . With such dividends, you know, Lyubov Grigoryevna, you would have no difficulty in making a match for yourself. . . .”

“For myself,” laughed the matchmaker, “I am an old woman.”

“Not at all. . . . You have such a figure, and your face is plump and fair, and all the rest of it.”

The matchmaker was embarrassed. Stytchkin was also embarrassed and sat down beside her.

“You are still very attractive,” said he; “if you met with a practical, steady, careful husband, with his salary and your earnings you might even attract him very much, and you’d get on very well together. . . .”

“Goodness knows what you are saying, Nikolay Nikolayitch.”

“Well, I meant no harm. . . .”

A silence followed. Stytchkin began loudly blowing his nose, while the matchmaker turned crimson, and looking bashfully at him, asked:

“And how much do you get, Nikolay Nikolayitch?”

“I? Seventy-five roubles, besides tips. . . . Apart from that we make something out of candles and hares.”

“You go hunting, then?”

“No. Passengers who travel without tickets are called hares with us.”

Another minute passed in silence. Stytchkin got up and walked about the room in excitement.

“I don’t want a young wife,” said he. “I am a middle-aged man, and I want someone who . . . as it might be like you . . . staid and settled and a figure something like yours. . . .”

“Goodness knows what you are saying . . .” giggled the matchmaker, hiding her crimson face in her kerchief.

“There is no need to be long thinking about it. You are after my own heart, and you suit me in your qualities. I am a practical, sober man, and if you like me . . . what could be better? Allow me to make you a proposal!”

The matchmaker dropped a tear, laughed, and, in token of her consent, clinked glasses with Stytchkin.

“Well,” said the happy railway guard, “now allow me to explain to you the behaviour and manner of life I desire from you. . . . I am a strict, respectable, practical man. I take a gentlemanly view of everything. And I desire that my wife should be strict also, and should understand that to her I am a benefactor and the foremost person in the world.”

He sat down, and, heaving a deep sigh, began expounding to his bride-elect his views on domestic life and a wife’s duties.


THE LOOKING-GLASS

NEW YEAR’S EVE. Nellie, the daughter of a landowner and general, a young and pretty girl, dreaming day and night of being married, was sitting in her room, gazing with exhausted, half-closed eyes into the looking-glass. She was pale, tense, and as motionless as the looking-glass.

The non-existent but apparent vista of a long, narrow corridor with endless rows of candles, the reflection of her face, her hands, of the frame—all this was already clouded in mist and merged into a boundless grey sea. The sea was undulating, gleaming and now and then flaring crimson. . . .

Looking at Nellie’s motionless eyes and parted lips, one could hardly say whether she was asleep or awake, but nevertheless she was seeing. At first she saw only the smile and soft, charming expression of someone’s eyes, then against the shifting grey background there gradually appeared the outlines of a head, a face, eyebrows, beard. It was he, the destined one, the object of long dreams and hopes. The destined one was for Nellie everything, the significance of life, personal happiness, career, fate. Outside him, as on the grey background of the looking-glass, all was dark, empty, meaningless. And so it was not strange that, seeing before her a handsome, gently smiling face, she was conscious of bliss, of an unutterably sweet dream that could not be expressed in speech or on paper. Then she heard his voice, saw herself living under the same roof with him, her life merged into his. Months and years flew by against the grey background. And Nellie saw her future distinctly in all its details.

Picture followed picture against the grey background. Now Nellie saw herself one winter night knocking at the door of Stepan Lukitch, the district doctor. The old dog hoarsely and lazily barked behind the gate. The doctor’s windows were in darkness. All was silence.

“For God’s sake, for God’s sake!” whispered Nellie.

But at last the garden gate creaked and Nellie saw the doctor’s cook.

“Is the doctor at home?”

“His honour’s asleep,” whispered the cook into her sleeve, as though afraid of waking her master.

“He’s only just got home from his fever patients, and gave orders he was not to be waked.”

But Nellie scarcely heard the cook. Thrusting her aside, she rushed headlong into the doctor’s house. Running through some dark and stuffy rooms, upsetting two or three chairs, she at last reached the doctor’s bedroom. Stepan Lukitch was lying on his bed, dressed, but without his coat, and with pouting lips was breathing into his open hand. A little night-light glimmered faintly beside him. Without uttering a word Nellie sat down and began to cry. She wept bitterly, shaking all over.

“My husband is ill!” she sobbed out. Stepan Lukitch was silent. He slowly sat up, propped his head on his hand, and looked at his visitor with fixed, sleepy eyes. “My husband is ill!” Nellie continued, restraining her sobs. “For mercy’s sake come quickly. Make haste. . . . Make haste!”

“Eh?” growled the doctor, blowing into his hand.

“Come! Come this very minute! Or . . . it’s terrible to think! For mercy’s sake!”

And pale, exhausted Nellie, gasping and swallowing her tears, began describing to the doctor her husband’s illness, her unutterable terror. Her sufferings would have touched the heart of a stone, but the doctor looked at her, blew into his open hand, and—not a movement.

“I’ll come to-morrow!” he muttered.

“That’s impossible!” cried Nellie. “I know my husband has typhus! At once . . . this very minute you are needed!”

“I . . . er . . . have only just come in,” muttered the doctor. “For the last three days I’ve been away, seeing typhus patients, and I’m exhausted and ill myself. . . . I simply can’t! Absolutely! I’ve caught it myself! There!”

And the doctor thrust before her eyes a clinical thermometer.

“My temperature is nearly forty. . . . I absolutely can’t. I can scarcely sit up. Excuse me. I’ll lie down. . . .”

The doctor lay down.

“But I implore you, doctor,” Nellie moaned in despair. “I beseech you! Help me, for mercy’s sake! Make a great effort and come! I will repay you, doctor!”

“Oh, dear! . . . Why, I have told you already. Ah!”

Nellie leapt up and walked nervously up and down the bedroom. She longed to explain to the doctor, to bring him to reason. . . . She thought if only he knew how dear her husband was to her and how unhappy she was, he would forget his exhaustion and his illness. But how could she be eloquent enough?

“Go to the Zemstvo doctor,” she heard Stepan Lukitch’s voice.

“That’s impossible! He lives more than twenty miles from here, and time is precious. And the horses can’t stand it. It is thirty miles from us to you, and as much from here to the Zemstvo doctor. No, it’s impossible! Come along, Stepan Lukitch. I ask of you an heroic deed. Come, perform that heroic deed! Have pity on us!”

“It’s beyond everything. . . . I’m in a fever . . . my head’s in a whirl . . . and she won’t understand! Leave me alone!”

“But you are in duty bound to come! You cannot refuse to come! It’s egoism! A man is bound to sacrifice his life for his neighbour, and you . . . you refuse to come! I will summon you before the Court.”

Nellie felt that she was uttering a false and undeserved insult, but for her husband’s sake she was capable of forgetting logic, tact, sympathy for others. . . . In reply to her threats, the doctor greedily gulped a glass of cold water. Nellie fell to entreating and imploring like the very lowest beggar. . . . At last the doctor gave way. He slowly got up, puffing and panting, looking for his coat.

“Here it is!” cried Nellie, helping him. “Let me put it on to you. Come along! I will repay you. . . . All my life I shall be grateful to you. . . .”

But what agony! After putting on his coat the doctor lay down again. Nellie got him up and dragged him to the hall. Then there was an agonizing to-do over his goloshes, his overcoat. . . . His cap was lost. . . . But at last Nellie was in the carriage with the doctor. Now they had only to drive thirty miles and her husband would have a doctor’s help. The earth was wrapped in darkness. One could not see one’s hand before one’s face. . . . A cold winter wind was blowing. There were frozen lumps under their wheels. The coachman was continually stopping and wondering which road to take.

Nellie and the doctor sat silent all the way. It was fearfully jolting, but they felt neither the cold nor the jolts.

“Get on, get on!” Nellie implored the driver.

At five in the morning the exhausted horses drove into the yard. Nellie saw the familiar gates, the well with the crane, the long row of stables and barns. At last she was at home.

“Wait a moment, I will be back directly,” she said to Stepan Lukitch, making him sit down on the sofa in the dining-room. “Sit still and wait a little, and I’ll see how he is going on.”

On her return from her husband, Nellie found the doctor lying down. He was lying on the sofa and muttering.

“Doctor, please! . . . doctor!”

“Eh? Ask Domna!” muttered Stepan Lukitch.

“What?”

“They said at the meeting . . . Vlassov said . . . Who? . . . what?”

And to her horror Nellie saw that the doctor was as delirious as her husband. What was to be done?

“I must go for the Zemstvo doctor,” she decided.

Then again there followed darkness, a cutting cold wind, lumps of frozen earth. She was suffering in body and in soul, and delusive nature has no arts, no deceptions to compensate these sufferings. . . .

Then she saw against the grey background how her husband every spring was in straits for money to pay the interest for the mortgage to the bank. He could not sleep, she could not sleep, and both racked their brains till their heads ached, thinking how to avoid being visited by the clerk of the Court.

She saw her children: the everlasting apprehension of colds, scarlet fever, diphtheria, bad marks at school, separation. Out of a brood of five or six one was sure to die.

The grey background was not untouched by death. That might well be. A husband and wife cannot die simultaneously. Whatever happened one must bury the other. And Nellie saw her husband dying. This terrible event presented itself to her in every detail. She saw the coffin, the candles, the deacon, and even the footmarks in the hall made by the undertaker.

“Why is it, what is it for?” she asked, looking blankly at her husband’s face.

And all the previous life with her husband seemed to her a stupid prelude to this.

Something fell from Nellie’s hand and knocked on the floor. She started, jumped up, and opened her eyes wide. One looking-glass she saw lying at her feet. The other was standing as before on the table.

She looked into the looking-glass and saw a pale, tear-stained face. There was no grey background now.

“I must have fallen asleep,” she thought with a sigh of relief.


OLD AGE

UZELKOV, an architect with the rank of civil councillor, arrived in his native town, to which he had been invited to restore the church in the cemetery. He had been born in the town, had been at school, had grown up and married in it. But when he got out of the train he scarcely recognized it. Everything was changed. . . . Eighteen years ago when he had moved to Petersburg the street-boys used to catch marmots, for instance, on the spot where now the station was standing; now when one drove into the chief street, a hotel of four storeys stood facing one; in old days there was an ugly grey fence just there; but nothing—neither fences nor houses—had changed as much as the people. From his enquiries of the hotel waiter Uzelkov learned that more than half of the people he remembered were dead, reduced to poverty, forgotten.

“And do you remember Uzelkov?” he asked the old waiter about himself. “Uzelkov the architect who divorced his wife? He used to have a house in Svirebeyevsky Street . . . you must remember.”

“I don’t remember, sir.”

“How is it you don’t remember? The case made a lot of noise, even the cabmen all knew about it. Think, now! Shapkin the attorney managed my divorce for me, the rascal . . . the notorious cardsharper, the fellow who got a thrashing at the club. . . .”

“Ivan Nikolaitch?”

“Yes, yes. . . . Well, is he alive? Is he dead?”

“Alive, sir, thank God. He is a notary now and has an office. He is very well off. He has two houses in Kirpitchny Street. . . . His daughter was married the other day.”

Uzelkov paced up and down the room, thought a bit, and in his boredom made up his mind to go and see Shapkin at his office. When he walked out of the hotel and sauntered slowly towards Kirpitchny Street it was midday. He found Shapkin at his office and scarcely recognized him. From the once well-made, adroit attorney with a mobile, insolent, and always drunken face Shapkin had changed into a modest, grey-headed, decrepit old man.

“You don’t recognize me, you have forgotten me,” began Uzelkov. “I am your old client, Uzelkov.”

“Uzelkov, what Uzelkov? Ah!” Shapkin remembered, recognized, and was struck all of a heap. There followed a shower of exclamations, questions, recollections.

“This is a surprise! This is unexpected!” cackled Shapkin. “What can I offer you? Do you care for champagne? Perhaps you would like oysters? My dear fellow, I have had so much from you in my time that I can’t offer you anything equal to the occasion. . . .”

“Please don’t put yourself out . . .” said Uzelkov. “I have no time to spare. I must go at once to the cemetery and examine the church; I have undertaken the restoration of it.”

“That’s capital! We’ll have a snack and a drink and drive together. I have capital horses. I’ll take you there and introduce you to the church-warden; I will arrange it all. . . . But why is it, my angel, you seem to be afraid of me and hold me at arm’s length? Sit a little nearer! There is no need for you to be afraid of me nowadays. He-he! . . . At one time, it is true, I was a cunning blade, a dog of a fellow . . . no one dared approach me; but now I am stiller than water and humbler than the grass. I have grown old, I am a family man, I have children. It’s time I was dead.”

The friends had lunch, had a drink, and with a pair of horses drove out of the town to the cemetery.

“Yes, those were times!” Shapkin recalled as he sat in the sledge. “When you remember them you simply can’t believe in them. Do you remember how you divorced your wife? It’s nearly twenty years ago, and I dare say you have forgotten it all; but I remember it as though I’d divorced you yesterday. Good Lord, what a lot of worry I had over it! I was a sharp fellow, tricky and cunning, a desperate character. . . . Sometimes I was burning to tackle some ticklish business, especially if the fee were a good one, as, for instance, in your case. What did you pay me then? Five or six thousand! That was worth taking trouble for, wasn’t it? You went off to Petersburg and left the whole thing in my hands to do the best I could, and, though Sofya Mihailovna, your wife, came only of a merchant family, she was proud and dignified. To bribe her to take the guilt on herself was difficult, awfully difficult! I would go to negotiate with her, and as soon as she saw me she called to her maid: ‘Masha, didn’t I tell you not to admit that scoundrel?’ Well, I tried one thing and another. . . . I wrote her letters and contrived to meet her accidentally—it was no use! I had to act through a third person. I had a lot of trouble with her for a long time, and she only gave in when you agreed to give her ten thousand. . . . She couldn’t resist ten thousand, she couldn’t hold out. . . . She cried, she spat in my face, but she consented, she took the guilt on herself!”

“I thought it was fifteen thousand she had from me, not ten,” said Uzelkov.

“Yes, yes . . . fifteen—I made a mistake,” said Shapkin in confusion. “It’s all over and done with, though, it’s no use concealing it. I gave her ten and the other five I collared for myself. I deceived you both. . . . It’s all over and done with, it’s no use to be ashamed. And indeed, judge for yourself, Boris Petrovitch, weren’t you the very person for me to get money out of? . . . You were a wealthy man and had everything you wanted. . . . Your marriage was an idle whim, and so was your divorce. You were making a lot of money. . . . I remember you made a scoop of twenty thousand over one contract. Whom should I have fleeced if not you? And I must own I envied you. If you grabbed anything they took off their caps to you, while they would thrash me for a rouble and slap me in the face at the club. . . . But there, why recall it? It is high time to forget it.”

“Tell me, please, how did Sofya Mihailovna get on afterwards?”

“With her ten thousand? Very badly. God knows what it was—she lost her head, perhaps, or maybe her pride and her conscience tormented her at having sold her honour, or perhaps she loved you; but, do you know, she took to drink. . . . As soon as she got her money she was off driving about with officers. It was drunkenness, dissipation, debauchery. . . . When she went to a restaurant with officers she was not content with port or anything light, she must have strong brandy, fiery stuff to stupefy her.”

“Yes, she was eccentric. . . . I had a lot to put up with from her . . . sometimes she would take offence at something and begin being hysterical. . . . And what happened afterwards?”

“One week passed and then another. . . . I was sitting at home, writing something. All at once the door opened and she walked in . . . drunk. ‘Take back your cursed money,’ she said, and flung a roll of notes in my face. . . . So she could not keep it up. I picked up the notes and counted them. It was five hundred short of the ten thousand, so she had only managed to get through five hundred.”

“Where did you put the money?”

“It’s all ancient history . . . there’s no reason to conceal it now. . . . In my pocket, of course. Why do you look at me like that? Wait a bit for what will come later. . . . It’s a regular novel, a pathological study. A couple of months later I was going home one night in a nasty drunken condition. . . . I lighted a candle, and lo and behold! Sofya Mihailovna was sitting on my sofa, and she was drunk, too, and in a frantic state—as wild as though she had run out of Bedlam. ‘Give me back my money,’ she said, ‘I have changed my mind; if I must go to ruin I won’t do it by halves, I’ll have my fling! Be quick, you scoundrel, give me my money!’ A disgraceful scene!”

“And you . . . gave it her?”

“I gave her, I remember, ten roubles.”

“Oh! How could you?” cried Uzelkov, frowning. “If you couldn’t or wouldn’t have given it her, you might have written to me. . . . And I didn’t know! I didn’t know!”

“My dear fellow, what use would it have been for me to write, considering that she wrote to you herself when she was lying in the hospital afterwards?”

“Yes, but I was so taken up then with my second marriage. I was in such a whirl that I had no thoughts to spare for letters. . . . But you were an outsider, you had no antipathy for Sofya. . . why didn’t you give her a helping hand? . . .”

“You can’t judge by the standards of to-day, Boris Petrovitch; that’s how we look at it now, but at the time we thought very differently. . . . Now maybe I’d give her a thousand roubles, but then even that ten-rouble note I did not give her for nothing. It was a bad business! . . . We must forget it. . . . But here we are. . . .”

The sledge stopped at the cemetery gates. Uzelkov and Shapkin got out of the sledge, went in at the gate, and walked up a long, broad avenue. The bare cherry-trees and acacias, the grey crosses and tombstones, were silvered with hoar-frost, every little grain of snow reflected the bright, sunny day. There was the smell there always is in cemeteries, the smell of incense and freshly dug earth. . . .

“Our cemetery is a pretty one,” said Uzelkov, “quite a garden!”

“Yes, but it is a pity thieves steal the tombstones. . . . And over there, beyond that iron monument on the right, Sofya Mihailovna is buried. Would you like to see?”

The friends turned to the right and walked through the deep snow to the iron monument.

“Here it is,” said Shapkin, pointing to a little slab of white marble. “A lieutenant put the stone on her grave.”

Uzelkov slowly took off his cap and exposed his bald head to the sun. Shapkin, looking at him, took off his cap too, and another bald patch gleamed in the sunlight. There was the stillness of the tomb all around as though the air, too, were dead. The friends looked at the grave, pondered, and said nothing.

“She sleeps in peace,” said Shapkin, breaking the silence. “It’s nothing to her now that she took the blame on herself and drank brandy. You must own, Boris Petrovitch . . . .”

“Own what?” Uzelkov asked gloomily.

“Why. . . . However hateful the past, it was better than this.”

And Shapkin pointed to his grey head.

“I used not to think of the hour of death. . . . I fancied I could have given death points and won the game if we had had an encounter; but now. . . . But what’s the good of talking!”

Uzelkov was overcome with melancholy. He suddenly had a passionate longing to weep, as once he had longed for love, and he felt those tears would have tasted sweet and refreshing. A moisture came into his eyes and there was a lump in his throat, but . . . Shapkin was standing beside him and Uzelkov was ashamed to show weakness before a witness. He turned back abruptly and went into the church.

Only two hours later, after talking to the churchwarden and looking over the church, he seized a moment when Shapkin was in conversation with the priest and hastened away to weep. . . . He stole up to the grave secretly, furtively, looking round him every minute. The little white slab looked at him pensively, mournfully, and innocently as though a little girl lay under it instead of a dissolute, divorced wife.

“To weep, to weep!” thought Uzelkov.

But the moment for tears had been missed; though the old man blinked his eyes, though he worked up his feelings, the tears did not flow nor the lump come in his throat. After standing for ten minutes, with a gesture of despair, Uzelkov went to look for Shapkin.


DARKNESS

A YOUNG peasant, with white eyebrows and eyelashes and broad cheekbones, in a torn sheepskin and big black felt overboots, waited till the Zemstvo doctor had finished seeing his patients and came out to go home from the hospital; then he went up to him, diffidently.

“Please, your honour,” he said.

“What do you want?”

The young man passed the palm of his hand up and over his nose, looked at the sky, and then answered:

“Please, your honour. . . . You’ve got my brother Vaska the blacksmith from Varvarino in the convict ward here, your honour. . . .”

“Yes, what then?”

“I am Vaska’s brother, you see. . . . Father has the two of us: him, Vaska, and me, Kirila; besides us there are three sisters, and Vaska’s a married man with a little one. . . . There are a lot of us and no one to work. . . . In the smithy it’s nearly two years now since the forge has been heated. I am at the cotton factory, I can’t do smith’s work, and how can father work? Let alone work, he can’t eat properly, he can’t lift the spoon to his mouth.”

“What do you want from me?”

“Be merciful! Let Vaska go!”

The doctor looked wonderingly at Kirila, and without saying a word walked on. The young peasant ran on in front and flung himself in a heap at his feet.

“Doctor, kind gentleman!” he besought him, blinking and again passing his open hand over his nose. “Show heavenly mercy; let Vaska go home! We shall remember you in our prayers for ever! Your honour, let him go! They are all starving! Mother’s wailing day in, day out, Vaska’s wife’s wailing . . . it’s worse than death! I don’t care to look upon the light of day. Be merciful; let him go, kind gentleman!”

“Are you stupid or out of your senses?” asked the doctor angrily. “How can I let him go? Why, he is a convict.”

Kirila began crying. “Let him go!”

“Tfoo, queer fellow! What right have I? Am I a gaoler or what? They brought him to the hospital for me to treat him, but I have as much right to let him out as I have to put you in prison, silly fellow!”

“But they have shut him up for nothing! He was in prison a year before the trial, and now there is no saying what he is there for. It would have been a different thing if he had murdered someone, let us say, or stolen horses; but as it is, what is it all about?”

“Very likely, but how do I come in?”

“They shut a man up and they don’t know themselves what for. He was drunk, your honour, did not know what he was doing, and even hit father on the ear and scratched his own cheek on a branch, and two of our fellows—they wanted some Turkish tobacco, you see-began telling him to go with them and break into the Armenian’s shop at night for tobacco. Being drunk, he obeyed them, the fool. They broke the lock, you know, got in, and did no end of mischief; they turned everything upside down, broke the windows, and scattered the flour about. They were drunk, that is all one can say! Well, the constable turned up . . . and with one thing and another they took them off to the magistrate. They have been a whole year in prison, and a week ago, on the Wednesday, they were all three tried in the town. A soldier stood behind them with a gun . . . people were sworn in. Vaska was less to blame than any, but the gentry decided that he was the ringleader. The other two lads were sent to prison, but Vaska to a convict battalion for three years. And what for? One should judge like a Christian!”

“I have nothing to do with it, I tell you again. Go to the authorities.”

“I have been already! I’ve been to the court; I have tried to send in a petition—they wouldn’t take a petition; I have been to the police captain, and I have been to the examining magistrate, and everyone says, ‘It is not my business!’ Whose business is it, then? But there is no one above you here in the hospital; you do what you like, your honour.”

“You simpleton,” sighed the doctor, “once the jury have found him guilty, not the governor, not even the minister, could do anything, let alone the police captain. It’s no good your trying to do anything!”

“And who judged him, then?”

“The gentlemen of the jury. . . .”

“They weren’t gentlemen, they were our peasants! Andrey Guryev was one; Aloshka Huk was one.”

“Well, I am cold talking to you. . . .”

The doctor waved his hand and walked quickly to his own door. Kirila was on the point of following him, but, seeing the door slam, he stopped.

For ten minutes he stood motionless in the middle of the hospital yard, and without putting on his cap stared at the doctor’s house, then he heaved a deep sigh, slowly scratched himself, and walked towards the gate.

“To whom am I to go?” he muttered as he came out on to the road. “One says it is not his business, another says it is not his business. Whose business is it, then? No, till you grease their hands you will get nothing out of them. The doctor says that, but he keeps looking all the while at my fist to see whether I am going to give him a blue note. Well, brother, I’ll go, if it has to be to the governor.”

Shifting from one foot to the other and continually looking round him in an objectless way, he trudged lazily along the road and was apparently wondering where to go. . . . It was not cold and the snow faintly crunched under his feet. Not more than half a mile in front of him the wretched little district town in which his brother had just been tried lay outstretched on the hill. On the right was the dark prison with its red roof and sentry-boxes at the corners; on the left was the big town copse, now covered with hoar-frost. It was still; only an old man, wearing a woman’s short jacket and a huge cap, was walking ahead, coughing and shouting to a cow which he was driving to the town.

“Good-day, grandfather,” said Kirila, overtaking him.

“Good-day. . . .”

“Are you driving it to the market?”

“No,” the old man answered lazily.

“Are you a townsman?”

They got into conversation; Kirila told him what he had come to the hospital for, and what he had been talking about to the doctor.

“The doctor does not know anything about such matters, that is a sure thing,” the old man said to him as they were both entering the town; “though he is a gentleman, he is only taught to cure by every means, but to give you real advice, or, let us say, write out a petition for you—that he cannot do. There are special authorities to do that. You have been to the justice of the peace and to the police captain—they are no good for your business either.”

“Where am I to go?”

“The permanent member of the rural board is the chief person for peasants’ affairs. Go to him, Mr. Sineokov.”

“The one who is at Zolotovo?”

“Why, yes, at Zolotovo. He is your chief man. If it is anything that has to do with you peasants even the police captain has no authority against him.”

“It’s a long way to go, old man. . . . I dare say it’s twelve miles and may be more.”

“One who needs something will go seventy.”

“That is so. . . . Should I send in a petition to him, or what?”

“You will find out there. If you should have a petition the clerk will write you one quick enough. The permanent member has a clerk.”

After parting from the old man Kirila stood still in the middle of the square, thought a little, and walked back out of the town. He made up his mind to go to Zolotovo.

Five days later, as the doctor was on his way home after seeing his patients, he caught sight of Kirila again in his yard. This time the young peasant was not alone, but with a gaunt, very pale old man who nodded his head without ceasing, like a pendulum, and mumbled with his lips.

“Your honour, I have come again to ask your gracious mercy,” began Kirila. “Here I have come with my father. Be merciful, let Vaska go! The permanent member would not talk to me. He said: ‘Go away!’”

“Your honour,” the old man hissed in his throat, raising his twitching eyebrows, “be merciful! We are poor people, we cannot repay your honour, but if you graciously please, Kiryushka or Vaska can repay you in work. Let them work.”

“We will pay with work,” said Kirila, and he raised his hand above his head as though he would take an oath. “Let him go! They are starving, they are crying day and night, your honour!”

The young peasant bent a rapid glance on his father, pulled him by the sleeve, and both of them, as at the word of command, fell at the doctor’s feet. The latter waved his hand in despair, and, without looking round, walked quickly in at his door.


THE BEGGAR

“KIND sir, be so good as to notice a poor, hungry man. I have not tasted food for three days. I have not a five-kopeck piece for a night’s lodging. I swear by God! For five years I was a village schoolmaster and lost my post through the intrigues of the Zemstvo. I was the victim of false witness. I have been out of a place for a year now.”

Skvortsov, a Petersburg lawyer, looked at the speaker’s tattered dark blue overcoat, at his muddy, drunken eyes, at the red patches on his cheeks, and it seemed to him that he had seen the man before.

“And now I am offered a post in the Kaluga province,” the beggar continued, “but I have not the means for the journey there. Graciously help me! I am ashamed to ask, but . . . I am compelled by circumstances.”

Skvortsov looked at his goloshes, of which one was shallow like a shoe, while the other came high up the leg like a boot, and suddenly remembered.

“Listen, the day before yesterday I met you in Sadovoy Street,” he said, “and then you told me, not that you were a village schoolmaster, but that you were a student who had been expelled. Do you remember?”

“N-o. No, that cannot be so!” the beggar muttered in confusion. “I am a village schoolmaster, and if you wish it I can show you documents to prove it.”

“That’s enough lies! You called yourself a student, and even told me what you were expelled for. Do you remember?”

Skvortsov flushed, and with a look of disgust on his face turned away from the ragged figure.

“It’s contemptible, sir!” he cried angrily. “It’s a swindle! I’ll hand you over to the police, damn you! You are poor and hungry, but that does not give you the right to lie so shamelessly!”

The ragged figure took hold of the door-handle and, like a bird in a snare, looked round the hall desperately.

“I . . . I am not lying,” he muttered. “I can show documents.”

“Who can believe you?” Skvortsov went on, still indignant. “To exploit the sympathy of the public for village schoolmasters and students—it’s so low, so mean, so dirty! It’s revolting!”

Skvortsov flew into a rage and gave the beggar a merciless scolding. The ragged fellow’s insolent lying aroused his disgust and aversion, was an offence against what he, Skvortsov, loved and prized in himself: kindliness, a feeling heart, sympathy for the unhappy. By his lying, by his treacherous assault upon compassion, the individual had, as it were, defiled the charity which he liked to give to the poor with no misgivings in his heart. The beggar at first defended himself, protested with oaths, then he sank into silence and hung his head, overcome with shame.

“Sir!” he said, laying his hand on his heart, “I really was . . . lying! I am not a student and not a village schoolmaster. All that’s mere invention! I used to be in the Russian choir, and I was turned out of it for drunkenness. But what can I do? Believe me, in God’s name, I can’t get on without lying—when I tell the truth no one will give me anything. With the truth one may die of hunger and freeze without a night’s lodging! What you say is true, I understand that, but . . . what am I to do?”

“What are you to do? You ask what are you to do?” cried Skvortsov, going close up to him. “Work—that’s what you must do! You must work!”

“Work. . . . I know that myself, but where can I get work?”

“Nonsense. You are young, strong, and healthy, and could always find work if you wanted to. But you know you are lazy, pampered, drunken! You reek of vodka like a pothouse! You have become false and corrupt to the marrow of your bones and fit for nothing but begging and lying! If you do graciously condescend to take work, you must have a job in an office, in the Russian choir, or as a billiard-marker, where you will have a salary and have nothing to do! But how would you like to undertake manual labour? I’ll be bound, you wouldn’t be a house porter or a factory hand! You are too genteel for that!”

“What things you say, really . . .” said the beggar, and he gave a bitter smile. “How can I get manual work? It’s rather late for me to be a shopman, for in trade one has to begin from a boy; no one would take me as a house porter, because I am not of that class . . . . And I could not get work in a factory; one must know a trade, and I know nothing.”

“Nonsense! You always find some justification! Wouldn’t you like to chop wood?”

“I would not refuse to, but the regular woodchoppers are out of work now.”

“Oh, all idlers argue like that! As soon as you are offered anything you refuse it. Would you care to chop wood for me?”

“Certainly I will. . .”

“Very good, we shall see. . . . Excellent. We’ll see!” Skvortsov, in nervous haste; and not without malignant pleasure, rubbing his hands, summoned his cook from the kitchen.

“Here, Olga,” he said to her, “take this gentleman to the shed and let him chop some wood.”

The beggar shrugged his shoulders as though puzzled, and irresolutely followed the cook. It was evident from his demeanour that he had consented to go and chop wood, not because he was hungry and wanted to earn money, but simply from shame and amour propre, because he had been taken at his word. It was clear, too, that he was suffering from the effects of vodka, that he was unwell, and felt not the faintest inclination to work.

Skvortsov hurried into the dining-room. There from the window which looked out into the yard he could see the woodshed and everything that happened in the yard. Standing at the window, Skvortsov saw the cook and the beggar come by the back way into the yard and go through the muddy snow to the woodshed. Olga scrutinized her companion angrily, and jerking her elbow unlocked the woodshed and angrily banged the door open.

“Most likely we interrupted the woman drinking her coffee,” thought Skvortsov. “What a cross creature she is!”

Then he saw the pseudo-schoolmaster and pseudo-student seat himself on a block of wood, and, leaning his red cheeks upon his fists, sink into thought. The cook flung an axe at his feet, spat angrily on the ground, and, judging by the expression of her lips, began abusing him. The beggar drew a log of wood towards him irresolutely, set it up between his feet, and diffidently drew the axe across it. The log toppled and fell over. The beggar drew it towards him, breathed on his frozen hands, and again drew the axe along it as cautiously as though he were afraid of its hitting his golosh or chopping off his fingers. The log fell over again.

Skvortsov’s wrath had passed off by now, he felt sore and ashamed at the thought that he had forced a pampered, drunken, and perhaps sick man to do hard, rough work in the cold.

“Never mind, let him go on . . .” he thought, going from the dining-room into his study. “I am doing it for his good!”

An hour later Olga appeared and announced that the wood had been chopped up.

“Here, give him half a rouble,” said Skvortsov. “If he likes, let him come and chop wood on the first of every month. . . . There will always be work for him.”

On the first of the month the beggar turned up and again earned half a rouble, though he could hardly stand. From that time forward he took to turning up frequently, and work was always found for him: sometimes he would sweep the snow into heaps, or clear up the shed, at another he used to beat the rugs and the mattresses. He always received thirty to forty kopecks for his work, and on one occasion an old pair of trousers was sent out to him.

When he moved, Skvortsov engaged him to assist in packing and moving the furniture. On this occasion the beggar was sober, gloomy, and silent; he scarcely touched the furniture, walked with hanging head behind the furniture vans, and did not even try to appear busy; he merely shivered with the cold, and was overcome with confusion when the men with the vans laughed at his idleness, feebleness, and ragged coat that had once been a gentleman’s. After the removal Skvortsov sent for him.

“Well, I see my words have had an effect upon you,” he said, giving him a rouble. “This is for your work. I see that you are sober and not disinclined to work. What is your name?”

“Lushkov.”

“I can offer you better work, not so rough, Lushkov. Can you write?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then go with this note to-morrow to my colleague and he will give you some copying to do. Work, don’t drink, and don’t forget what I said to you. Good-bye.”

Skvortsov, pleased that he had put a man in the path of rectitude, patted Lushkov genially on the shoulder, and even shook hands with him at parting.

Lushkov took the letter, departed, and from that time forward did not come to the back-yard for work.

Two years passed. One day as Skvortsov was standing at the ticket-office of a theatre, paying for his ticket, he saw beside him a little man with a lambskin collar and a shabby cat’s-skin cap. The man timidly asked the clerk for a gallery ticket and paid for it with kopecks.

“Lushkov, is it you?” asked Skvortsov, recognizing in the little man his former woodchopper. “Well, what are you doing? Are you getting on all right?”

“Pretty well. . . . I am in a notary’s office now. I earn thirty-five roubles.”

“Well, thank God, that’s capital. I rejoice for you. I am very, very glad, Lushkov. You know, in a way, you are my godson. It was I who shoved you into the right way. Do you remember what a scolding I gave you, eh? You almost sank through the floor that time. Well, thank you, my dear fellow, for remembering my words.”

“Thank you too,” said Lushkov. “If I had not come to you that day, maybe I should be calling myself a schoolmaster or a student still. Yes, in your house I was saved, and climbed out of the pit.”

“I am very, very glad.”

“Thank you for your kind words and deeds. What you said that day was excellent. I am grateful to you and to your cook, God bless that kind, noble-hearted woman. What you said that day was excellent; I am indebted to you as long as I live, of course, but it was your cook, Olga, who really saved me.”

“How was that?”

“Why, it was like this. I used to come to you to chop wood and she would begin: ‘Ah, you drunkard! You God-forsaken man! And yet death does not take you!’ and then she would sit opposite me, lamenting, looking into my face and wailing: ‘You unlucky fellow! You have no gladness in this world, and in the next you will burn in hell, poor drunkard! You poor sorrowful creature!’ and she always went on in that style, you know. How often she upset herself, and how many tears she shed over me I can’t tell you. But what affected me most—she chopped the wood for me! Do you know, sir, I never chopped a single log for you—she did it all! How it was she saved me, how it was I changed, looking at her, and gave up drinking, I can’t explain. I only know that what she said and the noble way she behaved brought about a change in my soul, and I shall never forget it. It’s time to go up, though, they are just going to ring the bell.”

Lushkov bowed and went off to the gallery.


A STORY WITHOUT A TITLE

IN the fifth century, just as now, the sun rose every morning and every evening retired to rest. In the morning, when the first rays kissed the dew, the earth revived, the air was filled with the sounds of rapture and hope; while in the evening the same earth subsided into silence and plunged into gloomy darkness. One day was like another, one night like another. From time to time a storm-cloud raced up and there was the angry rumble of thunder, or a negligent star fell out of the sky, or a pale monk ran to tell the brotherhood that not far from the monastery he had seen a tiger—and that was all, and then each day was like the next.

The monks worked and prayed, and their Father Superior played on the organ, made Latin verses, and wrote music. The wonderful old man possessed an extraordinary gift. He played on the organ with such art that even the oldest monks, whose hearing had grown somewhat dull towards the end of their lives, could not restrain their tears when the sounds of the organ floated from his cell. When he spoke of anything, even of the most ordinary things—for instance of the trees, of the wild beasts, or of the sea—they could not listen to him without a smile or tears, and it seemed that the same chords vibrated in his soul as in the organ. If he were moved to anger or abandoned himself to intense joy, or began speaking of something terrible or grand, then a passionate inspiration took possession of him, tears came into his flashing eyes, his face flushed, and his voice thundered, and as the monks listened to him they felt that their souls were spell-bound by his inspiration; at such marvellous, splendid moments his power over them was boundless, and if he had bidden his elders fling themselves into the sea, they would all, every one of them, have hastened to carry out his wishes.

His music, his voice, his poetry in which he glorified God, the heavens and the earth, were a continual source of joy to the monks. It sometimes happened that through the monotony of their lives they grew weary of the trees, the flowers, the spring, the autumn, their ears were tired of the sound of the sea, and the song of the birds seemed tedious to them, but the talents of their Father Superior were as necessary to them as their daily bread.

Dozens of years passed by, and every day was like every other day, every night was like every other night. Except the birds and the wild beasts, not one soul appeared near the monastery. The nearest human habitation was far away, and to reach it from the monastery, or to reach the monastery from it, meant a journey of over seventy miles across the desert. Only men who despised life, who had renounced it, and who came to the monastery as to the grave, ventured to cross the desert.

What was the amazement of the monks, therefore, when one night there knocked at their gate a man who turned out to be from the town, and the most ordinary sinner who loved life. Before saying his prayers and asking for the Father Superior’s blessing, this man asked for wine and food. To the question how he had come from the town into the desert, he answered by a long story of hunting; he had gone out hunting, had drunk too much, and lost his way. To the suggestion that he should enter the monastery and save his soul, he replied with a smile: “I am not a fit companion for you!”

When he had eaten and drunk he looked at the monks who were serving him, shook his head reproachfully, and said:

“You don’t do anything, you monks. You are good for nothing but eating and drinking. Is that the way to save one’s soul? Only think, while you sit here in peace, eat and drink and dream of beatitude, your neighbours are perishing and going to hell. You should see what is going on in the town! Some are dying of hunger, others, not knowing what to do with their gold, sink into profligacy and perish like flies stuck in honey. There is no faith, no truth in men. Whose task is it to save them? Whose work is it to preach to them? It is not for me, drunk from morning till night as I am. Can a meek spirit, a loving heart, and faith in God have been given you for you to sit here within four walls doing nothing?”

The townsman’s drunken words were insolent and unseemly, but they had a strange effect upon the Father Superior. The old man exchanged glances with his monks, turned pale, and said:

“My brothers, he speaks the truth, you know. Indeed, poor people in their weakness and lack of understanding are perishing in vice and infidelity, while we do not move, as though it did not concern us. Why should I not go and remind them of the Christ whom they have forgotten?”

The townsman’s words had carried the old man away. The next day he took his staff, said farewell to the brotherhood, and set off for the town. And the monks were left without music, and without his speeches and verses. They spent a month drearily, then a second, but the old man did not come back. At last after three months had passed the familiar tap of his staff was heard. The monks flew to meet him and showered questions upon him, but instead of being delighted to see them he wept bitterly and did not utter a word. The monks noticed that he looked greatly aged and had grown thinner; his face looked exhausted and wore an expression of profound sadness, and when he wept he had the air of a man who has been outraged.

The monks fell to weeping too, and began with sympathy asking him why he was weeping, why his face was so gloomy, but he locked himself in his cell without uttering a word. For seven days he sat in his cell, eating and drinking nothing, weeping and not playing on his organ. To knocking at his door and to the entreaties of the monks to come out and share his grief with them he replied with unbroken silence.

At last he came out. Gathering all the monks around him, with a tear-stained face and with an expression of grief and indignation, he began telling them of what had befallen him during those three months. His voice was calm and his eyes were smiling while he described his journey from the monastery to the town. On the road, he told them, the birds sang to him, the brooks gurgled, and sweet youthful hopes agitated his soul; he marched on and felt like a soldier going to battle and confident of victory; he walked on dreaming, and composed poems and hymns, and reached the end of his journey without noticing it.

But his voice quivered, his eyes flashed, and he was full of wrath when he came to speak of the town and of the men in it. Never in his life had he seen or even dared to imagine what he met with when he went into the town. Only then for the first time in his life, in his old age, he saw and understood how powerful was the devil, how fair was evil and how weak and faint-hearted and worthless were men. By an unhappy chance the first dwelling he entered was the abode of vice. Some fifty men in possession of much money were eating and drinking wine beyond measure. Intoxicated by the wine, they sang songs and boldly uttered terrible, revolting words such as a God-fearing man could not bring himself to pronounce; boundlessly free, self-confident, and happy, they feared neither God nor the devil, nor death, but said and did what they liked, and went whither their lust led them. And the wine, clear as amber, flecked with sparks of gold, must have been irresistibly sweet and fragrant, for each man who drank it smiled blissfully and wanted to drink more. To the smile of man it responded with a smile and sparkled joyfully when they drank it, as though it knew the devilish charm it kept hidden in its sweetness.

The old man, growing more and more incensed and weeping with wrath, went on to describe what he had seen. On a table in the midst of the revellers, he said, stood a sinful, half-naked woman. It was hard to imagine or to find in nature anything more lovely and fascinating. This reptile, young, longhaired, dark-skinned, with black eyes and full lips, shameless and insolent, showed her snow-white teeth and smiled as though to say: “Look how shameless, how beautiful I am.” Silk and brocade fell in lovely folds from her shoulders, but her beauty would not hide itself under her clothes, but eagerly thrust itself through the folds, like the young grass through the ground in spring. The shameless woman drank wine, sang songs, and abandoned herself to anyone who wanted her.

Then the old man, wrathfully brandishing his arms, described the horse-races, the bull-fights, the theatres, the artists’ studios where they painted naked women or moulded them of clay. He spoke with inspiration, with sonorous beauty, as though he were playing on unseen chords, while the monks, petrified, greedily drank in his words and gasped with rapture. . . .

After describing all the charms of the devil, the beauty of evil, and the fascinating grace of the dreadful female form, the old man cursed the devil, turned and shut himself up in his cell. . . .

When he came out of his cell in the morning there was not a monk left in the monastery; they had all fled to the town.


IN TROUBLE

PYOTR SEMYONITCH, the bank manager, together with the book-keeper, his assistant, and two members of the board, were taken in the night to prison. The day after the upheaval the merchant Avdeyev, who was one of the committee of auditors, was sitting with his friends in the shop saying:

“So it is God’s will, it seems. There is no escaping your fate. Here to-day we are eating caviare and to-morrow, for aught we know, it will be prison, beggary, or maybe death. Anything may happen. Take Pyotr Semyonitch, for instance. . . .”

He spoke, screwing up his drunken eyes, while his friends went on drinking, eating caviare, and listening. Having described the disgrace and helplessness of Pyotr Semyonitch, who only the day before had been powerful and respected by all, Avdeyev went on with a sigh:

“The tears of the mouse come back to the cat. Serve them right, the scoundrels! They could steal, the rooks, so let them answer for it!”

“You’d better look out, Ivan Danilitch, that you don’t catch it too!” one of his friends observed.

“What has it to do with me?”

“Why, they were stealing, and what were you auditors thinking about? I’ll be bound, you signed the audit.”

“It’s all very well to talk!” laughed Avdeyev: “Signed it, indeed! They used to bring the accounts to my shop and I signed them. As though I understood! Give me anything you like, I’ll scrawl my name to it. If you were to write that I murdered someone I’d sign my name to it. I haven’t time to go into it; besides, I can’t see without my spectacles.”

After discussing the failure of the bank and the fate of Pyotr Semyonitch, Avdeyev and his friends went to eat pie at the house of a friend whose wife was celebrating her name-day. At the name-day party everyone was discussing the bank failure. Avdeyev was more excited than anyone, and declared that he had long foreseen the crash and knew two years before that things were not quite right at the bank. While they were eating pie he described a dozen illegal operations which had come to his knowledge.

“If you knew, why did you not give information?” asked an officer who was present.

“I wasn’t the only one: the whole town knew of it,” laughed Avdeyev. “Besides, I haven’t the time to hang about the law courts, damn them!”

He had a nap after the pie and then had dinner, then had another nap, then went to the evening service at the church of which he was a warden; after the service he went back to the name-day party and played preference till midnight. Everything seemed satisfactory.

But when Avdeyev hurried home after midnight the cook, who opened the door to him, looked pale, and was trembling so violently that she could not utter a word. His wife, Elizaveta Trofimovna, a flabby, overfed woman, with her grey hair hanging loose, was sitting on the sofa in the drawing-room quivering all over, and vacantly rolling her eyes as though she were drunk. Her elder son, Vassily, a high-school boy, pale too, and extremely agitated, was fussing round her with a glass of water.

“What’s the matter?” asked Avdeyev, and looked angrily sideways at the stove (his family was constantly being upset by the fumes from it).

“The examining magistrate has just been with the police,” answered Vassily; “they’ve made a search.”

Avdeyev looked round him. The cupboards, the chests, the tables—everything bore traces of the recent search. For a minute Avdeyev stood motionless as though petrified, unable to understand; then his whole inside quivered and seemed to grow heavy, his left leg went numb, and, unable to endure his trembling, he lay down flat on the sofa. He felt his inside heaving and his rebellious left leg tapping against the back of the sofa.

In the course of two or three minutes he recalled the whole of his past, but could not remember any crime deserving of the attention of the police.

“It’s all nonsense,” he said, getting up. “They must have slandered me. To-morrow I must lodge a complaint of their having dared to do such a thing.”

Next morning after a sleepless night Avdeyev, as usual, went to his shop. His customers brought him the news that during the night the public prosecutor had sent the deputy manager and the head-clerk to prison as well. This news did not disturb Avdeyev. He was convinced that he had been slandered, and that if he were to lodge a complaint to-day the examining magistrate would get into trouble for the search of the night before.

Between nine and ten o’clock he hurried to the town hall to see the secretary, who was the only educated man in the town council.

“Vladimir Stepanitch, what’s this new fashion?” he said, bending down to the secretary’s ear. “People have been stealing, but how do I come in? What has it to do with me? My dear fellow,” he whispered, “there has been a search at my house last night! Upon my word! Have they gone crazy? Why touch me?”

“Because one shouldn’t be a sheep,” the secretary answered calmly. “Before you sign you ought to look.”

“Look at what? But if I were to look at those accounts for a thousand years I could not make head or tail of them! It’s all Greek to me! I am no book-keeper. They used to bring them to me and I signed them.”

“Excuse me. Apart from that you and your committee are seriously compromised. You borrowed nineteen thousand from the bank, giving no security.”

“Lord have mercy upon us!” cried Avdeyev in amazement. “I am not the only one in debt to the bank! The whole town owes it money. I pay the interest and I shall repay the debt. What next! And besides, to tell the honest truth, it wasn’t I myself borrowed the money. Pyotr Semyonitch forced it upon me. ‘Take it,’ he said, ‘take it. If you don’t take it,’ he said, ‘it means that you don’t trust us and fight shy of us. You take it,’ he said, ‘and build your father a mill.’ So I took it.”

“Well, you see, none but children or sheep can reason like that. In any case, signor, you need not be anxious. You can’t escape trial, of course, but you are sure to be acquitted.”

The secretary’s indifference and calm tone restored Avdeyev’s composure. Going back to his shop and finding friends there, he again began drinking, eating caviare, and airing his views. He almost forgot the police search, and he was only troubled by one circumstance which he could not help noticing: his left leg was strangely numb, and his stomach for some reason refused to do its work.

That evening destiny dealt another overwhelming blow at Avdeyev: at an extraordinary meeting of the town council all members who were on the staff of the bank, Avdeyev among them, were asked to resign, on the ground that they were charged with a criminal offence. In the morning he received a request to give up immediately his duties as churchwarden.

After that Avdeyev lost count of the blows dealt him by fate, and strange, unprecedented days flitted rapidly by, one after another, and every day brought some new, unexpected surprise. Among other things, the examining magistrate sent him a summons, and he returned home after the interview, insulted and red in the face.

“He gave me no peace, pestering me to tell him why I had signed. I signed, that’s all about it. I didn’t do it on purpose. They brought the papers to the shop and I signed them. I am no great hand at reading writing.”

Young men with unconcerned faces arrived, sealed up the shop, and made an inventory of all the furniture of the house. Suspecting some intrigue behind this, and, as before, unconscious of any wrongdoing, Avdeyev in his mortification ran from one Government office to another lodging complaints. He spent hours together in waiting-rooms, composed long petitions, shed tears, swore. To his complaints the public prosecutor and the examining magistrate made the indifferent and rational reply: “Come to us when you are summoned: we have not time to attend to you now.” While others answered: “It is not our business.”

The secretary, an educated man, who, Avdeyev thought, might have helped him, merely shrugged his shoulders and said:

“It’s your own fault. You shouldn’t have been a sheep.”

The old man exerted himself to the utmost, but his left leg was still numb, and his digestion was getting worse and worse. When he was weary of doing nothing and was getting poorer and poorer, he made up his mind to go to his father’s mill, or to his brother, and begin dealing in corn. His family went to his father’s and he was left alone. The days flitted by, one after another. Without a family, without a shop, and without money, the former churchwarden, an honoured and respected man, spent whole days going the round of his friends’ shops, drinking, eating, and listening to advice. In the mornings and in the evenings, to while away the time, he went to church. Looking for hours together at the ikons, he did not pray, but pondered. His conscience was clear, and he ascribed his position to mistake and misunderstanding; to his mind, it was all due to the fact that the officials and the examining magistrates were young men and inexperienced. It seemed to him that if he were to talk it over in detail and open his heart to some elderly judge, everything would go right again. He did not understand his judges, and he fancied they did not understand him.

The days raced by, and at last, after protracted, harassing delays, the day of the trial came. Avdeyev borrowed fifty roubles, and providing himself with spirit to rub on his leg and a decoction of herbs for his digestion, set off for the town where the circuit court was being held.

The trial lasted for ten days. Throughout the trial Avdeyev sat among his companions in misfortune with the stolid composure and dignity befitting a respectable and innocent man who is suffering for no fault of his own: he listened and did not understand a word. He was in an antagonistic mood. He was angry at being detained so long in the court, at being unable to get Lenten food anywhere, at his defending counsel’s not understanding him, and, as he thought, saying the wrong thing. He thought that the judges did not understand their business. They took scarcely any notice of Avdeyev, they only addressed him once in three days, and the questions they put to him were of such a character that Avdeyev raised a laugh in the audience each time he answered them. When he tried to speak of the expenses he had incurred, of his losses, and of his meaning to claim his costs from the court, his counsel turned round and made an incomprehensible grimace, the public laughed, and the judge announced sternly that that had nothing to do with the case. The last words that he was allowed to say were not what his counsel had instructed him to say, but something quite different, which raised a laugh again.

During the terrible hour when the jury were consulting in their room he sat angrily in the refreshment bar, not thinking about the jury at all. He did not understand why they were so long deliberating when everything was so clear, and what they wanted of him.

Getting hungry, he asked the waiter to give him some cheap Lenten dish. For forty kopecks they gave him some cold fish and carrots. He ate it and felt at once as though the fish were heaving in a chilly lump in his stomach; it was followed by flatulence, heartburn, and pain.

Afterwards, as he listened to the foreman of the jury reading out the questions point by point, there was a regular revolution taking place in his inside, his whole body was bathed in a cold sweat, his left leg was numb; he did not follow, understood nothing, and suffered unbearably at not being able to sit or lie down while the foreman was reading. At last, when he and his companions were allowed to sit down, the public prosecutor got up and said something unintelligible, and all at once, as though they had sprung out of the earth, some police officers appeared on the scene with drawn swords and surrounded all the prisoners. Avdeyev was told to get up and go.

Now he understood that he was found guilty and in charge of the police, but he was not frightened nor amazed; such a turmoil was going on in his stomach that he could not think about his guards.

“So they won’t let us go back to the hotel?” he asked one of his companions. “But I have three roubles and an untouched quarter of a pound of tea in my room there.”

He spent the night at the police station; all night he was aware of a loathing for fish, and was thinking about the three roubles and the quarter of a pound of tea. Early in the morning, when the sky was beginning to turn blue, he was told to dress and set off. Two soldiers with bayonets took him to prison. Never before had the streets of the town seemed to him so long and endless. He walked not on the pavement but in the middle of the road in the muddy, thawing snow. His inside was still at war with the fish, his left leg was numb; he had forgotten his goloshes either in the court or in the police station, and his feet felt frozen.

Five days later all the prisoners were brought before the court again to hear their sentence. Avdeyev learnt that he was sentenced to exile in the province of Tobolsk. And that did not frighten nor amaze him either. He fancied for some reason that the trial was not yet over, that there were more adjournments to come, and that the final decision had not been reached yet. . . . He went on in the prison expecting this final decision every day.

Only six months later, when his wife and his son Vassily came to say good-bye to him, and when in the wasted, wretchedly dressed old woman he scarcely recognized his once fat and dignified Elizaveta Trofimovna, and when he saw his son wearing a short, shabby reefer-jacket and cotton trousers instead of the high-school uniform, he realized that his fate was decided, and that whatever new “decision” there might be, his past would never come back to him. And for the first time since the trial and his imprisonment the angry expression left his face, and he wept bitterly.


FROST

A “POPULAR” fête with a philanthropic object had been arranged on the Feast of Epiphany in the provincial town of N——. They had selected a broad part of the river between the market and the bishop’s palace, fenced it round with a rope, with fir-trees and with flags, and provided everything necessary for skating, sledging, and tobogganing. The festivity was organized on the grandest scale possible. The notices that were distributed were of huge size and promised a number of delights: skating, a military band, a lottery with no blank tickets, an electric sun, and so on. But the whole scheme almost came to nothing owing to the hard frost. From the eve of Epiphany there were twenty-eight degrees of frost with a strong wind; it was proposed to put off the fête, and this was not done only because the public, which for a long while had been looking forward to the fête impatiently, would not consent to any postponement.

“Only think, what do you expect in winter but a frost!” said the ladies persuading the governor, who tried to insist that the fête should be postponed. “If anyone is cold he can go and warm himself.”

The trees, the horses, the men’s beards were white with frost; it even seemed that the air itself crackled, as though unable to endure the cold; but in spite of that the frozen public were skating. Immediately after the blessing of the waters and precisely at one o’clock the military band began playing.

Between three and four o’clock in the afternoon, when the festivity was at its height, the select society of the place gathered together to warm themselves in the governor’s pavilion, which had been put up on the river-bank. The old governor and his wife, the bishop, the president of the local court, the head master of the high school, and many others, were there. The ladies were sitting in armchairs, while the men crowded round the wide glass door, looking at the skating.

“Holy Saints!” said the bishop in surprise; “what flourishes they execute with their legs! Upon my soul, many a singer couldn’t do a twirl with his voice as those cut-throats do with their legs. Aie! he’ll kill himself!”

“That’s Smirnov. . . . That’s Gruzdev . . .” said the head master, mentioning the names of the schoolboys who flew by the pavilion.

“Bah! he’s all alive-oh!” laughed the governor. “Look, gentlemen, our mayor is coming. . . . He is coming this way. . . . That’s a nuisance, he will talk our heads off now.”

A little thin old man, wearing a big cap and a fur-lined coat hanging open, came from the opposite bank towards the pavilion, avoiding the skaters. This was the mayor of the town, a merchant, Eremeyev by name, a millionaire and an old inhabitant of N——. Flinging wide his arms and shrugging at the cold, he skipped along, knocking one golosh against the other, evidently in haste to get out of the wind. Half-way he suddenly bent down, stole up to some lady, and plucked at her sleeve from behind. When she looked round he skipped away, and probably delighted at having succeeded in frightening her, went off into a loud, aged laugh.

“Lively old fellow,” said the governor. “It’s a wonder he’s not skating.”

As he got near the pavilion the mayor fell into a little tripping trot, waved his hands, and, taking a run, slid along the ice in his huge golosh boots up to the very door.

“Yegor Ivanitch, you ought to get yourself some skates!” the governor greeted him.

“That’s just what I am thinking,” he answered in a squeaky, somewhat nasal tenor, taking off his cap. “I wish you good health, your Excellency! Your Holiness! Long life to all the other gentlemen and ladies! Here’s a frost! Yes, it is a frost, bother it! It’s deadly!”

Winking with his red, frozen eyes, Yegor Ivanitch stamped on the floor with his golosh boots and swung his arms together like a frozen cabman.

“Such a damnable frost, worse than any dog!” he went on talking, smiling all over his face. “It’s a real affliction!”

“It’s healthy,” said the governor; “frost strengthens a man and makes him vigorous. . . .”

“Though it may be healthy, it would be better without it at all,” said the mayor, wiping his wedge-shaped beard with a red handkerchief. “It would be a good riddance! To my thinking, your Excellency, the Lord sends it us as a punishment—the frost, I mean. We sin in the summer and are punished in the winter. . . . Yes!”

Yegor Ivanitch looked round him quickly and flung up his hands.

“Why, where’s the needful . . . to warm us up?” he asked, looking in alarm first at the governor and then at the bishop. “Your Excellency! Your Holiness! I’ll be bound, the ladies are frozen too! We must have something, this won’t do!”

Everyone began gesticulating and declaring that they had not come to the skating to warm themselves, but the mayor, heeding no one, opened the door and beckoned to someone with his crooked finger. A workman and a fireman ran up to him.

“Here, run off to Savatin,” he muttered, “and tell him to make haste and send here . . . what do you call it? . . . What’s it to be? Tell him to send a dozen glasses . . . a dozen glasses of mulled wine, the very hottest, or punch, perhaps. . . .”

There was laughter in the pavilion.

“A nice thing to treat us to!”

“Never mind, we will drink it,” muttered the mayor; “a dozen glasses, then . . . and some Benedictine, perhaps . . . and tell them to warm two bottles of red wine. . . . Oh, and what for the ladies? Well, you tell them to bring cakes, nuts . . . sweets of some sort, perhaps. . . . There, run along, look sharp!”

The mayor was silent for a minute and then began again abusing the frost, banging his arms across his chest and thumping with his golosh boots.

“No, Yegor Ivanitch,” said the governor persuasively, “don’t be unfair, the Russian frost has its charms. I was reading lately that many of the good qualities of the Russian people are due to the vast expanse of their land and to the climate, the cruel struggle for existence . . . that’s perfectly true!”

“It may be true, your Excellency, but it would be better without it. The frost did drive out the French, of course, and one can freeze all sorts of dishes, and the children can go skating—that’s all true! For the man who is well fed and well clothed the frost is only a pleasure, but for the working man, the beggar, the pilgrim, the crazy wanderer, it’s the greatest evil and misfortune. It’s misery, your Holiness! In a frost like this poverty is twice as hard, and the thief is more cunning and evildoers more violent. There’s no gainsaying it! I am turned seventy, I’ve a fur coat now, and at home I have a stove and rums and punches of all sorts. The frost means nothing to me now; I take no notice of it, I don’t care to know of it, but how it used to be in old days, Holy Mother! It’s dreadful to recall it! My memory is failing me with years and I have forgotten everything; my enemies, and my sins and troubles of all sorts—I forget them all, but the frost—ough! How I remember it! When my mother died I was left a little devil—this high—a homeless orphan . . . no kith nor kin, wretched, ragged, little clothes, hungry, nowhere to sleep—in fact, ‘we have here no abiding city, but seek the one to come.’ In those days I used to lead an old blind woman about the town for five kopecks a day . . . the frosts were cruel, wicked. One would go out with the old woman and begin suffering torments. My Creator! First of all you would be shivering as in a fever, shrugging and dancing about. Then your ears, your fingers, your feet, would begin aching. They would ache as though someone were squeezing them with pincers. But all that would have been nothing, a trivial matter, of no great consequence. The trouble was when your whole body was chilled. One would walk for three blessed hours in the frost, your Holiness, and lose all human semblance. Your legs are drawn up, there is a weight on your chest, your stomach is pinched; above all, there is a pain in your heart that is worse than anything. Your heart aches beyond all endurance, and there is a wretchedness all over your body as though you were leading Death by the hand instead of an old woman. You are numb all over, turned to stone like a statue; you go on and feel as though it were not you walking, but someone else moving your legs instead of you. When your soul is frozen you don’t know what you are doing: you are ready to leave the old woman with no one to guide her, or to pull a hot roll from off a hawker’s tray, or to fight with someone. And when you come to your night’s lodging into the warmth after the frost, there is not much joy in that either! You lie awake till midnight, crying, and don’t know yourself what you are crying for. . . .”

“We must walk about the skating-ground before it gets dark,” said the governor’s wife, who was bored with listening. “Who’s coming with me?”

The governor’s wife went out and the whole company trooped out of the pavilion after her. Only the governor, the bishop, and the mayor remained.

“Queen of Heaven! and what I went through when I was a shopboy in a fish-shop!” Yegor Ivanitch went on, flinging up his arms so that his fox-lined coat fell open. “One would go out to the shop almost before it was light . . . by eight o’clock I was completely frozen, my face was blue, my fingers were stiff so that I could not fasten my buttons nor count the money. One would stand in the cold, turn numb, and think, ‘Lord, I shall have to stand like this right on till evening!’ By dinner-time my stomach was pinched and my heart was aching. . . . Yes! And I was not much better afterwards when I had a shop of my own. The frost was intense and the shop was like a mouse-trap with draughts blowing in all directions; the coat I had on was, pardon me, mangy, as thin as paper, threadbare. . . . One would be chilled through and through, half dazed, and turn as cruel as the frost oneself: I would pull one by the ear so that I nearly pulled the ear off; I would smack another on the back of the head; I’d glare at a customer like a ruffian, a wild beast, and be ready to fleece him; and when I got home in the evening and ought to have gone to bed, I’d be ill-humoured and set upon my family, throwing it in their teeth that they were living upon me; I would make a row and carry on so that half a dozen policemen couldn’t have managed me. The frost makes one spiteful and drives one to drink.”

Yegor Ivanitch clasped his hands and went on:

“And when we were taking fish to Moscow in the winter, Holy Mother!” And spluttering as he talked, he began describing the horrors he endured with his shopmen when he was taking fish to Moscow. . . .

“Yes,” sighed the governor, “it is wonderful what a man can endure! You used to take wagon-loads of fish to Moscow, Yegor Ivanitch, while I in my time was at the war. I remember one extraordinary instance. . . .”

And the governor described how, during the last Russo-Turkish War, one frosty night the division in which he was had stood in the snow without moving for thirteen hours in a piercing wind; from fear of being observed the division did not light a fire, nor make a sound or a movement; they were forbidden to smoke. . . .

Reminiscences followed. The governor and the mayor grew lively and good-humoured, and, interrupting each other, began recalling their experiences. And the bishop told them how, when he was serving in Siberia, he had travelled in a sledge drawn by dogs; how one day, being drowsy, in a time of sharp frost he had fallen out of the sledge and been nearly frozen; when the Tunguses turned back and found him he was barely alive. Then, as by common agreement, the old men suddenly sank into silence, sat side by side, and mused.

“Ech!” whispered the mayor; “you’d think it would be time to forget, but when you look at the water-carriers, at the schoolboys, at the convicts in their wretched gowns, it brings it all back! Why, only take those musicians who are playing now. I’ll be bound, there is a pain in their hearts; a pinch at their stomachs, and their trumpets are freezing to their lips. . . . They play and think: ‘Holy Mother! we have another three hours to sit here in the cold.’”

The old men sank into thought. They thought of that in man which is higher than good birth, higher than rank and wealth and learning, of that which brings the lowest beggar near to God: of the helplessness of man, of his sufferings and his patience. . . .

Meanwhile the air was turning blue . . . the door opened and two waiters from Savatin’s walked in, carrying trays and a big muffled teapot. When the glasses had been filled and there was a strong smell of cinnamon and clove in the air, the door opened again, and there came into the pavilion a beardless young policeman whose nose was crimson, and who was covered all over with frost; he went up to the governor, and, saluting, said: “Her Excellency told me to inform you that she has gone home.”

Looking at the way the policeman put his stiff, frozen fingers to his cap, looking at his nose, his lustreless eyes, and his hood covered with white frost near the mouth, they all for some reason felt that this policeman’s heart must be aching, that his stomach must feel pinched, and his soul numb. . . .

“I say,” said the governor hesitatingly, “have a drink of mulled wine!”

“It’s all right . . . it’s all right! Drink it up!” the mayor urged him, gesticulating; “don’t be shy!”

The policeman took the glass in both hands, moved aside, and, trying to drink without making any sound, began discreetly sipping from the glass. He drank and was overwhelmed with embarrassment while the old men looked at him in silence, and they all fancied that the pain was leaving the young policeman’s heart, and that his soul was thawing. The governor heaved a sigh.

“It’s time we were at home,” he said, getting up. “Good-bye! I say,” he added, addressing the policeman, “tell the musicians there to . . . leave off playing, and ask Pavel Semyonovitch from me to see they are given . . . beer or vodka.”

The governor and the bishop said good-bye to the mayor and went out of the pavilion.

Yegor Ivanitch attacked the mulled wine, and before the policeman had finished his glass succeeded in telling him a great many interesting things. He could not be silent.


A SLANDER

SERGE KAPITONICH AHINEEV, the writing master, was marrying his daughter to the teacher of history and geography. The wedding festivities were going off most successfully. In the drawing room there was singing, playing, and dancing. Waiters hired from the club were flitting distractedly about the rooms, dressed in black swallow-tails and dirty white ties. There was a continual hubbub and din of conversation. Sitting side by side on the sofa, the teacher of mathematics, Tarantulov, the French teacher, Pasdequoi, and the junior assessor of taxes, Mzda, were talking hurriedly and interrupting one another as they described to the guests cases of persons being buried alive, and gave their opinions on spiritualism. None of them believed in spiritualism, but all admitted that there were many things in this world which would always be beyond the mind of man. In the next room the literature master, Dodonsky, was explaining to the visitors the cases in which a sentry has the right to fire on passers-by. The subjects, as you perceive, were alarming, but very agreeable. Persons whose social position precluded them from entering were looking in at the windows from the yard.

Just at midnight the master of the house went into the kitchen to see whether everything was ready for supper. The kitchen from floor to ceiling was filled with fumes composed of goose, duck, and many other odours. On two tables the accessories, the drinks and light refreshments, were set out in artistic disorder. The cook, Marfa, a red-faced woman whose figure was like a barrel with a belt around it, was bustling about the tables.

“Show me the sturgeon, Marfa,” said Ahineev, rubbing his hands and licking his lips. “What a perfume! I could eat up the whole kitchen. Come, show me the sturgeon.”

Marfa went up to one of the benches and cautiously lifted a piece of greasy newspaper. Under the paper on an immense dish there reposed a huge sturgeon, masked in jelly and decorated with capers, olives, and carrots. Ahineev gazed at the sturgeon and gasped. His face beamed, he turned his eyes up. He bent down and with his lips emitted the sound of an ungreased wheel. After standing a moment he snapped his fingers with delight and once more smacked his lips.

“Ah-ah! the sound of a passionate kiss. . . . Who is it you’re kissing out there, little Marfa?” came a voice from the next room, and in the doorway there appeared the cropped head of the assistant usher, Vankin. “Who is it? A-a-h! . . . Delighted to meet you! Sergei Kapitonich! You’re a fine grandfather, I must say! Tête-à-tête with the fair sex—tette!”

“I’m not kissing,” said Ahineev in confusion. “Who told you so, you fool? I was only . . . I smacked my lips . . . in reference to . . . as an indication of . . . pleasure . . . at the sight of the fish.”

“Tell that to the marines!” The intrusive face vanished, wearing a broad grin.

Ahineev flushed.

“Hang it!” he thought, “the beast will go now and talk scandal. He’ll disgrace me to all the town, the brute.”

Ahineev went timidly into the drawing-room and looked stealthily round for Vankin. Vankin was standing by the piano, and, bending down with a jaunty air, was whispering something to the inspector’s sister-in-law, who was laughing.

“Talking about me!” thought Ahineev. “About me, blast him! And she believes it . . . believes it! She laughs! Mercy on us! No, I can’t let it pass . . . I can’t. I must do something to prevent his being believed. . . . I’ll speak to them all, and he’ll be shown up for a fool and a gossip.”

Ahineev scratched his head, and still overcome with embarrassment, went up to Pasdequoi.

“I’ve just been in the kitchen to see after the supper,” he said to the Frenchman. “I know you are fond of fish, and I’ve a sturgeon, my dear fellow, beyond everything! A yard and a half long! Ha, ha, ha! And, by the way . . . I was just forgetting. . . . In the kitchen just now, with that sturgeon . . . quite a little story! I went into the kitchen just now and wanted to look at the supper dishes. I looked at the sturgeon and I smacked my lips with relish . . . at the piquancy of it. And at the very moment that fool Vankin came in and said: . . . ‘Ha, ha, ha! . . . So you’re kissing here!’ Kissing Marfa, the cook! What a thing to imagine, silly fool! The woman is a perfect fright, like all the beasts put together, and he talks about kissing! Queer fish!”

“Who’s a queer fish?” asked Tarantulov, coming up.

“Why he, over there—Vankin! I went into the kitchen . . .”

And he told the story of Vankin. “. . . He amused me, queer fish! I’d rather kiss a dog than Marfa, if you ask me,” added Ahineev. He looked round and saw behind him Mzda.

“We were talking of Vankin,” he said. “Queer fish, he is! He went into the kitchen, saw me beside Marfa, and began inventing all sorts of silly stories. ‘Why are you kissing?’ he says. He must have had a drop too much. ‘And I’d rather kiss a turkeycock than Marfa,’ I said, ‘And I’ve a wife of my own, you fool,’ said I. He did amuse me!”

“Who amused you?” asked the priest who taught Scripture in the school, going up to Ahineev.

“Vankin. I was standing in the kitchen, you know, looking at the sturgeon. . . .”

And so on. Within half an hour or so all the guests knew the incident of the sturgeon and Vankin.

“Let him tell away now!” thought Ahineev, rubbing his hands. “Let him! He’ll begin telling his story and they’ll say to him at once, ‘Enough of your improbable nonsense, you fool, we know all about it!’”

And Ahineev was so relieved that in his joy he drank four glasses too many. After escorting the young people to their room, he went to bed and slept like an innocent babe, and next day he thought no more of the incident with the sturgeon. But, alas! man proposes, but God disposes. An evil tongue did its evil work, and Ahineev’s strategy was of no avail. Just a week later—to be precise, on Wednesday after the third lesson—when Ahineev was standing in the middle of the teacher’s room, holding forth on the vicious propensities of a boy called Visekin, the head master went up to him and drew him aside:

“Look here, Sergei Kapitonich,” said the head master, “you must excuse me. . . . It’s not my business; but all the same I must make you realize. . . . It’s my duty. You see, there are rumors that you are romancing with that . . . cook. . . . It’s nothing to do with me, but . . . flirt with her, kiss her . . . as you please, but don’t let it be so public, please. I entreat you! Don’t forget that you’re a schoolmaster.”

Ahineev turned cold and faint. He went home like a man stung by a whole swarm of bees, like a man scalded with boiling water. As he walked home, it seemed to him that the whole town was looking at him as though he were smeared with pitch. At home fresh trouble awaited him.

“Why aren’t you gobbling up your food as usual?” his wife asked him at dinner. “What are you so pensive about? Brooding over your amours? Pining for your Marfa? I know all about it, Mohammedan! Kind friends have opened my eyes! O-o-o! . . . you savage!”

And she slapped him in the face. He got up from the table, not feeling the earth under his feet, and without his hat or coat, made his way to Vankin. He found him at home.

“You scoundrel!” he addressed him. “Why have you covered me with mud before all the town? Why did you set this slander going about me?”

“What slander? What are you talking about?”

“Who was it gossiped of my kissing Marfa? Wasn’t it you? Tell me that. Wasn’t it you, you brigand?”

Vankin blinked and twitched in every fibre of his battered countenance, raised his eyes to the icon and articulated, “God blast me! Strike me blind and lay me out, if I said a single word about you! May I be left without house and home, may I be stricken with worse than cholera!”

Vankin’s sincerity did not admit of doubt. It was evidently not he who was the author of the slander.

“But who, then, who?” Ahineev wondered, going over all his acquaintances in his mind and beating himself on the breast. “Who, then?”

Who, then? We, too, ask the reader.


MINDS IN FERMENT

(FROM THE ANNALS OF A TOWN)

THE earth was like an oven. The afternoon sun blazed with such energy that even the thermometer hanging in the excise officer’s room lost its head: it ran up to 112.5 and stopped there, irresolute. The inhabitants streamed with perspiration like overdriven horses, and were too lazy to mop their faces.

Two of the inhabitants were walking along the market-place in front of the closely shuttered houses. One was Potcheshihin, the local treasury clerk, and the other was Optimov, the agent, for many years a correspondent of the Son of the Fatherland newspaper. They walked in silence, speechless from the heat. Optimov felt tempted to find fault with the local authorities for the dust and disorder of the market-place, but, aware of the peace-loving disposition and moderate views of his companion, he said nothing.

In the middle of the market-place Potcheshihin suddenly halted and began gazing into the sky.

“What are you looking at?”

“Those starlings that flew up. I wonder where they have settled. Clouds and clouds of them. . . . If one were to go and take a shot at them, and if one were to pick them up . . . and if . . . They have settled in the Father Prebendary’s garden!”

“Oh no! They are not in the Father Prebendary’s, they are in the Father Deacon’s. If you did have a shot at them from here you wouldn’t kill anything. Fine shot won’t carry so far; it loses its force. And why should you kill them, anyway? They’re birds destructive of the fruit, that’s true; still, they’re fowls of the air, works of the Lord. The starling sings, you know. . . . And what does it sing, pray? A song of praise. . . . ‘All ye fowls of the air, praise ye the Lord.’ No. I do believe they have settled in the Father Prebendary’s garden.”

Three old pilgrim women, wearing bark shoes and carrying wallets, passed noiselessly by the speakers. Looking enquiringly at the gentlemen who were for some unknown reason staring at the Father Prebendary’s house, they slackened their pace, and when they were a few yards off stopped, glanced at the friends once more, and then fell to gazing at the house themselves.

“Yes, you were right; they have settled in the Father Prebendary’s,” said Optimov. “His cherries are ripe now, so they have gone there to peck them.”

From the garden gate emerged the Father Prebendary himself, accompanied by the sexton. Seeing the attention directed upon his abode and wondering what people were staring at, he stopped, and he, too, as well as the sexton, began looking upwards to find out.

“The father is going to a service somewhere, I suppose,” said Potcheshihin. “The Lord be his succour!”

Some workmen from Purov’s factory, who had been bathing in the river, passed between the friends and the priest. Seeing the latter absorbed in contemplation of the heavens and the pilgrim women, too, standing motionless with their eyes turned upwards, they stood still and stared in the same direction.

A small boy leading a blind beggar and a peasant, carrying a tub of stinking fish to throw into the market-place, did the same.

“There must be something the matter, I should think,” said Potcheshihin, “a fire or something. But there’s no sign of smoke anywhere. Hey! Kuzma!” he shouted to the peasant, “what’s the matter?”

The peasant made some reply, but Potcheshihin and Optimov did not catch it. Sleepy-looking shopmen made their appearance at the doors of all the shops. Some plasterers at work on a warehouse near left their ladders and joined the workmen.

The fireman, who was describing circles with his bare feet, on the watch-tower, halted, and, after looking steadily at them for a few minutes, came down. The watch-tower was left deserted. This seemed suspicious.

“There must be a fire somewhere. Don’t shove me! You damned swine!”

“Where do you see the fire? What fire? Pass on, gentlemen! I ask you civilly!”

“It must be a fire indoors!”

“Asks us civilly and keeps poking with his elbows. Keep your hands to yourself! Though you are a head constable, you have no sort of right to make free with your fists!”

“He’s trodden on my corn! Ah! I’ll crush you!”

“Crushed? Who’s crushed? Lads! a man’s been crushed!

“What’s the meaning of this crowd? What do you want?”

“A man’s been crushed, please your honour!”

“Where? Pass on! I ask you civilly! I ask you civilly, you blockheads!”

“You may shove a peasant, but you daren’t touch a gentleman! Hands off!”

“Did you ever know such people? There’s no doing anything with them by fair words, the devils! Sidorov, run for Akim Danilitch! Look sharp! It’ll be the worse for you, gentlemen! Akim Danilitch is coming, and he’ll give it to you! You here, Parfen? A blind man, and at his age too! Can’t see, but he must be like other people and won’t do what he’s told. Smirnov, put his name down!”

“Yes, sir! And shall I write down the men from Purov’s? That man there with the swollen cheek, he’s from Purov’s works.”

“Don’t put down the men from Purov’s. It’s Purov’s birthday to-morrow.”

The starlings rose in a black cloud from the Father Prebendary’s garden, but Potcheshihin and Optimov did not notice them. They stood staring into the air, wondering what could have attracted such a crowd, and what it was looking at.

Akim Danilitch appeared. Still munching and wiping his lips, he cut his way into the crowd, bellowing:

“Firemen, be ready! Disperse! Mr. Optimov, disperse, or it’ll be the worse for you! Instead of writing all kinds of things about decent people in the papers, you had better try to behave yourself more conformably! No good ever comes of reading the papers!”

“Kindly refrain from reflections upon literature!” cried Optimov hotly. “I am a literary man, and I will allow no one to make reflections upon literature! though, as is the duty of a citizen, I respect you as a father and benefactor!”

“Firemen, turn the hose on them!”

“There’s no water, please your honour!”

“Don’t answer me! Go and get some! Look sharp!”

“We’ve nothing to get it in, your honour. The major has taken the fire-brigade horses to drive his aunt to the station.”

“Disperse! Stand back, damnation take you! Is that to your taste? Put him down, the devil!”

“I’ve lost my pencil, please your honour!”

The crowd grew larger and larger. There is no telling what proportions it might have reached if the new organ just arrived from Moscow had not fortunately begun playing in the tavern close by. Hearing their favourite tune, the crowd gasped and rushed off to the tavern. So nobody ever knew why the crowd had assembled, and Potcheshihin and Optimov had by now forgotten the existence of the starlings who were innocently responsible for the proceedings.

An hour later the town was still and silent again, and only a solitary figure was to be seen—the fireman pacing round and round on the watch-tower.

The same evening Akim Danilitch sat in the grocer’s shop drinking limonade gaseuse and brandy, and writing:

“In addition to the official report, I venture, your Excellency, to append a few supplementary observations of my own. Father and benefactor! In very truth, but for the prayers of your virtuous spouse in her salubrious villa near our town, there’s no knowing what might not have come to pass. What I have been through to-day I can find no words to express. The efficiency of Krushensky and of the major of the fire brigade are beyond all praise! I am proud of such devoted servants of our country! As for me, I did all that a weak man could do, whose only desire is the welfare of his neighbour; and sitting now in the bosom of my family, with tears in my eyes I thank Him Who spared us bloodshed! In absence of evidence, the guilty parties remain in custody, but I propose to release them in a week or so. It was their ignorance that led them astray!”


GONE ASTRAY

A COUNTRY village wrapped in the darkness of night. One o’clock strikes from the belfry. Two lawyers, called Kozyavkin and Laev, both in the best of spirits and a little unsteady on their legs, come out of the wood and turn towards the cottages.

“Well, thank God, we’ve arrived,” says Kozyavkin, drawing a deep breath. “Tramping four miles from the station in our condition is a feat. I am fearfully done up! And, as ill-luck would have it, not a fly to be seen.”

“Petya, my dear fellow. . . . I can’t. . . . I feel like dying if I’m not in bed in five minutes.”

“In bed! Don’t you think it, my boy! First we’ll have supper and a glass of red wine, and then you can go to bed. Verotchka and I will wake you up. . . . Ah, my dear fellow, it’s a fine thing to be married! You don’t understand it, you cold-hearted wretch! I shall be home in a minute, worn out and exhausted. . . . A loving wife will welcome me, give me some tea and something to eat, and repay me for my hard work and my love with such a fond and loving look out of her darling black eyes that I shall forget how tired I am, and forget the burglary and the law courts and the appeal division . . . . It’s glorious!”

“Yes—I say, I feel as though my legs were dropping off, I can scarcely get along. . . . I am frightfully thirsty. . . .”

“Well, here we are at home.”

The friends go up to one of the cottages, and stand still under the nearest window.

“It’s a jolly cottage,” said Kozyavkin. “You will see to-morrow what views we have! There’s no light in the windows. Verotchka must have gone to bed, then; she must have got tired of sitting up. She’s in bed, and must be worrying at my not having turned up.” (He pushes the window with his stick, and it opens.) “Plucky girl! She goes to bed without bolting the window.” (He takes off his cape and flings it with his portfolio in at the window.) “I am hot! Let us strike up a serenade and make her laugh!” (He sings.) “The moon floats in the midnight sky. . . . Faintly stir the tender breezes . . . . Faintly rustle in the treetops. . . . Sing, sing, Alyosha! Verotchka, shall we sing you Schubert’s Serenade?” (He sings.)

His performance is cut short by a sudden fit of coughing. “Tphoo! Verotchka, tell Aksinya to unlock the gate for us!” (A pause.) “Verotchka! don’t be lazy, get up, darling!” (He stands on a stone and looks in at the window.) “Verotchka, my dumpling; Verotchka, my poppet . . . my little angel, my wife beyond compare, get up and tell Aksinya to unlock the gate for us! You are not asleep, you know. Little wife, we are really so done up and exhausted that we’re not in the mood for jokes. We’ve trudged all the way from the station! Don’t you hear? Ah, hang it all!” (He makes an effort to climb up to the window and falls down.) “You know this isn’t a nice trick to play on a visitor! I see you are just as great a schoolgirl as ever, Vera, you are always up to mischief!”

“Perhaps Vera Stepanovna is asleep,” says Laev.

“She isn’t asleep! I bet she wants me to make an outcry and wake up the whole neighbourhood. I’m beginning to get cross, Vera! Ach, damn it all! Give me a leg up, Alyosha; I’ll get in. You are a naughty girl, nothing but a regular schoolgirl. . . Give me a hoist.”

Puffing and panting, Laev gives him a leg up, and Kozyavkin climbs in at the window and vanishes into the darkness within.

“Vera!” Laev hears a minute later, “where are you? . . . D—damnation! Tphoo! I’ve put my hand into something! Tphoo!”

There is a rustling sound, a flapping of wings, and the desperate cackling of a fowl.

“A nice state of things,” Laev hears. “Vera, where on earth did these chickens come from? Why, the devil, there’s no end of them! There’s a basket with a turkey in it. . . . It pecks, the nasty creature.”

Two hens fly out of the window, and cackling at the top of their voices, flutter down the village street.

“Alyosha, we’ve made a mistake!” says Kozyavkin in a lachrymose voice. “There are a lot of hens here. . . . I must have mistaken the house. Confound you, you are all over the place, you cursed brutes!”

“Well, then, make haste and come down. Do you hear? I am dying of thirst!”

“In a minute. . . . I am looking for my cape and portfolio.”

“Light a match.”

“The matches are in the cape. . . . I was a crazy idiot to get into this place. The cottages are exactly alike; the devil himself couldn’t tell them apart in the dark. Aie, the turkey’s pecked my cheek, nasty creature!”

“Make haste and get out or they’ll think we are stealing the chickens.”

“In a minute. . . . I can’t find my cape anywhere. . . . There are lots of old rags here, and I can’t tell where the cape is. Throw me a match.”

“I haven’t any.”

“We are in a hole, I must say! What am I to do? I can’t go without my cape and my portfolio. I must find them.”

“I can’t understand a man’s not knowing his own cottage,” says Laev indignantly. “Drunken beast. . . . If I’d known I was in for this sort of thing I would never have come with you. I should have been at home and fast asleep by now, and a nice fix I’m in here. . . . I’m fearfully done up and thirsty, and my head is going round.”

“In a minute, in a minute. . . . You won’t expire.”

A big cock flies crowing over Laev’s head. Laev heaves a deep sigh, and with a hopeless gesture sits down on a stone. He is beset with a burning thirst, his eyes are closing, his head drops forward. . . . Five minutes pass, ten, twenty, and Kozyavkin is still busy among the hens.

“Petya, will you be long?”

“A minute. I found the portfolio, but I have lost it again.”

Laev lays his head on his fists, and closes his eyes. The cackling of the fowls grows louder and louder. The inhabitants of the empty cottage fly out of the window and flutter round in circles, he fancies, like owls over his head. His ears ring with their cackle, he is overwhelmed with terror.

“The beast!” he thinks. “He invited me to stay, promising me wine and junket, and then he makes me walk from the station and listen to these hens. . . .”

In the midst of his indignation his chin sinks into his collar, he lays his head on his portfolio, and gradually subsides. Weariness gets the upper hand and he begins to doze.

“I’ve found the portfolio!” he hears Kozyavkin cry triumphantly. “I shall find the cape in a minute and then off we go!”

Then through his sleep he hears the barking of dogs. First one dog barks, then a second, and a third. . . . And the barking of the dogs blends with the cackling of the fowls into a sort of savage music. Someone comes up to Laev and asks him something. Then he hears someone climb over his head into the window, then a knocking and a shouting. . . . A woman in a red apron stands beside him with a lantern in her hand and asks him something.

“You’ve no right to say so,” he hears Kozyavkin’s voice. “I am a lawyer, a bachelor of laws—Kozyavkin—here’s my visiting card.”

“What do I want with your card?” says someone in a husky bass. “You’ve disturbed all my fowls, you’ve smashed the eggs! Look what you’ve done. The turkey poults were to have come out to-day or to-morrow, and you’ve smashed them. What’s the use of your giving me your card, sir?”

“How dare you interfere with me! No! I won’t have it!”

“I am thirsty,” thinks Laev, trying to open his eyes, and he feels somebody climb down from the window over his head.

“My name is Kozyavkin! I have a cottage here. Everyone knows me.”

“We don’t know anyone called Kozyavkin.”

“What are you saying? Call the elder. He knows me.”

“Don’t get excited, the constable will be here directly. . . . We know all the summer visitors here, but I’ve never seen you in my life.”

“I’ve had a cottage in Rottendale for five years.”

“Whew! Do you take this for the Dale? This is Sicklystead, but Rottendale is farther to the right, beyond the match factory. It’s three miles from here.”

“Bless my soul! Then I’ve taken the wrong turning!”

The cries of men and fowls mingle with the barking of dogs, and the voice of Kozyavkin rises above the chaos of confused sounds:

“You shut up! I’ll pay. I’ll show you whom you have to deal with!”

Little by little the voices die down. Laev feels himself being shaken by the shoulder. . . .


AN AVENGER

SHORTLY after finding his wife in flagrante delicto Fyodor Fyodorovitch Sigaev was standing in Schmuck and Co.‘s, the gunsmiths, selecting a suitable revolver. His countenance expressed wrath, grief, and unalterable determination.

“I know what I must do,” he was thinking. “The sanctities of the home are outraged, honour is trampled in the mud, vice is triumphant, and therefore as a citizen and a man of honour I must be their avenger. First, I will kill her and her lover and then myself.”

He had not yet chosen a revolver or killed anyone, but already in imagination he saw three bloodstained corpses, broken skulls, brains oozing from them, the commotion, the crowd of gaping spectators, the post-mortem. . . . With the malignant joy of an insulted man he pictured the horror of the relations and the public, the agony of the traitress, and was mentally reading leading articles on the destruction of the traditions of the home.

The shopman, a sprightly little Frenchified figure with rounded belly and white waistcoat, displayed the revolvers, and smiling respectfully and scraping with his little feet observed:

“. . . I would advise you, M’sieur, to take this superb revolver, the Smith and Wesson pattern, the last word in the science of firearms: triple-action, with ejector, kills at six hundred paces, central sight. Let me draw your attention, M’sieu, to the beauty of the finish. The most fashionable system, M’sieu. We sell a dozen every day for burglars, wolves, and lovers. Very correct and powerful action, hits at a great distance, and kills wife and lover with one bullet. As for suicide, M’sieu, I don’t know a better pattern.”

The shopman pulled and cocked the trigger, breathed on the barrel, took aim, and affected to be breathless with delight. Looking at his ecstatic countenance, one might have supposed that he would readily have put a bullet through his brains if he had only possessed a revolver of such a superb pattern as a Smith-Wesson.

“And what price?” asked Sigaev.

“Forty-five roubles, M’sieu.”

“Mm! . . . that’s too dear for me.”

“In that case, M’sieu, let me offer you another make, somewhat cheaper. Here, if you’ll kindly look, we have an immense choice, at all prices. . . . Here, for instance, this revolver of the Lefaucher pattern costs only eighteen roubles, but . . .” (the shopman pursed up his face contemptuously) “. . . but, M’sieu, it’s an old-fashioned make. They are only bought by hysterical ladies or the mentally deficient. To commit suicide or shoot one’s wife with a Lefaucher revolver is considered bad form nowadays. Smith-Wesson is the only pattern that’s correct style.”

“I don’t want to shoot myself or to kill anyone,” said Sigaev, lying sullenly. “I am buying it simply for a country cottage . . . to frighten away burglars. . . .”

“That’s not our business, what object you have in buying it.” The shopman smiled, dropping his eyes discreetly. “If we were to investigate the object in each case, M’sieu, we should have to close our shop. To frighten burglars Lefaucher is not a suitable pattern, M’sieu, for it goes off with a faint, muffled sound. I would suggest Mortimer’s, the so-called duelling pistol. . . .”

“Shouldn’t I challenge him to a duel?” flashed through Sigaev’s mind. “It’s doing him too much honour, though. . . . Beasts like that are killed like dogs. . . .”

The shopman, swaying gracefully and tripping to and fro on his little feet, still smiling and chattering, displayed before him a heap of revolvers. The most inviting and impressive of all was the Smith and Wesson’s. Sigaev picked up a pistol of that pattern, gazed blankly at it, and sank into brooding. His imagination pictured how he would blow out their brains, how blood would flow in streams over the rug and the parquet, how the traitress’s legs would twitch in her last agony. . . . But that was not enough for his indignant soul. The picture of blood, wailing, and horror did not satisfy him. He must think of something more terrible.

“I know! I’ll kill myself and him,” he thought, “but I’ll leave her alive. Let her pine away from the stings of conscience and the contempt of all surrounding her. For a sensitive nature like hers that will be far more agonizing than death.”

And he imagined his own funeral: he, the injured husband, lies in his coffin with a gentle smile on his lips, and she, pale, tortured by remorse, follows the coffin like a Niobe, not knowing where to hide herself to escape from the withering, contemptuous looks cast upon her by the indignant crowd.

“I see, M’sieu, that you like the Smith and Wesson make,” the shopman broke in upon his broodings. “If you think it too dear, very well, I’ll knock off five roubles. . . . But we have other makes, cheaper.”

The little Frenchified figure turned gracefully and took down another dozen cases of revolvers from the shelf.

“Here, M’sieu, price thirty roubles. That’s not expensive, especially as the rate of exchange has dropped terribly and the Customs duties are rising every hour. M’sieu, I vow I am a Conservative, but even I am beginning to murmur. Why, with the rate of exchange and the Customs tariff, only the rich can purchase firearms. There’s nothing left for the poor but Tula weapons and phosphorus matches, and Tula weapons are a misery! You may aim at your wife with a Tula revolver and shoot yourself through the shoulder-blade.”

Sigaev suddenly felt mortified and sorry that he would be dead, and would miss seeing the agonies of the traitress. Revenge is only sweet when one can see and taste its fruits, and what sense would there be in it if he were lying in his coffin, knowing nothing about it?

“Hadn’t I better do this?” he pondered. “I’ll kill him, then I’ll go to his funeral and look on, and after the funeral I’ll kill myself. They’d arrest me, though, before the funeral, and take away my pistol. . . . And so I’ll kill him, she shall remain alive, and I . . . for the time, I’ll not kill myself, but go and be arrested. I shall always have time to kill myself. There will be this advantage about being arrested, that at the preliminary investigation I shall have an opportunity of exposing to the authorities and to the public all the infamy of her conduct. If I kill myself she may, with her characteristic duplicity and impudence, throw all the blame on me, and society will justify her behaviour and will very likely laugh at me. . . . If I remain alive, then . . .”

A minute later he was thinking:

“Yes, if I kill myself I may be blamed and suspected of petty feeling. . . . Besides, why should I kill myself? That’s one thing. And for another, to shoot oneself is cowardly. And so I’ll kill him and let her live, and I’ll face my trial. I shall be tried, and she will be brought into court as a witness. . . . I can imagine her confusion, her disgrace when she is examined by my counsel! The sympathies of the court, of the Press, and of the public will certainly be with me.”

While he deliberated the shopman displayed his wares, and felt it incumbent upon him to entertain his customer.

“Here are English ones, a new pattern, only just received,” he prattled on. “But I warn you, M’sieu, all these systems pale beside the Smith and Wesson. The other day—as I dare say you have read—an officer bought from us a Smith and Wesson. He shot his wife’s lover, and-would you believe it?—the bullet passed through him, pierced the bronze lamp, then the piano, and ricochetted back from the piano, killing the lap-dog and bruising the wife. A magnificent record redounding to the honour of our firm! The officer is now under arrest. He will no doubt be convicted and sent to penal servitude. In the first place, our penal code is quite out of date; and, secondly, M’sieu, the sympathies of the court are always with the lover. Why is it? Very simple, M’sieu. The judges and the jury and the prosecutor and the counsel for the defence are all living with other men’s wives, and it’ll add to their comfort that there will be one husband the less in Russia. Society would be pleased if the Government were to send all the husbands to Sahalin. Oh, M’sieu, you don’t know how it excites my indignation to see the corruption of morals nowadays. To love other men’s wives is as much the regular thing to-day as to smoke other men’s cigarettes and to read other men’s books. Every year our trade gets worse and worse—it doesn’t mean that wives are more faithful, but that husbands resign themselves to their position and are afraid of the law and penal servitude.”

The shopman looked round and whispered: “And whose fault is it, M’sieu? The Government’s.”

“To go to Sahalin for the sake of a pig like that—there’s no sense in that either,” Sigaev pondered. “If I go to penal servitude it will only give my wife an opportunity of marrying again and deceiving a second husband. She would triumph. . . . And so I will leave her alive, I won’t kill myself, him . . . I won’t kill either. I must think of something more sensible and more effective. I will punish them with my contempt, and will take divorce proceedings that will make a scandal.”

“Here, M’sieu, is another make,” said the shopman, taking down another dozen from the shelf. “Let me call your attention to the original mechanism of the lock.”

In view of his determination a revolver was now of no use to Sigaev, but the shopman, meanwhile, getting more and more enthusiastic, persisted in displaying his wares before him. The outraged husband began to feel ashamed that the shopman should be taking so much trouble on his account for nothing, that he should be smiling, wasting time, displaying enthusiasm for nothing.

“Very well, in that case,” he muttered, “I’ll look in again later on . . . or I’ll send someone.”

He didn’t see the expression of the shopman’s face, but to smooth over the awkwardness of the position a little he felt called upon to make some purchase. But what should he buy? He looked round the walls of the shop to pick out something inexpensive, and his eyes rested on a green net hanging near the door.

“That’s . . . what’s that?” he asked.

“That’s a net for catching quails.”

“And what price is it?”

“Eight roubles, M’sieu.”

“Wrap it up for me. . . .”

The outraged husband paid his eight roubles, took the net, and, feeling even more outraged, walked out of the shop.


THE JEUNE PREMIER

YEVGENY ALEXEYITCH PODZHAROV, the jeune premier, a graceful, elegant young man with an oval face and little bags under his eyes, had come for the season to one of the southern towns of Russia, and tried at once to make the acquaintance of a few of the leading families of the place. “Yes, signor,” he would often say, gracefully swinging his foot and displaying his red socks, “an artist ought to act upon the masses, both directly and indirectly; the first aim is attained by his work on the stage, the second by an acquaintance with the local inhabitants. On my honour, parole d’honneur, I don’t understand why it is we actors avoid making acquaintance with local families. Why is it? To say nothing of dinners, name-day parties, feasts, soirées fixes, to say nothing of these entertainments, think of the moral influence we may have on society! Is it not agreeable to feel one has dropped a spark in some thick skull? The types one meets! The women! Mon Dieu, what women! they turn one’s head! One penetrates into some huge merchant’s house, into the sacred retreats, and picks out some fresh and rosy little peach—it’s heaven, parole d’honneur!

In the southern town, among other estimable families he made the acquaintance of that of a manufacturer called Zybaev. Whenever he remembers that acquaintance now he frowns contemptuously, screws up his eyes, and nervously plays with his watch-chain.

One day—it was at a name-day party at Zybaev’s—the actor was sitting in his new friends’ drawing-room and holding forth as usual. Around him “types” were sitting in armchairs and on the sofa, listening affably; from the next room came feminine laughter and the sounds of evening tea. . . . Crossing his legs, after each phrase sipping tea with rum in it, and trying to assume an expression of careless boredom, he talked of his stage triumphs.

“I am a provincial actor principally,” he said, smiling condescendingly, “but I have played in Petersburg and Moscow too. . . . By the way, I will describe an incident which illustrates pretty well the state of mind of to-day. At my benefit in Moscow the young people brought me such a mass of laurel wreaths that I swear by all I hold sacred I did not know where to put them! Parole d’honneur! Later on, at a moment when funds were short, I took the laurel wreaths to the shop, and . . . guess what they weighed. Eighty pounds altogether. Ha, ha! you can’t think how useful the money was. Artists, indeed, are often hard up. To-day I have hundreds, thousands, tomorrow nothing. . . . To-day I haven’t a crust of bread, to-morrow I have oysters and anchovies, hang it all!”

The local inhabitants sipped their glasses decorously and listened. The well-pleased host, not knowing how to make enough of his cultured and interesting visitor, presented to him a distant relative who had just arrived, one Pavel Ignatyevitch Klimov, a bulky gentleman about forty, wearing a long frock-coat and very full trousers.

“You ought to know each other,” said Zybaev as he presented Klimov; “he loves theatres, and at one time used to act himself. He has an estate in the Tula province.”

Podzharov and Klimov got into conversation. It appeared, to the great satisfaction of both, that the Tula landowner lived in the very town in which the jeune premier had acted for two seasons in succession. Enquiries followed about the town, about common acquaintances, and about the theatre. . . .

“Do you know, I like that town awfully,” said the jeune premier, displaying his red socks. “What streets, what a charming park, and what society! Delightful society!”

“Yes, delightful society,” the landowner assented.

“A commercial town, but extremely cultured. . . . For instance, er-er-er . . . the head master of the high school, the public prosecutor . . . the officers. . . . The police captain, too, was not bad, a man, as the French say, enchanté, and the women, Allah, what women!”

“Yes, the women . . . certainly. . . .”

“Perhaps I am partial; the fact is that in your town, I don’t know why, I was devilishly lucky with the fair sex! I could write a dozen novels. To take this episode, for instance. . . . I was staying in Yegoryevsky Street, in the very house where the Treasury is. . . .”

“The red house without stucco?”

“Yes, yes . . . without stucco. . . . Close by, as I remember now, lived a local beauty, Varenka. . . .”

“Not Varvara Nikolayevna?” asked Klimov, and he beamed with satisfaction. “She really is a beauty . . . the most beautiful girl in the town.”

“The most beautiful girl in the town! A classic profile, great black eyes . . . . and hair to her waist! She saw me in ‘Hamlet,’ she wrote me a letter à la Pushkin’s ‘Tatyana.’ . . . I answered, as you may guess. . . .”

Podzharov looked round, and having satisfied himself that there were no ladies in the room, rolled his eyes, smiled mournfully, and heaved a sigh.

“I came home one evening after a performance,” he whispered, “and there she was, sitting on my sofa. There followed tears, protestations of love, kisses. . . . Oh, that was a marvellous, that was a divine night! Our romance lasted two months, but that night was never repeated. It was a night, parole d’honneur!”

“Excuse me, what’s that?” muttered Klimov, turning crimson and gazing open-eyed at the actor. “I know Varvara Nikolayevna well: she’s my niece.”

Podzharov was embarrassed, and he, too, opened his eyes wide.

“How’s this?” Klimov went on, throwing up his hands. “I know the girl, and . . . and . . . I am surprised. . . .”

“I am very sorry this has come up,” muttered the actor, getting up and rubbing something out of his left eye with his little finger. “Though, of course . . . of course, you as her uncle . . .”

The other guests, who had hitherto been listening to the actor with pleasure and rewarding him with smiles, were embarrassed and dropped their eyes.

“Please, do be so good . . . take your words back . . .” said Klimov in extreme embarrassment. “I beg you to do so!”

“If . . . er-er-er . . . it offends you, certainly,” answered the actor, with an undefined movement of his hand.

“And confess you have told a falsehood.”

“I, no . . . er-er-er. . . . It was not a lie, but I greatly regret having spoken too freely. . . . And, in fact . . . I don’t understand your tone!”

Klimov walked up and down the room in silence, as though in uncertainty and hesitation. His fleshy face grew more and more crimson, and the veins in his neck swelled up. After walking up and down for about two minutes he went up to the actor and said in a tearful voice:

“No, do be so good as to confess that you told a lie about Varenka! Have the goodness to do so!”

“It’s queer,” said the actor, with a strained smile, shrugging his shoulders and swinging his leg. “This is positively insulting!”

“So you will not confess it?”

“I do-on’t understand!”

“You will not? In that case, excuse me . . . I shall have to resort to unpleasant measures. Either, sir, I shall insult you at once on the spot, or . . . if you are an honourable man, you will kindly accept my challenge to a duel. . . . We will fight!”

“Certainly!” rapped out the jeune premier, with a contemptuous gesture. “Certainly.”

Extremely perturbed, the guests and the host, not knowing what to do, drew Klimov aside and began begging him not to get up a scandal. Astonished feminine countenances appeared in the doorway. . . . The jeune premier turned round, said a few words, and with an air of being unable to remain in a house where he was insulted, took his cap and made off without saying good-bye.

On his way home the jeune premier smiled contemptuously and shrugged his shoulders, but when he reached his hotel room and stretched himself on his sofa he felt exceedingly uneasy.

“The devil take him!” he thought. “A duel does not matter, he won’t kill me, but the trouble is the other fellows will hear of it, and they know perfectly well it was a yarn. It’s abominable! I shall be disgraced all over Russia. . . .”

Podzharov thought a little, smoked, and to calm himself went out into the street.

“I ought to talk to this bully, ram into his stupid noddle that he is a blockhead and a fool, and that I am not in the least afraid of him. . . .”

The jeune premier stopped before Zybaev’s house and looked at the windows. Lights were still burning behind the muslin curtains and figures were moving about.

“I’ll wait for him!” the actor decided.

It was dark and cold. A hateful autumn rain was drizzling as though through a sieve. Podzharov leaned his elbow on a lamp-post and abandoned himself to a feeling of uneasiness.

He was wet through and exhausted.

At two o’clock in the night the guests began coming out of Zybaev’s house. The landowner from Tula was the last to make his appearance. He heaved a sigh that could be heard by the whole street and scraped the pavement with his heavy overboots.

“Excuse me!” said the jeune premier, overtaking him. “One minute.”

Klimov stopped. The actor gave a smile, hesitated, and began, stammering: “I . . . I confess . . . I told a lie.”

“No, sir, you will please confess that publicly,” said Klimov, and he turned crimson again. “I can’t leave it like that. . . .”

“But you see I am apologizing! I beg you . . . don’t you understand? I beg you because you will admit a duel will make talk, and I am in a position. . . . My fellow-actors . . . goodness knows what they may think. . . .”

The jeune premier tried to appear unconcerned, to smile, to stand erect, but his body would not obey him, his voice trembled, his eyes blinked guiltily, and his head drooped. For a good while he went on muttering something. Klimov listened to him, thought a little, and heaved a sigh.

“Well, so be it,” he said. “May God forgive you. Only don’t lie in future, young man. Nothing degrades a man like lying . . . yes, indeed! You are a young man, you have had a good education. . . .”

The landowner from Tula, in a benignant, fatherly way, gave him a lecture, while the jeune premier listened and smiled meekly. . . . When it was over he smirked, bowed, and with a guilty step and a crestfallen air set off for his hotel.

As he went to bed half an hour later he felt that he was out of danger and was already in excellent spirits. Serene and satisfied that the misunderstanding had ended so satisfactorily, he wrapped himself in the bedclothes, soon fell asleep, and slept soundly till ten o’clock next morning.


A DEFENCELESS CREATURE

IN spite of a violent attack of gout in the night and the nervous exhaustion left by it, Kistunov went in the morning to his office and began punctually seeing the clients of the bank and persons who had come with petitions. He looked languid and exhausted, and spoke in a faint voice hardly above a whisper, as though he were dying.

“What can I do for you?” he asked a lady in an antediluvian mantle, whose back view was extremely suggestive of a huge dung-beetle.

“You see, your Excellency,” the petitioner in question began, speaking rapidly, “my husband Shtchukin, a collegiate assessor, was ill for five months, and while he, if you will excuse my saying so, was laid up at home, he was for no sort of reason dismissed, your Excellency; and when I went for his salary they deducted, if you please, your Excellency, twenty-four roubles thirty-six kopecks from his salary. ‘What for?’ I asked. ‘He borrowed from the club fund,’ they told me, ‘and the other clerks had stood security for him.’ How was that? How could he have borrowed it without my consent? It’s impossible, your Excellency. What’s the reason of it? I am a poor woman, I earn my bread by taking in lodgers. I am a weak, defenceless woman . . . I have to put up with ill-usage from everyone and never hear a kind word. . .”

The petitioner was blinking, and dived into her mantle for her handkerchief. Kistunov took her petition from her and began reading it.

“Excuse me, what’s this?” he asked, shrugging his shoulders. “I can make nothing of it. Evidently you have come to the wrong place, madam. Your petition has nothing to do with us at all. You will have to apply to the department in which your husband was employed.”

“Why, my dear sir, I have been to five places already, and they would not even take the petition anywhere,” said Madame Shtchukin. “I’d quite lost my head, but, thank goodness—God bless him for it—my son-in-law, Boris Matveyitch, advised me to come to you. ‘You go to Mr. Kistunov, mamma: he is an influential man, he can do anything for you. . . .’ Help me, your Excellency!”

“We can do nothing for you, Madame Shtchukin. You must understand: your husband served in the Army Medical Department, and our establishment is a purely private commercial undertaking, a bank. Surely you must understand that!”

Kistunov shrugged his shoulders again and turned to a gentleman in a military uniform, with a swollen face.

“Your Excellency,” piped Madame Shtchukin in a pitiful voice, “I have the doctor’s certificate that my husband was ill! Here it is, if you will kindly look at it.”

“Very good, I believe you,” Kistunov said irritably, “but I repeat it has nothing to do with us. It’s queer and positively absurd! Surely your husband must know where you are to apply?”

“He knows nothing, your Excellency. He keeps on: ‘It’s not your business! Get away!’—that’s all I can get out of him. . . . Whose business is it, then? It’s I have to keep them all!”

Kistunov again turned to Madame Shtchukin and began explaining to her the difference between the Army Medical Department and a private bank. She listened attentively, nodded in token of assent, and said:

“Yes . . . yes . . . yes . . . I understand, sir. In that case, your Excellency, tell them to pay me fifteen roubles at least! I agree to take part on account!”

“Ough!” sighed Kistunov, letting his head drop back. “There’s no making you see reason. Do understand that to apply to us with such a petition is as strange as to send in a petition concerning divorce, for instance, to a chemist’s or to the Assaying Board. You have not been paid your due, but what have we to do with it?”

“Your Excellency, make me remember you in my prayers for the rest of my days, have pity on a lone, lorn woman,” wailed Madame Shtchukin; “I am a weak, defenceless woman. . . . I am worried to death, I’ve to settle with the lodgers and see to my husband’s affairs and fly round looking after the house, and I am going to church every day this week, and my son-in-law is out of a job. . . . I might as well not eat or drink. . . . I can scarcely keep on my feet. . . . I haven’t slept all night. . . .”

Kistunov was conscious of the palpitation of his heart. With a face of anguish, pressing his hand on his heart, he began explaining to Madame Shtchukin again, but his voice failed him.

“No, excuse me, I cannot talk to you,” he said with a wave of his hand. “My head’s going round. You are hindering us and wasting your time. Ough! Alexey Nikolaitch,” he said, addressing one of his clerks, “please will you explain to Madame Shtchukin?”

Kistunov, passing by all the petitioners, went to his private room and signed about a dozen papers while Alexey Nikolaitch was still engaged with Madame Shtchukin. As he sat in his room Kistunov heard two voices: the monotonous, restrained bass of Alexey Nikolaitch and the shrill, wailing voice of Madame Shtchukin.

“I am a weak, defenceless woman, I am a woman in delicate health,” said Madame Shtchukin. “I look strong, but if you were to overhaul me there is not one healthy fibre in me. I can scarcely keep on my feet, and my appetite is gone. . . . I drank my cup of coffee this morning without the slightest relish. . . .”

Alexey Nikolaitch explained to her the difference between the departments and the complicated system of sending in papers. He was soon exhausted, and his place was taken by the accountant.

“A wonderfully disagreeable woman!” said Kistunov, revolted, nervously cracking his fingers and continually going to the decanter of water. “She’s a perfect idiot! She’s worn me out and she’ll exhaust them, the nasty creature! Ough! . . . my heart is throbbing.”

Half an hour later he rang his bell. Alexey Nikolaitch made his appearance.

“How are things going?” Kistunov asked languidly.

“We can’t make her see anything, Pyotr Alexandritch! We are simply done. We talk of one thing and she talks of something else.”

“I . . . I can’t stand the sound of her voice. . . . I am ill . . . . I can’t bear it.”

“Send for the porter, Pyotr Alexandritch, let him put her out.”

“No, no,” cried Kistunov in alarm. “She will set up a squeal, and there are lots of flats in this building, and goodness knows what they would think of us. . . . Do try and explain to her, my dear fellow. . . .”

A minute later the deep drone of Alexey Nikolaitch’s voice was audible again. A quarter of an hour passed, and instead of his bass there was the murmur of the accountant’s powerful tenor.

“Re-mark-ably nasty woman,” Kistunov thought indignantly, nervously shrugging his shoulders. “No more brains than a sheep. I believe that’s a twinge of the gout again. . . . My migraine is coming back. . . .”

In the next room Alexey Nikolaitch, at the end of his resources, at last tapped his finger on the table and then on his own forehead.

“The fact of the matter is you haven’t a head on your shoulders,” he said, “but this.”

“Come, come,” said the old lady, offended. “Talk to your own wife like that. . . . You screw! . . . Don’t be too free with your hands.”

And looking at her with fury, with exasperation, as though he would devour her, Alexey Nikolaitch said in a quiet, stifled voice:

“Clear out.”

“Wha-at?” squealed Madame Shtchukin. “How dare you? I am a weak, defenceless woman; I won’t endure it. My husband is a collegiate assessor. You screw! . . . I will go to Dmitri Karlitch, the lawyer, and there will be nothing left of you! I’ve had the law of three lodgers, and I will make you flop down at my feet for your saucy words! I’ll go to your general. Your Excellency, your Excellency!”

“Be off, you pest,” hissed Alexey Nikolaitch.

Kistunov opened his door and looked into the office.

“What is it?” he asked in a tearful voice.

Madame Shtchukin, as red as a crab, was standing in the middle of the room, rolling her eyes and prodding the air with her fingers. The bank clerks were standing round red in the face too, and, evidently harassed, were looking at each other distractedly.

“Your Excellency,” cried Madame Shtchukin, pouncing upon Kistunov. “Here, this man, he here . . . this man . . .” (she pointed to Alexey Nikolaitch) “tapped himself on the forehead and then tapped the table. . . . You told him to go into my case, and he’s jeering at me! I am a weak, defenceless woman. . . . My husband is a collegiate assessor, and I am a major’s daughter myself!”

“Very good, madam,” moaned Kistunov. “I will go into it . . . I will take steps. . . . Go away . . . later!”

“And when shall I get the money, your Excellency? I need it to-day!”

Kistunov passed his trembling hand over his forehead, heaved a sigh, and began explaining again.

“Madam, I have told you already this is a bank, a private commercial establishment. . . . What do you want of us? And do understand that you are hindering us.”

Madame Shtchukin listened to him and sighed.

“To be sure, to be sure,” she assented. “Only, your Excellency, do me the kindness, make me pray for you for the rest of my life, be a father, protect me! If a medical certificate is not enough I can produce an affidavit from the police. . . . Tell them to give me the money.”

Everything began swimming before Kistunov’s eyes. He breathed out all the air in his lungs in a prolonged sigh and sank helpless on a chair.

“How much do you want?” he asked in a weak voice.

“Twenty-four roubles and thirty-six kopecks.”

Kistunov took his pocket-book out of his pocket, extracted a twenty-five rouble note and gave it to Madame Shtchukin.

“Take it and . . . and go away!”

Madame Shtchukin wrapped the money up in her handkerchief, put it away, and pursing up her face into a sweet, mincing, even coquettish smile, asked:

“Your Excellency, and would it be possible for my husband to get a post again?”

“I am going . . . I am ill . . .” said Kistunov in a weary voice. “I have dreadful palpitations.”

When he had driven home Alexey Nikolaitch sent Nikita for some laurel drops, and, after taking twenty drops each, all the clerks set to work, while Madame Shtchukin stayed another two hours in the vestibule, talking to the porter and waiting for Kistunov to return. . . .

She came again next day.


AN ENIGMATIC NATURE

ON the red velvet seat of a first-class railway carriage a pretty lady sits half reclining. An expensive fluffy fan trembles in her tightly closed fingers, a pince-nez keeps dropping off her pretty little nose, the brooch heaves and falls on her bosom, like a boat on the ocean. She is greatly agitated.

On the seat opposite sits the Provincial Secretary of Special Commissions, a budding young author, who from time to time publishes long stories of high life, or “Novelli” as he calls them, in the leading paper of the province. He is gazing into her face, gazing intently, with the eyes of a connoisseur. He is watching, studying, catching every shade of this exceptional, enigmatic nature. He understands it, he fathoms it. Her soul, her whole psychology lies open before him.

“Oh, I understand, I understand you to your inmost depths!” says the Secretary of Special Commissions, kissing her hand near the bracelet. “Your sensitive, responsive soul is seeking to escape from the maze of —— Yes, the struggle is terrific, titanic. But do not lose heart, you will be triumphant! Yes!”

“Write about me, Voldemar!” says the pretty lady, with a mournful smile. “My life has been so full, so varied, so chequered. Above all, I am unhappy. I am a suffering soul in some page of Dostoevsky. Reveal my soul to the world, Voldemar. Reveal that hapless soul. You are a psychologist. We have not been in the train an hour together, and you have already fathomed my heart.”

“Tell me! I beseech you, tell me!”

“Listen. My father was a poor clerk in the Service. He had a good heart and was not without intelligence; but the spirit of the age—of his environment—vous comprenez?—I do not blame my poor father. He drank, gambled, took bribes. My mother—but why say more? Poverty, the struggle for daily bread, the consciousness of insignificance—ah, do not force me to recall it! I had to make my own way. You know the monstrous education at a boarding-school, foolish novel-reading, the errors of early youth, the first timid flutter of love. It was awful! The vacillation! And the agonies of losing faith in life, in oneself! Ah, you are an author. You know us women. You will understand. Unhappily I have an intense nature. I looked for happiness—and what happiness! I longed to set my soul free. Yes. In that I saw my happiness!”

“Exquisite creature!” murmured the author, kissing her hand close to the bracelet. “It’s not you I am kissing, but the suffering of humanity. Do you remember Raskolnikov and his kiss?”

“Oh, Voldemar, I longed for glory, renown, success, like every—why affect modesty?—every nature above the commonplace. I yearned for something extraordinary, above the common lot of woman! And then—and then—there crossed my path—an old general—very well off. Understand me, Voldemar! It was self-sacrifice, renunciation! You must see that! I could do nothing else. I restored the family fortunes, was able to travel, to do good. Yet how I suffered, how revolting, how loathsome to me were his embraces—though I will be fair to him—he had fought nobly in his day. There were moments—terrible moments—but I was kept up by the thought that from day to day the old man might die, that then I would begin to live as I liked, to give myself to the man I adore—be happy. There is such a man, Voldemar, indeed there is!”

The pretty lady flutters her fan more violently. Her face takes a lachrymose expression. She goes on:

“But at last the old man died. He left me something. I was free as a bird of the air. Now is the moment for me to be happy, isn’t it, Voldemar? Happiness comes tapping at my window, I had only to let it in—but—Voldemar, listen, I implore you! Now is the time for me to give myself to the man I love, to become the partner of his life, to help, to uphold his ideals, to be happy—to find rest—but—how ignoble, repulsive, and senseless all our life is! How mean it all is, Voldemar. I am wretched, wretched, wretched! Again there is an obstacle in my path! Again I feel that my happiness is far, far away! Ah, what anguish!—if only you knew what anguish!”

“But what—what stands in your way? I implore you tell me! What is it?”

“Another old general, very well off——”

The broken fan conceals the pretty little face. The author props on his fist his thought-heavy brow and ponders with the air of a master in psychology. The engine is whistling and hissing while the window curtains flush red with the glow of the setting sun.


A HAPPY MAN

THE passenger train is just starting from Bologoe, the junction on the Petersburg-Moscow line. In a second-class smoking compartment five passengers sit dozing, shrouded in the twilight of the carriage. They had just had a meal, and now, snugly ensconced in their seats, they are trying to go to sleep. Stillness.

The door opens and in there walks a tall, lanky figure straight as a poker, with a ginger-coloured hat and a smart overcoat, wonderfully suggestive of a journalist in Jules Verne or on the comic stage.

The figure stands still in the middle of the compartment for a long while, breathing heavily, screwing up his eyes and peering at the seats.

“No, wrong again!” he mutters. “What the deuce! It’s positively revolting! No, the wrong one again!”

One of the passengers stares at the figure and utters a shout of joy:

“Ivan Alexyevitch! what brings you here? Is it you?”

The poker-like gentleman starts, stares blankly at the passenger, and recognizing him claps his hands with delight.

“Ha! Pyotr Petrovitch,” he says. “How many summers, how many winters! I didn’t know you were in this train.”

“How are you getting on?”

“I am all right; the only thing is, my dear fellow, I’ve lost my compartment and I simply can’t find it. What an idiot I am! I ought to be thrashed!”

The poker-like gentleman sways a little unsteadily and sniggers.

“Queer things do happen!” he continues. “I stepped out just after the second bell to get a glass of brandy. I got it, of course. Well, I thought, since it’s a long way to the next station, it would be as well to have a second glass. While I was thinking about it and drinking it the third bell rang. . . . I ran like mad and jumped into the first carriage. I am an idiot! I am the son of a hen!”

“But you seem in very good spirits,” observes Pyotr Petrovitch. “Come and sit down! There’s room and a welcome.”

“No, no. . . . I’m off to look for my carriage. Good-bye!”

“You’ll fall between the carriages in the dark if you don’t look out! Sit down, and when we get to a station you’ll find your own compartment. Sit down!”

Ivan Alexyevitch heaves a sigh and irresolutely sits down facing Pyotr Petrovitch. He is visibly excited, and fidgets as though he were sitting on thorns.

“Where are you travelling to?” Pyotr Petrovitch enquires.

“I? Into space. There is such a turmoil in my head that I couldn’t tell where I am going myself. I go where fate takes me. Ha-ha! My dear fellow, have you ever seen a happy fool? No? Well, then, take a look at one. You behold the happiest of mortals! Yes! Don’t you see something from my face?”

“Well, one can see you’re a bit . . . a tiny bit so-so.”

“I dare say I look awfully stupid just now. Ach! it’s a pity I haven’t a looking-glass, I should like to look at my counting-house. My dear fellow, I feel I am turning into an idiot, honour bright. Ha-ha! Would you believe it, I’m on my honeymoon. Am I not the son of a hen?”

“You? Do you mean to say you are married?”

“To-day, my dear boy. We came away straight after the wedding.”

Congratulations and the usual questions follow. “Well, you are a fellow!” laughs Pyotr Petrovitch. “That’s why you are rigged out such a dandy.”

“Yes, indeed. . . . To complete the illusion, I’ve even sprinkled myself with scent. I am over my ears in vanity! No care, no thought, nothing but a sensation of something or other . . . deuce knows what to call it . . . beatitude or something? I’ve never felt so grand in my life!”

Ivan Alexyevitch shuts his eyes and waggles his head.

“I’m revoltingly happy,” he says. “Just think; in a minute I shall go to my compartment. There on the seat near the window is sitting a being who is, so to say, devoted to you with her whole being. A little blonde with a little nose . . . little fingers. . . . My little darling! My angel! My little poppet! Phylloxera of my soul! And her little foot! Good God! A little foot not like our beetle-crushers, but something miniature, fairylike, allegorical. I could pick it up and eat it, that little foot! Oh, but you don’t understand! You’re a materialist, of course, you begin analyzing at once, and one thing and another. You are cold-hearted bachelors, that’s what you are! When you get married you’ll think of me. ‘Where’s Ivan Alexyevitch now?’ you’ll say. Yes; so in a minute I’m going to my compartment. There she is waiting for me with impatience . . . in joyful anticipation of my appearance. She’ll have a smile to greet me. I sit down beside her and take her chin with my two fingers.”

Ivan Alexyevitch waggles his head and goes off into a chuckle of delight.

“Then I lay my noddle on her shoulder and put my arm round her waist. Around all is silence, you know . . . poetic twilight. I could embrace the whole world at such a moment. Pyotr Petrovitch, allow me to embrace you!”

“Delighted, I’m sure.” The two friends embrace while the passengers laugh in chorus. And the happy bridegroom continues:

“And to complete the idiocy, or, as the novelists say, to complete the illusion, one goes to the refreshment-room and tosses off two or three glasses. And then something happens in your head and your heart, finer than you can read of in a fairy tale. I am a man of no importance, but I feel as though I were limitless: I embrace the whole world!”

The passengers, looking at the tipsy and blissful bridegroom, are infected by his cheerfulness and no longer feel sleepy. Instead of one listener, Ivan Alexyevitch has now an audience of five. He wriggles and splutters, gesticulates, and prattles on without ceasing. He laughs and they all laugh.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen, don’t think so much! Damn all this analysis! If you want a drink, drink, no need to philosophize as to whether it’s bad for you or not. . . . Damn all this philosophy and psychology!”

The guard walks through the compartment.

“My dear fellow,” the bridegroom addresses him, “when you pass through the carriage No. 209 look out for a lady in a grey hat with a white bird and tell her I’m here!”

“Yes, sir. Only there isn’t a No. 209 in this train; there’s 219!”

“Well, 219, then! It’s all the same. Tell that lady, then, that her husband is all right!”

Ivan Alexyevitch suddenly clutches his head and groans:

“Husband. . . . Lady. . . . All in a minute! Husband. . . . Ha-ha! I am a puppy that needs thrashing, and here I am a husband! Ach, idiot! But think of her! . . . Yesterday she was a little girl, a midget . . . it s simply incredible!”

“Nowadays it really seems strange to see a happy man,” observes one of the passengers; “one as soon expects to see a white elephant.”

“Yes, and whose fault is it?” says Ivan Alexyevitch, stretching his long legs and thrusting out his feet with their very pointed toes. “If you are not happy it’s your own fault! Yes, what else do you suppose it is? Man is the creator of his own happiness. If you want to be happy you will be, but you don’t want to be! You obstinately turn away from happiness.”

“Why, what next! How do you make that out?”

“Very simply. Nature has ordained that at a certain stage in his life man should love. When that time comes you should love like a house on fire, but you won’t heed the dictates of nature, you keep waiting for something. What’s more, it’s laid down by law that the normal man should enter upon matrimony. There’s no happiness without marriage. When the propitious moment has come, get married. There’s no use in shilly-shallying. . . . But you don’t get married, you keep waiting for something! Then the Scriptures tell us that ‘wine maketh glad the heart of man.’ . . . If you feel happy and you want to feel better still, then go to the refreshment bar and have a drink. The great thing is not to be too clever, but to follow the beaten track! The beaten track is a grand thing!”

“You say that man is the creator of his own happiness. How the devil is he the creator of it when a toothache or an ill-natured mother-in-law is enough to scatter his happiness to the winds? Everything depends on chance. If we had an accident at this moment you’d sing a different tune.”

“Stuff and nonsense!” retorts the bridegroom. “Railway accidents only happen once a year. I’m not afraid of an accident, for there is no reason for one. Accidents are exceptional! Confound them! I don’t want to talk of them! Oh, I believe we’re stopping at a station.”

“Where are you going now?” asks Pyotr Petrovitch. “To Moscow or somewhere further south?

“Why, bless you! How could I go somewhere further south, when I’m on my way to the north?”

“But Moscow isn’t in the north.”

“I know that, but we’re on our way to Petersburg,” says Ivan Alexyevitch.

“We are going to Moscow, mercy on us!”

“To Moscow? What do you mean?” says the bridegroom in amazement.

“It’s queer. . . . For what station did you take your ticket?”

“For Petersburg.”

“In that case I congratulate you. You’ve got into the wrong train.”

There follows a minute of silence. The bridegroom gets up and looks blankly round the company.

“Yes, yes,” Pyotr Petrovitch explains. “You must have jumped into the wrong train at Bologoe. . . . After your glass of brandy you succeeded in getting into the down-train.”

Ivan Alexyevitch turns pale, clutches his head, and begins pacing rapidly about the carriage.

“Ach, idiot that I am!” he says in indignation. “Scoundrel! The devil devour me! Whatever am I to do now? Why, my wife is in that train! She’s there all alone, expecting me, consumed by anxiety. Ach, I’m a motley fool!”

The bridegroom falls on the seat and writhes as though someone had trodden on his corns.

“I am un-unhappy man!” he moans. “What am I to do, what am I to do?”

“There, there!” the passengers try to console him. “It’s all right . . . . You must telegraph to your wife and try to change into the Petersburg express. In that way you’ll overtake her.”

“The Petersburg express!” weeps the bridegroom, the creator of his own happiness. “And how am I to get a ticket for the Petersburg express? All my money is with my wife.”

The passengers, laughing and whispering together, make a collection and furnish the happy man with funds.


A TROUBLESOME VISITOR

IN the low-pitched, crooked little hut of Artyom, the forester, two men were sitting under the big dark ikon—Artyom himself, a short and lean peasant with a wrinkled, aged-looking face and a little beard that grew out of his neck, and a well-grown young man in a new crimson shirt and big wading boots, who had been out hunting and come in for the night. They were sitting on a bench at a little three-legged table on which a tallow candle stuck into a bottle was lazily burning.

Outside the window the darkness of the night was full of the noisy uproar into which nature usually breaks out before a thunderstorm. The wind howled angrily and the bowed trees moaned miserably. One pane of the window had been pasted up with paper, and leaves torn off by the wind could be heard pattering against the paper.

“I tell you what, good Christian,” said Artyom in a hoarse little tenor half-whisper, staring with unblinking, scared-looking eyes at the hunter. “I am not afraid of wolves or bears, or wild beasts of any sort, but I am afraid of man. You can save yourself from beasts with a gun or some other weapon, but you have no means of saving yourself from a wicked man.”

“To be sure, you can fire at a beast, but if you shoot at a robber you will have to answer for it: you will go to Siberia.”

“I’ve been forester, my lad, for thirty years, and I couldn’t tell you what I have had to put up with from wicked men. There have been lots and lots of them here. The hut’s on a track, it’s a cart-road, and that brings them, the devils. Every sort of ruffian turns up, and without taking off his cap or making the sign of the cross, bursts straight in upon one with: ‘Give us some bread, you old so-and-so.’ And where am I to get bread for him? What claim has he? Am I a millionaire to feed every drunkard that passes? They are half-blind with spite. . . . They have no cross on them, the devils . . . . They’ll give you a clout on the ear and not think twice about it: ‘Give us bread!’ Well, one gives it. . . . One is not going to fight with them, the idols! Some of them are two yards across the shoulders, and a great fist as big as your boot, and you see the sort of figure I am. One of them could smash me with his little finger. . . . Well, one gives him bread and he gobbles it up, and stretches out full length across the hut with not a word of thanks. And there are some that ask for money. ‘Tell me, where is your money?’ As though I had money! How should I come by it?”

“A forester and no money!” laughed the hunter. “You get wages every month, and I’ll be bound you sell timber on the sly.”

Artyom took a timid sideway glance at his visitor and twitched his beard as a magpie twitches her tail.

“You are still young to say a thing like that to me,” he said. “You will have to answer to God for those words. Whom may your people be? Where do you come from?”

“I am from Vyazovka. I am the son of Nefed the village elder.”

“You have gone out for sport with your gun. I used to like sport, too, when I was young. H’m! Ah, our sins are grievous,” said Artyom, with a yawn. “It’s a sad thing! There are few good folks, but villains and murderers no end—God have mercy upon us.”

“You seem to be frightened of me, too. . . .”

“Come, what next! What should I be afraid of you for? I see. . . . I understand. . . . You came in, and not just anyhow, but you made the sign of the cross, you bowed, all decent and proper. . . . I understand. . . . One can give you bread. . . . I am a widower, I don’t heat the stove, I sold the samovar. . . . I am too poor to keep meat or anything else, but bread you are welcome to.”

At that moment something began growling under the bench: the growl was followed by a hiss. Artyom started, drew up his legs, and looked enquiringly at the hunter.

“It’s my dog worrying your cat,” said the hunter. “You devils!” he shouted under the bench. “Lie down. You’ll be beaten. I say, your cat’s thin, mate! She is nothing but skin and bone.”

“She is old, it is time she was dead. . . . So you say you are from Vyazovka?”

“I see you don’t feed her. Though she’s a cat she’s a creature . . . every breathing thing. You should have pity on her!”

“You are a queer lot in Vyazovka,” Artyom went on, as though not listening. “The church has been robbed twice in one year. . . To think that there are such wicked men! So they fear neither man nor God! To steal what is the Lord’s! Hanging’s too good for them! In old days the governors used to have such rogues flogged.”

“However you punish, whether it is with flogging or anything else, it will be no good, you will not knock the wickedness out of a wicked man.”

“Save and preserve us, Queen of Heaven!” The forester sighed abruptly. “Save us from all enemies and evildoers. Last week at Volovy Zaimishtchy, a mower struck another on the chest with his scythe . . . he killed him outright! And what was it all about, God bless me! One mower came out of the tavern . . . drunk. The other met him, drunk too.”

The young man, who had been listening attentively, suddenly started, and his face grew tense as he listened.

“Stay,” he said, interrupting the forester. “I fancy someone is shouting.”

The hunter and the forester fell to listening with their eyes fixed on the window. Through the noise of the forest they could hear sounds such as the strained ear can always distinguish in every storm, so that it was difficult to make out whether people were calling for help or whether the wind was wailing in the chimney. But the wind tore at the roof, tapped at the paper on the window, and brought a distinct shout of “Help!”

“Talk of your murderers,” said the hunter, turning pale and getting up. “Someone is being robbed!”

“Lord have mercy on us,” whispered the forester, and he, too, turned pale and got up.

The hunter looked aimlessly out of window and walked up and down the hut.

“What a night, what a night!” he muttered. “You can’t see your hand before your face! The very time for a robbery. Do you hear? There is a shout again.”

The forester looked at the ikon and from the ikon turned his eyes upon the hunter, and sank on to the bench, collapsing like a man terrified by sudden bad news.

“Good Christian,” he said in a tearful voice, “you might go into the passage and bolt the door. And we must put out the light.”

“What for?”

“By ill-luck they may find their way here. . . . Oh, our sins!”

“We ought to be going, and you talk of bolting the door! You are a clever one! Are you coming?”

The hunter threw his gun over his shoulder and picked up his cap.

“Get ready, take your gun. Hey, Flerka, here,” he called to his dog. “Flerka!”

A dog with long frayed ears, a mongrel between a setter and a house-dog, came out from under the bench. He stretched himself by his master’s feet and wagged his tail.

“Why are you sitting there?” cried the hunter to the forester. “You mean to say you are not going?”

“Where?”

“To help!”

“How can I?” said the forester with a wave of his hand, shuddering all over. “I can’t bother about it!”

“Why won’t you come?”

“After talking of such dreadful things I won’t stir a step into the darkness. Bless them! And what should I go for?”

“What are you afraid of? Haven’t you got a gun? Let us go, please do. It’s scaring to go alone; it will be more cheerful, the two of us. Do you hear? There was a shout again. Get up!”

“Whatever do you think of me, lad?” wailed the forester. “Do you think I am such a fool to go straight to my undoing?”

“So you are not coming?”

The forester did not answer. The dog, probably hearing a human cry, gave a plaintive whine.

“Are you coming, I ask you?” cried the hunter, rolling his eyes angrily.

“You do keep on, upon my word,” said the forester with annoyance. “Go yourself.”

“Ugh! . . . low cur,” growled the hunter, turning towards the door. “Flerka, here!”

He went out and left the door open. The wind flew into the hut. The flame of the candle flickered uneasily, flared up, and went out.

As he bolted the door after the hunter, the forester saw the puddles in the track, the nearest pine-trees, and the retreating figure of his guest lighted up by a flash of lightning. Far away he heard the rumble of thunder.

“Holy, holy, holy,” whispered the forester, making haste to thrust the thick bolt into the great iron rings. “What weather the Lord has sent us!”

Going back into the room, he felt his way to the stove, lay down, and covered himself from head to foot. Lying under the sheepskin and listening intently, he could no longer hear the human cry, but the peals of thunder kept growing louder and more prolonged. He could hear the big wind-lashed raindrops pattering angrily on the panes and on the paper of the window.

“He’s gone on a fool’s errand,” he thought, picturing the hunter soaked with rain and stumbling over the tree-stumps. “I bet his teeth are chattering with terror!”

Not more than ten minutes later there was a sound of footsteps, followed by a loud knock at the door.

“Who’s there?” cried the forester.

“It’s I,” he heard the young man’s voice. “Unfasten the door.”

The forester clambered down from the stove, felt for the candle, and, lighting it, went to the door. The hunter and his dog were drenched to the skin. They had come in for the heaviest of the downpour, and now the water ran from them as from washed clothes before they have been wrung out.

“What was it?” asked the forester.

“A peasant woman driving in a cart; she had got off the road . . .” answered the young man, struggling with his breathlessness. “She was caught in a thicket.”

“Ah, the silly thing! She was frightened, then. . . . Well, did you put her on the road?”

“I don’t care to talk to a scoundrel like you.”

The young man flung his wet cap on the bench and went on:

“I know now that you are a scoundrel and the lowest of men. And you a keeper, too, getting a salary! You blackguard!”

The forester slunk with a guilty step to the stove, cleared his throat, and lay down. The young man sat on the bench, thought a little, and lay down on it full length. Not long afterwards he got up, put out the candle, and lay down again. During a particularly loud clap of thunder he turned over, spat on the floor, and growled out:

“He’s afraid. . . . And what if the woman were being murdered? Whose business is it to defend her? And he an old man, too, and a Christian . . . . He’s a pig and nothing else.”

The forester cleared his throat and heaved a deep sigh. Somewhere in the darkness Flerka shook his wet coat vigorously, which sent drops of water flying about all over the room.

“So you wouldn’t care if the woman were murdered?” the hunter went on. “Well—strike me, God—I had no notion you were that sort of man. . . .”

A silence followed. The thunderstorm was by now over and the thunder came from far away, but it was still raining.

“And suppose it hadn’t been a woman but you shouting ‘Help!’?” said the hunter, breaking the silence. “How would you feel, you beast, if no one ran to your aid? You have upset me with your meanness, plague take you!”

After another long interval the hunter said:

“You must have money to be afraid of people! A man who is poor is not likely to be afraid. . . .”

“For those words you will answer before God,” Artyom said hoarsely from the stove. “I have no money.”

“I dare say! Scoundrels always have money. . . . Why are you afraid of people, then? So you must have! I’d like to take and rob you for spite, to teach you a lesson! . . .”

Artyom slipped noiselessly from the stove, lighted a candle, and sat down under the holy image. He was pale and did not take his eyes off the hunter.

“Here, I’ll rob you,” said the hunter, getting up. “What do you think about it? Fellows like you want a lesson. Tell me, where is your money hidden?”

Artyom drew his legs up under him and blinked. “What are you wriggling for? Where is your money hidden? Have you lost your tongue, you fool? Why don’t you answer?”

The young man jumped up and went up to the forester.

“He is blinking like an owl! Well? Give me your money, or I will shoot you with my gun.”

“Why do you keep on at me?” squealed the forester, and big tears rolled from his eyes. “What’s the reason of it? God sees all! You will have to answer, for every word you say, to God. You have no right whatever to ask for my money.”

The young man looked at Artyom’s tearful face, frowned, and walked up and down the hut, then angrily clapped his cap on his head and picked up his gun.

“Ugh! . . . ugh! . . . it makes me sick to look at you,” he filtered through his teeth. “I can’t bear the sight of you. I won’t sleep in your house, anyway. Good-bye! Hey, Flerka!”

The door slammed and the troublesome visitor went out with his dog. . . . Artyom bolted the door after him, crossed himself, and lay down.


AN ACTOR’S END

SHTCHIPTSOV, the “heavy father” and “good-hearted simpleton,” a tall and thick-set old man, not so much distinguished by his talents as an actor as by his exceptional physical strength, had a desperate quarrel with the manager during the performance, and just when the storm of words was at its height felt as though something had snapped in his chest. Zhukov, the manager, as a rule began at the end of every heated discussion to laugh hysterically and to fall into a swoon; on this occasion, however, Shtchiptsov did not remain for this climax, but hurried home. The high words and the sensation of something ruptured in his chest so agitated him as he left the theatre that he forgot to wash off his paint, and did nothing but take off his beard.

When he reached his hotel room, Shtchiptsov spent a long time pacing up and down, then sat down on the bed, propped his head on his fists, and sank into thought. He sat like that without stirring or uttering a sound till two o’clock the next afternoon, when Sigaev, the comic man, walked into his room.

“Why is it you did not come to the rehearsal, Booby Ivanitch?” the comic man began, panting and filling the room with fumes of vodka. “Where have you been?”

Shtchiptsov made no answer, but simply stared at the comic man with lustreless eyes, under which there were smudges of paint.

“You might at least have washed your phiz!” Sigaev went on. “You are a disgraceful sight! Have you been boozing, or . . . are you ill, or what? But why don’t you speak? I am asking you: are you ill?”

Shtchiptsov did not speak. In spite of the paint on his face, the comic man could not help noticing his striking pallor, the drops of sweat on his forehead, and the twitching of his lips. His hands and feet were trembling too, and the whole huge figure of the “good-natured simpleton” looked somehow crushed and flattened. The comic man took a rapid glance round the room, but saw neither bottle nor flask nor any other suspicious vessel.

“I say, Mishutka, you know you are ill!” he said in a flutter. “Strike me dead, you are ill! You don’t look yourself!”

Shtchiptsov remained silent and stared disconsolately at the floor.

“You must have caught cold,” said Sigaev, taking him by the hand. “Oh, dear, how hot your hands are! What’s the trouble?”

“I wa-ant to go home,” muttered Shtchiptsov.

“But you are at home now, aren’t you?”

“No. . . . To Vyazma. . . .”

“Oh, my, anywhere else! It would take you three years to get to your Vyazma. . . . What? do you want to go and see your daddy and mummy? I’ll be bound, they’ve kicked the bucket years ago, and you won’t find their graves. . . .”

“My ho-ome’s there.”

“Come, it’s no good giving way to the dismal dumps. These neurotic feelings are the limit, old man. You must get well, for you have to play Mitka in ‘The Terrible Tsar’ to-morrow. There is nobody else to do it. Drink something hot and take some castor-oil? Have you got the money for some castor-oil? Or, stay, I’ll run and buy some.”

The comic man fumbled in his pockets, found a fifteen-kopeck piece, and ran to the chemist’s. A quarter of an hour later he came back.

“Come, drink it,” he said, holding the bottle to the “heavy father’s” mouth. “Drink it straight out of the bottle. . . . All at a go! That’s the way. . . . Now nibble at a clove that your very soul mayn’t stink of the filthy stuff.”

The comic man sat a little longer with his sick friend, then kissed him tenderly, and went away. Towards evening the jeune premier, Brama-Glinsky, ran in to see Shtchiptsov. The gifted actor was wearing a pair of prunella boots, had a glove on his left hand, was smoking a cigar, and even smelt of heliotrope, yet nevertheless he strongly suggested a traveller cast away in some land in which there were neither baths nor laundresses nor tailors. . . .

“I hear you are ill?” he said to Shtchiptsov, twirling round on his heel. “What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with you, really? . . .”

Shtchiptsov did not speak nor stir.

“Why don’t you speak? Do you feel giddy? Oh well, don’t talk, I won’t pester you . . . don’t talk. . . .”

Brama-Glinsky (that was his stage name, in his passport he was called Guskov) walked away to the window, put his hands in his pockets, and fell to gazing into the street. Before his eyes stretched an immense waste, bounded by a grey fence beside which ran a perfect forest of last year’s burdocks. Beyond the waste ground was a dark, deserted factory, with windows boarded up. A belated jackdaw was flying round the chimney. This dreary, lifeless scene was beginning to be veiled in the dusk of evening.

“I must go home!” the jeune premier heard.

“Where is home?”

“To Vyazma . . . to my home. . . .”

“It is a thousand miles to Vyazma . . . my boy,” sighed Brama-Glinsky, drumming on the window-pane. “And what do you want to go to Vyazma for?”

“I want to die there.”

“What next! Now he’s dying! He has fallen ill for the first time in his life, and already he fancies that his last hour is come. . . . No, my boy, no cholera will carry off a buffalo like you. You’ll live to be a hundred. . . . Where’s the pain?”

“There’s no pain, but I . . . feel . . .”

“You don’t feel anything, it all comes from being too healthy. Your surplus energy upsets you. You ought to get jolly tight—drink, you know, till your whole inside is topsy-turvy. Getting drunk is wonderfully restoring. . . . Do you remember how screwed you were at Rostov on the Don? Good Lord, the very thought of it is alarming! Sashka and I together could only just carry in the barrel, and you emptied it alone, and even sent for rum afterwards. . . . You got so drunk you were catching devils in a sack and pulled a lamp-post up by the roots. Do you remember? Then you went off to beat the Greeks. . . .”

Under the influence of these agreeable reminiscences Shtchiptsov’s face brightened a little and his eyes began to shine.

“And do you remember how I beat Savoikin the manager?” he muttered, raising his head. “But there! I’ve beaten thirty-three managers in my time, and I can’t remember how many smaller fry. And what managers they were! Men who would not permit the very winds to touch them! I’ve beaten two celebrated authors and one painter!”

“What are you crying for?”

“At Kherson I killed a horse with my fists. And at Taganrog some roughs fell upon me at night, fifteen of them. I took off their caps and they followed me, begging: ‘Uncle, give us back our caps.’ That’s how I used to go on.”

“What are you crying for, then, you silly?”

“But now it’s all over . . . I feel it. If only I could go to Vyazma!”

A pause followed. After a silence Shtchiptsov suddenly jumped up and seized his cap. He looked distraught.

“Good-bye! I am going to Vyazma!” he articulated, staggering.

“And the money for the journey?”

“H’m! . . . I shall go on foot!”

“You are crazy. . . .”

The two men looked at each other, probably because the same thought—of the boundless plains, the unending forests and swamps—struck both of them at once.

“Well, I see you have gone off your head,” the jeune premier commented. “I’ll tell you what, old man. . . . First thing, go to bed, then drink some brandy and tea to put you into a sweat. And some castor-oil, of course. Stay, where am I to get some brandy?”

Brama-Glinsky thought a minute, then made up his mind to go to a shopkeeper called Madame Tsitrinnikov to try and get it from her on tick: who knows? perhaps the woman would feel for them and let them have it. The jeune premier went off, and half an hour later returned with a bottle of brandy and some castor-oil. Shtchiptsov was sitting motionless, as before, on the bed, gazing dumbly at the floor. He drank the castor-oil offered him by his friend like an automaton, with no consciousness of what he was doing. Like an automaton he sat afterwards at the table, and drank tea and brandy; mechanically he emptied the whole bottle and let the jeune premier put him to bed. The latter covered him up with a quilt and an overcoat, advised him to get into a perspiration, and went away.

The night came on; Shtchiptsov had drunk a great deal of brandy, but he did not sleep. He lay motionless under the quilt and stared at the dark ceiling; then, seeing the moon looking in at the window, he turned his eyes from the ceiling towards the companion of the earth, and lay so with open eyes till the morning. At nine o’clock in the morning Zhukov, the manager, ran in.

“What has put it into your head to be ill, my angel?” he cackled, wrinkling up his nose. “Aie, aie! A man with your physique has no business to be ill! For shame, for shame! Do you know, I was quite frightened. ‘Can our conversation have had such an effect on him?’ I wondered. My dear soul, I hope it’s not through me you’ve fallen ill! You know you gave me as good . . . er . . . And, besides, comrades can never get on without words. You called me all sorts of names . . . and have gone at me with your fists too, and yet I am fond of you! Upon my soul, I am. I respect you and am fond of you! Explain, my angel, why I am so fond of you. You are neither kith nor kin nor wife, but as soon as I heard you had fallen ill it cut me to the heart.”

Zhukov spent a long time declaring his affection, then fell to kissing the invalid, and finally was so overcome by his feelings that he began laughing hysterically, and was even meaning to fall into a swoon, but, probably remembering that he was not at home nor at the theatre, put off the swoon to a more convenient opportunity and went away.

Soon after him Adabashev, the tragic actor, a dingy, short-sighted individual who talked through his nose, made his appearance. . . . For a long while he looked at Shtchiptsov, for a long while he pondered, and at last he made a discovery.

“Do you know what, Mifa?” he said, pronouncing through his nose “f” instead of “sh,” and assuming a mysterious expression. “Do you know what? You ought to have a dose of castor-oil!”

Shtchiptsov was silent. He remained silent, too, a little later as the tragic actor poured the loathsome oil into his mouth. Two hours later Yevlampy, or, as the actors for some reason called him, Rigoletto, the hairdresser of the company, came into the room. He too, like the tragic man, stared at Shtchiptsov for a long time, then sighed like a steam-engine, and slowly and deliberately began untying a parcel he had brought with him. In it there were twenty cups and several little flasks.

“You should have sent for me and I would have cupped you long ago,” he said, tenderly baring Shtchiptsov’s chest. “It is easy to neglect illness.”

Thereupon Rigoletto stroked the broad chest of the “heavy father” and covered it all over with suction cups.

“Yes . . .” he said, as after this operation he packed up his paraphernalia, crimson with Shtchiptsov’s blood. “You should have sent for me, and I would have come. . . . You needn’t trouble about payment. . . . I do it from sympathy. Where are you to get the money if that idol won’t pay you? Now, please take these drops. They are nice drops! And now you must have a dose of this castor-oil. It’s the real thing. That’s right! I hope it will do you good. Well, now, good-bye. . . .”

Rigoletto took his parcel and withdrew, pleased that he had been of assistance to a fellow-creature.

The next morning Sigaev, the comic man, going in to see Shtchiptsov, found him in a terrible condition. He was lying under his coat, breathing in gasps, while his eyes strayed over the ceiling. In his hands he was crushing convulsively the crumpled quilt.

“To Vyazma!” he whispered, when he saw the comic man. “To Vyazma.”

“Come, I don’t like that, old man!” said the comic man, flinging up his hands. “You see . . . you see . . . you see, old man, that’s not the thing! Excuse me, but . . . it’s positively stupid. . . .”

“To go to Vyazma! My God, to Vyazma!”

“I . . . I did not expect it of you,” the comic man muttered, utterly distracted. “What the deuce do you want to collapse like this for? Aie . . . aie . . . aie! . . . that’s not the thing. A giant as tall as a watch-tower, and crying. Is it the thing for actors to cry?”

“No wife nor children,” muttered Shtchiptsov. “I ought not to have gone for an actor, but have stayed at Vyazma. My life has been wasted, Semyon! Oh, to be in Vyazma!”

“Aie . . . aie . . . aie! . . . that’s not the thing! You see, it’s stupid . . . contemptible indeed!”

Recovering his composure and setting his feelings in order, Sigaev began comforting Shtchiptsov, telling him untruly that his comrades had decided to send him to the Crimea at their expense, and so on, but the sick man did not listen and kept muttering about Vyazma . . . . At last, with a wave of his hand, the comic man began talking about Vyazma himself to comfort the invalid.

“It’s a fine town,” he said soothingly, “a capital town, old man! It’s famous for its cakes. The cakes are classical, but—between ourselves—h’m!—they are a bit groggy. For a whole week after eating them I was . . . h’m! . . . But what is fine there is the merchants! They are something like merchants. When they treat you they do treat you!”

The comic man talked while Shtchiptsov listened in silence and nodded his head approvingly.

Towards evening he died.


The Schoolmaster and Other Stories

Translated by Constance Garnett


THE SCHOOLMASTER

FYODOR LUKITCH SYSOEV, the master of the factory school maintained at the expense of the firm of Kulikin, was getting ready for the annual dinner. Every year after the school examination the board of managers gave a dinner at which the inspector of elementary schools, all who had conducted the examinations, and all the managers and foremen of the factory were present. In spite of their official character, these dinners were always good and lively, and the guests sat a long time over them; forgetting distinctions of rank and recalling only their meritorious labours, they ate till they were full, drank amicably, chattered till they were all hoarse and parted late in the evening, deafening the whole factory settlement with their singing and the sound of their kisses. Of such dinners Sysoev had taken part in thirteen, as he had been that number of years master of the factory school.

Now, getting ready for the fourteenth, he was trying to make himself look as festive and correct as possible. He had spent a whole hour brushing his new black suit, and spent almost as long in front of a looking-glass while he put on a fashionable shirt; the studs would not go into the button-holes, and this circumstance called forth a perfect storm of complaints, threats, and reproaches addressed to his wife.

His poor wife, bustling round him, wore herself out with her efforts. And indeed he, too, was exhausted in the end. When his polished boots were brought him from the kitchen he had not strength to pull them on. He had to lie down and have a drink of water.

“How weak you have grown!” sighed his wife. “You ought not to go to this dinner at all.”

“No advice, please!” the schoolmaster cut her short angrily.

He was in a very bad temper, for he had been much displeased with the recent examinations. The examinations had gone off splendidly; all the boys of the senior division had gained certificates and prizes; both the managers of the factory and the government officials were pleased with the results; but that was not enough for the schoolmaster. He was vexed that Babkin, a boy who never made a mistake in writing, had made three mistakes in the dictation; Sergeyev, another boy, had been so excited that he could not remember seventeen times thirteen; the inspector, a young and inexperienced man, had chosen a difficult article for dictation, and Lyapunov, the master of a neighbouring school, whom the inspector had asked to dictate, had not behaved like “a good comrade”; but in dictating had, as it were, swallowed the words and had not pronounced them as written.

After pulling on his boots with the assistance of his wife, and looking at himself once more in the looking-glass, the schoolmaster took his gnarled stick and set off for the dinner. Just before the factory manager’s house, where the festivity was to take place, he had a little mishap. He was taken with a violent fit of coughing . . . . He was so shaken by it that the cap flew off his head and the stick dropped out of his hand; and when the school inspector and the teachers, hearing his cough, ran out of the house, he was sitting on the bottom step, bathed in perspiration.

“Fyodor Lukitch, is that you?” said the inspector, surprised. “You . . . have come?”

“Why not?”

“You ought to be at home, my dear fellow. You are not at all well to-day. . . .”

“I am just the same to-day as I was yesterday. And if my presence is not agreeable to you, I can go back.”

“Oh, Fyodor Lukitch, you must not talk like that! Please come in. Why, the function is really in your honour, not ours. And we are delighted to see you. Of course we are! . . .”

Within, everything was ready for the banquet. In the big dining-room adorned with German oleographs and smelling of geraniums and varnish there were two tables, a larger one for the dinner and a smaller one for the hors-d’oeuvres. The hot light of midday faintly percolated through the lowered blinds. . . . The twilight of the room, the Swiss views on the blinds, the geraniums, the thin slices of sausage on the plates, all had a naïve, girlishly-sentimental air, and it was all in keeping with the master of the house, a good-natured little German with a round little stomach and affectionate, oily little eyes. Adolf Andreyitch Bruni (that was his name) was bustling round the table of hors-d’oeuvres as zealously as though it were a house on fire, filling up the wine-glasses, loading the plates, and trying in every way to please, to amuse, and to show his friendly feelings. He clapped people on the shoulder, looked into their eyes, chuckled, rubbed his hands, in fact was as ingratiating as a friendly dog.

“Whom do I behold? Fyodor Lukitch!” he said in a jerky voice, on seeing Sysoev. “How delightful! You have come in spite of your illness. Gentlemen, let me congratulate you, Fyodor Lukitch has come!”

The school-teachers were already crowding round the table and eating the hors-d’oeuvres. Sysoev frowned; he was displeased that his colleagues had begun to eat and drink without waiting for him. He noticed among them Lyapunov, the man who had dictated at the examination, and going up to him, began:

“It was not acting like a comrade! No, indeed! Gentlemanly people don’t dictate like that!”

“Good Lord, you are still harping on it!” said Lyapunov, and he frowned. “Aren’t you sick of it?”

“Yes, still harping on it! My Babkin has never made mistakes! I know why you dictated like that. You simply wanted my pupils to be floored, so that your school might seem better than mine. I know all about it! . . .”

“Why are you trying to get up a quarrel?” Lyapunov snarled. “Why the devil do you pester me?”

“Come, gentlemen,” interposed the inspector, making a woebegone face. “Is it worth while to get so heated over a trifle? Three mistakes . . . not one mistake . . . does it matter?”

“Yes, it does matter. Babkin has never made mistakes.”

“He won’t leave off,” Lyapunov went on, snorting angrily. “He takes advantage of his position as an invalid and worries us all to death. Well, sir, I am not going to consider your being ill.”

“Let my illness alone!” cried Sysoev, angrily. “What is it to do with you? They all keep repeating it at me: illness! illness! illness! . . . As though I need your sympathy! Besides, where have you picked up the notion that I am ill? I was ill before the examinations, that’s true, but now I have completely recovered, there is nothing left of it but weakness.”

“You have regained your health, well, thank God,” said the scripture teacher, Father Nikolay, a young priest in a foppish cinnamon-coloured cassock and trousers outside his boots. “You ought to rejoice, but you are irritable and so on.”

“You are a nice one, too,” Sysoev interrupted him. “Questions ought to be straightforward, clear, but you kept asking riddles. That’s not the thing to do!”

By combined efforts they succeeded in soothing him and making him sit down to the table. He was a long time making up his mind what to drink, and pulling a wry face drank a wine-glass of some green liqueur; then he drew a bit of pie towards him, and sulkily picked out of the inside an egg with onion on it. At the first mouthful it seemed to him that there was no salt in it. He sprinkled salt on it and at once pushed it away as the pie was too salt.

At dinner Sysoev was seated between the inspector and Bruni. After the first course the toasts began, according to the old-established custom.

“I consider it my agreeable duty,” the inspector began, “to propose a vote of thanks to the absent school wardens, Daniel Petrovitch and . . . and . . . and . . .”

“And Ivan Petrovitch,” Bruni prompted him.

“And Ivan Petrovitch Kulikin, who grudge no expense for the school, and I propose to drink their health. . . .”

“For my part,” said Bruni, jumping up as though he had been stung, “I propose a toast to the health of the honoured inspector of elementary schools, Pavel Gennadievitch Nadarov!”

Chairs were pushed back, faces beamed with smiles, and the usual clinking of glasses began.

The third toast always fell to Sysoev. And on this occasion, too, he got up and began to speak. Looking grave and clearing his throat, he first of all announced that he had not the gift of eloquence and that he was not prepared to make a speech. Further he said that during the fourteen years that he had been schoolmaster there had been many intrigues, many underhand attacks, and even secret reports on him to the authorities, and that he knew his enemies and those who had informed against him, and he would not mention their names, “for fear of spoiling somebody’s appetite”; that in spite of these intrigues the Kulikin school held the foremost place in the whole province not only from a moral, but also from a material point of view.”

“Everywhere else,” he said, “schoolmasters get two hundred or three hundred roubles, while I get five hundred, and moreover my house has been redecorated and even furnished at the expense of the firm. And this year all the walls have been repapered. . . .”

Further the schoolmaster enlarged on the liberality with which the pupils were provided with writing materials in the factory schools as compared with the Zemstvo and Government schools. And for all this the school was indebted, in his opinion, not to the heads of the firm, who lived abroad and scarcely knew of its existence, but to a man who, in spite of his German origin and Lutheran faith, was a Russian at heart.

Sysoev spoke at length, with pauses to get his breath and with pretensions to rhetoric, and his speech was boring and unpleasant. He several times referred to certain enemies of his, tried to drop hints, repeated himself, coughed, and flourished his fingers unbecomingly. At last he was exhausted and in a perspiration and he began talking jerkily, in a low voice as though to himself, and finished his speech not quite coherently: “And so I propose the health of Bruni, that is Adolf Andreyitch, who is here, among us . . . generally speaking . . . you understand . . .”

When he finished everyone gave a faint sigh, as though someone had sprinkled cold water and cleared the air. Bruni alone apparently had no unpleasant feeling. Beaming and rolling his sentimental eyes, the German shook Sysoev’s hand with feeling and was again as friendly as a dog.

“Oh, I thank you,” he said, with an emphasis on the oh, laying his left hand on his heart. “I am very happy that you understand me! I, with my whole heart, wish you all things good. But I ought only to observe; you exaggerate my importance. The school owes its flourishing condition only to you, my honoured friend, Fyodor Lukitch. But for you it would be in no way distinguished from other schools! You think the German is paying a compliment, the German is saying something polite. Ha-ha! No, my dear Fyodor Lukitch, I am an honest man and never make complimentary speeches. If we pay you five hundred roubles a year it is because you are valued by us. Isn’t that so? Gentlemen, what I say is true, isn’t it? We should not pay anyone else so much. . . . Why, a good school is an honour to the factory!”

“I must sincerely own that your school is really exceptional,” said the inspector. “Don’t think this is flattery. Anyway, I have never come across another like it in my life. As I sat at the examination I was full of admiration. . . . Wonderful children! They know a great deal and answer brightly, and at the same time they are somehow special, unconstrained, sincere. . . . One can see that they love you, Fyodor Lukitch. You are a schoolmaster to the marrow of your bones. You must have been born a teacher. You have all the gifts —innate vocation, long experience, and love for your work. . . . It’s simply amazing, considering the weak state of your health, what energy, what understanding . . . what perseverance, do you understand, what confidence you have! Some one in the school committee said truly that you were a poet in your work. . . . Yes, a poet you are!”

And all present at the dinner began as one man talking of Sysoev’s extraordinary talent. And as though a dam had been burst, there followed a flood of sincere, enthusiastic words such as men do not utter when they are restrained by prudent and cautious sobriety. Sysoev’s speech and his intolerable temper and the horrid, spiteful expression on his face were all forgotten. Everyone talked freely, even the shy and silent new teachers, poverty-stricken, down-trodden youths who never spoke to the inspector without addressing him as “your honour.” It was clear that in his own circle Sysoev was a person of consequence.

Having been accustomed to success and praise for the fourteen years that he had been schoolmaster, he listened with indifference to the noisy enthusiasm of his admirers.

It was Bruni who drank in the praise instead of the schoolmaster. The German caught every word, beamed, clapped his hands, and flushed modestly as though the praise referred not to the schoolmaster but to him.

“Bravo! bravo!” he shouted. “That’s true! You have grasped my meaning! . . . Excellent! . . .” He looked into the schoolmaster’s eyes as though he wanted to share his bliss with him. At last he could restrain himself no longer; he leapt up, and, overpowering all the other voices with his shrill little tenor, shouted:

“Gentlemen! Allow me to speak! Sh-h! To all you say I can make only one reply: the management of the factory will not be forgetful of what it owes to Fyodor Lukitch! . . .”

All were silent. Sysoev raised his eyes to the German’s rosy face.

“We know how to appreciate it,” Bruni went on, dropping his voice. “In response to your words I ought to tell you that . . . Fyodor Lukitch’s family will be provided for and that a sum of money was placed in the bank a month ago for that object.”

Sysoev looked enquiringly at the German, at his colleagues, as though unable to understand why his family should be provided for and not he himself. And at once on all the faces, in all the motionless eyes bent upon him, he read not the sympathy, not the commiseration which he could not endure, but something else, something soft, tender, but at the same time intensely sinister, like a terrible truth, something which in one instant turned him cold all over and filled his soul with unutterable despair. With a pale, distorted face he suddenly jumped up and clutched at his head. For a quarter of a minute he stood like that, stared with horror at a fixed point before him as though he saw the swiftly coming death of which Bruni was speaking, then sat down and burst into tears.

“Come, come! . . . What is it?” he heard agitated voices saying. “Water! drink a little water!”

A short time passed and the schoolmaster grew calmer, but the party did not recover their previous liveliness. The dinner ended in gloomy silence, and much earlier than on previous occasions.

When he got home Sysoev first of all looked at himself in the glass.

“Of course there was no need for me to blubber like that!” he thought, looking at his sunken cheeks and his eyes with dark rings under them. “My face is a much better colour to-day than yesterday. I am suffering from anemia and catarrh of the stomach, and my cough is only a stomach cough.”

Reassured, he slowly began undressing, and spent a long time brushing his new black suit, then carefully folded it up and put it in the chest of drawers.

Then he went up to the table where there lay a pile of his pupils’ exercise-books, and picking out Babkin’s, sat down and fell to contemplating the beautiful childish handwriting. . . .

And meantime, while he was examining the exercise-books, the district doctor was sitting in the next room and telling his wife in a whisper that a man ought not to have been allowed to go out to dinner who had not in all probability more than a week to live.


ENEMIES

BETWEEN nine and ten on a dark September evening the only son of the district doctor, Kirilov, a child of six, called Andrey, died of diphtheria. Just as the doctor’s wife sank on her knees by the dead child’s bedside and was overwhelmed by the first rush of despair there came a sharp ring at the bell in the entry.

All the servants had been sent out of the house that morning on account of the diphtheria. Kirilov went to open the door just as he was, without his coat on, with his waistcoat unbuttoned, without wiping his wet face or his hands which were scalded with carbolic. It was dark in the entry and nothing could be distinguished in the man who came in but medium height, a white scarf, and a large, extremely pale face, so pale that its entrance seemed to make the passage lighter.

“Is the doctor at home?” the newcomer asked quickly.

“I am at home,” answered Kirilov. “What do you want?”

“Oh, it’s you? I am very glad,” said the stranger in a tone of relief, and he began feeling in the dark for the doctor’s hand, found it and squeezed it tightly in his own. “I am very . . . very glad! We are acquainted. My name is Abogin, and I had the honour of meeting you in the summer at Gnutchev’s. I am very glad I have found you at home. For God’s sake don’t refuse to come back with me at once. . . . My wife has been taken dangerously ill. . . . And the carriage is waiting. . . .”

From the voice and gestures of the speaker it could be seen that he was in a state of great excitement. Like a man terrified by a house on fire or a mad dog, he could hardly restrain his rapid breathing and spoke quickly in a shaking voice, and there was a note of unaffected sincerity and childish alarm in his voice. As people always do who are frightened and overwhelmed, he spoke in brief, jerky sentences and uttered a great many unnecessary, irrelevant words.

“I was afraid I might not find you in,” he went on. “I was in a perfect agony as I drove here. Put on your things and let us go, for God’s sake. . . . This is how it happened. Alexandr Semyonovitch Paptchinsky, whom you know, came to see me. . . . We talked a little and then we sat down to tea; suddenly my wife cried out, clutched at her heart, and fell back on her chair. We carried her to bed and . . . and I rubbed her forehead with ammonia and sprinkled her with water . . . she lay as though she were dead. . . . I am afraid it is aneurism . . . . Come along . . . her father died of aneurism.”

Kirilov listened and said nothing, as though he did not understand Russian.

When Abogin mentioned again Paptchinsky and his wife’s father and once more began feeling in the dark for his hand the doctor shook his head and said apathetically, dragging out each word:

“Excuse me, I cannot come . . . my son died . . . five minutes ago!”

“Is it possible!” whispered Abogin, stepping back a pace. “My God, at what an unlucky moment I have come! A wonderfully unhappy day . . . wonderfully. What a coincidence. . . . It’s as though it were on purpose!”

Abogin took hold of the door-handle and bowed his head. He was evidently hesitating and did not know what to do—whether to go away or to continue entreating the doctor.

“Listen,” he said fervently, catching hold of Kirilov’s sleeve. “I well understand your position! God is my witness that I am ashamed of attempting at such a moment to intrude on your attention, but what am I to do? Only think, to whom can I go? There is no other doctor here, you know. For God’s sake come! I am not asking you for myself. . . . I am not the patient!”

A silence followed. Kirilov turned his back on Abogin, stood still a moment, and slowly walked into the drawing-room. Judging from his unsteady, mechanical step, from the attention with which he set straight the fluffy shade on the unlighted lamp in the drawing-room and glanced into a thick book lying on the table, at that instant he had no intention, no desire, was thinking of nothing and most likely did not remember that there was a stranger in the entry. The twilight and stillness of the drawing-room seemed to increase his numbness. Going out of the drawing-room into his study he raised his right foot higher than was necessary, and felt for the doorposts with his hands, and as he did so there was an air of perplexity about his whole figure as though he were in somebody else’s house, or were drunk for the first time in his life and were now abandoning himself with surprise to the new sensation. A broad streak of light stretched across the bookcase on one wall of the study; this light came together with the close, heavy smell of carbolic and ether from the door into the bedroom, which stood a little way open. . . . The doctor sank into a low chair in front of the table; for a minute he stared drowsily at his books, which lay with the light on them, then got up and went into the bedroom.

Here in the bedroom reigned a dead silence. Everything to the smallest detail was eloquent of the storm that had been passed through, of exhaustion, and everything was at rest. A candle standing among a crowd of bottles, boxes, and pots on a stool and a big lamp on the chest of drawers threw a brilliant light over all the room. On the bed under the window lay a boy with open eyes and a look of wonder on his face. He did not move, but his open eyes seemed every moment growing darker and sinking further into his head. The mother was kneeling by the bed with her arms on his body and her head hidden in the bedclothes. Like the child, she did not stir; but what throbbing life was suggested in the curves of her body and in her arms! She leaned against the bed with all her being, pressing against it greedily with all her might, as though she were afraid of disturbing the peaceful and comfortable attitude she had found at last for her exhausted body. The bedclothes, the rags and bowls, the splashes of water on the floor, the little paint-brushes and spoons thrown down here and there, the white bottle of lime water, the very air, heavy and stifling—were all hushed and seemed plunged in repose.

The doctor stopped close to his wife, thrust his hands in his trouser pockets, and slanting his head on one side fixed his eyes on his son. His face bore an expression of indifference, and only from the drops that glittered on his beard it could be seen that he had just been crying.

That repellent horror which is thought of when we speak of death was absent from the room. In the numbness of everything, in the mother’s attitude, in the indifference on the doctor’s face there was something that attracted and touched the heart, that subtle, almost elusive beauty of human sorrow which men will not for a long time learn to understand and describe, and which it seems only music can convey. There was a feeling of beauty, too, in the austere stillness. Kirilov and his wife were silent and not weeping, as though besides the bitterness of their loss they were conscious, too, of all the tragedy of their position; just as once their youth had passed away, so now together with this boy their right to have children had gone for ever to all eternity! The doctor was forty-four, his hair was grey and he looked like an old man; his faded and invalid wife was thirty-five. Andrey was not merely the only child, but also the last child.

In contrast to his wife the doctor belonged to the class of people who at times of spiritual suffering feel a craving for movement. After standing for five minutes by his wife, he walked, raising his right foot high, from the bedroom into a little room which was half filled up by a big sofa; from there he went into the kitchen. After wandering by the stove and the cook’s bed he bent down and went by a little door into the passage.

There he saw again the white scarf and the white face.

“At last,” sighed Abogin, reaching towards the door-handle. “Let us go, please.”

The doctor started, glanced at him, and remembered. . . .

“Why, I have told you already that I can’t go!” he said, growing more animated. “How strange!”

“Doctor, I am not a stone, I fully understand your position . . . I feel for you,” Abogin said in an imploring voice, laying his hand on his scarf. “But I am not asking you for myself. My wife is dying. If you had heard that cry, if you had seen her face, you would understand my pertinacity. My God, I thought you had gone to get ready! Doctor, time is precious. Let us go, I entreat you.”

“I cannot go,” said Kirilov emphatically and he took a step into the drawing-room.

Abogin followed him and caught hold of his sleeve.

“You are in sorrow, I understand. But I’m not asking you to a case of toothache, or to a consultation, but to save a human life!” he went on entreating like a beggar. “Life comes before any personal sorrow! Come, I ask for courage, for heroism! For the love of humanity!”

“Humanity—that cuts both ways,” Kirilov said irritably. “In the name of humanity I beg you not to take me. And how queer it is, really! I can hardly stand and you talk to me about humanity! I am fit for nothing just now. . . . Nothing will induce me to go, and I can’t leave my wife alone. No, no. . .”

Kirilov waved his hands and staggered back.

“And . . . and don’t ask me,” he went on in a tone of alarm. “Excuse me. By No. XIII of the regulations I am obliged to go and you have the right to drag me by my collar . . . drag me if you like, but . . . I am not fit . . . I can’t even speak . . . excuse me.”

“There is no need to take that tone to me, doctor!” said Abogin, again taking the doctor by his sleeve. “What do I care about No. XIII! To force you against your will I have no right whatever. If you will, come; if you will not—God forgive you; but I am not appealing to your will, but to your feelings. A young woman is dying. You were just speaking of the death of your son. Who should understand my horror if not you?”

Abogin’s voice quivered with emotion; that quiver and his tone were far more persuasive than his words. Abogin was sincere, but it was remarkable that whatever he said his words sounded stilted, soulless, and inappropriately flowery, and even seemed an outrage on the atmosphere of the doctor’s home and on the woman who was somewhere dying. He felt this himself, and so, afraid of not being understood, did his utmost to put softness and tenderness into his voice so that the sincerity of his tone might prevail if his words did not. As a rule, however fine and deep a phrase may be, it only affects the indifferent, and cannot fully satisfy those who are happy or unhappy; that is why dumbness is most often the highest expression of happiness or unhappiness; lovers understand each other better when they are silent, and a fervent, passionate speech delivered by the grave only touches outsiders, while to the widow and children of the dead man it seems cold and trivial.

Kirilov stood in silence. When Abogin uttered a few more phrases concerning the noble calling of a doctor, self-sacrifice, and so on, the doctor asked sullenly: “Is it far?”

“Something like eight or nine miles. I have capital horses, doctor! I give you my word of honour that I will get you there and back in an hour. Only one hour.”

These words had more effect on Kirilov than the appeals to humanity or the noble calling of the doctor. He thought a moment and said with a sigh: “Very well, let us go!”

He went rapidly with a more certain step to his study, and afterwards came back in a long frock-coat. Abogin, greatly relieved, fidgeted round him and scraped with his feet as he helped him on with his overcoat, and went out of the house with him.

It was dark out of doors, though lighter than in the entry. The tall, stooping figure of the doctor, with his long, narrow beard and aquiline nose, stood out distinctly in the darkness. Abogin’s big head and the little student’s cap that barely covered it could be seen now as well as his pale face. The scarf showed white only in front, behind it was hidden by his long hair.

“Believe me, I know how to appreciate your generosity,” Abogin muttered as he helped the doctor into the carriage. “We shall get there quickly. Drive as fast as you can, Luka, there’s a good fellow! Please!”

The coachman drove rapidly. At first there was a row of indistinct buildings that stretched alongside the hospital yard; it was dark everywhere except for a bright light from a window that gleamed through the fence into the furthest part of the yard while three windows of the upper storey of the hospital looked paler than the surrounding air. Then the carriage drove into dense shadow; here there was the smell of dampness and mushrooms, and the sound of rustling trees; the crows, awakened by the noise of the wheels, stirred among the foliage and uttered prolonged plaintive cries as though they knew the doctor’s son was dead and that Abogin’s wife was ill. Then came glimpses of separate trees, of bushes; a pond, on which great black shadows were slumbering, gleamed with a sullen light—and the carriage rolled over a smooth level ground. The clamour of the crows sounded dimly far away and soon ceased altogether.

Kirilov and Abogin were silent almost all the way. Only once Abogin heaved a deep sigh and muttered:

“It’s an agonizing state! One never loves those who are near one so much as when one is in danger of losing them.”

And when the carriage slowly drove over the river, Kirilov started all at once as though the splash of the water had frightened him, and made a movement.

“Listen—let me go,” he said miserably. “I’ll come to you later. I must just send my assistant to my wife. She is alone, you know!”

Abogin did not speak. The carriage swaying from side to side and crunching over the stones drove up the sandy bank and rolled on its way. Kirilov moved restlessly and looked about him in misery. Behind them in the dim light of the stars the road could be seen and the riverside willows vanishing into the darkness. On the right lay a plain as uniform and as boundless as the sky; here and there in the distance, probably on the peat marshes, dim lights were glimmering. On the left, parallel with the road, ran a hill tufted with small bushes, and above the hill stood motionless a big, red half-moon, slightly veiled with mist and encircled by tiny clouds, which seemed to be looking round at it from all sides and watching that it did not go away.

In all nature there seemed to be a feeling of hopelessness and pain. The earth, like a ruined woman sitting alone in a dark room and trying not to think of the past, was brooding over memories of spring and summer and apathetically waiting for the inevitable winter. Wherever one looked, on all sides, nature seemed like a dark, infinitely deep, cold pit from which neither Kirilov nor Abogin nor the red half-moon could escape. . . .

The nearer the carriage got to its goal the more impatient Abogin became. He kept moving, leaping up, looking over the coachman’s shoulder. And when at last the carriage stopped before the entrance, which was elegantly curtained with striped linen, and when he looked at the lighted windows of the second storey there was an audible catch in his breath.

“If anything happens . . . I shall not survive it,” he said, going into the hall with the doctor, and rubbing his hands in agitation. “But there is no commotion, so everything must be going well so far,” he added, listening in the stillness.

There was no sound in the hall of steps or voices and all the house seemed asleep in spite of the lighted windows. Now the doctor and Abogin, who till then had been in darkness, could see each other clearly. The doctor was tall and stooped, was untidily dressed and not good-looking. There was an unpleasantly harsh, morose, and unfriendly look about his lips, thick as a negro’s, his aquiline nose, and listless, apathetic eyes. His unkempt head and sunken temples, the premature greyness of his long, narrow beard through which his chin was visible, the pale grey hue of his skin and his careless, uncouth manners—the harshness of all this was suggestive of years of poverty, of ill fortune, of weariness with life and with men. Looking at his frigid figure one could hardly believe that this man had a wife, that he was capable of weeping over his child. Abogin presented a very different appearance. He was a thick-set, sturdy-looking, fair man with a big head and large, soft features; he was elegantly dressed in the very latest fashion. In his carriage, his closely buttoned coat, his long hair, and his face there was a suggestion of something generous, leonine; he walked with his head erect and his chest squared, he spoke in an agreeable baritone, and there was a shade of refined almost feminine elegance in the manner in which he took off his scarf and smoothed his hair. Even his paleness and the childlike terror with which he looked up at the stairs as he took off his coat did not detract from his dignity nor diminish the air of sleekness, health, and aplomb which characterized his whole figure.

“There is nobody and no sound,” he said going up the stairs. “There is no commotion. God grant all is well.”

He led the doctor through the hall into a big drawing-room where there was a black piano and a chandelier in a white cover; from there they both went into a very snug, pretty little drawing-room full of an agreeable, rosy twilight.

“Well, sit down here, doctor, and I . . . will be back directly. I will go and have a look and prepare them.”

Kirilov was left alone. The luxury of the drawing-room, the agreeably subdued light and his own presence in the stranger’s unfamiliar house, which had something of the character of an adventure, did not apparently affect him. He sat in a low chair and scrutinized his hands, which were burnt with carbolic. He only caught a passing glimpse of the bright red lamp-shade and the violoncello case, and glancing in the direction where the clock was ticking he noticed a stuffed wolf as substantial and sleek-looking as Abogin himself.

It was quiet. . . . Somewhere far away in the adjoining rooms someone uttered a loud exclamation:

“Ah!” There was a clang of a glass door, probably of a cupboard, and again all was still. After waiting five minutes Kirilov left off scrutinizing his hands and raised his eyes to the door by which Abogin had vanished.

In the doorway stood Abogin, but he was not the same as when he had gone out. The look of sleekness and refined elegance had disappeared —his face, his hands, his attitude were contorted by a revolting expression of something between horror and agonizing physical pain. His nose, his lips, his moustache, all his features were moving and seemed trying to tear themselves from his face, his eyes looked as though they were laughing with agony. . . .

Abogin took a heavy stride into the drawing-room, bent forward, moaned, and shook his fists.

“She has deceived me,” he cried, with a strong emphasis on the second syllable of the verb. “Deceived me, gone away. She fell ill and sent me for the doctor only to run away with that clown Paptchinsky! My God!”

Abogin took a heavy step towards the doctor, held out his soft white fists in his face, and shaking them went on yelling:

“Gone away! Deceived me! But why this deception? My God! My God! What need of this dirty, scoundrelly trick, this diabolical, snakish farce? What have I done to her? Gone away!”

Tears gushed from his eyes. He turned on one foot and began pacing up and down the drawing-room. Now in his short coat, his fashionable narrow trousers which made his legs look disproportionately slim, with his big head and long mane he was extremely like a lion. A gleam of curiosity came into the apathetic face of the doctor. He got up and looked at Abogin.

“Excuse me, where is the patient?” he said.

“The patient! The patient!” cried Abogin, laughing, crying, and still brandishing his fists. “She is not ill, but accursed! The baseness! The vileness! The devil himself could not have imagined anything more loathsome! She sent me off that she might run away with a buffoon, a dull-witted clown, an Alphonse! Oh God, better she had died! I cannot bear it! I cannot bear it!”

The doctor drew himself up. His eyes blinked and filled with tears, his narrow beard began moving to right and to left together with his jaw.

“Allow me to ask what’s the meaning of this?” he asked, looking round him with curiosity. “My child is dead, my wife is in grief alone in the whole house. . . . I myself can scarcely stand up, I have not slept for three nights. . . . And here I am forced to play a part in some vulgar farce, to play the part of a stage property! I don’t . . . don’t understand it!”

Abogin unclenched one fist, flung a crumpled note on the floor, and stamped on it as though it were an insect he wanted to crush.

“And I didn’t see, didn’t understand,” he said through his clenched teeth, brandishing one fist before his face with an expression as though some one had trodden on his corns. “I did not notice that he came every day! I did not notice that he came today in a closed carriage! What did he come in a closed carriage for? And I did not see it! Noodle!”

“I don’t understand . . .” muttered the doctor. “Why, what’s the meaning of it? Why, it’s an outrage on personal dignity, a mockery of human suffering! It’s incredible. . . . It’s the first time in my life I have had such an experience!”

With the dull surprise of a man who has only just realized that he has been bitterly insulted the doctor shrugged his shoulders, flung wide his arms, and not knowing what to do or to say sank helplessly into a chair.

“If you have ceased to love me and love another—so be it; but why this deceit, why this vulgar, treacherous trick?” Abogin said in a tearful voice. “What is the object of it? And what is there to justify it? And what have I done to you? Listen, doctor,” he said hotly, going up to Kirilov. “You have been the involuntary witness of my misfortune and I am not going to conceal the truth from you. I swear that I loved the woman, loved her devotedly, like a slave! I have sacrificed everything for her; I have quarrelled with my own people, I have given up the service and music, I have forgiven her what I could not have forgiven my own mother or sister . . . I have never looked askance at her. . . . I have never gainsaid her in anything. Why this deception? I do not demand love, but why this loathsome duplicity? If she did not love me, why did she not say so openly, honestly, especially as she knows my views on the subject? . . .”

With tears in his eyes, trembling all over, Abogin opened his heart to the doctor with perfect sincerity. He spoke warmly, pressing both hands on his heart, exposing the secrets of his private life without the faintest hesitation, and even seemed to be glad that at last these secrets were no longer pent up in his breast. If he had talked in this way for an hour or two, and opened his heart, he would undoubtedly have felt better. Who knows, if the doctor had listened to him and had sympathized with him like a friend, he might perhaps, as often happens, have reconciled himself to his trouble without protest, without doing anything needless and absurd. . . . But what happened was quite different. While Abogin was speaking the outraged doctor perceptibly changed. The indifference and wonder on his face gradually gave way to an expression of bitter resentment, indignation, and anger. The features of his face became even harsher, coarser, and more unpleasant. When Abogin held out before his eyes the photograph of a young woman with a handsome face as cold and expressionless as a nun’s and asked him whether, looking at that face, one could conceive that it was capable of duplicity, the doctor suddenly flew out, and with flashing eyes said, rudely rapping out each word:

“What are you telling me all this for? I have no desire to hear it! I have no desire to!” he shouted and brought his fist down on the table. “I don’t want your vulgar secrets! Damnation take them! Don’t dare to tell me of such vulgar doings! Do you consider that I have not been insulted enough already? That I am a flunkey whom you can insult without restraint? Is that it?”

Abogin staggered back from Kirilov and stared at him in amazement.

“Why did you bring me here?” the doctor went on, his beard quivering. “If you are so puffed up with good living that you go and get married and then act a farce like this, how do I come in? What have I to do with your love affairs? Leave me in peace! Go on squeezing money out of the poor in your gentlemanly way. Make a display of humane ideas, play (the doctor looked sideways at the violoncello case) play the bassoon and the trombone, grow as fat as capons, but don’t dare to insult personal dignity! If you cannot respect it, you might at least spare it your attention!”

“Excuse me, what does all this mean?” Abogin asked, flushing red.

“It means that it’s base and low to play with people like this! I am a doctor; you look upon doctors and people generally who work and don’t stink of perfume and prostitution as your menials and mauvais ton; well, you may look upon them so, but no one has given you the right to treat a man who is suffering as a stage property!”

“How dare you say that to me!” Abogin said quietly, and his face began working again, and this time unmistakably from anger.

“No, how dared you, knowing of my sorrow, bring me here to listen to these vulgarities!” shouted the doctor, and he again banged on the table with his fist. “Who has given you the right to make a mockery of another man’s sorrow?”

“You have taken leave of your senses,” shouted Abogin. “It is ungenerous. I am intensely unhappy myself and . . . and . . .”

“Unhappy!” said the doctor, with a smile of contempt. “Don’t utter that word, it does not concern you. The spendthrift who cannot raise a loan calls himself unhappy, too. The capon, sluggish from over-feeding, is unhappy, too. Worthless people!”

“Sir, you forget yourself,” shrieked Abogin. “For saying things like that . . . people are thrashed! Do you understand?”

Abogin hurriedly felt in his side pocket, pulled out a pocket-book, and extracting two notes flung them on the table.

“Here is the fee for your visit,” he said, his nostrils dilating. “You are paid.”

“How dare you offer me money?” shouted the doctor and he brushed the notes off the table on to the floor. “An insult cannot be paid for in money!”

Abogin and the doctor stood face to face, and in their wrath continued flinging undeserved insults at each other. I believe that never in their lives, even in delirium, had they uttered so much that was unjust, cruel, and absurd. The egoism of the unhappy was conspicuous in both. The unhappy are egoistic, spiteful, unjust, cruel, and less capable of understanding each other than fools. Unhappiness does not bring people together but draws them apart, and even where one would fancy people should be united by the similarity of their sorrow, far more injustice and cruelty is generated than in comparatively placid surroundings.

“Kindly let me go home!” shouted the doctor, breathing hard.

Abogin rang the bell sharply. When no one came to answer the bell he rang again and angrily flung the bell on the floor; it fell on the carpet with a muffled sound, and uttered a plaintive note as though at the point of death. A footman came in.

“Where have you been hiding yourself, the devil take you?” His master flew at him, clenching his fists. “Where were you just now? Go and tell them to bring the victoria round for this gentleman, and order the closed carriage to be got ready for me. Stay,” he cried as the footman turned to go out. “I won’t have a single traitor in the house by to-morrow! Away with you all! I will engage fresh servants! Reptiles!”

Abogin and the doctor remained in silence waiting for the carriage. The first regained his expression of sleekness and his refined elegance. He paced up and down the room, tossed his head elegantly, and was evidently meditating on something. His anger had not cooled, but he tried to appear not to notice his enemy. . . . The doctor stood, leaning with one hand on the edge of the table, and looked at Abogin with that profound and somewhat cynical, ugly contempt only to be found in the eyes of sorrow and indigence when they are confronted with well-nourished comfort and elegance.

When a little later the doctor got into the victoria and drove off there was still a look of contempt in his eyes. It was dark, much darker than it had been an hour before. The red half-moon had sunk behind the hill and the clouds that had been guarding it lay in dark patches near the stars. The carriage with red lamps rattled along the road and soon overtook the doctor. It was Abogin driving off to protest, to do absurd things. . . .

All the way home the doctor thought not of his wife, nor of his Andrey, but of Abogin and the people in the house he had just left. His thoughts were unjust and inhumanly cruel. He condemned Abogin and his wife and Paptchinsky and all who lived in rosy, subdued light among sweet perfumes, and all the way home he hated and despised them till his head ached. And a firm conviction concerning those people took shape in his mind.

Time will pass and Kirilov’s sorrow will pass, but that conviction, unjust and unworthy of the human heart, will not pass, but will remain in the doctor’s mind to the grave.


THE EXAMINING MAGISTRATE

A DISTRICT doctor and an examining magistrate were driving one fine spring day to an inquest. The examining magistrate, a man of five and thirty, looked dreamily at the horses and said:

“There is a great deal that is enigmatic and obscure in nature; and even in everyday life, doctor, one must often come upon phenomena which are absolutely incapable of explanation. I know, for instance, of several strange, mysterious deaths, the cause of which only spiritualists and mystics will undertake to explain; a clear-headed man can only lift up his hands in perplexity. For example, I know of a highly cultured lady who foretold her own death and died without any apparent reason on the very day she had predicted. She said that she would die on a certain day, and she did die.”

“There’s no effect without a cause,” said the doctor. “If there’s a death there must be a cause for it. But as for predicting it there’s nothing very marvellous in that. All our ladies—all our females, in fact—have a turn for prophecies and presentiments.”

“Just so, but my lady, doctor, was quite a special case. There was nothing like the ladies’ or other females’ presentiments about her prediction and her death. She was a young woman, healthy and clever, with no superstitions of any sort. She had such clear, intelligent, honest eyes; an open, sensible face with a faint, typically Russian look of mockery in her eyes and on her lips. There was nothing of the fine lady or of the female about her, except—if you like— her beauty! She was graceful, elegant as that birch tree; she had wonderful hair. That she may be intelligible to you, I will add, too, that she was a person of the most infectious gaiety and carelessness and that intelligent, good sort of frivolity which is only found in good-natured, light-hearted people with brains. Can one talk of mysticism, spiritualism, a turn for presentiment, or anything of that sort, in this case? She used to laugh at all that.”

The doctor’s chaise stopped by a well. The examining magistrate and the doctor drank some water, stretched, and waited for the coachman to finish watering the horses.

“Well, what did the lady die of?” asked the doctor when the chaise was rolling along the road again.

“She died in a strange way. One fine day her husband went in to her and said that it wouldn’t be amiss to sell their old coach before the spring and to buy something rather newer and lighter instead, and that it might be as well to change the left trace horse and to put Bobtchinsky (that was the name of one of her husband’s horses) in the shafts.

“His wife listened to him and said:

“‘Do as you think best, but it makes no difference to me now. Before the summer I shall be in the cemetery.’

“Her husband, of course, shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

“‘I am not joking,’ she said. ‘I tell you in earnest that I shall soon be dead.’

“‘What do you mean by soon?’

“‘Directly after my confinement. I shall bear my child and die.’

“The husband attached no significance to these words. He did not believe in presentiments of any sort, and he knew that ladies in an interesting condition are apt to be fanciful and to give way to gloomy ideas generally. A day later his wife spoke to him again of dying immediately after her confinement, and then every day she spoke of it and he laughed and called her a silly woman, a fortune-teller, a crazy creature. Her approaching death became an idée fixé with his wife. When her husband would not listen to her she would go into the kitchen and talk of her death to the nurse and the cook.

“‘I haven’t long to live now, nurse,’ she would say. ‘As soon as my confinement is over I shall die. I did not want to die so early, but it seems it’s my fate.’

“The nurse and the cook were in tears, of course. Sometimes the priest’s wife or some lady from a neighbouring estate would come and see her and she would take them aside and open her soul to them, always harping on the same subject, her approaching death. She spoke gravely with an unpleasant smile, even with an angry face which would not allow any contradiction. She had been smart and fashionable in her dress, but now in view of her approaching death she became slovenly; she did not read, she did not laugh, she did not dream aloud. What was more she drove with her aunt to the cemetery and selected a spot for her tomb. Five days before her confinement she made her will. And all this, bear in mind, was done in the best of health, without the faintest hint of illness or danger. A confinement is a difficult affair and sometimes fatal, but in the case of which I am telling you every indication was favourable, and there was absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Her husband was sick of the whole business at last. He lost his temper one day at dinner and asked her:

“‘Listen, Natasha, when is there going to be an end of this silliness?’

“‘It’s not silliness, I am in earnest.’

“‘Nonsense, I advise you to give over being silly that you may not feel ashamed of it afterwards.’

“Well, the confinement came. The husband got the very best midwife from the town. It was his wife’s first confinement, but it could not have gone better. When it was all over she asked to look at her baby. She looked at it and said:

“‘Well, now I can die.’

“She said good-bye, shut her eyes, and half an hour later gave up her soul to God. She was fully conscious up to the last moment. Anyway when they gave her milk instead of water she whispered softly:

“‘Why are you giving me milk instead of water?’

“So that is what happened. She died as she predicted.”

The examining magistrate paused, gave a sigh and said:

“Come, explain why she died. I assure you on my honour, this is not invented, it’s a fact.”

The doctor looked at the sky meditatively.

“You ought to have had an inquest on her,” he said.

“Why?”

“Why, to find out the cause of her death. She didn’t die because she had predicted it. She poisoned herself most probably.”

The examining magistrate turned quickly, facing the doctor, and screwing up his eyes, asked:

“And from what do you conclude that she poisoned herself?”

“I don’t conclude it, but I assume it. Was she on good terms with her husband?”

“H’m, not altogether. There had been misunderstandings soon after their marriage. There were unfortunate circumstances. She had found her husband on one occasion with a lady. She soon forgave him however.”

“And which came first, her husband’s infidelity or her idea of dying?”

The examining magistrate looked attentively at the doctor as though he were trying to imagine why he put that question.

“Excuse me,” he said, not quite immediately. “Let me try and remember.” The examining magistrate took off his hat and rubbed his forehead. “Yes, yes . . . it was very shortly after that incident that she began talking of death. Yes, yes.”

“Well, there, do you see? . . . In all probability it was at that time that she made up her mind to poison herself, but, as most likely she did not want to kill her child also, she put it off till after her confinement.”

“Not likely, not likely! . . . it’s impossible. She forgave him at the time.”

“That she forgave it quickly means that she had something bad in her mind. Young wives do not forgive quickly.”

The examining magistrate gave a forced smile, and, to conceal his too noticeable agitation, began lighting a cigarette.

“Not likely, not likely,” he went on. “No notion of anything of the sort being possible ever entered into my head. . . . And besides . . . he was not so much to blame as it seems. . . . He was unfaithful to her in rather a queer way, with no desire to be; he came home at night somewhat elevated, wanted to make love to somebody, his wife was in an interesting condition . . . then he came across a lady who had come to stay for three days—damnation take her— an empty-headed creature, silly and not good-looking. It couldn’t be reckoned as an infidelity. His wife looked at it in that way herself and soon . . . forgave it. Nothing more was said about it. . . .”

“People don’t die without a reason,” said the doctor.

“That is so, of course, but all the same . . . I cannot admit that she poisoned herself. But it is strange that the idea has never struck me before! And no one thought of it! Everyone was astonished that her prediction had come to pass, and the idea . . . of such a death was far from their mind. And indeed, it cannot be that she poisoned herself! No!”

The examining magistrate pondered. The thought of the woman who had died so strangely haunted him all through the inquest. As he noted down what the doctor dictated to him he moved his eyebrows gloomily and rubbed his forehead.

“And are there really poisons that kill one in a quarter of an hour, gradually, without any pain?” he asked the doctor while the latter was opening the skull.

“Yes, there are. Morphia for instance.”

“H’m, strange. I remember she used to keep something of the sort . . . . But it could hardly be.”

On the way back the examining magistrate looked exhausted, he kept nervously biting his moustache, and was unwilling to talk.

“Let us go a little way on foot,” he said to the doctor. “I am tired of sitting.”

After walking about a hundred paces, the examining magistrate seemed to the doctor to be overcome with fatigue, as though he had been climbing up a high mountain. He stopped and, looking at the doctor with a strange look in his eyes, as though he were drunk, said:

“My God, if your theory is correct, why it’s. . . it was cruel, inhuman! She poisoned herself to punish some one else! Why, was the sin so great? Oh, my God! And why did you make me a present of this damnable idea, doctor!”

The examining magistrate clutched at his head in despair, and went on:

“What I have told you was about my own wife, about myself. Oh, my God! I was to blame, I wounded her, but can it have been easier to die than to forgive? That’s typical feminine logic—cruel, merciless logic. Oh, even then when she was living she was cruel! I recall it all now! It’s all clear to me now!”

As the examining magistrate talked he shrugged his shoulders, then clutched at his head. He got back into the carriage, then walked again. The new idea the doctor had imparted to him seemed to have overwhelmed him, to have poisoned him; he was distracted, shattered in body and soul, and when he got back to the town he said good-bye to the doctor, declining to stay to dinner though he had promised the doctor the evening before to dine with him.


BETROTHED

I

IT was ten o’clock in the evening and the full moon was shining over the garden. In the Shumins’ house an evening service celebrated at the request of the grandmother, Marfa Mihalovna, was just over, and now Nadya—she had gone into the garden for a minute—could see the table being laid for supper in the dining-room, and her grandmother bustling about in her gorgeous silk dress; Father Andrey, a chief priest of the cathedral, was talking to Nadya’s mother, Nina Ivanovna, and now in the evening light through the window her mother for some reason looked very young; Andrey Andreitch, Father Andrey’s son, was standing by listening attentively.

It was still and cool in the garden, and dark peaceful shadows lay on the ground. There was a sound of frogs croaking, far, far away beyond the town. There was a feeling of May, sweet May! One drew deep breaths and longed to fancy that not here but far away under the sky, above the trees, far away in the open country, in the fields and the woods, the life of spring was unfolding now, mysterious, lovely, rich and holy beyond the understanding of weak, sinful man. And for some reason one wanted to cry.

She, Nadya, was already twenty-three. Ever since she was sixteen she had been passionately dreaming of marriage and at last she was engaged to Andrey Andreitch, the young man who was standing on the other side of the window; she liked him, the wedding was already fixed for July 7, and yet there was no joy in her heart, she was sleeping badly, her spirits drooped. . . . She could hear from the open windows of the basement where the kitchen was the hurrying servants, the clatter of knives, the banging of the swing door; there was a smell of roast turkey and pickled cherries, and for some reason it seemed to her that it would be like that all her life, with no change, no end to it.

Some one came out of the house and stood on the steps; it was Alexandr Timofeitch, or, as he was always called, Sasha, who had come from Moscow ten days before and was staying with them. Years ago a distant relation of the grandmother, a gentleman’s widow called Marya Petrovna, a thin, sickly little woman who had sunk into poverty, used to come to the house to ask for assistance. She had a son Sasha. It used for some reason to be said that he had talent as an artist, and when his mother died Nadya’s grandmother had, for the salvation of her soul, sent him to the Komissarovsky school in Moscow; two years later he went into the school of painting, spent nearly fifteen years there, and only just managed to scrape through the leaving examination in the section of architecture. He did not set up as an architect, however, but took a job at a lithographer’s. He used to come almost every year, usually very ill, to stay with Nadya’s grandmother to rest and recover.

He was wearing now a frock-coat buttoned up, and shabby canvas trousers, crumpled into creases at the bottom. And his shirt had not been ironed and he had somehow all over a look of not being fresh. He was very thin, with big eyes, long thin fingers and a swarthy bearded face, and all the same he was handsome. With the Shumins he was like one of the family, and in their house felt he was at home. And the room in which he lived when he was there had for years been called Sasha’s room. Standing on the steps he saw Nadya, and went up to her.

“It’s nice here,” he said.

“Of course it’s nice, you ought to stay here till the autumn.”

“Yes, I expect it will come to that. I dare say I shall stay with you till September.”

He laughed for no reason, and sat down beside her.

“I’m sitting gazing at mother,” said Nadya. “She looks so young from here! My mother has her weaknesses, of course,” she added, after a pause, “but still she is an exceptional woman.”

“Yes, she is very nice . . .” Sasha agreed. “Your mother, in her own way of course, is a very good and sweet woman, but . . . how shall I say? I went early this morning into your kitchen and there I found four servants sleeping on the floor, no bedsteads, and rags for bedding, stench, bugs, beetles . . . it is just as it was twenty years ago, no change at all. Well, Granny, God bless her, what else can you expect of Granny? But your mother speaks French, you know, and acts in private theatricals. One would think she might understand.”

As Sasha talked, he used to stretch out two long wasted fingers before the listener’s face.

“It all seems somehow strange to me here, now I am out of the habit of it,” he went on. “There is no making it out. Nobody ever does anything. Your mother spends the whole day walking about like a duchess, Granny does nothing either, nor you either. And your Andrey Andreitch never does anything either.”

Nadya had heard this the year before and, she fancied, the year before that too, and she knew that Sasha could not make any other criticism, and in old days this had amused her, but now for some reason she felt annoyed.

“That’s all stale, and I have been sick of it for ages,” she said and got up. “You should think of something a little newer.”

He laughed and got up too, and they went together toward the house. She, tall, handsome, and well-made, beside him looked very healthy and smartly dressed; she was conscious of this and felt sorry for him and for some reason awkward.

“And you say a great deal you should not,” she said. “You’ve just been talking about my Andrey, but you see you don’t know him.”

“My Andrey. . . . Bother him, your Andrey. I am sorry for your youth.”

They were already sitting down to supper as the young people went into the dining-room. The grandmother, or Granny as she was called in the household, a very stout, plain old lady with bushy eyebrows and a little moustache, was talking loudly, and from her voice and manner of speaking it could be seen that she was the person of most importance in the house. She owned rows of shops in the market, and the old-fashioned house with columns and the garden, yet she prayed every morning that God might save her from ruin and shed tears as she did so. Her daughter-in-law, Nadya’s mother, Nina Ivanovna, a fair-haired woman tightly laced in, with a pince-nez, and diamonds on every finger, Father Andrey, a lean, toothless old man whose face always looked as though he were just going to say something amusing, and his son, Andrey Andreitch, a stout and handsome young man with curly hair looking like an artist or an actor, were all talking of hypnotism.

“You will get well in a week here,” said Granny, addressing Sasha. “Only you must eat more. What do you look like!” she sighed. “You are really dreadful! You are a regular prodigal son, that is what you are.”

“After wasting his father’s substance in riotous living,” said Father Andrey slowly, with laughing eyes. “He fed with senseless beasts.”

“I like my dad,” said Andrey Andreitch, touching his father on the shoulder. “He is a splendid old fellow, a dear old fellow.”

Everyone was silent for a space. Sasha suddenly burst out laughing and put his dinner napkin to his mouth.

“So you believe in hypnotism?” said Father Andrey to Nina Ivanovna.

“I cannot, of course, assert that I believe,” answered Nina Ivanovna, assuming a very serious, even severe, expression; “but I must own that there is much that is mysterious and incomprehensible in nature.”

“I quite agree with you, though I must add that religion distinctly curtails for us the domain of the mysterious.”

A big and very fat turkey was served. Father Andrey and Nina Ivanovna went on with their conversation. Nina Ivanovna’s diamonds glittered on her fingers, then tears began to glitter in her eyes, she grew excited.

“Though I cannot venture to argue with you,” she said, “you must admit there are so many insoluble riddles in life!”

“Not one, I assure you.”

After supper Andrey Andreitch played the fiddle and Nina Ivanovna accompanied him on the piano. Ten years before he had taken his degree at the university in the Faculty of Arts, but had never held any post, had no definite work, and only from time to time took part in concerts for charitable objects; and in the town he was regarded as a musician.

Andrey Andreitch played; they all listened in silence. The samovar was boiling quietly on the table and no one but Sasha was drinking tea. Then when it struck twelve a violin string suddenly broke; everyone laughed, bustled about, and began saying good-bye.

After seeing her fiancé out, Nadya went upstairs where she and her mother had their rooms (the lower storey was occupied by the grandmother). They began putting the lights out below in the dining-room, while Sasha still sat on drinking tea. He always spent a long time over tea in the Moscow style, drinking as much as seven glasses at a time. For a long time after Nadya had undressed and gone to bed she could hear the servants clearing away downstairs and Granny talking angrily. At last everything was hushed, and nothing could be heard but Sasha from time to time coughing on a bass note in his room below.

II

When Nadya woke up it must have been two o’clock, it was beginning to get light. A watchman was tapping somewhere far away. She was not sleepy, and her bed felt very soft and uncomfortable. Nadya sat up in her bed and fell to thinking as she had done every night in May. Her thoughts were the same as they had been the night before, useless, persistent thoughts, always alike, of how Andrey Andreitch had begun courting her and had made her an offer, how she had accepted him and then little by little had come to appreciate the kindly, intelligent man. But for some reason now when there was hardly a month left before the wedding, she began to feel dread and uneasiness as though something vague and oppressive were before her.

“Tick-tock, tick-tock . . .” the watchman tapped lazily. “. . . Tick-tock.”

Through the big old-fashioned window she could see the garden and at a little distance bushes of lilac in full flower, drowsy and lifeless from the cold; and the thick white mist was floating softly up to the lilac, trying to cover it. Drowsy rooks were cawing in the far-away trees.

“My God, why is my heart so heavy?”

Perhaps every girl felt the same before her wedding. There was no knowing! Or was it Sasha’s influence? But for several years past Sasha had been repeating the same thing, like a copybook, and when he talked he seemed naïve and queer. But why was it she could not get Sasha out of her head? Why was it?

The watchman left off tapping for a long while. The birds were twittering under the windows and the mist had disappeared from the garden. Everything was lighted up by the spring sunshine as by a smile. Soon the whole garden, warm and caressed by the sun, returned to life, and dewdrops like diamonds glittered on the leaves and the old neglected garden on that morning looked young and gaily decked.

Granny was already awake. Sasha’s husky cough began. Nadya could hear them below, setting the samovar and moving the chairs. The hours passed slowly, Nadya had been up and walking about the garden for a long while and still the morning dragged on.

At last Nina Ivanovna appeared with a tear-stained face, carrying a glass of mineral water. She was interested in spiritualism and homeopathy, read a great deal, was fond of talking of the doubts to which she was subject, and to Nadya it seemed as though there were a deep mysterious significance in all that.

Now Nadya kissed her mother and walked beside her.

“What have you been crying about, mother?” she asked.

“Last night I was reading a story in which there is an old man and his daughter. The old man is in some office and his chief falls in love with his daughter. I have not finished it, but there was a passage which made it hard to keep from tears,” said Nina Ivanovna and she sipped at her glass. “I thought of it this morning and shed tears again.”

“I have been so depressed all these days,” said Nadya after a pause. “Why is it I don’t sleep at night!”

“I don’t know, dear. When I can’t sleep I shut my eyes very tightly, like this, and picture to myself Anna Karenin moving about and talking, or something historical from the ancient world. . . .”

Nadya felt that her mother did not understand her and was incapable of understanding. She felt this for the first time in her life, and it positively frightened her and made her want to hide herself; and she went away to her own room.

At two o’clock they sat down to dinner. It was Wednesday, a fast day, and so vegetable soup and bream with boiled grain were set before Granny.

To tease Granny Sasha ate his meat soup as well as the vegetable soup. He was making jokes all through dinner-time, but his jests were laboured and invariably with a moral bearing, and the effect was not at all amusing when before making some witty remark he raised his very long, thin, deathly-looking fingers; and when one remembered that he was very ill and would probably not be much longer in this world, one felt sorry for him and ready to weep.

After dinner Granny went off to her own room to lie down. Nina Ivanovna played on the piano for a little, and then she too went away.

“Oh, dear Nadya!” Sasha began his usual afternoon conversation, “if only you would listen to me! If only you would!”

She was sitting far back in an old-fashioned armchair, with her eyes shut, while he paced slowly about the room from corner to corner.

“If only you would go to the university,” he said. “Only enlightened and holy people are interesting, it’s only they who are wanted. The more of such people there are, the sooner the Kingdom of God will come on earth. Of your town then not one stone will be left, everything will be blown up from the foundations, everything will be changed as though by magic. And then there will be immense, magnificent houses here, wonderful gardens, marvellous fountains, remarkable people. . . . But that’s not what matters most. What matters most is that the crowd, in our sense of the word, in the sense in which it exists now—that evil will not exist then, because every man will believe and every man will know what he is living for and no one will seek moral support in the crowd. Dear Nadya, darling girl, go away! Show them all that you are sick of this stagnant, grey, sinful life. Prove it to yourself at least!”

“I can’t, Sasha, I’m going to be married.”

“Oh nonsense! What’s it for!”

They went out into the garden and walked up and down a little.

“And however that may be, my dear girl, you must think, you must realize how unclean, how immoral this idle life of yours is,” Sasha went on. “Do understand that if, for instance, you and your mother and your grandmother do nothing, it means that someone else is working for you, you are eating up someone else’s life, and is that clean, isn’t it filthy?”

Nadya wanted to say “Yes, that is true”; she wanted to say that she understood, but tears came into her eyes, her spirits drooped, and shrinking into herself she went off to her room.

Towards evening Andrey Andreitch arrived and as usual played the fiddle for a long time. He was not given to much talk as a rule, and was fond of the fiddle, perhaps because one could be silent while playing. At eleven o’clock when he was about to go home and had put on his greatcoat, he embraced Nadya and began greedily kissing her face, her shoulders, and her hands.

“My dear, my sweet, my charmer,” he muttered. “Oh how happy I am! I am beside myself with rapture!”

And it seemed to her as though she had heard that long, long ago, or had read it somewhere . . . in some old tattered novel thrown away long ago. In the dining-room Sasha was sitting at the table drinking tea with the saucer poised on his five long fingers; Granny was laying out patience; Nina Ivanovna was reading. The flame crackled in the ikon lamp and everything, it seemed, was quiet and going well. Nadya said good-night, went upstairs to her room, got into bed and fell asleep at once. But just as on the night before, almost before it was light, she woke up. She was not sleepy, there was an uneasy, oppressive feeling in her heart. She sat up with her head on her knees and thought of her fiancé and her marriage. . . . She for some reason remembered that her mother had not loved her father and now had nothing and lived in complete dependence on her mother-in-law, Granny. And however much Nadya pondered she could not imagine why she had hitherto seen in her mother something special and exceptional, how it was she had not noticed that she was a simple, ordinary, unhappy woman.

And Sasha downstairs was not asleep, she could hear him coughing. He is a queer, naïve man, thought Nadya, and in all his dreams, in all those marvellous gardens and wonderful fountains one felt there was something absurd. But for some reason in his naïveté, in this very absurdity there was something so beautiful that as soon as she thought of the possibility of going to the university, it sent a cold thrill through her heart and her bosom and flooded them with joy and rapture.

“But better not think, better not think . . .” she whispered. “I must not think of it.”

“Tick-tock,” tapped the watchman somewhere far away. “Tick-tock . . . tick-tock. . . .”

III

In the middle of June Sasha suddenly felt bored and made up his mind to return to Moscow.

“I can’t exist in this town,” he said gloomily. “No water supply, no drains! It disgusts me to eat at dinner; the filth in the kitchen is incredible. . . .”

“Wait a little, prodigal son!” Granny tried to persuade him, speaking for some reason in a whisper, “the wedding is to be on the seventh.”

“I don’t want to.”

“You meant to stay with us until September!”

“But now, you see, I don’t want to. I must get to work.”

The summer was grey and cold, the trees were wet, everything in the garden looked dejected and uninviting, it certainly did make one long to get to work. The sound of unfamiliar women’s voices was heard downstairs and upstairs, there was the rattle of a sewing machine in Granny’s room, they were working hard at the trousseau. Of fur coats alone, six were provided for Nadya, and the cheapest of them, in Granny’s words, had cost three hundred roubles! The fuss irritated Sasha; he stayed in his own room and was cross, but everyone persuaded him to remain, and he promised not to go before the first of July.

Time passed quickly. On St. Peter’s day Andrey Andreitch went with Nadya after dinner to Moscow Street to look once more at the house which had been taken and made ready for the young couple some time before. It was a house of two storeys, but so far only the upper floor had been furnished. There was in the hall a shining floor painted and parqueted, there were Viennese chairs, a piano, a violin stand; there was a smell of paint. On the wall hung a big oil painting in a gold frame—a naked lady and beside her a purple vase with a broken handle.

“An exquisite picture,” said Andrey Andreitch, and he gave a respectful sigh. “It’s the work of the artist Shismatchevsky.”

Then there was the drawing-room with the round table, and a sofa and easy chairs upholstered in bright blue. Above the sofa was a big photograph of Father Andrey wearing a priest’s velvet cap and decorations. Then they went into the dining-room in which there was a sideboard; then into the bedroom; here in the half dusk stood two bedsteads side by side, and it looked as though the bedroom had been decorated with the idea that it would always be very agreeable there and could not possibly be anything else. Andrey Andreitch led Nadya about the rooms, all the while keeping his arm round her waist; and she felt weak and conscience-stricken. She hated all the rooms, the beds, the easy chairs; she was nauseated by the naked lady. It was clear to her now that she had ceased to love Andrey Andreitch or perhaps had never loved him at all; but how to say this and to whom to say it and with what object she did not understand, and could not understand, though she was thinking about it all day and all night. . . . He held her round the waist, talked so affectionately, so modestly, was so happy, walking about this house of his; while she saw nothing in it all but vulgarity, stupid, naïve, unbearable vulgarity, and his arm round her waist felt as hard and cold as an iron hoop. And every minute she was on the point of running away, bursting into sobs, throwing herself out of a window. Andrey Andreitch led her into the bathroom and here he touched a tap fixed in the wall and at once water flowed.

“What do you say to that?” he said, and laughed. “I had a tank holding two hundred gallons put in the loft, and so now we shall have water.”

They walked across the yard and went out into the street and took a cab. Thick clouds of dust were blowing, and it seemed as though it were just going to rain.

“You are not cold?” said Andrey Andreitch, screwing up his eyes at the dust.

She did not answer.

“Yesterday, you remember, Sasha blamed me for doing nothing,” he said, after a brief silence. “Well, he is right, absolutely right! I do nothing and can do nothing. My precious, why is it? Why is it that the very thought that I may some day fix a cockade on my cap and go into the government service is so hateful to me? Why do I feel so uncomfortable when I see a lawyer or a Latin master or a member of the Zemstvo? O Mother Russia! O Mother Russia! What a burden of idle and useless people you still carry! How many like me are upon you, long-suffering Mother!”

And from the fact that he did nothing he drew generalizations, seeing in it a sign of the times.

“When we are married let us go together into the country, my precious; there we will work! We will buy ourselves a little piece of land with a garden and a river, we will labour and watch life. Oh, how splendid that will be!”

He took off his hat, and his hair floated in the wind, while she listened to him and thought: “Good God, I wish I were home!”

When they were quite near the house they overtook Father Andrey.

“Ah, here’s father coming,” cried Andrey Andreitch, delighted, and he waved his hat. “I love my dad really,” he said as he paid the cabman. “He’s a splendid old fellow, a dear old fellow.”

Nadya went into the house, feeling cross and unwell, thinking that there would be visitors all the evening, that she would have to entertain them, to smile, to listen to the fiddle, to listen to all sorts of nonsense, and to talk of nothing but the wedding.

Granny, dignified, gorgeous in her silk dress, and haughty as she always seemed before visitors, was sitting before the samovar. Father Andrey came in with his sly smile.

“I have the pleasure and blessed consolation of seeing you in health,” he said to Granny, and it was hard to tell whether he was joking or speaking seriously.

IV

The wind was beating on the window and on the roof; there was a whistling sound, and in the stove the house spirit was plaintively and sullenly droning his song. It was past midnight; everyone in the house had gone to bed, but no one was asleep, and it seemed all the while to Nadya as though they were playing the fiddle below. There was a sharp bang; a shutter must have been torn off. A minute later Nina Ivanovna came in in her nightgown, with a candle.

“What was the bang, Nadya?” she asked.

Her mother, with her hair in a single plait and a timid smile on her face, looked older, plainer, smaller on that stormy night. Nadya remembered that quite a little time ago she had thought her mother an exceptional woman and had listened with pride to the things she said; and now she could not remember those things, everything that came into her mind was so feeble and useless.

In the stove was the sound of several bass voices in chorus, and she even heard “O-o-o my G-o-od!” Nadya sat on her bed, and suddenly she clutched at her hair and burst into sobs.

“Mother, mother, my own,” she said. “If only you knew what is happening to me! I beg you, I beseech you, let me go away! I beseech you!”

“Where?” asked Nina Ivanovna, not understanding, and she sat down on the bedstead. “Go where?”

For a long while Nadya cried and could not utter a word.

“Let me go away from the town,” she said at last. “There must not and will not be a wedding, understand that! I don’t love that man . . . I can’t even speak about him.”

“No, my own, no!” Nina Ivanovna said quickly, terribly alarmed. “Calm yourself—it’s just because you are in low spirits. It will pass, it often happens. Most likely you have had a tiff with Andrey; but lovers’ quarrels always end in kisses!”

“Oh, go away, mother, oh, go away,” sobbed Nadya.

“Yes,” said Nina Ivanovna after a pause, “it’s not long since you were a baby, a little girl, and now you are engaged to be married. In nature there is a continual transmutation of substances. Before you know where you are you will be a mother yourself and an old woman, and will have as rebellious a daughter as I have.”

“My darling, my sweet, you are clever you know, you are unhappy,” said Nadya. “You are very unhappy; why do you say such very dull, commonplace things? For God’s sake, why?”

Nina Ivanovna tried to say something, but could not utter a word; she gave a sob and went away to her own room. The bass voices began droning in the stove again, and Nadya felt suddenly frightened. She jumped out of bed and went quickly to her mother. Nina Ivanovna, with tear-stained face, was lying in bed wrapped in a pale blue quilt and holding a book in her hands.

“Mother, listen to me!” said Nadya. “I implore you, do understand! If you would only understand how petty and degrading our life is. My eyes have been opened, and I see it all now. And what is your Andrey Andreitch? Why, he is not intelligent, mother! Merciful heavens, do understand, mother, he is stupid!”

Nina Ivanovna abruptly sat up.

“You and your grandmother torment me,” she said with a sob. “I want to live! to live,” she repeated, and twice she beat her little fist upon her bosom. “Let me be free! I am still young, I want to live, and you have made me an old woman between you!”

She broke into bitter tears, lay down and curled up under the quilt, and looked so small, so pitiful, so foolish. Nadya went to her room, dressed, and sitting at the window fell to waiting for the morning. She sat all night thinking, while someone seemed to be tapping on the shutters and whistling in the yard.

In the morning Granny complained that the wind had blown down all the apples in the garden, and broken down an old plum tree. It was grey, murky, cheerless, dark enough for candles; everyone complained of the cold, and the rain lashed on the windows. After tea Nadya went into Sasha’s room and without saying a word knelt down before an armchair in the corner and hid her face in her hands.

“What is it?” asked Sasha.

“I can’t . . .” she said. “How I could go on living here before, I can’t understand, I can’t conceive! I despise the man I am engaged to, I despise myself, I despise all this idle, senseless existence.”

“Well, well,” said Sasha, not yet grasping what was meant. “That’s all right . . . that’s good.”

“I am sick of this life,” Nadya went on. “I can’t endure another day here. To-morrow I am going away. Take me with you for God’s sake!”

For a minute Sasha looked at her in astonishment; at last he understood and was delighted as a child. He waved his arms and began pattering with his slippers as though he were dancing with delight.

“Splendid,” he said, rubbing his hands. “My goodness, how fine that is!”

And she stared at him without blinking, with adoring eyes, as though spellbound, expecting every minute that he would say something important, something infinitely significant; he had told her nothing yet, but already it seemed to her that something new and great was opening before her which she had not known till then, and already she gazed at him full of expectation, ready to face anything, even death.

“I am going to-morrow,” he said after a moment’s thought. “You come to the station to see me off. . . . I’ll take your things in my portmanteau, and I’ll get your ticket, and when the third bell rings you get into the carriage, and we’ll go off. You’ll see me as far as Moscow and then go on to Petersburg alone. Have you a passport?”

“Yes.”

“I can promise you, you won’t regret it,” said Sasha, with conviction. “You will go, you will study, and then go where fate takes you. When you turn your life upside down everything will be changed. The great thing is to turn your life upside down, and all the rest is unimportant. And so we will set off to-morrow?”

“Oh yes, for God’s sake!”

It seemed to Nadya that she was very much excited, that her heart was heavier than ever before, that she would spend all the time till she went away in misery and agonizing thought; but she had hardly gone upstairs and lain down on her bed when she fell asleep at once, with traces of tears and a smile on her face, and slept soundly till evening.

V

A cab had been sent for. Nadya in her hat and overcoat went upstairs to take one more look at her mother, at all her belongings. She stood in her own room beside her still warm bed, looked about her, then went slowly in to her mother. Nina Ivanovna was asleep; it was quite still in her room. Nadya kissed her mother, smoothed her hair, stood still for a couple of minutes . . . then walked slowly downstairs.

It was raining heavily. The cabman with the hood pulled down was standing at the entrance, drenched with rain.

“There is not room for you, Nadya,” said Granny, as the servants began putting in the luggage. “What an idea to see him off in such weather! You had better stop at home. Goodness, how it rains!”

Nadya tried to say something, but could not. Then Sasha helped Nadya in and covered her feet with a rug. Then he sat down beside her.

“Good luck to you! God bless you!” Granny cried from the steps. “Mind you write to us from Moscow, Sasha!”

“Right. Good-bye, Granny.”

“The Queen of Heaven keep you!”

“Oh, what weather!” said Sasha.

It was only now that Nadya began to cry. Now it was clear to her that she certainly was going, which she had not really believed when she was saying good-bye to Granny, and when she was looking at her mother. Good-bye, town! And she suddenly thought of it all: Andrey, and his father and the new house and the naked lady with the vase; and it all no longer frightened her, nor weighed upon her, but was naïve and trivial and continually retreated further away. And when they got into the railway carriage and the train began to move, all that past which had been so big and serious shrank up into something tiny, and a vast wide future which till then had scarcely been noticed began unfolding before her. The rain pattered on the carriage windows, nothing could be seen but the green fields, telegraph posts with birds sitting on the wires flitted by, and joy made her hold her breath; she thought that she was going to freedom, going to study, and this was just like what used, ages ago, to be called going off to be a free Cossack.

She laughed and cried and prayed all at once.

“It’s a-all right,” said Sasha, smiling. “It’s a-all right.”

VI

Autumn had passed and winter, too, had gone. Nadya had begun to be very homesick and thought every day of her mother and her grandmother; she thought of Sasha too. The letters that came from home were kind and gentle, and it seemed as though everything by now were forgiven and forgotten. In May after the examinations she set off for home in good health and high spirits, and stopped on the way at Moscow to see Sasha. He was just the same as the year before, with the same beard and unkempt hair, with the same large beautiful eyes, and he still wore the same coat and canvas trousers; but he looked unwell and worried, he seemed both older and thinner, and kept coughing, and for some reason he struck Nadya as grey and provincial.

“My God, Nadya has come!” he said, and laughed gaily. “My darling girl!”

They sat in the printing room, which was full of tobacco smoke, and smelt strongly, stiflingly of Indian ink and paint; then they went to his room, which also smelt of tobacco and was full of the traces of spitting; near a cold samovar stood a broken plate with dark paper on it, and there were masses of dead flies on the table and on the floor. And everything showed that Sasha ordered his personal life in a slovenly way and lived anyhow, with utter contempt for comfort, and if anyone began talking to him of his personal happiness, of his personal life, of affection for him, he would not have understood and would have only laughed.

“It is all right, everything has gone well,” said Nadya hurriedly. “Mother came to see me in Petersburg in the autumn; she said that Granny is not angry, and only keeps going into my room and making the sign of the cross over the walls.”

Sasha looked cheerful, but he kept coughing, and talked in a cracked voice, and Nadya kept looking at him, unable to decide whether he really were seriously ill or whether it were only her fancy.

“Dear Sasha,” she said, “you are ill.”

“No, it’s nothing, I am ill, but not very . . .”

“Oh, dear!” cried Nadya, in agitation. “Why don’t you go to a doctor? Why don’t you take care of your health? My dear, darling Sasha,” she said, and tears gushed from her eyes and for some reason there rose before her imagination Andrey Andreitch and the naked lady with the vase, and all her past which seemed now as far away as her childhood; and she began crying because Sasha no longer seemed to her so novel, so cultured, and so interesting as the year before. “Dear Sasha, you are very, very ill . . . I would do anything to make you not so pale and thin. I am so indebted to you! You can’t imagine how much you have done for me, my good Sasha! In reality you are now the person nearest and dearest to me.”

They sat on and talked, and now, after Nadya had spent a winter in Petersburg, Sasha, his works, his smile, his whole figure had for her a suggestion of something out of date, old-fashioned, done with long ago and perhaps already dead and buried.

“I am going down the Volga the day after tomorrow,” said Sasha, “and then to drink koumiss. I mean to drink koumiss. A friend and his wife are going with me. His wife is a wonderful woman; I am always at her, trying to persuade her to go to the university. I want her to turn her life upside down.”

After having talked they drove to the station. Sasha got her tea and apples; and when the train began moving and he waved his handkerchief at her, smiling, it could be seen even from his legs that he was very ill and would not live long.

Nadya reached her native town at midday. As she drove home from the station the streets struck her as very wide and the houses very small and squat; there were no people about, she met no one but the German piano-tuner in a rusty greatcoat. And all the houses looked as though they were covered with dust. Granny, who seemed to have grown quite old, but was as fat and plain as ever, flung her arms round Nadya and cried for a long time with her face on Nadya’s shoulder, unable to tear herself away. Nina Ivanovna looked much older and plainer and seemed shrivelled up, but was still tightly laced, and still had diamonds flashing on her fingers.

“My darling,” she said, trembling all over, “my darling!”

Then they sat down and cried without speaking. It was evident that both mother and grandmother realized that the past was lost and gone, never to return; they had now no position in society, no prestige as before, no right to invite visitors; so it is when in the midst of an easy careless life the police suddenly burst in at night and made a search, and it turns out that the head of the family has embezzled money or committed forgery—and goodbye then to the easy careless life for ever!

Nadya went upstairs and saw the same bed, the same windows with naïve white curtains, and outside the windows the same garden, gay and noisy, bathed in sunshine. She touched the table, sat down and sank into thought. And she had a good dinner and drank tea with delicious rich cream; but something was missing, there was a sense of emptiness in the rooms and the ceilings were so low. In the evening she went to bed, covered herself up and for some reason it seemed to her to be funny lying in this snug, very soft bed.

Nina Ivanovna came in for a minute; she sat down as people who feel guilty sit down, timidly, and looking about her.

“Well, tell me, Nadya,” she enquired after a brief pause, “are you contented? Quite contented?”

“Yes, mother.”

Nina Ivanovna got up, made the sign of the cross over Nadya and the windows.

“I have become religious, as you see,” she said. “You know I am studying philosophy now, and I am always thinking and thinking. . . . And many things have become as clear as daylight to me. It seems to me that what is above all necessary is that life should pass as it were through a prism.”

“Tell me, mother, how is Granny in health?”

“She seems all right. When you went away that time with Sasha and the telegram came from you, Granny fell on the floor as she read it; for three days she lay without moving. After that she was always praying and crying. But now she is all right again.”

She got up and walked about the room.

“Tick-tock,” tapped the watchman. “Tick-tock, tick-tock. . . .”

“What is above all necessary is that life should pass as it were through a prism,” she said; “in other words, that life in consciousness should be analyzed into its simplest elements as into the seven primary colours, and each element must be studied separately.”

What Nina Ivanovna said further and when she went away, Nadya did not hear, as she quickly fell asleep.

May passed; June came. Nadya had grown used to being at home. Granny busied herself about the samovar, heaving deep sighs. Nina Ivanovna talked in the evenings about her philosophy; she still lived in the house like a poor relation, and had to go to Granny for every farthing. There were lots of flies in the house, and the ceilings seemed to become lower and lower. Granny and Nina Ivanovna did not go out in the streets for fear of meeting Father Andrey and Andrey Andreitch. Nadya walked about the garden and the streets, looked at the grey fences, and it seemed to her that everything in the town had grown old, was out of date and was only waiting either for the end, or for the beginning of something young and fresh. Oh, if only that new, bright life would come more quickly—that life in which one will be able to face one’s fate boldly and directly, to know that one is right, to be light-hearted and free! And sooner or later such a life will come. The time will come when of Granny’s house, where things are so arranged that the four servants can only live in one room in filth in the basement—the time will come when of that house not a trace will remain, and it will be forgotten, no one will remember it. And Nadya’s only entertainment was from the boys next door; when she walked about the garden they knocked on the fence and shouted in mockery: “Betrothed! Betrothed!”

A letter from Sasha arrived from Saratov. In his gay dancing handwriting he told them that his journey on the Volga had been a complete success, but that he had been taken rather ill in Saratov, had lost his voice, and had been for the last fortnight in the hospital. She knew what that meant, and she was overwhelmed with a foreboding that was like a conviction. And it vexed her that this foreboding and the thought of Sasha did not distress her so much as before. She had a passionate desire for life, longed to be in Petersburg, and her friendship with Sasha seemed now sweet but something far, far away! She did not sleep all night, and in the morning sat at the window, listening. And she did in fact hear voices below; Granny, greatly agitated, was asking questions rapidly. Then some one began crying. . . . When Nadya went downstairs Granny was standing in the corner, praying before the ikon and her face was tearful. A telegram lay on the table.

For some time Nadya walked up and down the room, listening to Granny’s weeping; then she picked up the telegram and read it.

It announced that the previous morning Alexandr Timofeitch, or more simply, Sasha, had died at Saratov of consumption.

Granny and Nina Ivanovna went to the church to order a memorial service, while Nadya went on walking about the rooms and thinking. She recognized clearly that her life had been turned upside down as Sasha wished; that here she was, alien, isolated, useless and that everything here was useless to her; that all the past had been torn away from her and vanished as though it had been burnt up and the ashes scattered to the winds. She went into Sasha’s room and stood there for a while.

“Good-bye, dear Sasha,” she thought, and before her mind rose the vista of a new, wide, spacious life, and that life, still obscure and full of mysteries, beckoned her and attracted her.

She went upstairs to her own room to pack, and next morning said good-bye to her family, and full of life and high spirits left the town—as she supposed for ever.


FROM THE DIARY OF A VIOLENT-TEMPERED MAN

I AM a serious person and my mind is of a philosophic bent. My vocation is the study of finance. I am a student of financial law and I have chosen as the subject of my dissertation—the Past and Future of the Dog Licence. I need hardly point out that young ladies, songs, moonlight, and all that sort of silliness are entirely out of my line.

Morning. Ten o’clock. My maman pours me out a cup of coffee. I drink it and go out on the little balcony to set to work on my dissertation. I take a clean sheet of paper, dip the pen into the ink, and write out the title: “The Past and Future of the Dog Licence.”

After thinking a little I write: “Historical Survey. We may deduce from some allusions in Herodotus and Xenophon that the origin of the tax on dogs goes back to . . . .”

But at that point I hear footsteps that strike me as highly suspicious. I look down from the balcony and see below a young lady with a long face and a long waist. Her name, I believe, is Nadenka or Varenka, it really does not matter which. She is looking for something, pretends not to have noticed me, and is humming to herself:

“Dost thou remember that song full of tenderness?”

I read through what I have written and want to continue, but the young lady pretends to have just caught sight of me, and says in a mournful voice:

“Good morning, Nikolay Andreitch. Only fancy what a misfortune I have had! I went for a walk yesterday and lost the little ball off my bracelet!”

I read through once more the opening of my dissertation, I trim up the tail of the letter “g” and mean to go on, but the young lady persists.

“Nikolay Andreitch,” she says, “won’t you see me home? The Karelins have such a huge dog that I simply daren’t pass it alone.”

There is no getting out of it. I lay down my pen and go down to her. Nadenka (or Varenka) takes my arm and we set off in the direction of her villa.

When the duty of walking arm-in-arm with a lady falls to my lot, for some reason or other I always feel like a peg with a heavy cloak hanging on it. Nadenka (or Varenka), between ourselves, of an ardent temperament (her grandfather was an Armenian), has a peculiar art of throwing her whole weight on one’s arm and clinging to one’s side like a leech. And so we walk along.

As we pass the Karelins’, I see a huge dog, who reminds me of the dog licence. I think with despair of the work I have begun and sigh.

“What are you sighing for?” asks Nadenka (or Varenka), and heaves a sigh herself.

Here I must digress for a moment to explain that Nadenka or Varenka (now I come to think of it, I believe I have heard her called Mashenka) imagines, I can’t guess why, that I am in love with her, and therefore thinks it her duty as a humane person always to look at me with compassion and to soothe my wound with words.

“Listen,” said she, stopping. “I know why you are sighing. You are in love, yes; but I beg you for the sake of our friendship to believe that the girl you love has the deepest respect for you. She cannot return your love; but is it her fault that her heart has long been another’s?”

Mashenka’s nose begins to swell and turn red, her eyes fill with tears: she evidently expects some answer from me, but, fortunately, at this moment we arrive. Mashenka’s mamma, a good-natured woman but full of conventional ideas, is sitting on the terrace: glancing at her daughter’s agitated face, she looks intently at me and sighs, as though saying to herself: “Ah, these young people! they don’t even know how to keep their secrets to themselves!”

On the terrace with her are several young ladies of various colours and a retired officer who is staying in the villa next to ours. He was wounded during the last war in the left temple and the right hip. This unfortunate man is, like myself, proposing to devote the summer to literary work. He is writing the “Memoirs of a Military Man.” Like me, he begins his honourable labours every morning, but before he has written more than “I was born in . . .” some Varenka or Mashenka is sure to appear under his balcony, and the wounded hero is borne off under guard.

All the party sitting on the terrace are engaged in preparing some miserable fruit for jam. I make my bows and am about to beat a retreat, but the young ladies of various colours seize my hat with a squeal and insist on my staying. I sit down. They give me a plate of fruit and a hairpin. I begin taking the seeds out.

The young ladies of various colours talk about men: they say that So-and-So is nice-looking, that So-and-So is handsome but not nice, that somebody else is nice but ugly, and that a fourth would not have been bad-looking if his nose were not like a thimble, and so on.

“And you, Monsieur Nicolas,” says Varenka’s mamma, turning to me, “are not handsome, but you are attractive. . . . There is something about your face. . . . In men, though, it’s not beauty but intelligence that matters,” she adds, sighing.

The young ladies sigh, too, and drop their eyes . . . they agree that the great thing in men is not beauty but intelligence. I steal a glance sideways at a looking-glass to ascertain whether I really am attractive. I see a shaggy head, a bushy beard, moustaches, eyebrows, hair on my cheeks, hair up to my eyes, a perfect thicket with a solid nose sticking up out of it like a watch-tower. Attractive! h’m!

“But it’s by the qualities of your soul, after all, that you will make your way, Nicolas,” sighs Nadenka’s mamma, as though affirming some secret and original idea of her own.

And Nadenka is sympathetically distressed on my account, but the conviction that a man passionately in love with her is sitting opposite is obviously a source of the greatest enjoyment to her.

When they have done with men, the young ladies begin talking about love. After a long conversation about love, one of the young ladies gets up and goes away. Those that remain begin to pick her to pieces. Everyone agrees that she is stupid, unbearable, ugly, and that one of her shoulder-blades sticks out in a shocking way.

But at last, thank goodness! I see our maid. My maman has sent her to call me in to dinner. Now I can make my escape from this uncongenial company and go back to my work. I get up and make my bows.

Varenka’s maman, Varenka herself, and the variegated young ladies surround me, and declare that I cannot possibly go, because I promised yesterday to dine with them and go to the woods to look for mushrooms. I bow and sit down again. My soul is boiling with rage, and I feel that in another moment I may not be able to answer for myself, that there may be an explosion, but gentlemanly feeling and the fear of committing a breach of good manners compels me to obey the ladies. And I obey them.

We sit down to dinner. The wounded officer, whose wound in the temple has affected the muscles of the left cheek, eats as though he had a bit in his mouth. I roll up little balls of bread, think about the dog licence, and, knowing the ungovernable violence of my temper, try to avoid speaking. Nadenka looks at me sympathetically.

Soup, tongue and peas, roast fowl, and compôte. I have no appetite, but eat from politeness.

After dinner, while I am standing alone on the terrace, smoking, Nadenka’s mamma comes up to me, presses my hand, and says breathlessly:

“Don’t despair, Nicolas! She has such a heart, . . . such a heart! . . .”

We go towards the wood to gather mushrooms. Varenka hangs on my arm and clings to my side. My sufferings are indescribable, but I bear them in patience.

We enter the wood.

“Listen, Monsieur Nicolas,” says Nadenka, sighing. “Why are you so melancholy? And why are you so silent?”

Extraordinary girl she is, really! What can I talk to her about? What have we in common?

“Oh, do say something!” she begs me.

I begin trying to think of something popular, something within the range of her understanding. After a moment’s thought I say:

“The cutting down of forests has been greatly detrimental to the prosperity of Russia. . . .”

“Nicolas,” sighs Nadenka, and her nose begins to turn red, “Nicolas, I see you are trying to avoid being open with me. . . . You seem to wish to punish me by your silence. Your feeling is not returned, and you wish to suffer in silence, in solitude . . . it is too awful, Nicolas!” she cries impulsively seizing my hand, and I see her nose beginning to swell. “What would you say if the girl you love were to offer you her eternal friendship?”

I mutter something incoherent, for I really can’t think what to say to her.

In the first place, I’m not in love with any girl at all; in the second, what could I possibly want her eternal friendship for? and, thirdly, I have a violent temper.

Mashenka (or Varenka) hides her face in her hands and murmurs, as though to herself:

“He will not speak; . . . it is clear that he will have me make the sacrifice! I cannot love him, if my heart is still another’s . . . but . . . I will think of it. . . . Very good, I will think of it . . . I will prove the strength of my soul, and perhaps, at the cost of my own happiness, I will save this man from suffering!” . . .

I can make nothing out of all this. It seems some special sort of puzzle.

We go farther into the wood and begin picking mushrooms. We are perfectly silent the whole time. Nadenka’s face shows signs of inward struggle. I hear the bark of dogs; it reminds me of my dissertation, and I sigh heavily. Between the trees I catch sight of the wounded officer limping painfully along. The poor fellow’s right leg is lame from his wound, and on his left arm he has one of the variegated young ladies. His face expresses resignation to destiny.

We go back to the house to drink tea, after which we play croquet and listen to one of the variegated young ladies singing a song: “No, no, thou lovest not, no, no.” At the word “no” she twists her mouth till it almost touches one ear.

Charmant!” wail the other young ladies, “Charmant!

The evening comes on. A detestable moon creeps up behind the bushes. There is perfect stillness in the air, and an unpleasant smell of freshly cut hay. I take up my hat and try to get away.

“I have something I must say to you!” Mashenka whispers to me significantly, “don’t go away!”

I have a foreboding of evil, but politeness obliges me to remain. Mashenka takes my arm and leads me away to a garden walk. By this time her whole figure expresses conflict. She is pale and gasping for breath, and she seems absolutely set on pulling my right arm out of the socket. What can be the matter with her?

“Listen!” she mutters. “No, I cannot! No! . . .” She tries to say something, but hesitates. Now I see from her face that she has come to some decision. With gleaming eyes and swollen nose she snatches my hand, and says hurriedly, “Nicolas, I am yours! Love you I cannot, but I promise to be true to you!”

Then she squeezes herself to my breast, and at once springs away.

“Someone is coming,” she whispers. “Farewell! . . . To-morrow at eleven o’clock I will be in the arbour. . . . Farewell!”

And she vanishes. Completely at a loss for an explanation of her conduct and suffering from a painful palpitation of the heart, I make my way home. There the “Past and Future of the Dog Licence” is awaiting me, but I am quite unable to work. I am furious. . . . I may say, my anger is terrible. Damn it all! I allow no one to treat me like a boy, I am a man of violent temper, and it is not safe to trifle with me!

When the maid comes in to call me to supper, I shout to her: “Go out of the room!” Such hastiness augurs nothing good.

Next morning. Typical holiday weather. Temperature below freezing, a cutting wind, rain, mud, and a smell of naphthaline, because my maman has taken all her wraps out of her trunks. A devilish morning! It is the 7th of August, 1887, the date of the solar eclipse. I may here remark that at the time of an eclipse every one of us may, without special astronomical knowledge, be of the greatest service. Thus, for example, anyone of us can (1) take the measurement of the diameters of the sun and the moon; (2) sketch the corona of the sun; (3) take the temperature; (4) take observations of plants and animals during the eclipse; (5) note down his own impressions, and so on.

It is a matter of such exceptional importance that I lay aside the “Past and Future of the Dog Licence” and make up my mind to observe the eclipse.

We all get up very early, and I divide the work as follows: I am to measure the diameter of the sun and moon; the wounded officer is to sketch the corona; and the other observations are undertaken by Mashenka and the variegated young ladies.

We all meet together and wait.

“What is the cause of the eclipse?” asks Mashenka.

I reply: “A solar eclipse occurs when the moon, moving in the plane of the ecliptic, crosses the line joining the centres of the sun and the earth.”

“And what does the ecliptic mean?”

I explain. Mashenka listens attentively.

“Can one see through the smoked glass the line joining the centres of the sun and the earth?” she enquires.

I reply that this is only an imaginary line, drawn theoretically.

“If it is only an imaginary line, how can the moon cross it?” Varenka says, wondering.

I make no reply. I feel my spleen rising at this naïve question.

“It’s all nonsense,” says Mashenka’s maman. “Impossible to tell what’s going to happen. You’ve never been in the sky, so what can you know of what is to happen with the sun and moon? It’s all fancy.”

At that moment a black patch begins to move over the sun. General confusion follows. The sheep and horses and cows run bellowing about the fields with their tails in the air. The dogs howl. The bugs, thinking night has come on, creep out of the cracks in the walls and bite the people who are still in bed.

The deacon, who was engaged in bringing some cucumbers from the market garden, jumped out of his cart and hid under the bridge; while his horse walked off into somebody else’s yard, where the pigs ate up all the cucumbers. The excise officer, who had not slept at home that night, but at a lady friend’s, dashed out with nothing on but his nightshirt, and running into the crowd shouted frantically: “Save yourself, if you can!”

Numbers of the lady visitors, even young and pretty ones, run out of their villas without even putting their slippers on. Scenes occur which I hesitate to describe.

“Oh, how dreadful!” shriek the variegated young ladies. “It’s really too awful!”

“Mesdames, watch!” I cry. “Time is precious!”

And I hasten to measure the diameters. I remember the corona, and look towards the wounded officer. He stands doing nothing.

“What’s the matter?” I shout. “How about the corona?”

He shrugs his shoulders and looks helplessly towards his arms. The poor fellow has variegated young ladies on both sides of him, clinging to him in terror and preventing him from working. I seize a pencil and note down the time to a second. That is of great importance. I note down the geographical position of the point of observation. That, too, is of importance. I am just about to measure the diameter when Mashenka seizes my hand, and says:

“Do not forget to-day, eleven o’clock.”

I withdraw my hand, feeling every second precious, try to continue my observations, but Varenka clutches my arm and clings to me. Pencil, pieces of glass, drawings—all are scattered on the grass. Hang it! It’s high time the girl realized that I am a man of violent temper, and when I am roused my fury knows no bounds, I cannot answer for myself.

I try to continue, but the eclipse is over.

“Look at me!” she whispers tenderly.

Oh, that is the last straw! Trying a man’s patience like that can but have a fatal ending. I am not to blame if something terrible happens. I allow no one to make a laughing stock of me, and, God knows, when I am furious, I advise nobody to come near me, damn it all! There’s nothing I might not do! One of the young ladies, probably noticing from my face what a rage I am in, and anxious to propitiate me, says:

“I did exactly what you told me, Nikolay Andreitch; I watched the animals. I saw the grey dog chasing the cat just before the eclipse, and wagging his tail for a long while afterwards.”

So nothing came of the eclipse after all.

I go home. Thanks to the rain, I work indoors instead of on the balcony. The wounded officer has risked it, and has again got as far as “I was born in . . .” when I see one of the variegated young ladies pounce down on him and bear him off to her villa.

I cannot work, for I am still in a fury and suffering from palpitation of the heart. I do not go to the arbour. It is impolite not to, but, after all, I can’t be expected to go in the rain.

At twelve o’clock I receive a letter from Mashenka, a letter full of reproaches and entreaties to go to the arbour, addressing me as “thou.” At one o’clock I get a second letter, and at two, a third . . . . I must go. . . . But before going I must consider what I am to say to her. I will behave like a gentleman.

To begin with, I will tell her that she is mistaken in supposing that I am in love with her. That’s a thing one does not say to a lady as a rule, though. To tell a lady that one’s not in love with her, is almost as rude as to tell an author he can’t write.

The best thing will be to explain my views of marriage.

I put on my winter overcoat, take an umbrella, and walk to the arbour.

Knowing the hastiness of my temper, I am afraid I may be led into speaking too strongly; I will try to restrain myself.

I find Nadenka still waiting for me. She is pale and in tears. On seeing me she utters a cry of joy, flings herself on my neck, and says:

“At last! You are trying my patience. . . . Listen, I have not slept all night. . . . I have been thinking and thinking. . . . I believe that when I come to know you better I shall learn to love you. . . .”

I sit down, and begin to unfold my views of marriage. To begin with, to clear the ground of digressions and to be as brief as possible, I open with a short historical survey. I speak of marriage in ancient Egypt and India, then pass to more recent times, a few ideas from Schopenhauer. Mashenka listens attentively, but all of a sudden, through some strange incoherence of ideas, thinks fit to interrupt me:

“Nicolas, kiss me!” she says.

I am embarrassed and don’t know what to say to her. She repeats her request. There seems no avoiding it. I get up and bend over her long face, feeling as I do so just as I did in my childhood when I was lifted up to kiss my grandmother in her coffin. Not content with the kiss, Mashenka leaps up and impulsively embraces me. At that instant, Mashenka’s maman appears in the doorway of the arbour. . . . She makes a face as though in alarm, and saying “sh-sh” to someone with her, vanishes like Mephistopheles through the trapdoor.

Confused and enraged, I return to our villa. At home I find Varenka’s maman embracing my maman with tears in her eyes. And my maman weeps and says:

“I always hoped for it!”

And then, if you please, Nadenka’s maman comes up to me, embraces me, and says:

“May God bless you! . . . Mind you love her well. . . . Remember the sacrifice she is making for your sake!”

And here I am at my wedding. At the moment I write these last words, my best man is at my side, urging me to make haste. These people have no idea of my character! I have a violent temper, I cannot always answer for myself! Hang it all! God knows what will come of it! To lead a violent, desperate man to the altar is as unwise as to thrust one’s hand into the cage of a ferocious tiger. We shall see, we shall see!


And so, I am married. Everybody congratulates me and Varenka keeps clinging to me and saying:

“Now you are mine, mine; do you understand that? Tell me that you love me!” And her nose swells as she says it.

I learn from my best man that the wounded officer has very cleverly escaped the snares of Hymen. He showed the variegated young lady a medical certificate that owing to the wound in his temple he was at times mentally deranged and incapable of contracting a valid marriage. An inspiration! I might have got a certificate too. An uncle of mine drank himself to death, another uncle was extremely absent-minded (on one occasion he put a lady’s muff on his head in mistake for his hat), an aunt of mine played a great deal on the piano, and used to put out her tongue at gentlemen she did not like. And my ungovernable temper is a very suspicious symptom.

But why do these great ideas always come too late? Why?


IN THE DARK

A FLY of medium size made its way into the nose of the assistant procurator, Gagin. It may have been impelled by curiosity, or have got there through frivolity or accident in the dark; anyway, the nose resented the presence of a foreign body and gave the signal for a sneeze. Gagin sneezed, sneezed impressively and so shrilly and loudly that the bed shook and the springs creaked. Gagin’s wife, Marya Mihalovna, a full, plump, fair woman, started, too, and woke up. She gazed into the darkness, sighed, and turned over on the other side. Five minutes afterwards she turned over again and shut her eyes more firmly but she could not get to sleep again. After sighing and tossing from side to side for a time, she got up, crept over her husband, and putting on her slippers, went to the window.

It was dark outside. She could see nothing but the outlines of the trees and the roof of the stables. There was a faint pallor in the east, but this pallor was beginning to be clouded over. There was perfect stillness in the air wrapped in slumber and darkness. Even the watchman, paid to disturb the stillness of night, was silent; even the corncrake—the only wild creature of the feathered tribe that does not shun the proximity of summer visitors—was silent.

The stillness was broken by Marya Mihalovna herself. Standing at the window and gazing into the yard, she suddenly uttered a cry. She fancied that from the flower garden with the gaunt, clipped poplar, a dark figure was creeping towards the house. For the first minute she thought it was a cow or a horse, then, rubbing her eyes, she distinguished clearly the outlines of a man.

Then she fancied the dark figure approached the window of the kitchen and, standing still a moment, apparently undecided, put one foot on the window ledge and disappeared into the darkness of the window.

“A burglar!” flashed into her mind and a deathly pallor overspread her face.

And in one instant her imagination had drawn the picture so dreaded by lady visitors in country places—a burglar creeps into the kitchen, from the kitchen into the dining-room . . . the silver in the cupboard . . . next into the bedroom . . . an axe . . . the face of a brigand . . . jewelry. . . . Her knees gave way under her and a shiver ran down her back.

“Vassya!” she said, shaking her husband, “Basile! Vassily Prokovitch! Ah! mercy on us, he might be dead! Wake up, Basile, I beseech you!”

“W-well?” grunted the assistant procurator, with a deep inward breath and a munching sound.

“For God’s sake, wake up! A burglar has got into the kitchen! I was standing at the window looking out and someone got in at the window. He will get into the dining-room next . . . the spoons are in the cupboard! Basile! They broke into Mavra Yegorovna’s last year.”

“Wha—what’s the matter?”

“Heavens! he does not understand. Do listen, you stupid! I tell you I’ve just seen a man getting in at the kitchen window! Pelagea will be frightened and . . . and the silver is in the cupboard!”

“Stuff and nonsense!”

Basile, this is unbearable! I tell you of a real danger and you sleep and grunt! What would you have? Would you have us robbed and murdered?”

The assistant procurator slowly got up and sat on the bed, filling the air with loud yawns.

“Goodness knows what creatures women are!” he muttered. “Can’t leave one in peace even at night! To wake a man for such nonsense!”

“But, Basile, I swear I saw a man getting in at the window!”

“Well, what of it? Let him get in. . . . That’s pretty sure to be Pelagea’s sweetheart, the fireman.”

“What! what did you say?”

“I say it’s Pelagea’s fireman come to see her.”

“Worse than ever!” shrieked Marya Mihalovna. “That’s worse than a burglar! I won’t put up with cynicism in my house!”

“Hoity-toity! We are virtuous! . . . Won’t put up with cynicism? As though it were cynicism! What’s the use of firing off those foreign words? My dear girl, it’s a thing that has happened ever since the world began, sanctified by tradition. What’s a fireman for if not to make love to the cook?”

“No, Basile! It seems you don’t know me! I cannot face the idea of such a . . . such a . . . in my house. You must go this minute into the kitchen and tell him to go away! This very minute! And to-morrow I’ll tell Pelagea that she must not dare to demean herself by such proceedings! When I am dead you may allow immorality in your house, but you shan’t do it now! . . . Please go!”

“Damn it,” grumbled Gagin, annoyed. “Consider with your microscopic female brain, what am I to go for?”

Basile, I shall faint! . . .”

Gagin cursed, put on his slippers, cursed again, and set off to the kitchen. It was as dark as the inside of a barrel, and the assistant procurator had to feel his way. He groped his way to the door of the nursery and waked the nurse.

“Vassilissa,” he said, “you took my dressing-gown to brush last night—where is it?”

“I gave it to Pelagea to brush, sir.”

“What carelessness! You take it away and don’t put it back—now I’ve to go without a dressing-gown!”

On reaching the kitchen, he made his way to the corner in which on a box under a shelf of saucepans the cook slept.

“Pelagea,” he said, feeling her shoulder and giving it a shake, “Pelagea! Why are you pretending? You are not asleep! Who was it got in at your window just now?”

“Mm . . . m . . . good morning! Got in at the window? Who could get in?”

“Oh come, it’s no use your trying to keep it up! You’d better tell your scamp to clear out while he can! Do you hear? He’s no business to be here!”

“Are you out of your senses, sir, bless you? Do you think I’d be such a fool? Here one’s running about all day long, never a minute to sit down and then spoken to like this at night! Four roubles a month . . . and to find my own tea and sugar and this is all the credit I get for it! I used to live in a tradesman’s house, and never met with such insult there!”

“Come, come—no need to go over your grievances! This very minute your grenadier must turn out! Do you understand?”

“You ought to be ashamed, sir,” said Pelagea, and he could hear the tears in her voice. “Gentlefolks . . . educated, and yet not a notion that with our hard lot . . . in our life of toil”—she burst into tears. “It’s easy to insult us. There’s no one to stand up for us.”

“Come, come . . . I don’t mind! Your mistress sent me. You may let a devil in at the window for all I care!”

There was nothing left for the assistant procurator but to acknowledge himself in the wrong and go back to his spouse.

“I say, Pelagea,” he said, “you had my dressing-gown to brush. Where is it?”

“Oh, I am so sorry, sir; I forgot to put it on your chair. It’s hanging on a peg near the stove.”

Gagin felt for the dressing-gown by the stove, put it on, and went quietly back to his room.

When her husband went out Marya Mihalovna got into bed and waited. For the first three minutes her mind was at rest, but after that she began to feel uneasy.

“What a long time he’s gone,” she thought. “It’s all right if he is there . . . that immoral man . . . but if it’s a burglar?”

And again her imagination drew a picture of her husband going into the dark kitchen . . . a blow with an axe . . . dying without uttering a single sound . . . a pool of blood! . . .

Five minutes passed . . . five and a half . . . at last six. . . . A cold sweat came out on her forehead.

Basile!” she shrieked, “Basile!

“What are you shouting for? I am here.” She heard her husband’s voice and steps. “Are you being murdered?”

The assistant procurator went up to the bedstead and sat down on the edge of it.

“There’s nobody there at all,” he said. “It was your fancy, you queer creature. . . . You can sleep easy, your fool of a Pelagea is as virtuous as her mistress. What a coward you are! What a . . . .”

And the deputy procurator began teasing his wife. He was wide awake now and did not want to go to sleep again.

“You are a coward!” he laughed. “You’d better go to the doctor to-morrow and tell him about your hallucinations. You are a neurotic!”

“What a smell of tar,” said his wife—“tar or something . . . onion . . . cabbage soup!”

“Y-yes! There is a smell . . . I am not sleepy. I say, I’ll light the candle. . . . Where are the matches? And, by the way, I’ll show you the photograph of the procurator of the Palace of Justice. He gave us all a photograph when he said good-bye to us yesterday, with his autograph.”

Gagin struck a match against the wall and lighted a candle. But before he had moved a step from the bed to fetch the photographs he heard behind him a piercing, heartrending shriek. Looking round, he saw his wife’s large eyes fastened upon him, full of amazement, horror, and wrath. . . .

“You took your dressing-gown off in the kitchen?” she said, turning pale.

“Why?”

“Look at yourself!”

The deputy procurator looked down at himself, and gasped.

Flung over his shoulders was not his dressing-gown, but the fireman’s overcoat. How had it come on his shoulders? While he was settling that question, his wife’s imagination was drawing another picture, awful and impossible: darkness, stillness, whispering, and so on, and so on.


A PLAY

“PAVEL VASSILYEVITCH, there’s a lady here, asking for you,” Luka announced. “She’s been waiting a good hour. . . .”

Pavel Vassilyevitch had only just finished lunch. Hearing of the lady, he frowned and said:

“Oh, damn her! Tell her I’m busy.”

“She has been here five times already, Pavel Vassilyevitch. She says she really must see you. . . . She’s almost crying.”

“H’m . . . very well, then, ask her into the study.”

Without haste Pavel Vassilyevitch put on his coat, took a pen in one hand, and a book in the other, and trying to look as though he were very busy he went into the study. There the visitor was awaiting him—a large stout lady with a red, beefy face, in spectacles. She looked very respectable, and her dress was more than fashionable (she had on a crinolette of four storeys and a high hat with a reddish bird in it). On seeing him she turned up her eyes and folded her hands in supplication.

“You don’t remember me, of course,” she began in a high masculine tenor, visibly agitated. “I . . . I have had the pleasure of meeting you at the Hrutskys. . . . I am Mme. Murashkin. . . .”

“A. . . a . . . a . . . h’m . . . Sit down! What can I do for you?”

“You . . . you see . . . I . . . I . . .” the lady went on, sitting down and becoming still more agitated. “You don’t remember me. . . . I’m Mme. Murashkin. . . . You see I’m a great admirer of your talent and always read your articles with great enjoyment. . . . Don’t imagine I’m flattering you—God forbid!—I’m only giving honour where honour is due. . . . I am always reading you . . . always! To some extent I am myself not a stranger to literature— that is, of course . . . I will not venture to call myself an authoress, but . . . still I have added my little quota . . . I have published at different times three stories for children. . . . You have not read them, of course. . . . I have translated a good deal and . . . and my late brother used to write for The Cause.”

“To be sure . . . er—er—er——What can I do for you?”

“You see . . . (the lady cast down her eyes and turned redder) I know your talents . . . your views, Pavel Vassilyevitch, and I have been longing to learn your opinion, or more exactly . . . to ask your advice. I must tell you I have perpetrated a play, my first-born —pardon pour l’expression!—and before sending it to the Censor I should like above all things to have your opinion on it.”

Nervously, with the flutter of a captured bird, the lady fumbled in her skirt and drew out a fat manuscript.

Pavel Vassilyevitch liked no articles but his own. When threatened with the necessity of reading other people’s, or listening to them, he felt as though he were facing the cannon’s mouth. Seeing the manuscript he took fright and hastened to say:

“Very good, . . . leave it, . . . I’ll read it.”

“Pavel Vassilyevitch,” the lady said languishingly, clasping her hands and raising them in supplication, “I know you’re busy. . . . Your every minute is precious, and I know you’re inwardly cursing me at this moment, but . . . Be kind, allow me to read you my play . . . . Do be so very sweet!”

“I should be delighted . . .” faltered Pavel Vassilyevitch; “but, Madam, I’m . . . I’m very busy . . . . I’m . . . I’m obliged to set off this minute.”

“Pavel Vassilyevitch,” moaned the lady and her eyes filled with tears, “I’m asking a sacrifice! I am insolent, I am intrusive, but be magnanimous. To-morrow I’m leaving for Kazan and I should like to know your opinion to-day. Grant me half an hour of your attention . . . only one half-hour . . . I implore you!”

Pavel Vassilyevitch was cotton-wool at core, and could not refuse. When it seemed to him that the lady was about to burst into sobs and fall on her knees, he was overcome with confusion and muttered helplessly.

“Very well; certainly . . . I will listen . . . I will give you half an hour.”

The lady uttered a shriek of joy, took off her hat and settling herself, began to read. At first she read a scene in which a footman and a house maid, tidying up a sumptuous drawing-room, talked at length about their young lady, Anna Sergyevna, who was building a school and a hospital in the village. When the footman had left the room, the maidservant pronounced a monologue to the effect that education is light and ignorance is darkness; then Mme. Murashkin brought the footman back into the drawing-room and set him uttering a long monologue concerning his master, the General, who disliked his daughter’s views, intended to marry her to a rich kammer junker, and held that the salvation of the people lay in unadulterated ignorance. Then, when the servants had left the stage, the young lady herself appeared and informed the audience that she had not slept all night, but had been thinking of Valentin Ivanovitch, who was the son of a poor teacher and assisted his sick father gratuitously. Valentin had studied all the sciences, but had no faith in friendship nor in love; he had no object in life and longed for death, and therefore she, the young lady, must save him.

Pavel Vassilyevitch listened, and thought with yearning anguish of his sofa. He scanned the lady viciously, felt her masculine tenor thumping on his eardrums, understood nothing, and thought:

“The devil sent you . . . as though I wanted to listen to your tosh! It’s not my fault you’ve written a play, is it? My God! what a thick manuscript! What an infliction!”

Pavel Vassilyevitch glanced at the wall where the portrait of his wife was hanging and remembered that his wife had asked him to buy and bring to their summer cottage five yards of tape, a pound of cheese, and some tooth-powder.

“I hope I’ve not lost the pattern of that tape,” he thought, “where did I put it? I believe it’s in my blue reefer jacket. . . . Those wretched flies have covered her portrait with spots already, I must tell Olga to wash the glass. . . . She’s reading the twelfth scene, so we must soon be at the end of the first act. As though inspiration were possible in this heat and with such a mountain of flesh, too! Instead of writing plays she’d much better eat cold vinegar hash and sleep in a cellar. . . .”

“You don’t think that monologue’s a little too long?” the lady asked suddenly, raising her eyes.

Pavel Vassilyevitch had not heard the monologue, and said in a voice as guilty as though not the lady but he had written that monologue:

“No, no, not at all. It’s very nice. . . .”

The lady beamed with happiness and continued reading:

ANNA: You are consumed by analysis. Too early you have ceased to live in the heart and have put your faith in the intellect.

VALENTIN: What do you mean by the heart? That is a concept of anatomy. As a conventional term for what are called the feelings, I do not admit it.

ANNA (confused): And love? Surely that is not merely a product of the association of ideas? Tell me frankly, have you ever loved?

VALENTIN (bitterly): Let us not touch on old wounds not yet healed. (A pause.) What are you thinking of?

ANNA: I believe you are unhappy.

During the sixteenth scene Pavel Vassilyevitch yawned, and accidently made with his teeth the sound dogs make when they catch a fly. He was dismayed at this unseemly sound, and to cover it assumed an expression of rapt attention.

“Scene seventeen! When will it end?” he thought. “Oh, my God! If this torture is prolonged another ten minutes I shall shout for the police. It’s insufferable.”

But at last the lady began reading more loudly and more rapidly, and finally raising her voice she read “Curtain.”

Pavel Vassilyevitch uttered a faint sigh and was about to get up, but the lady promptly turned the page and went on reading.

ACT II.—Scene, a village street. On right, School. On left, Hospital. Villagers, male and female, sitting on the hospital steps.

“Excuse me,” Pavel Vassilyevitch broke in, “how many acts are there?”

“Five,” answered the lady, and at once, as though fearing her audience might escape her, she went on rapidly.

VALENTIN is looking out of the schoolhouse window. In the background Villagers can be seen taking their goods to the Inn.

Like a man condemned to be executed and convinced of the impossibility of a reprieve, Pavel Vassilyevitch gave up expecting the end, abandoned all hope, and simply tried to prevent his eyes from closing, and to retain an expression of attention on his face. . . . The future when the lady would finish her play and depart seemed to him so remote that he did not even think of it.

“Trooo—too—too—too . . .” the lady’s voice sounded in his ears. “Troo—too—too . . . sh—sh—sh—sh . . .”

“I forgot to take my soda,” he thought. “What am I thinking about? Oh—my soda. . . . Most likely I shall have a bilious attack. . . . It’s extraordinary, Smirnovsky swills vodka all day long and yet he never has a bilious attack. . . . There’s a bird settled on the window . . . a sparrow. . . .”

Pavel Vassilyevitch made an effort to unglue his strained and closing eyelids, yawned without opening his mouth, and stared at Mme. Murashkin. She grew misty and swayed before his eyes, turned into a triangle and her head pressed against the ceiling. . . .

VALENTIN No, let me depart.

ANNA (in dismay): Why?

VALENTIN (aside): She has turned pale! (To her) Do not force me to explain. Sooner would I die than you should know the reason.

ANNA (after a pause): You cannot go away. . . .

The lady began to swell, swelled to an immense size, and melted into the dingy atmosphere of the study—only her moving mouth was visible; then she suddenly dwindled to the size of a bottle, swayed from side to side, and with the table retreated to the further end of the room . . .

VALENTIN (holding ANNA in his arms): You have given me new life! You have shown me an object to live for! You have renewed me as the Spring rain renews the awakened earth! But . . . it is too late, too late! The ill that gnaws at my heart is beyond cure. . . .

Pavel Vassilyevitch started and with dim and smarting eyes stared at the reading lady; for a minute he gazed fixedly as though understanding nothing. . . .

SCENE XI.—The same. The BARON and the POLICE INSPECTOR with assistants.

VALENTIN: Take me!

ANNA: I am his! Take me too! Yes, take me too! I love him, I love him more than life!

BARON: Anna Sergyevna, you forget that you are ruining your father . . . .

The lady began swelling again. . . . Looking round him wildly Pavel Vassilyevitch got up, yelled in a deep, unnatural voice, snatched from the table a heavy paper-weight, and beside himself, brought it down with all his force on the authoress’s head. . . .


“Give me in charge, I’ve killed her!” he said to the maidservant who ran in, a minute later.

The jury acquitted him.


A MYSTERY

ON the evening of Easter Sunday the actual Civil Councillor, Navagin, on his return from paying calls, picked up the sheet of paper on which visitors had inscribed their names in the hall, and went with it into his study. After taking off his outer garments and drinking some seltzer water, he settled himself comfortably on a couch and began reading the signatures in the list. When his eyes reached the middle of the long list of signatures, he started, gave an ejaculation of astonishment and snapped his fingers, while his face expressed the utmost perplexity.

“Again!” he said, slapping his knee. “It’s extraordinary! Again! Again there is the signature of that fellow, goodness knows who he is! Fedyukov! Again!”

Among the numerous signatures on the paper was the signature of a certain Fedyukov. Who the devil this Fedyukov was, Navagin had not a notion. He went over in his memory all his acquaintances, relations and subordinates in the service, recalled his remote past but could recollect no name like Fedyukov. What was so strange was that this incognito, Fedyukov, had signed his name regularly every Christmas and Easter for the last thirteen years. Neither Navagin, his wife, nor his house porter knew who he was, where he came from or what he was like.

“It’s extraordinary!” Navagin thought in perplexity, as he paced about the study. “It’s strange and incomprehensible! It’s like sorcery!”

“Call the porter here!” he shouted.

“It’s devilish queer! But I will find out who he is!”

“I say, Grigory,” he said, addressing the porter as he entered, “that Fedyukov has signed his name again! Did you see him?”

“No, your Excellency.”

“Upon my word, but he has signed his name! So he must have been in the hall. Has he been?”

“No, he hasn’t, your Excellency.”

“How could he have signed his name without being there?”

“I can’t tell.”

“Who is to tell, then? You sit gaping there in the hall. Try and remember, perhaps someone you didn’t know came in? Think a minute!”

“No, your Excellency, there has been no one I didn’t know. Our clerks have been, the baroness came to see her Excellency, the priests have been with the Cross, and there has been no one else. . . .”

“Why, he was invisible when he signed his name, then, was he?”

“I can’t say: but there has been no Fedyukov here. That I will swear before the holy image. . . .”

“It’s queer! It’s incomprehensible! It’s ex-traordinary!” mused Navagin. “It’s positively ludicrous. A man has been signing his name here for thirteen years and you can’t find out who he is. Perhaps it’s a joke? Perhaps some clerk writes that name as well as his own for fun.”

And Navagin began examining Fedyukov’s signature.

The bold, florid signature in the old-fashioned style with twirls and flourishes was utterly unlike the handwriting of the other signatures. It was next below the signature of Shtutchkin, the provincial secretary, a scared, timorous little man who would certainly have died of fright if he had ventured upon such an impudent joke.

“The mysterious Fedyukov has signed his name again!” said Navagin, going in to see his wife. “Again I fail to find out who he is.”

Madame Navagin was a spiritualist, and so for all phenomena in nature, comprehensible or incomprehensible, she had a very simple explanation.

“There’s nothing extraordinary about it,” she said. “You don’t believe it, of course, but I have said it already and I say it again: there is a great deal in the world that is supernatural, which our feeble intellect can never grasp. I am convinced that this Fedyukov is a spirit who has a sympathy for you . . . If I were you, I would call him up and ask him what he wants.”

“Nonsense, nonsense!”

Navagin was free from superstitions, but the phenomenon which interested him was so mysterious that all sorts of uncanny devilry intruded into his mind against his will. All the evening he was imagining that the incognito Fedyukov was the spirit of some long-dead clerk, who had been discharged from the service by Navagin’s ancestors and was now revenging himself on their descendant; or perhaps it was the kinsman of some petty official dismissed by Navagin himself, or of a girl seduced by him. . . .

All night Navagin dreamed of a gaunt old clerk in a shabby uniform, with a face as yellow as a lemon, hair that stood up like a brush, and pewtery eyes; the clerk said something in a sepulchral voice and shook a bony finger at him. And Navagin almost had an attack of inflammation of the brain.

For a fortnight he was silent and gloomy and kept walking up and down and thinking. In the end he overcame his sceptical vanity, and going into his wife’s room he said in a hollow voice:

“Zina, call up Fedyukov!”

The spiritualistic lady was delighted; she sent for a sheet of cardboard and a saucer, made her husband sit down beside her, and began upon the magic rites.

Fedyukov did not keep them waiting long. . . .

“What do you want?” asked Navagin.

“Repent,” answered the saucer.

“What were you on earth?”

“A sinner. . . .”

“There, you see!” whispered his wife, “and you did not believe!”

Navagin conversed for a long time with Fedyukov, and then called up Napoleon, Hannibal, Askotchensky, his aunt Klavdya Zaharovna, and they all gave him brief but correct answers full of deep significance. He was busy with the saucer for four hours, and fell asleep soothed and happy that he had become acquainted with a mysterious world that was new to him. After that he studied spiritualism every day, and at the office, informed the clerks that there was a great deal in nature that was supernatural and marvellous to which our men of science ought to have turned their attention long ago.

Hypnotism, mediumism, bishopism, spiritualism, the fourth dimension, and other misty notions took complete possession of him, so that for whole days at a time, to the great delight of his wife, he read books on spiritualism or devoted himself to the saucer, table-turning, and discussions of supernatural phenomena. At his instigation all his clerks took up spiritualism, too, and with such ardour that the old managing clerk went out of his mind and one day sent a telegram: “Hell. Government House. I feel that I am turning into an evil spirit. What’s to be done? Reply paid. Vassily Krinolinsky.”

After reading several hundreds of treatises on spiritualism Navagin had a strong desire to write something himself. For five months he sat composing, and in the end had written a huge monograph, entitled: My Opinion. When he had finished this essay he determined to send it to a spiritualist journal.

The day on which it was intended to despatch it to the journal was a very memorable one for him. Navagin remembers that on that never-to-be-forgotten day the secretary who had made a fair copy of his article and the sacristan of the parish who had been sent for on business were in his study. Navagin’s face was beaming. He looked lovingly at his creation, felt between his fingers how thick it was, and with a happy smile said to the secretary:

“I propose, Filipp Sergeyitch, to send it registered. It will be safer. . . .” And raising his eyes to the sacristan, he said: “I have sent for you on business, my good man. I am putting my youngest son to the high school and I must have a certificate of baptism; only could you let me have it quickly?”

“Very good, your Excellency!” said the sacristan, bowing. “Very good, I understand. . . .”

“Can you let me have it by to-morrow?”

“Very well, your Excellency, set your mind at rest! To-morrow it shall be ready! Will you send someone to the church to-morrow before evening service? I shall be there. Bid him ask for Fedyukov. I am always there. . . .”

“What!” cried the general, turning pale.

“Fedyukov.”

“You, . . . you are Fedyukov?” asked Navagin, looking at him with wide-open eyes.

“Just so, Fedyukov.”

“You. . . . you signed your name in my hall?”

“Yes . . .” the sacristan admitted, and was overcome with confusion. “When we come with the Cross, your Excellency, to grand gentlemen’s houses I always sign my name. . . . I like doing it. . . . Excuse me, but when I see the list of names in the hall I feel an impulse to sign mine. . . .”

In dumb stupefaction, understanding nothing, hearing nothing, Navagin paced about his study. He touched the curtain over the door, three times waved his hands like a jeune premier in a ballet when he sees her, gave a whistle and a meaningless smile, and pointed with his finger into space.

“So I will send off the article at once, your Excellency,” said the secretary.

These words roused Navagin from his stupour. He looked blankly at the secretary and the sacristan, remembered, and stamping, his foot irritably, screamed in a high, breaking tenor:

“Leave me in peace! Lea-eave me in peace, I tell you! What you want of me I don’t understand.”

The secretary and the sacristan went out of the study and reached the street while he was still stamping and shouting:

“Leave me in peace! What you want of me I don’t understand. Lea-eave me in peace!”


STRONG IMPRESSIONS

IT happened not so long ago in the Moscow circuit court. The jurymen, left in the court for the night, before lying down to sleep fell into conversation about strong impressions. They were led to this discussion by recalling a witness who, by his own account, had begun to stammer and had gone grey owing to a terrible moment. The jurymen decided that before going to sleep, each one of them should ransack among his memories and tell something that had happened to him. Man’s life is brief, but yet there is no man who cannot boast that there have been terrible moments in his past.

One juryman told the story of how he was nearly drowned; another described how, in a place where there were neither doctors nor chemists, he had one night poisoned his own son through giving him zinc vitriol by mistake for soda. The child did not die, but the father nearly went out of his mind. A third, a man not old but in bad health, told how he had twice attempted to commit suicide: the first time by shooting himself and the second time by throwing himself before a train.

The fourth, a foppishly dressed, fat little man, told us the following story:

“I was not more than twenty-two or twenty-three when I fell head over ears in love with my present wife and made her an offer. Now I could with pleasure thrash myself for my early marriage, but at the time, I don’t know what would have become of me if Natasha had refused me. My love was absolutely the real thing, just as it is described in novels—frantic, passionate, and so on. My happiness overwhelmed me and I did not know how to get away from it, and I bored my father and my friends and the servants, continually talking about the fervour of my passion. Happy people are the most sickening bores. I was a fearful bore; I feel ashamed of it even now. . . .

“Among my friends there was in those days a young man who was beginning his career as a lawyer. Now he is a lawyer known all over Russia; in those days he was only just beginning to gain recognition and was not rich and famous enough to be entitled to cut an old friend when he met him. I used to go and see him once or twice a week. We used to loll on sofas and begin discussing philosophy.

“One day I was lying on his sofa, arguing that there was no more ungrateful profession than that of a lawyer. I tried to prove that as soon as the examination of witnesses is over the court can easily dispense with both the counsels for the prosecution and for the defence, because they are neither of them necessary and are only in the way. If a grown-up juryman, morally and mentally sane, is convinced that the ceiling is white, or that Ivanov is guilty, to struggle with that conviction and to vanquish it is beyond the power of any Demosthenes. Who can convince me that I have a red moustache when I know that it is black? As I listen to an orator I may perhaps grow sentimental and weep, but my fundamental conviction, based for the most part on unmistakable evidence and fact, is not changed in the least. My lawyer maintained that I was young and foolish and that I was talking childish nonsense. In his opinion, for one thing, an obvious fact becomes still more obvious through light being thrown upon it by conscientious, well-informed people; for another, talent is an elemental force, a hurricane capable of turning even stones to dust, let alone such trifles as the convictions of artisans and merchants of the second guild. It is as hard for human weakness to struggle against talent as to look at the sun without winking, or to stop the wind. One simple mortal by the power of the word turns thousands of convinced savages to Christianity; Odysseus was a man of the firmest convictions, but he succumbed to the Syrens, and so on. All history consists of similar examples, and in life they are met with at every turn; and so it is bound to be, or the intelligent and talented man would have no superiority over the stupid and incompetent.

“I stuck to my point, and went on maintaining that convictions are stronger than any talent, though, frankly speaking, I could not have defined exactly what I meant by conviction or what I meant by talent. Most likely I simply talked for the sake of talking.

“‘Take you, for example,’ said the lawyer. ‘You are convinced at this moment that your fiancée is an angel and that there is not a man in the whole town happier than you. But I tell you: ten or twenty minutes would be enough for me to make you sit down to this table and write to your fiancée, breaking off your engagement.

“I laughed.

“‘Don’t laugh, I am speaking seriously,’ said my friend. ‘If I choose, in twenty minutes you will be happy at the thought that you need not get married. Goodness knows what talent I have, but you are not one of the strong sort.’

“‘Well, try it on!’ said I.

“‘No, what for? I am only telling you this. You are a good boy and it would be cruel to subject you to such an experiment. And besides I am not in good form to-day.’

“We sat down to supper. The wine and the thought of Natasha, my beloved, flooded my whole being with youth and happiness. My happiness was so boundless that the lawyer sitting opposite to me with his green eyes seemed to me an unhappy man, so small, so grey. . . .

“‘Do try!’ I persisted. ‘Come, I entreat you!

“The lawyer shook his head and frowned. Evidently I was beginning to bore him.

“‘I know,’ he said, ‘after my experiment you will say, thank you, and will call me your saviour; but you see I must think of your fiancée too. She loves you; your jilting her would make her suffer. And what a charming creature she is! I envy you.’

“The lawyer sighed, sipped his wine, and began talking of how charming my Natasha was. He had an extraordinary gift of description. He could knock you off a regular string of words about a woman’s eyelashes or her little finger. I listened to him with relish.

“‘I have seen a great many women in my day,’ he said, ‘but I give you my word of honour, I speak as a friend, your Natasha Andreyevna is a pearl, a rare girl. Of course she has her defects—many of them, in fact, if you like—but still she is fascinating.’

“And the lawyer began talking of my fiancée’s defects. Now I understand very well that he was talking of women in general, of their weak points in general, but at the time it seemed to me that he was talking only of Natasha. He went into ecstasies over her turn-up nose, her shrieks, her shrill laugh, her airs and graces, precisely all the things I so disliked in her. All that was, to his thinking, infinitely sweet, graceful, and feminine.

“Without my noticing it, he quickly passed from his enthusiastic tone to one of fatherly admonition, and then to a light and derisive one. . . . There was no presiding judge and no one to check the diffusiveness of the lawyer. I had not time to open my mouth, besides, what could I say? What my friend said was not new, it was what everyone has known for ages, and the whole venom lay not in what he said, but in the damnable form he put it in. It really was beyond anything!

“As I listened to him then I learned that the same word has thousands of shades of meaning according to the tone in which it is pronounced, and the form which is given to the sentence. Of course I cannot reproduce the tone or the form; I can only say that as I listened to my friend and walked up and down the room, I was moved to resentment, indignation, and contempt together with him. I even believed him when with tears in his eyes he informed me that I was a great man, that I was worthy of a better fate, that I was destined to achieve something in the future which marriage would hinder!

“‘My friend!’ he exclaimed, pressing my hand. ‘I beseech you, I adjure you: stop before it is too late. Stop! May Heaven preserve you from this strange, cruel mistake! My friend, do not ruin your youth!’

“Believe me or not, as you choose, but the long and the short of it was that I sat down to the table and wrote to my fiancée, breaking off the engagement. As I wrote I felt relieved that it was not yet too late to rectify my mistake. Sealing the letter, I hastened out into the street to post it. The lawyer himself came with me.

“‘Excellent! Capital!’ he applauded me as my letter to Natasha disappeared into the darkness of the box. ‘I congratulate you with all my heart. I am glad for you.’

“After walking a dozen paces with me the lawyer went on:

“‘Of course, marriage has its good points. I, for instance, belong to the class of people to whom marriage and home life is everything.’

“And he proceeded to describe his life, and lay before me all the hideousness of a solitary bachelor existence.

“He spoke with enthusiasm of his future wife, of the sweets of ordinary family life, and was so eloquent, so sincere in his ecstasies that by the time we had reached his door, I was in despair.

“‘What are you doing to me, you horrible man?’ I said, gasping. ‘You have ruined me! Why did you make me write that cursed letter? I love her, I love her!’

“And I protested my love. I was horrified at my conduct which now seemed to me wild and senseless. It is impossible, gentlemen, to imagine a more violent emotion than I experienced at that moment. Oh, what I went through, what I suffered! If some kind person had thrust a revolver into my hand at that moment, I should have put a bullet through my brains with pleasure.

“‘Come, come . . .’ said the lawyer, slapping me on the shoulder, and he laughed. ‘Give over crying. The letter won’t reach your fiancée. It was not you who wrote the address but I, and I muddled it so they won’t be able to make it out at the post-office. It will be a lesson to you not to argue about what you don’t understand.’

“Now, gentlemen, I leave it to the next to speak.”

The fifth juryman settled himself more comfortably, and had just opened his mouth to begin his story when we heard the clock strike on Spassky Tower.

“Twelve . . .” one of the jurymen counted. “And into which class, gentlemen, would you put the emotions that are being experienced now by the man we are trying? He, that murderer, is spending the night in a convict cell here in the court, sitting or lying down and of course not sleeping, and throughout the whole sleepless night listening to that chime. What is he thinking of? What visions are haunting him?”

And the jurymen all suddenly forgot about strong impressions; what their companion who had once written a letter to his Natasha had suffered seemed unimportant, even not amusing; and no one said anything more; they began quietly and in silence lying down to sleep.


DRUNK

A MANUFACTURER called Frolov, a handsome dark man with a round beard, and a soft, velvety expression in his eyes, and Almer, his lawyer, an elderly man with a big rough head, were drinking in one of the public rooms of a restaurant on the outskirts of the town. They had both come to the restaurant straight from a ball and so were wearing dress coats and white ties. Except them and the waiters at the door there was not a soul in the room; by Frolov’s orders no one else was admitted.

They began by drinking a big wine-glass of vodka and eating oysters.

“Good!” said Almer. “It was I brought oysters into fashion for the first course, my boy. The vodka burns and stings your throat and you have a voluptuous sensation in your throat when you swallow an oyster. Don’t you?”

A dignified waiter with a shaven upper lip and grey whiskers put a sauceboat on the table.

“What’s that you are serving?” asked Frolov.

“Sauce Provençale for the herring, sir. . . .”

“What! is that the way to serve it?” shouted Frolov, not looking into the sauceboat. “Do you call that sauce? You don’t know how to wait, you blockhead!”

Frolov’s velvety eyes flashed. He twisted a corner of the table-cloth round his finger, made a slight movement, and the dishes, the candlesticks, and the bottles, all jingling and clattering, fell with a crash on the floor.

The waiters, long accustomed to pot-house catastrophes, ran up to the table and began picking up the fragments with grave and unconcerned faces, like surgeons at an operation.

“How well you know how to manage them!” said Almer, and he laughed. “But . . . move a little away from the table or you will step in the caviare.”

“Call the engineer here!” cried Frolov.

This was the name given to a decrepit, doleful old man who really had once been an engineer and very well off; he had squandered all his property and towards the end of his life had got into a restaurant where he looked after the waiters and singers and carried out various commissions relating to the fair sex. Appearing at the summons, he put his head on one side respectfully.

“Listen, my good man,” Frolov said, addressing him. “What’s the meaning of this disorder? How queerly you fellows wait! Don’t you know that I don’t like it? Devil take you, I shall give up coming to you!”

“I beg you graciously to excuse it, Alexey Semyonitch!” said the engineer, laying his hand on his heart. “I will take steps immediately, and your slightest wishes shall be carried out in the best and speediest way.”

“Well, that’ll do, you can go. . . .”

The engineer bowed, staggered back, still doubled up, and disappeared through the doorway with a final flash of the false diamonds on his shirt-front and fingers.

The table was laid again. Almer drank red wine and ate with relish some sort of bird served with truffles, and ordered a matelote of eelpouts and a sterlet with its tail in its mouth. Frolov only drank vodka and ate nothing but bread. He rubbed his face with his open hands, scowled, and was evidently out of humour. Both were silent. There was a stillness. Two electric lights in opaque shades flickered and hissed as though they were angry. The gypsy girls passed the door, softly humming.

“One drinks and is none the merrier,” said Frolov. “The more I pour into myself, the more sober I become. Other people grow festive with vodka, but I suffer from anger, disgusting thoughts, sleeplessness. Why is it, old man, that people don’t invent some other pleasure besides drunkenness and debauchery? It’s really horrible!”

“You had better send for the gypsy girls.”

“Confound them!”

The head of an old gypsy woman appeared in the door from the passage.

“Alexey Semyonitch, the gypsies are asking for tea and brandy,” said the old woman. “May we order it?”

“Yes,” answered Frolov. “You know they get a percentage from the restaurant keeper for asking the visitors to treat them. Nowadays you can’t even believe a man when he asks for vodka. The people are all mean, vile, spoilt. Take these waiters, for instance. They have countenances like professors, and grey heads; they get two hundred roubles a month, they live in houses of their own and send their girls to the high school, but you may swear at them and give yourself airs as much as you please. For a rouble the engineer will gulp down a whole pot of mustard and crow like a cock. On my honour, if one of them would take offence I would make him a present of a thousand roubles.”

“What’s the matter with you?” said Almer, looking at him with surprise. “Whence this melancholy? You are red in the face, you look like a wild animal. . . . What’s the matter with you?”

“It’s horrid. There’s one thing I can’t get out of my head. It seems as though it is nailed there and it won’t come out.”

A round little old man, buried in fat and completely bald, wearing a short reefer jacket and lilac waistcoat and carrying a guitar, walked into the room. He made an idiotic face, drew himself up, and saluted like a soldier.

“Ah, the parasite!” said Frolov, “let me introduce him, he has made his fortune by grunting like a pig. Come here!” He poured vodka, wine, and brandy into a glass, sprinkled pepper and salt into it, mixed it all up and gave it to the parasite. The latter tossed it off and smacked his lips with gusto.

“He’s accustomed to drink a mess so that pure wine makes him sick,” said Frolov. “Come, parasite, sit down and sing.”

The old man sat down, touched the strings with his fat fingers, and began singing:

“Neetka, neetka, Margareetka. . . .”

After drinking champagne Frolov was drunk. He thumped with his fist on the table and said:

“Yes, there’s something that sticks in my head! It won’t give me a minute’s peace!”

“Why, what is it?”

“I can’t tell you. It’s a secret. It’s something so private that I could only speak of it in my prayers. But if you like . . . as a sign of friendship, between ourselves . . . only mind, to no one, no, no, no, . . . I’ll tell you, it will ease my heart, but for God’s sake . . . listen and forget it. . . .”

Frolov bent down to Almer and for a minute breathed in his ear.

“I hate my wife!” he brought out.

The lawyer looked at him with surprise.

“Yes, yes, my wife, Marya Mihalovna,” Frolov muttered, flushing red. “I hate her and that’s all about it.”

“What for?”

“I don’t know myself! I’ve only been married two years. I married as you know for love, and now I hate her like a mortal enemy, like this parasite here, saving your presence. And there is no cause, no sort of cause! When she sits by me, eats, or says anything, my whole soul boils, I can scarcely restrain myself from being rude to her. It’s something one can’t describe. To leave her or tell her the truth is utterly impossible because it would be a scandal, and living with her is worse than hell for me. I can’t stay at home! I spend my days at business and in the restaurants and spend my nights in dissipation. Come, how is one to explain this hatred? She is not an ordinary woman, but handsome, clever, quiet.”

The old man stamped his foot and began singing:

“I went a walk with a captain bold, And in his ear my secrets told.”

“I must own I always thought that Marya Mihalovna was not at all the right person for you,” said Almer after a brief silence, and he heaved a sigh.

“Do you mean she is too well educated? . . . I took the gold medal at the commercial school myself, I have been to Paris three times. I am not cleverer than you, of course, but I am no more foolish than my wife. No, brother, education is not the sore point. Let me tell you how all the trouble began. It began with my suddenly fancying that she had married me not from love, but for the sake of my money. This idea took possession of my brain. I have done all I could think of, but the cursed thing sticks! And to make it worse my wife was overtaken with a passion for luxury. Getting into a sack of gold after poverty, she took to flinging it in all directions. She went quite off her head, and was so carried away that she used to get through twenty thousand every month. And I am a distrustful man. I don’t believe in anyone, I suspect everybody. And the more friendly you are to me the greater my torment. I keep fancying I am being flattered for my money. I trust no one! I am a difficult man, my boy, very difficult!”

Frolov emptied his glass at one gulp and went on.

“But that’s all nonsense,” he said. “One never ought to speak of it. It’s stupid. I am tipsy and I have been chattering, and now you are looking at me with lawyer’s eyes—glad you know some one else’s secret. Well, well! . . . Let us drop this conversation. Let us drink! I say,” he said, addressing a waiter, “is Mustafa here? Fetch him in!”

Shortly afterwards there walked into the room a little Tatar boy, aged about twelve, wearing a dress coat and white gloves.

“Come here!” Frolov said to him. “Explain to us the following fact: there was a time when you Tatars conquered us and took tribute from us, but now you serve us as waiters and sell dressing-gowns. How do you explain such a change?”

Mustafa raised his eyebrows and said in a shrill voice, with a sing-song intonation: “The mutability of destiny!”

Almer looked at his grave face and went off into peals of laughter.

“Well, give him a rouble!” said Frolov. “He is making his fortune out of the mutability of destiny. He is only kept here for the sake of those two words. Drink, Mustafa! You will make a gre-eat rascal! I mean it is awful how many of your sort are toadies hanging about rich men. The number of these peaceful bandits and robbers is beyond all reckoning! Shouldn’t we send for the gypsies now? Eh? Fetch the gypsies along!”

The gypsies, who had been hanging about wearily in the corridors for a long time, burst with whoops into the room, and a wild orgy began.

“Drink!” Frolov shouted to them. “Drink! Seed of Pharaoh! Sing! A-a-ah!”

“In the winter time . . . o-o-ho! . . . the sledge was flying . . .”

The gypsies sang, whistled, danced. In the frenzy which sometimes takes possession of spoilt and very wealthy men, “broad natures,” Frolov began to play the fool. He ordered supper and champagne for the gypsies, broke the shade of the electric light, shied bottles at the pictures and looking-glasses, and did it all apparently without the slightest enjoyment, scowling and shouting irritably, with contempt for the people, with an expression of hatred in his eyes and his manners. He made the engineer sing a solo, made the bass singers drink a mixture of wine, vodka, and oil.

At six o’clock they handed him the bill.

“Nine hundred and twenty-five roubles, forty kopecks,” said Almer, and shrugged his shoulders. “What’s it for? No, wait, we must go into it!”

“Stop!” muttered Frolov, pulling out his pocket-book. “Well! . . . let them rob me. That’s what I’m rich for, to be robbed! . . . You can’t get on without parasites! . . . You are my lawyer. You get six thousand a year out of me and what for? But excuse me, . . . I don’t know what I am saying.”

As he was returning home with Almer, Frolov murmured:

“Going home is awful to me! Yes! . . . There isn’t a human being I can open my soul to. . . . They are all robbers . . . traitors . . . . Oh, why did I tell you my secret? Yes . . . why? Tell me why?”

At the entrance to his house, he craned forward towards Almer and, staggering, kissed him on the lips, having the old Moscow habit of kissing indiscriminately on every occasion.

“Good-bye . . . I am a difficult, hateful man,” he said. “A horrid, drunken, shameless life. You are a well-educated, clever man, but you only laugh and drink with me . . . there’s no help from any of you. . . . But if you were a friend to me, if you were an honest man, in reality you ought to have said to me: ‘Ugh, you vile, hateful man! You reptile!’”

“Come, come,” Almer muttered, “go to bed.”

“There is no help from you; the only hope is that, when I am in the country in the summer, I may go out into the fields and a storm come on and the thunder may strike me dead on the spot. . . . Good-bye.”

Frolov kissed Almer once more and muttering and dropping asleep as he walked, began mounting the stairs, supported by two footmen.


THE MARSHAL’S WIDOW

ON the first of February every year, St. Trifon’s day, there is an extraordinary commotion on the estate of Madame Zavzyatov, the widow of Trifon Lvovitch, the late marshal of the district. On that day, the nameday of the deceased marshal, the widow Lyubov Petrovna has a requiem service celebrated in his memory, and after the requiem a thanksgiving to the Lord. The whole district assembles for the service. There you will see Hrumov the present marshal, Marfutkin, the president of the Zemstvo, Potrashkov, the permanent member of the Rural Board, the two justices of the peace of the district, the police captain, Krinolinov, two police-superintendents, the district doctor, Dvornyagin, smelling of iodoform, all the landowners, great and small, and so on. There are about fifty people assembled in all.

Precisely at twelve o’clock, the visitors, with long faces, make their way from all the rooms to the big hall. There are carpets on the floor and their steps are noiseless, but the solemnity of the occasion makes them instinctively walk on tip-toe, holding out their hands to balance themselves. In the hall everything is already prepared. Father Yevmeny, a little old man in a high faded cap, puts on his black vestments. Konkordiev, the deacon, already in his vestments, and as red as a crab, is noiselessly turning over the leaves of his missal and putting slips of paper in it. At the door leading to the vestibule, Luka, the sacristan, puffing out his cheeks and making round eyes, blows up the censer. The hall is gradually filled with bluish transparent smoke and the smell of incense.

Gelikonsky, the elementary schoolmaster, a young man with big pimples on his frightened face, wearing a new greatcoat like a sack, carries round wax candles on a silver-plated tray. The hostess, Lyubov Petrovna, stands in the front by a little table with a dish of funeral rice on it, and holds her handkerchief in readiness to her face. There is a profound stillness, broken from time to time by sighs. Everybody has a long, solemn face. . . .

The requiem service begins. The blue smoke curls up from the censer and plays in the slanting sunbeams, the lighted candles faintly splutter. The singing, at first harsh and deafening, soon becomes quiet and musical as the choir gradually adapt themselves to the acoustic conditions of the rooms. . . . The tunes are all mournful and sad. . . . The guests are gradually brought to a melancholy mood and grow pensive. Thoughts of the brevity of human life, of mutability, of worldly vanity stray through their brains. . . . They recall the deceased Zavzyatov, a thick-set, red-cheeked man who used to drink off a bottle of champagne at one gulp and smash looking-glasses with his forehead. And when they sing “With Thy Saints, O Lord,” and the sobs of their hostess are audible, the guests shift uneasily from one foot to the other. The more emotional begin to feel a tickling in their throat and about their eyelids. Marfutkin, the president of the Zemstvo, to stifle the unpleasant feeling, bends down to the police captain’s ear and whispers:

“I was at Ivan Fyodoritch’s yesterday. . . . Pyotr Petrovitch and I took all the tricks, playing no trumps. . . . Yes, indeed. . . . Olga Andreyevna was so exasperated that her false tooth fell out of her mouth.”

But at last the “Eternal Memory” is sung. Gelikonsky respectfully takes away the candles, and the memorial service is over. Thereupon there follows a momentary commotion; there is a changing of vestments and a thanksgiving service. After the thanksgiving, while Father Yevmeny is disrobing, the visitors rub their hands and cough, while their hostess tells some anecdote of the good-heartedness of the deceased Trifon Lvovitch.

“Pray come to lunch, friends,” she says, concluding her story with a sigh.

The visitors, trying not to push or tread on each other’s feet, hasten into the dining-room. . . . There the luncheon is awaiting them. The repast is so magnificent that the deacon Konkordiev thinks it his duty every year to fling up his hands as he looks at it and, shaking his head in amazement, say:

“Supernatural! It’s not so much like human fare, Father Yevmeny, as offerings to the gods.”

The lunch is certainly exceptional. Everything that the flora and fauna of the country can furnish is on the table, but the only thing supernatural about it, perhaps, is that on the table there is everything except . . . alcoholic beverages. Lyubov Petrovna has taken a vow never to have in her house cards or spirituous liquors —the two sources of her husband’s ruin. And the only bottles contain oil and vinegar, as though in mockery and chastisement of the guests who are to a man desperately fond of the bottle, and given to tippling.

“Please help yourselves, gentlemen!” the marshal’s widow presses them. “Only you must excuse me, I have no vodka. . . . I have none in the house.”

The guests approach the table and hesitatingly attack the pie. But the progress with eating is slow. In the plying of forks, in the cutting up and munching, there is a certain sloth and apathy. . . . Evidently something is wanting.

“I feel as though I had lost something,” one of the justices of the peace whispers to the other. “I feel as I did when my wife ran away with the engineer. . . . I can’t eat.”

Marfutkin, before beginning to eat, fumbles for a long time in his pocket and looks for his handkerchief.

“Oh, my handkerchief must be in my greatcoat,” he recalls in a loud voice, “and here I am looking for it,” and he goes into the vestibule where the fur coats are hanging up.

He returns from the vestibule with glistening eyes, and at once attacks the pie with relish.

“I say, it’s horrid munching away with a dry mouth, isn’t it?” he whispers to Father Yevmeny. “Go into the vestibule, Father. There’s a bottle there in my fur coat. . . . Only mind you are careful; don’t make a clatter with the bottle.”

Father Yevmeny recollects that he has some direction to give to Luka, and trips off to the vestibule.

“Father, a couple of words in confidence,” says Dvornyagin, overtaking him.

“You should see the fur coat I’ve bought myself, gentlemen,” Hrumov boasts. “It’s worth a thousand, and I gave . . . you won’t believe it . . . two hundred and fifty! Not a farthing more.”

At any other time the guests would have greeted this information with indifference, but now they display surprise and incredulity. In the end they all troop out into the vestibule to look at the fur coat, and go on looking at it till the doctor’s man Mikeshka carries five empty bottles out on the sly. When the steamed sturgeon is served, Marfutkin remembers that he has left his cigar case in his sledge and goes to the stable. That he may not be lonely on this expedition, he takes with him the deacon, who appropriately feels it necessary to have a look at his horse. . . .

On the evening of the same day, Lyubov Petrovna is sitting in her study, writing a letter to an old friend in Petersburg:

“To-day, as in past years,” she writes among other things, “I had a memorial service for my dear husband. All my neighbours came to the service. They are a simple, rough set, but what hearts! I gave them a splendid lunch, but of course, as in previous years, without a drop of alcoholic liquor. Ever since he died from excessive drinking I have vowed to establish temperance in this district and thereby to expiate his sins. I have begun the campaign for temperance at my own house. Father Yevmeny is delighted with my efforts, and helps me both in word and deed. Oh, ma chère, if you knew how fond my bears are of me! The president of the Zemstvo, Marfutkin, kissed my hand after lunch, held it a long while to his lips, and, wagging his head in an absurd way, burst into tears: so much feeling but no words! Father Yevmeny, that delightful little old man, sat down by me, and looking tearfully at me kept babbling something like a child. I did not understand what he said, but I know how to understand true feeling. The police captain, the handsome man of whom I wrote to you, went down on his knees to me, tried to read me some verses of his own composition (he is a poet), but . . . his feelings were too much for him, he lurched and fell over . . . that huge giant went into hysterics, you can imagine my delight! The day did not pass without a hitch, however. Poor Alalykin, the president of the judges’ assembly, a stout and apoplectic man, was overcome by illness and lay on the sofa in a state of unconsciousness for two hours. We had to pour water on him. . . . I am thankful to Doctor Dvornyagin: he had brought a bottle of brandy from his dispensary and he moistened the patient’s temples, which quickly revived him, and he was able to be moved. . . .”


A BAD BUSINESS

“WHO goes there?”

No answer. The watchman sees nothing, but through the roar of the wind and the trees distinctly hears someone walking along the avenue ahead of him. A March night, cloudy and foggy, envelopes the earth, and it seems to the watchman that the earth, the sky, and he himself with his thoughts are all merged together into something vast and impenetrably black. He can only grope his way.

“Who goes there?” the watchman repeats, and he begins to fancy that he hears whispering and smothered laughter. “Who’s there?”

“It’s I, friend . . .” answers an old man’s voice.

“But who are you?”

“I . . . a traveller.”

“What sort of traveller?” the watchman cries angrily, trying to disguise his terror by shouting. “What the devil do you want here? You go prowling about the graveyard at night, you ruffian!”

“You don’t say it’s a graveyard here?”

“Why, what else? Of course it’s the graveyard! Don’t you see it is?”

“O-o-oh . . . Queen of Heaven!” there is a sound of an old man sighing. “I see nothing, my good soul, nothing. Oh the darkness, the darkness! You can’t see your hand before your face, it is dark, friend. O-o-oh. . .”

“But who are you?”

“I am a pilgrim, friend, a wandering man.”

“The devils, the nightbirds. . . . Nice sort of pilgrims! They are drunkards . . .” mutters the watchman, reassured by the tone and sighs of the stranger. “One’s tempted to sin by you. They drink the day away and prowl about at night. But I fancy I heard you were not alone; it sounded like two or three of you.”

“I am alone, friend, alone. Quite alone. O-o-oh our sins. . . .”

The watchman stumbles up against the man and stops.

“How did you get here?” he asks.

“I have lost my way, good man. I was walking to the Mitrievsky Mill and I lost my way.”

“Whew! Is this the road to Mitrievsky Mill? You sheepshead! For the Mitrievsky Mill you must keep much more to the left, straight out of the town along the high road. You have been drinking and have gone a couple of miles out of your way. You must have had a drop in the town.”

“I did, friend . . . Truly I did; I won’t hide my sins. But how am I to go now?”

“Go straight on and on along this avenue till you can go no farther, and then turn at once to the left and go till you have crossed the whole graveyard right to the gate. There will be a gate there. . . . Open it and go with God’s blessing. Mind you don’t fall into the ditch. And when you are out of the graveyard you go all the way by the fields till you come out on the main road.”

“God give you health, friend. May the Queen of Heaven save you and have mercy on you. You might take me along, good man! Be merciful! Lead me to the gate.”

“As though I had the time to waste! Go by yourself!”

“Be merciful! I’ll pray for you. I can’t see anything; one can’t see one’s hand before one’s face, friend. . . . It’s so dark, so dark! Show me the way, sir!”

“As though I had the time to take you about; if I were to play the nurse to everyone I should never have done.”

“For Christ’s sake, take me! I can’t see, and I am afraid to go alone through the graveyard. It’s terrifying, friend, it’s terrifying; I am afraid, good man.”

“There’s no getting rid of you,” sighs the watchman. “All right then, come along.”

The watchman and the traveller go on together. They walk shoulder to shoulder in silence. A damp, cutting wind blows straight into their faces and the unseen trees murmuring and rustling scatter big drops upon them. . . . The path is almost entirely covered with puddles.

“There is one thing passes my understanding,” says the watchman after a prolonged silence—“how you got here. The gate’s locked. Did you climb over the wall? If you did climb over the wall, that’s the last thing you would expect of an old man.”

“I don’t know, friend, I don’t know. I can’t say myself how I got here. It’s a visitation. A chastisement of the Lord. Truly a visitation, the evil one confounded me. So you are a watchman here, friend?”

“Yes.”

“The only one for the whole graveyard?”

There is such a violent gust of wind that both stop for a minute. Waiting till the violence of the wind abates, the watchman answers:

“There are three of us, but one is lying ill in a fever and the other’s asleep. He and I take turns about.”

“Ah, to be sure, friend. What a wind! The dead must hear it! It howls like a wild beast! O-o-oh.”

“And where do you come from?”

“From a distance, friend. I am from Vologda, a long way off. I go from one holy place to another and pray for people. Save me and have mercy upon me, O Lord.”

The watchman stops for a minute to light his pipe. He stoops down behind the traveller’s back and lights several matches. The gleam of the first match lights up for one instant a bit of the avenue on the right, a white tombstone with an angel, and a dark cross; the light of the second match, flaring up brightly and extinguished by the wind, flashes like lightning on the left side, and from the darkness nothing stands out but the angle of some sort of trellis; the third match throws light to right and to left, revealing the white tombstone, the dark cross, and the trellis round a child’s grave.

“The departed sleep; the dear ones sleep!” the stranger mutters, sighing loudly. “They all sleep alike, rich and poor, wise and foolish, good and wicked. They are of the same value now. And they will sleep till the last trump. The Kingdom of Heaven and peace eternal be theirs.”

“Here we are walking along now, but the time will come when we shall be lying here ourselves,” says the watchman.

“To be sure, to be sure, we shall all. There is no man who will not die. O-o-oh. Our doings are wicked, our thoughts are deceitful! Sins, sins! My soul accursed, ever covetous, my belly greedy and lustful! I have angered the Lord and there is no salvation for me in this world and the next. I am deep in sins like a worm in the earth.”

“Yes, and you have to die.”

“You are right there.”

“Death is easier for a pilgrim than for fellows like us,” says the watchman.

“There are pilgrims of different sorts. There are the real ones who are God-fearing men and watch over their own souls, and there are such as stray about the graveyard at night and are a delight to the devils. . . Ye-es! There’s one who is a pilgrim could give you a crack on the pate with an axe if he liked and knock the breath out of you.”

“What are you talking like that for?”

“Oh, nothing . . . Why, I fancy here’s the gate. Yes, it is. Open it, good man.”

The watchman, feeling his way, opens the gate, leads the pilgrim out by the sleeve, and says:

“Here’s the end of the graveyard. Now you must keep on through the open fields till you get to the main road. Only close here there will be the boundary ditch—don’t fall in. . . . And when you come out on to the road, turn to the right, and keep on till you reach the mill. . . .”

“O-o-oh!” sighs the pilgrim after a pause, “and now I am thinking that I have no cause to go to Mitrievsky Mill. . . . Why the devil should I go there? I had better stay a bit with you here, sir. . . .”

“What do you want to stay with me for?”

“Oh . . . it’s merrier with you! . . . .”

“So you’ve found a merry companion, have you? You, pilgrim, are fond of a joke I see. . . .”

“To be sure I am,” says the stranger, with a hoarse chuckle. “Ah, my dear good man, I bet you will remember the pilgrim many a long year!”

“Why should I remember you?”

“Why I’ve got round you so smartly. . . . Am I a pilgrim? I am not a pilgrim at all.”

“What are you then?”

“A dead man. . . . I’ve only just got out of my coffin. . . . Do you remember Gubaryev, the locksmith, who hanged himself in carnival week? Well, I am Gubaryev himself! . . .”

“Tell us something else!”

The watchman does not believe him, but he feels all over such a cold, oppressive terror that he starts off and begins hurriedly feeling for the gate.

“Stop, where are you off to?” says the stranger, clutching him by the arm. “Aie, aie, aie . . . what a fellow you are! How can you leave me all alone?”

“Let go!” cries the watchman, trying to pull his arm away.

“Sto-op! I bid you stop and you stop. Don’t struggle, you dirty dog! If you want to stay among the living, stop and hold your tongue till I tell you. It’s only that I don’t care to spill blood or you would have been a dead man long ago, you scurvy rascal. . . . Stop!”

The watchman’s knees give way under him. In his terror he shuts his eyes, and trembling all over huddles close to the wall. He would like to call out, but he knows his cries would not reach any living thing. The stranger stands beside him and holds him by the arm. . . . Three minutes pass in silence.

“One’s in a fever, another’s asleep, and the third is seeing pilgrims on their way,” mutters the stranger. “Capital watchmen, they are worth their salary! Ye-es, brother, thieves have always been cleverer than watchmen! Stand still, don’t stir. . . .”

Five minutes, ten minutes pass in silence. All at once the wind brings the sound of a whistle.

“Well, now you can go,” says the stranger, releasing the watchman’s arm. “Go and thank God you are alive!”

The stranger gives a whistle too, runs away from the gate, and the watchman hears him leap over the ditch.

With a foreboding of something very dreadful in his heart, the watchman, still trembling with terror, opens the gate irresolutely and runs back with his eyes shut.

At the turning into the main avenue he hears hurried footsteps, and someone asks him, in a hissing voice: “Is that you, Timofey? Where is Mitka?”

And after running the whole length of the main avenue he notices a little dim light in the darkness. The nearer he gets to the light the more frightened he is and the stronger his foreboding of evil.

“It looks as though the light were in the church,” he thinks. “And how can it have come there? Save me and have mercy on me, Queen of Heaven! And that it is.”

The watchman stands for a minute before the broken window and looks with horror towards the altar. . . . A little wax candle which the thieves had forgotten to put out flickers in the wind that bursts in at the window and throws dim red patches of light on the vestments flung about and a cupboard overturned on the floor, on numerous footprints near the high altar and the altar of offerings.

A little time passes and the howling wind sends floating over the churchyard the hurried uneven clangs of the alarm-bell. . . .


IN THE COURT

AT the district town of N. in the cinnamon-coloured government house in which the Zemstvo, the sessional meetings of the justices of the peace, the Rural Board, the Liquor Board, the Military Board, and many others sit by turns, the Circuit Court was in session on one of the dull days of autumn. Of the above-mentioned cinnamon-coloured house a local official had wittily observed:

“Here is Justitia, here is Policia, here is Militia—a regular boarding school of high-born young ladies.”

But, as the saying is, “Too many cooks spoil the broth,” and probably that is why the house strikes, oppresses, and overwhelms a fresh unofficial visitor with its dismal barrack-like appearance, its decrepit condition, and the complete absence of any kind of comfort, external or internal. Even on the brightest spring days it seems wrapped in a dense shade, and on clear moonlight nights, when the trees and the little dwelling-houses merged in one blur of shadow seem plunged in quiet slumber, it alone absurdly and inappropriately towers, an oppressive mass of stone, above the modest landscape, spoils the general harmony, and keeps sleepless vigil as though it could not escape from burdensome memories of past unforgiven sins. Inside it is like a barn and extremely unattractive. It is strange to see how readily these elegant lawyers, members of committees, and marshals of nobility, who in their own homes will make a scene over the slightest fume from the stove, or stain on the floor, resign themselves here to whirring ventilation wheels, the disgusting smell of fumigating candles, and the filthy, forever perspiring walls.

The sitting of the circuit court began between nine and ten. The programme of the day was promptly entered upon, with noticeable haste. The cases came on one after another and ended quickly, like a church service without a choir, so that no mind could form a complete picture of all this parti-coloured mass of faces, movements, words, misfortunes, true sayings and lies, all racing by like a river in flood. . . . By two o’clock a great deal had been done: two prisoners had been sentenced to service in convict battalions, one of the privileged class had been sentenced to deprivation of rights and imprisonment, one had been acquitted, one case had been adjourned.

At precisely two o’clock the presiding judge announced that the case “of the peasant Nikolay Harlamov, charged with the murder of his wife,” would next be heard. The composition of the court remained the same as it had been for the preceding case, except that the place of the defending counsel was filled by a new personage, a beardless young graduate in a coat with bright buttons. The president gave the order—“Bring in the prisoner!”

But the prisoner, who had been got ready beforehand, was already walking to his bench. He was a tall, thick-set peasant of about fifty-five, completely bald, with an apathetic, hairy face and a big red beard. He was followed by a frail-looking little soldier with a gun.

Just as he was reaching the bench the escort had a trifling mishap. He stumbled and dropped the gun out of his hands, but caught it at once before it touched the ground, knocking his knee violently against the butt end as he did so. A faint laugh was audible in the audience. Either from the pain or perhaps from shame at his awkwardness the soldier flushed a dark red.

After the customary questions to the prisoner, the shuffling of the jury, the calling over and swearing in of the witnesses, the reading of the charge began. The narrow-chested, pale-faced secretary, far too thin for his uniform, and with sticking plaster on his check, read it in a low, thick bass, rapidly like a sacristan, without raising or dropping his voice, as though afraid of exerting his lungs; he was seconded by the ventilation wheel whirring indefatigably behind the judge’s table, and the result was a sound that gave a drowsy, narcotic character to the stillness of the hall.

The president, a short-sighted man, not old but with an extremely exhausted face, sat in his armchair without stirring and held his open hand near his brow as though screening his eyes from the sun. To the droning of the ventilation wheel and the secretary he meditated. When the secretary paused for an instant to take breath on beginning a new page, he suddenly started and looked round at the court with lustreless eyes, then bent down to the ear of the judge next to him and asked with a sigh:

“Are you putting up at Demyanov’s, Matvey Petrovitch?”

“Yes, at Demyanov’s,” answered the other, starting too.

“Next time I shall probably put up there too. It’s really impossible to put up at Tipyakov’s! There’s noise and uproar all night! Knocking, coughing, children crying. . . . It’s impossible!”

The assistant prosecutor, a fat, well-nourished, dark man with gold spectacles, with a handsome, well-groomed beard, sat motionless as a statue, with his cheek propped on his fist, reading Byron’s “Cain.” His eyes were full of eager attention and his eyebrows rose higher and higher with wonder. . . . From time to time he dropped back in his chair, gazed without interest straight before him for a minute, and then buried himself in his reading again. The council for the defence moved the blunt end of his pencil about the table and mused with his head on one side. . . . His youthful face expressed nothing but the frigid, immovable boredom which is commonly seen on the face of schoolboys and men on duty who are forced from day to day to sit in the same place, to see the same faces, the same walls. He felt no excitement about the speech he was to make, and indeed what did that speech amount to? On instructions from his superiors in accordance with long-established routine he would fire it off before the jurymen, without passion or ardour, feeling that it was colourless and boring, and then—gallop through the mud and the rain to the station, thence to the town, shortly to receive instructions to go off again to some district to deliver another speech. . . . It was a bore!

At first the prisoner turned pale and coughed nervously into his sleeve, but soon the stillness, the general monotony and boredom infected him too. He looked with dull-witted respectfulness at the judges’ uniforms, at the weary faces of the jurymen, and blinked calmly. The surroundings and procedure of the court, the expectation of which had so weighed on his soul while he was awaiting them in prison, now had the most soothing effect on him. What he met here was not at all what he could have expected. The charge of murder hung over him, and yet here he met with neither threatening faces nor indignant looks nor loud phrases about retribution nor sympathy for his extraordinary fate; not one of those who were judging him looked at him with interest or for long. . . . The dingy windows and walls, the voice of the secretary, the attitude of the prosecutor were all saturated with official indifference and produced an atmosphere of frigidity, as though the murderer were simply an official property, or as though he were not being judged by living men, but by some unseen machine, set going, goodness knows how or by whom. . . .

The peasant, reassured, did not understand that the men here were as accustomed to the dramas and tragedies of life and were as blunted by the sight of them as hospital attendants are at the sight of death, and that the whole horror and hopelessness of his position lay just in this mechanical indifference. It seemed that if he were not to sit quietly but to get up and begin beseeching, appealing with tears for their mercy, bitterly repenting, that if he were to die of despair—it would all be shattered against blunted nerves and the callousness of custom, like waves against a rock.

When the secretary finished, the president for some reason passed his hands over the table before him, looked for some time with his eyes screwed up towards the prisoner, and then asked, speaking languidly:

“Prisoner at the bar, do you plead guilty to having murdered your wife on the evening of the ninth of June?”

“No, sir,” answered the prisoner, getting up and holding his gown over his chest.

After this the court proceeded hurriedly to the examination of witnesses. Two peasant women and five men and the village policeman who had made the enquiry were questioned. All of them, mud-bespattered, exhausted with their long walk and waiting in the witnesses’ room, gloomy and dispirited, gave the same evidence. They testified that Harlamov lived “well” with his old woman, like anyone else; that he never beat her except when he had had a drop; that on the ninth of June when the sun was setting the old woman had been found in the porch with her skull broken; that beside her in a pool of blood lay an axe. When they looked for Nikolay to tell him of the calamity he was not in his hut or in the streets. They ran all over the village, looking for him. They went to all the pothouses and huts, but could not find him. He had disappeared, and two days later came of his own accord to the police office, pale, with his clothes torn, trembling all over. He was bound and put in the lock-up.

“Prisoner,” said the president, addressing Harlamov, “cannot you explain to the court where you were during the three days following the murder?”

“I was wandering about the fields. . . . Neither eating nor drinking . . . .”

“Why did you hide yourself, if it was not you that committed the murder?”

“I was frightened. . . . I was afraid I might be judged guilty. . . .”

“Aha! . . . Good, sit down!”

The last to be examined was the district doctor who had made a post-mortem on the old woman. He told the court all that he remembered of his report at the post-mortem and all that he had succeeded in thinking of on his way to the court that morning. The president screwed up his eyes at his new glossy black suit, at his foppish cravat, at his moving lips; he listened and in his mind the languid thought seemed to spring up of itself:

“Everyone wears a short jacket nowadays, why has he had his made long? Why long and not short?”

The circumspect creak of boots was audible behind the president’s back. It was the assistant prosecutor going up to the table to take some papers.

“Mihail Vladimirovitch,” said the assistant prosecutor, bending down to the president’s ear, “amazingly slovenly the way that Koreisky conducted the investigation. The prisoner’s brother was not examined, the village elder was not examined, there’s no making anything out of his description of the hut. . . .”

“It can’t be helped, it can’t be helped,” said the president, sinking back in his chair. “He’s a wreck . . . dropping to bits!”

“By the way,” whispered the assistant prosecutor, “look at the audience, in the front row, the third from the right . . . a face like an actor’s . . . that’s the local Croesus. He has a fortune of something like fifty thousand.”

“Really? You wouldn’t guess it from his appearance. . . . Well, dear boy, shouldn’t we have a break?”

“We will finish the case for the prosecution, and then. . . .”

“As you think best. . . . Well?” the president raised his eyes to the doctor. “So you consider that death was instantaneous?”

“Yes, in consequence of the extent of the injury to the brain substance. . . .”

When the doctor had finished, the president gazed into the space between the prosecutor and the counsel for the defence and suggested:

“Have you any questions to ask?”

The assistant prosecutor shook his head negatively, without lifting his eyes from “Cain”; the counsel for the defence unexpectedly stirred and, clearing his throat, asked:

“Tell me, doctor, can you from the dimensions of the wound form any theory as to . . . as to the mental condition of the criminal? That is, I mean, does the extent of the injury justify the supposition that the accused was suffering from temporary aberration?”

The president raised his drowsy indifferent eyes to the counsel for the defence. The assistant prosecutor tore himself from “Cain,” and looked at the president. They merely looked, but there was no smile, no surprise, no perplexity—their faces expressed nothing.

“Perhaps,” the doctor hesitated, “if one considers the force with which . . . er—er—er . . . the criminal strikes the blow. . . . However, excuse me, I don’t quite understand your question. . . .”

The counsel for the defence did not get an answer to his question, and indeed he did not feel the necessity of one. It was clear even to himself that that question had strayed into his mind and found utterance simply through the effect of the stillness, the boredom, the whirring ventilator wheels.

When they had got rid of the doctor the court rose to examine the “material evidences.” The first thing examined was the full-skirted coat, upon the sleeve of which there was a dark brownish stain of blood. Harlamov on being questioned as to the origin of the stain stated:

“Three days before my old woman’s death Penkov bled his horse. I was there; I was helping to be sure, and . . . and got smeared with it. . . .”

“But Penkov has just given evidence that he does not remember that you were present at the bleeding. . . .”

“I can’t tell about that.”

“Sit down.”

They proceeded to examine the axe with which the old woman had been murdered.

“That’s not my axe,” the prisoner declared.

“Whose is it, then?”

“I can’t tell . . . I hadn’t an axe. . . .”

“A peasant can’t get on for a day without an axe. And your neighbour Ivan Timofeyitch, with whom you mended a sledge, has given evidence that it is your axe. . . .”

“I can’t say about that, but I swear before God (Harlamov held out his hand before him and spread out the fingers), before the living God. And I don’t remember how long it is since I did have an axe of my own. I did have one like that only a bit smaller, but my son Prohor lost it. Two years before he went into the army, he drove off to fetch wood, got drinking with the fellows, and lost it. . . .”

“Good, sit down.”

This systematic distrust and disinclination to hear him probably irritated and offended Harlamov. He blinked and red patches came out on his cheekbones.

“I swear in the sight of God,” he went on, craning his neck forward. “If you don’t believe me, be pleased to ask my son Prohor. Proshka, what did you do with the axe?” he suddenly asked in a rough voice, turning abruptly to the soldier escorting him. “Where is it?”

It was a painful moment! Everyone seemed to wince and as it were shrink together. The same fearful, incredible thought flashed like lightning through every head in the court, the thought of possibly fatal coincidence, and not one person in the court dared to look at the soldier’s face. Everyone refused to trust his thought and believed that he had heard wrong.

“Prisoner, conversation with the guards is forbidden . . .” the president made haste to say.

No one saw the escort’s face, and horror passed over the hall unseen as in a mask. The usher of the court got up quietly from his place and tiptoeing with his hand held out to balance himself went out of the court. Half a minute later there came the muffled sounds and footsteps that accompany the change of guard.

All raised their heads and, trying to look as though nothing had happened, went on with their work. . . .


BOOTS

A PIANO-TUNER called Murkin, a close-shaven man with a yellow face, with a nose stained with snuff, and cotton-wool in his ears, came out of his hotel-room into the passage, and in a cracked voice cried: “Semyon! Waiter!”

And looking at his frightened face one might have supposed that the ceiling had fallen in on him or that he had just seen a ghost in his room.

“Upon my word, Semyon!” he cried, seeing the attendant running towards him. “What is the meaning of it? I am a rheumatic, delicate man and you make me go barefoot! Why is it you don’t give me my boots all this time? Where are they?”

Semyon went into Murkin’s room, looked at the place where he was in the habit of putting the boots he had cleaned, and scratched his head: the boots were not there.

“Where can they be, the damned things?” Semyon brought out. “I fancy I cleaned them in the evening and put them here. . . . H’m! . . . Yesterday, I must own, I had a drop. . . . I must have put them in another room, I suppose. That must be it, Afanasy Yegoritch, they are in another room! There are lots of boots, and how the devil is one to know them apart when one is drunk and does not know what one is doing? . . . I must have taken them in to the lady that’s next door . . . the actress. . . .”

“And now, if you please, I am to go in to a lady and disturb her all through you! Here, if you please, through this foolishness I am to wake up a respectable woman.”

Sighing and coughing, Murkin went to the door of the next room and cautiously tapped.

“Who’s there?” he heard a woman’s voice a minute later.

“It’s I!” Murkin began in a plaintive voice, standing in the attitude of a cavalier addressing a lady of the highest society. “Pardon my disturbing you, madam, but I am a man in delicate health, rheumatic . . . . The doctors, madam, have ordered me to keep my feet warm, especially as I have to go at once to tune the piano at Madame la Générale Shevelitsyn’s. I can’t go to her barefoot.”

“But what do you want? What piano?”

“Not a piano, madam; it is in reference to boots! Semyon, stupid fellow, cleaned my boots and put them by mistake in your room. Be so extremely kind, madam, as to give me my boots!”

There was a sound of rustling, of jumping off the bed and the flapping of slippers, after which the door opened slightly and a plump feminine hand flung at Murkin’s feet a pair of boots. The piano-tuner thanked her and went into his own room.

“Odd . . .” he muttered, putting on the boots, “it seems as though this is not the right boot. Why, here are two left boots! Both are for the left foot! I say, Semyon, these are not my boots! My boots have red tags and no patches on them, and these are in holes and have no tags.”

Semyon picked up the boots, turned them over several times before his eyes, and frowned.

“Those are Pavel Alexandritch’s boots,” he grumbled, squinting at them. He squinted with the left eye.

“What Pavel Alexandritch?”

“The actor; he comes here every Tuesday. . . . He must have put on yours instead of his own. . . . So I must have put both pairs in her room, his and yours. Here’s a go!”

“Then go and change them!”

“That’s all right!” sniggered Semyon, “go and change them. . . . Where am I to find him now? He went off an hour ago. . . . Go and look for the wind in the fields!”

“Where does he live then?”

“Who can tell? He comes here every Tuesday, and where he lives I don’t know. He comes and stays the night, and then you may wait till next Tuesday. . . .”

“There, do you see, you brute, what you have done? Why, what am I to do now? It is time I was at Madame la Générale Shevelitsyn’s, you anathema! My feet are frozen!”

“You can change the boots before long. Put on these boots, go about in them till the evening, and in the evening go to the theatre. . . . Ask there for Blistanov, the actor. . . . If you don’t care to go to the theatre, you will have to wait till next Tuesday; he only comes here on Tuesdays. . . .”

“But why are there two boots for the left foot?” asked the piano-tuner, picking up the boots with an air of disgust.

“What God has sent him, that he wears. Through poverty . . . where is an actor to get boots? I said to him ‘What boots, Pavel Alexandritch! They are a positive disgrace!’ and he said: ‘Hold your peace,’ says he, ‘and turn pale! In those very boots,’ says he, ‘I have played counts and princes.’ A queer lot! Artists, that’s the only word for them! If I were the governor or anyone in command, I would get all these actors together and clap them all in prison.”

Continually sighing and groaning and knitting his brows, Murkin drew the two left boots on to his feet, and set off, limping, to Madame la Générale Shevelitsyn’s. He went about the town all day long tuning pianos, and all day long it seemed to him that everyone was looking at his feet and seeing his patched boots with heels worn down at the sides! Apart from his moral agonies he had to suffer physically also; the boots gave him a corn.

In the evening he was at the theatre. There was a performance of Bluebeard. It was only just before the last act, and then only thanks to the good offices of a man he knew who played a flute in the orchestra, that he gained admittance behind the scenes. Going to the men’s dressing-room, he found there all the male performers. Some were changing their clothes, others were painting their faces, others were smoking. Bluebeard was standing with King Bobesh, showing him a revolver.

“You had better buy it,” said Bluebeard. “I bought it at Kursk, a bargain, for eight roubles, but, there! I will let you have it for six. . . . A wonderfully good one!”

“Steady. . . . It’s loaded, you know!”

“Can I see Mr. Blistanov?” the piano-tuner asked as he went in.

“I am he!” said Bluebeard, turning to him. “What do you want?”

“Excuse my troubling you, sir,” began the piano-tuner in an imploring voice, “but, believe me, I am a man in delicate health, rheumatic. The doctors have ordered me to keep my feet warm . . .”

“But, speaking plainly, what do you want?”

“You see,” said the piano-tuner, addressing Bluebeard. “Er . . . you stayed last night at Buhteyev’s furnished apartments . . . No. 64 . . .”

“What’s this nonsense?” said King Bobesh with a grin. “My wife is at No. 64.”

“Your wife, sir? Delighted. . . .” Murkin smiled. “It was she, your good lady, who gave me this gentleman’s boots. . . . After this gentleman—” the piano-tuner indicated Blistanov—“had gone away I missed my boots. . . . I called the waiter, you know, and he said: ‘I left your boots in the next room!’ By mistake, being in a state of intoxication, he left my boots as well as yours at 64,” said Murkin, turning to Blistanov, “and when you left this gentleman’s lady you put on mine.”

“What are you talking about?” said Blistanov, and he scowled. “Have you come here to libel me?”

“Not at all, sir—God forbid! You misunderstand me. What am I talking about? About boots! You did stay the night at No. 64, didn’t you?”

“When?”

“Last night!”

“Why, did you see me there?”

“No, sir, I didn’t see you,” said Murkin in great confusion, sitting down and taking off the boots. “I did not see you, but this gentleman’s lady threw out your boots here to me . . . instead of mine.”

“What right have you, sir, to make such assertions? I say nothing about myself, but you are slandering a woman, and in the presence of her husband, too!”

A fearful hubbub arose behind the scenes. King Bobesh, the injured husband, suddenly turned crimson and brought his fist down upon the table with such violence that two actresses in the next dressing-room felt faint.

“And you believe it?” cried Bluebeard. “You believe this worthless rascal? O-oh! Would you like me to kill him like a dog? Would you like it? I will turn him into a beefsteak! I’ll blow his brains out!”

And all the persons who were promenading that evening in the town park by the Summer theatre describe to this day how just before the fourth act they saw a man with bare feet, a yellow face, and terror-stricken eyes dart out of the theatre and dash along the principal avenue. He was pursued by a man in the costume of Bluebeard, armed with a revolver. What happened later no one saw. All that is known is that Murkin was confined to his bed for a fortnight after his acquaintance with Blistanov, and that to the words “I am a man in delicate health, rheumatic” he took to adding, “I am a wounded man. . . .”


JOY

IT was twelve o’clock at night.

Mitya Kuldarov, with excited face and ruffled hair, flew into his parents’ flat, and hurriedly ran through all the rooms. His parents had already gone to bed. His sister was in bed, finishing the last page of a novel. His schoolboy brothers were asleep.

“Where have you come from?” cried his parents in amazement. “What is the matter with you?

“Oh, don’t ask! I never expected it; no, I never expected it! It’s . . . it’s positively incredible!”

Mitya laughed and sank into an armchair, so overcome by happiness that he could not stand on his legs.

“It’s incredible! You can’t imagine! Look!”

His sister jumped out of bed and, throwing a quilt round her, went in to her brother. The schoolboys woke up.

“What’s the matter? You don’t look like yourself!”

“It’s because I am so delighted, Mamma! Do you know, now all Russia knows of me! All Russia! Till now only you knew that there was a registration clerk called Dmitry Kuldarov, and now all Russia knows it! Mamma! Oh, Lord!”

Mitya jumped up, ran up and down all the rooms, and then sat down again.

“Why, what has happened? Tell us sensibly!”

“You live like wild beasts, you don’t read the newspapers and take no notice of what’s published, and there’s so much that is interesting in the papers. If anything happens it’s all known at once, nothing is hidden! How happy I am! Oh, Lord! You know it’s only celebrated people whose names are published in the papers, and now they have gone and published mine!”

“What do you mean? Where?”

The papa turned pale. The mamma glanced at the holy image and crossed herself. The schoolboys jumped out of bed and, just as they were, in short nightshirts, went up to their brother.

“Yes! My name has been published! Now all Russia knows of me! Keep the paper, mamma, in memory of it! We will read it sometimes! Look!”

Mitya pulled out of his pocket a copy of the paper, gave it to his father, and pointed with his finger to a passage marked with blue pencil.

“Read it!”

The father put on his spectacles.

“Do read it!”

The mamma glanced at the holy image and crossed herself. The papa cleared his throat and began to read: “At eleven o’clock on the evening of the 29th of December, a registration clerk of the name of Dmitry Kuldarov . . .”

“You see, you see! Go on!”

“. . . a registration clerk of the name of Dmitry Kuldarov, coming from the beershop in Kozihin’s buildings in Little Bronnaia in an intoxicated condition. . .”

“That’s me and Semyon Petrovitch. . . . It’s all described exactly! Go on! Listen!”

“. . . intoxicated condition, slipped and fell under a horse belonging to a sledge-driver, a peasant of the village of Durikino in the Yuhnovsky district, called Ivan Drotov. The frightened horse, stepping over Kuldarov and drawing the sledge over him, together with a Moscow merchant of the second guild called Stepan Lukov, who was in it, dashed along the street and was caught by some house-porters. Kuldarov, at first in an unconscious condition, was taken to the police station and there examined by the doctor. The blow he had received on the back of his head. . .”

“It was from the shaft, papa. Go on! Read the rest!”

“. . . he had received on the back of his head turned out not to be serious. The incident was duly reported. Medical aid was given to the injured man. . . .”

“They told me to foment the back of my head with cold water. You have read it now? Ah! So you see. Now it’s all over Russia! Give it here!”

Mitya seized the paper, folded it up and put it into his pocket.

“I’ll run round to the Makarovs and show it to them. . . . I must show it to the Ivanitskys too, Natasya Ivanovna, and Anisim Vassilyitch. . . . I’ll run! Good-bye!”

Mitya put on his cap with its cockade and, joyful and triumphant, ran into the street.


LADIES

FYODOR PETROVITCH the Director of Elementary Schools in the N. District, who considered himself a just and generous man, was one day interviewing in his office a schoolmaster called Vremensky.

“No, Mr. Vremensky,” he was saying, “your retirement is inevitable. You cannot continue your work as a schoolmaster with a voice like that! How did you come to lose it?”

“I drank cold beer when I was in a perspiration. . .” hissed the schoolmaster.

“What a pity! After a man has served fourteen years, such a calamity all at once! The idea of a career being ruined by such a trivial thing. What are you intending to do now?”

The schoolmaster made no answer.

“Are you a family man?” asked the director.

“A wife and two children, your Excellency . . .” hissed the schoolmaster.

A silence followed. The director got up from the table and walked to and fro in perturbation.

“I cannot think what I am going to do with you!” he said. “A teacher you cannot be, and you are not yet entitled to a pension. . . . To abandon you to your fate, and leave you to do the best you can, is rather awkward. We look on you as one of our men, you have served fourteen years, so it is our business to help you. . . . But how are we to help you? What can I do for you? Put yourself in my place: what can I do for you?”

A silence followed; the director walked up and down, still thinking, and Vremensky, overwhelmed by his trouble, sat on the edge of his chair, and he, too, thought. All at once the director began beaming, and even snapped his fingers.

“I wonder I did not think of it before!” he began rapidly. “Listen, this is what I can offer you. Next week our secretary at the Home is retiring. If you like, you can have his place! There you are!”

Vremensky, not expecting such good fortune, beamed too.

“That’s capital,” said the director. “Write the application to-day.”

Dismissing Vremensky, Fyodor Petrovitch felt relieved and even gratified: the bent figure of the hissing schoolmaster was no longer confronting him, and it was agreeable to recognize that in offering a vacant post to Vremensky he had acted fairly and conscientiously, like a good-hearted and thoroughly decent person. But this agreeable state of mind did not last long. When he went home and sat down to dinner his wife, Nastasya Ivanovna, said suddenly:

“Oh yes, I was almost forgetting! Nina Sergeyevna came to see me yesterday and begged for your interest on behalf of a young man. I am told there is a vacancy in our Home. . . .”

“Yes, but the post has already been promised to someone else,” said the director, and he frowned. “And you know my rule: I never give posts through patronage.”

“I know, but for Nina Sergeyevna, I imagine, you might make an exception. She loves us as though we were relations, and we have never done anything for her. And don’t think of refusing, Fedya! You will wound both her and me with your whims.”

“Who is it that she is recommending?”

“Polzuhin!”

“What Polzuhin? Is it that fellow who played Tchatsky at the party on New Year’s Day? Is it that gentleman? Not on any account!”

The director left off eating.

“Not on any account!” he repeated. “Heaven preserve us!”

“But why not?”

“Understand, my dear, that if a young man does not set to work directly, but through women, he must be good for nothing! Why doesn’t he come to me himself?”

After dinner the director lay on the sofa in his study and began reading the letters and newspapers he had received.

“Dear Fyodor Petrovitch,” wrote the wife of the Mayor of the town. “You once said that I knew the human heart and understood people. Now you have an opportunity of verifying this in practice. K. N. Polzuhin, whom I know to be an excellent young man, will call upon you in a day or two to ask you for the post of secretary at our Home. He is a very nice youth. If you take an interest in him you will be convinced of it.” And so on.

“On no account!” was the director’s comment. “Heaven preserve me!”

After that, not a day passed without the director’s receiving letters recommending Polzuhin. One fine morning Polzuhin himself, a stout young man with a close-shaven face like a jockey’s, in a new black suit, made his appearance. . . .

“I see people on business not here but at the office,” said the director drily, on hearing his request.

“Forgive me, your Excellency, but our common acquaintances advised me to come here.”

“H’m!” growled the director, looking with hatred at the pointed toes of the young man’s shoes. “To the best of my belief your father is a man of property and you are not in want,” he said. “What induces you to ask for this post? The salary is very trifling!”

“It’s not for the sake of the salary. . . . It’s a government post, any way . . .”

“H’m. . . . It strikes me that within a month you will be sick of the job and you will give it up, and meanwhile there are candidates for whom it would be a career for life. There are poor men for whom . . .”

“I shan’t get sick of it, your Excellency,” Polzuhin interposed. “Honour bright, I will do my best!”

It was too much for the director.

“Tell me,” he said, smiling contemptuously, “why was it you didn’t apply to me direct but thought fitting instead to trouble ladies as a preliminary?”

“I didn’t know that it would be disagreeable to you,” Polzuhin answered, and he was embarrassed. “But, your Excellency, if you attach no significance to letters of recommendation, I can give you a testimonial. . . .”

He drew from his pocket a letter and handed it to the director. At the bottom of the testimonial, which was written in official language and handwriting, stood the signature of the Governor. Everything pointed to the Governor’s having signed it unread, simply to get rid of some importunate lady.

“There’s nothing for it, I bow to his authority. . . I obey . . .” said the director, reading the testimonial, and he heaved a sigh.

“Send in your application to-morrow. . . . There’s nothing to be done. . . .”

And when Polzuhin had gone out, the director abandoned himself to a feeling of repulsion.

“Sneak!” he hissed, pacing from one corner to the other. “He has got what he wanted, one way or the other, the good-for-nothing toady! Making up to the ladies! Reptile! Creature!”

The director spat loudly in the direction of the door by which Polzuhin had departed, and was immediately overcome with embarrassment, for at that moment a lady, the wife of the Superintendent of the Provincial Treasury, walked in at the door.

“I’ve come for a tiny minute . . . a tiny minute. . .” began the lady. “Sit down, friend, and listen to me attentively. . . . Well, I’ve been told you have a post vacant. . . . To-day or to-morrow you will receive a visit from a young man called Polzuhin. . . .”

The lady chattered on, while the director gazed at her with lustreless, stupefied eyes like a man on the point of fainting, gazed and smiled from politeness.

And the next day when Vremensky came to his office it was a long time before the director could bring himself to tell the truth. He hesitated, was incoherent, and could not think how to begin or what to say. He wanted to apologize to the schoolmaster, to tell him the whole truth, but his tongue halted like a drunkard’s, his ears burned, and he was suddenly overwhelmed with vexation and resentment that he should have to play such an absurd part—in his own office, before his subordinate. He suddenly brought his fist down on the table, leaped up, and shouted angrily:

“I have no post for you! I have not, and that’s all about it! Leave me in peace! Don’t worry me! Be so good as to leave me alone!”

And he walked out of the office.


A PECULIAR MAN

BETWEEN twelve and one at night a tall gentleman, wearing a top-hat and a coat with a hood, stops before the door of Marya Petrovna Koshkin, a midwife and an old maid. Neither face nor hand can be distinguished in the autumn darkness, but in the very manner of his coughing and the ringing of the bell a certain solidity, positiveness, and even impressiveness can be discerned. After the third ring the door opens and Marya Petrovna herself appears. She has a man’s overcoat flung on over her white petticoat. The little lamp with the green shade which she holds in her hand throws a greenish light over her sleepy, freckled face, her scraggy neck, and the lank, reddish hair that strays from under her cap.

“Can I see the midwife?” asks the gentleman.

“I am the midwife. What do you want?”

The gentleman walks into the entry and Marya Petrovna sees facing her a tall, well-made man, no longer young, but with a handsome, severe face and bushy whiskers.

“I am a collegiate assessor, my name is Kiryakov,” he says. “I came to fetch you to my wife. Only please make haste.”

“Very good . . .” the midwife assents. “I’ll dress at once, and I must trouble you to wait for me in the parlour.”

Kiryakov takes off his overcoat and goes into the parlour. The greenish light of the lamp lies sparsely on the cheap furniture in patched white covers, on the pitiful flowers and the posts on which ivy is trained. . . . There is a smell of geranium and carbolic. The little clock on the wall ticks timidly, as though abashed at the presence of a strange man.

“I am ready,” says Marya Petrovna, coming into the room five minutes later, dressed, washed, and ready for action. “Let us go.”

“Yes, you must make haste,” says Kiryakov. “And, by the way, it is not out of place to enquire—what do you ask for your services?”

“I really don’t know . . .” says Marya Petrovna with an embarrassed smile. “As much as you will give.”

“No, I don’t like that,” says Kiryakov, looking coldly and steadily at the midwife. “An arrangement beforehand is best. I don’t want to take advantage of you and you don’t want to take advantage of me. To avoid misunderstandings it is more sensible for us to make an arrangement beforehand.”

“I really don’t know—there is no fixed price.”

“I work myself and am accustomed to respect the work of others. I don’t like injustice. It will be equally unpleasant to me if I pay you too little, or if you demand from me too much, and so I insist on your naming your charge.”

“Well, there are such different charges.”

“H’m. In view of your hesitation, which I fail to understand, I am constrained to fix the sum myself. I can give you two roubles.”

“Good gracious! . . . Upon my word! . . .” says Marya Petrovna, turning crimson and stepping back. “I am really ashamed. Rather than take two roubles I will come for nothing . . . . Five roubles, if you like.”

“Two roubles, not a kopeck more. I don’t want to take advantage of you, but I do not intend to be overcharged.”

“As you please, but I am not coming for two roubles. . . .”

“But by law you have not the right to refuse.”

“Very well, I will come for nothing.”

“I won’t have you for nothing. All work ought to receive remuneration. I work myself and I understand that. . . .”

“I won’t come for two roubles,” Marya Petrovna answers mildly. “I’ll come for nothing if you like.”

“In that case I regret that I have troubled you for nothing. . . . I have the honour to wish you good-bye.”

“Well, you are a man!” says Marya Petrovna, seeing him into the entry. “I will come for three roubles if that will satisfy you.”

Kiryakov frowns and ponders for two full minutes, looking with concentration on the floor, then he says resolutely, “No,” and goes out into the street. The astonished and disconcerted midwife fastens the door after him and goes back into her bedroom.

“He’s good-looking, respectable, but how queer, God bless the man! . . .” she thinks as she gets into bed.

But in less than half an hour she hears another ring; she gets up and sees the same Kiryakov again.

“Extraordinary the way things are mismanaged. Neither the chemist, nor the police, nor the house-porters can give me the address of a midwife, and so I am under the necessity of assenting to your terms. I will give you three roubles, but . . . I warn you beforehand that when I engage servants or receive any kind of services, I make an arrangement beforehand in order that when I pay there may be no talk of extras, tips, or anything of the sort. Everyone ought to receive what is his due.”

Marya Petrovna has not listened to Kiryakov for long, but already she feels that she is bored and repelled by him, that his even, measured speech lies like a weight on her soul. She dresses and goes out into the street with him. The air is still but cold, and the sky is so overcast that the light of the street lamps is hardly visible. The sloshy snow squelches under their feet. The midwife looks intently but does not see a cab.

“I suppose it is not far?” she asks.

“No, not far,” Kiryakov answers grimly.

They walk down one turning, a second, a third. . . . Kiryakov strides along, and even in his step his respectability and positiveness is apparent.

“What awful weather!” the midwife observes to him.

But he preserves a dignified silence, and it is noticeable that he tries to step on the smooth stones to avoid spoiling his goloshes. At last after a long walk the midwife steps into the entry; from which she can see a big decently furnished drawing-room. There is not a soul in the rooms, even in the bedroom where the woman is lying in labour. . . . The old women and relations who flock in crowds to every confinement are not to be seen. The cook rushes about alone, with a scared and vacant face. There is a sound of loud groans.

Three hours pass. Marya Petrovna sits by the mother’s bedside and whispers to her. The two women have already had time to make friends, they have got to know each other, they gossip, they sigh together. . . .

“You mustn’t talk,” says the midwife anxiously, and at the same time she showers questions on her.

Then the door opens and Kiryakov himself comes quietly and stolidly into the room. He sits down in the chair and strokes his whiskers. Silence reigns. Marya Petrovna looks timidly at his handsome, passionless, wooden face and waits for him to begin to talk, but he remains absolutely silent and absorbed in thought. After waiting in vain, the midwife makes up her mind to begin herself, and utters a phrase commonly used at confinements.

“Well now, thank God, there is one human being more in the world!”

“Yes, that’s agreeable,” said Kiryakov, preserving the wooden expression of his face, “though indeed, on the other hand, to have more children you must have more money. The baby is not born fed and clothed.”

A guilty expression comes into the mother’s face, as though she had brought a creature into the world without permission or through idle caprice. Kiryakov gets up with a sigh and walks with solid dignity out of the room.

“What a man, bless him!” says the midwife to the mother. “He’s so stern and does not smile.”

The mother tells her that he is always like that. . . . He is honest, fair, prudent, sensibly economical, but all that to such an exceptional degree that simple mortals feel suffocated by it. His relations have parted from him, the servants will not stay more than a month; they have no friends; his wife and children are always on tenterhooks from terror over every step they take. He does not shout at them nor beat them, his virtues are far more numerous than his defects, but when he goes out of the house they all feel better, and more at ease. Why it is so the woman herself cannot say.

“The basins must be properly washed and put away in the store cupboard,” says Kiryakov, coming into the bedroom. “These bottles must be put away too: they may come in handy.”

What he says is very simple and ordinary, but the midwife for some reason feels flustered. She begins to be afraid of the man and shudders every time she hears his footsteps. In the morning as she is preparing to depart she sees Kiryakov’s little son, a pale, close-cropped schoolboy, in the dining-room drinking his tea. . . . Kiryakov is standing opposite him, saying in his flat, even voice:

“You know how to eat, you must know how to work too. You have just swallowed a mouthful but have not probably reflected that that mouthful costs money and money is obtained by work. You must eat and reflect. . . .”

The midwife looks at the boy’s dull face, and it seems to her as though the very air is heavy, that a little more and the very walls will fall, unable to endure the crushing presence of the peculiar man. Beside herself with terror, and by now feeling a violent hatred for the man, Marya Petrovna gathers up her bundles and hurriedly departs.

Half-way home she remembers that she has forgotten to ask for her three roubles, but after stopping and thinking for a minute, with a wave of her hand, she goes on.


AT THE BARBER’S

MORNING. It is not yet seven o’clock, but Makar Kuzmitch Blyostken’s shop is already open. The barber himself, an unwashed, greasy, but foppishly dressed youth of three and twenty, is busy clearing up; there is really nothing to be cleared away, but he is perspiring with his exertions. In one place he polishes with a rag, in another he scrapes with his finger or catches a bug and brushes it off the wall.

The barber’s shop is small, narrow, and unclean. The log walls are hung with paper suggestive of a cabman’s faded shirt. Between the two dingy, perspiring windows there is a thin, creaking, rickety door, above it, green from the damp, a bell which trembles and gives a sickly ring of itself without provocation. Glance into the looking-glass which hangs on one of the walls, and it distorts your countenance in all directions in the most merciless way! The shaving and haircutting is done before this looking-glass. On the little table, as greasy and unwashed as Makar Kuzmitch himself, there is everything: combs, scissors, razors, a ha’porth of wax for the moustache, a ha’porth of powder, a ha’porth of much watered eau de Cologne, and indeed the whole barber’s shop is not worth more than fifteen kopecks.

There is a squeaking sound from the invalid bell and an elderly man in a tanned sheepskin and high felt over-boots walks into the shop. His head and neck are wrapped in a woman’s shawl.

This is Erast Ivanitch Yagodov, Makar Kuzmitch’s godfather. At one time he served as a watchman in the Consistory, now he lives near the Red Pond and works as a locksmith.

“Makarushka, good-day, dear boy!” he says to Makar Kuzmitch, who is absorbed in tidying up.

They kiss each other. Yagodov drags his shawl off his head, crosses himself, and sits down.

“What a long way it is!” he says, sighing and clearing his throat. “It’s no joke! From the Red Pond to the Kaluga gate.”

“How are you?”

“In a poor way, my boy. I’ve had a fever.”

“You don’t say so! Fever!”

“Yes, I have been in bed a month; I thought I should die. I had extreme unction. Now my hair’s coming out. The doctor says I must be shaved. He says the hair will grow again strong. And so, I thought, I’ll go to Makar. Better to a relation than to anyone else. He will do it better and he won’t take anything for it. It’s rather far, that’s true, but what of it? It’s a walk.”

“I’ll do it with pleasure. Please sit down.”

With a scrape of his foot Makar Kuzmitch indicates a chair. Yagodov sits down and looks at himself in the glass and is apparently pleased with his reflection: the looking-glass displays a face awry, with Kalmuck lips, a broad, blunt nose, and eyes in the forehead. Makar Kuzmitch puts round his client’s shoulders a white sheet with yellow spots on it, and begins snipping with the scissors.

“I’ll shave you clean to the skin!” he says.

“To be sure. So that I may look like a Tartar, like a bomb. The hair will grow all the thicker.”

“How’s auntie?”

“Pretty middling. The other day she went as midwife to the major’s lady. They gave her a rouble.”

“Oh, indeed, a rouble. Hold your ear.”

“I am holding it. . . . Mind you don’t cut me. Oy, you hurt! You are pulling my hair.”

“That doesn’t matter. We can’t help that in our work. And how is Anna Erastovna?”

“My daughter? She is all right, she’s skipping about. Last week on the Wednesday we betrothed her to Sheikin. Why didn’t you come?”

The scissors cease snipping. Makar Kuzmitch drops his hands and asks in a fright:

“Who is betrothed?”

“Anna.”

“How’s that? To whom?”

“To Sheikin. Prokofy Petrovitch. His aunt’s a housekeeper in Zlatoustensky Lane. She is a nice woman. Naturally we are all delighted, thank God. The wedding will be in a week. Mind you come; we will have a good time.”

“But how’s this, Erast Ivanitch?” says Makar Kuzmitch, pale, astonished, and shrugging his shoulders. “It’s . . . it’s utterly impossible. Why, Anna Erastovna . . . why I . . . why, I cherished sentiments for her, I had intentions. How could it happen?”

“Why, we just went and betrothed her. He’s a good fellow.”

Cold drops of perspiration come on the face of Makar Kuzmitch. He puts the scissors down on the table and begins rubbing his nose with his fist.

“I had intentions,” he says. “It’s impossible, Erast Ivanitch. I . . . I am in love with her and have made her the offer of my heart . . . . And auntie promised. I have always respected you as though you were my father. . . . I always cut your hair for nothing. . . . I have always obliged you, and when my papa died you took the sofa and ten roubles in cash and have never given them back. Do you remember?”

“Remember! of course I do. Only, what sort of a match would you be, Makar? You are nothing of a match. You’ve neither money nor position, your trade’s a paltry one.”

“And is Sheikin rich?”

“Sheikin is a member of a union. He has a thousand and a half lent on mortgage. So my boy . . . . It’s no good talking about it, the thing’s done. There is no altering it, Makarushka. You must look out for another bride. . . . The world is not so small. Come, cut away. Why are you stopping?”

Makar Kuzmitch is silent and remains motionless, then he takes a handkerchief out of his pocket and begins to cry.

“Come, what is it?” Erast Ivanitch comforts him. “Give over. Fie, he is blubbering like a woman! You finish my head and then cry. Take up the scissors!”

Makar Kuzmitch takes up the scissors, stares vacantly at them for a minute, then drops them again on the table. His hands are shaking.

“I can’t,” he says. “I can’t do it just now. I haven’t the strength! I am a miserable man! And she is miserable! We loved each other, we had given each other our promise and we have been separated by unkind people without any pity. Go away, Erast Ivanitch! I can’t bear the sight of you.”

“So I’ll come to-morrow, Makarushka. You will finish me to-morrow.”

“Right.”

“You calm yourself and I will come to you early in the morning.”

Erast Ivanitch has half his head shaven to the skin and looks like a convict. It is awkward to be left with a head like that, but there is no help for it. He wraps his head in the shawl and walks out of the barber’s shop. Left alone, Makar Kuzmitch sits down and goes on quietly weeping.

Early next morning Erast Ivanitch comes again.

“What do you want?” Makar Kuzmitch asks him coldly.

“Finish cutting my hair, Makarushka. There is half the head left to do.”

“Kindly give me the money in advance. I won’t cut it for nothing.”

Without saying a word Erast Ivanitch goes out, and to this day his hair is long on one side of the head and short on the other. He regards it as extravagance to pay for having his hair cut and is waiting for the hair to grow of itself on the shaven side.

He danced at the wedding in that condition.


AN INADVERTENCE

PYOTR PETROVITCH STRIZHIN, the nephew of Madame Ivanov, the colonel’s widow—the man whose new goloshes were stolen last year,—came home from a christening party at two o’clock in the morning. To avoid waking the household he took off his things in the lobby, made his way on tiptoe to his room, holding his breath, and began getting ready for bed without lighting a candle.

Strizhin leads a sober and regular life. He has a sanctimonious expression of face, he reads nothing but religious and edifying books, but at the christening party, in his delight that Lyubov Spiridonovna had passed through her confinement successfully, he had permitted himself to drink four glasses of vodka and a glass of wine, the taste of which suggested something midway between vinegar and castor oil. Spirituous liquors are like sea-water and glory: the more you imbibe of them the greater your thirst. And now as he undressed, Strizhin was aware of an overwhelming craving for drink.

“I believe Dashenka has some vodka in the cupboard in the right-hand corner,” he thought. “If I drink one wine-glassful, she won’t notice it.”

After some hesitation, overcoming his fears, Strizhin went to the cupboard. Cautiously opening the door he felt in the right-hand corner for a bottle and poured out a wine-glassful, put the bottle back in its place, then, making the sign of the cross, drank it off. And immediately something like a miracle took place. Strizhin was flung back from the cupboard to the chest with fearful force like a bomb. There were flashes before his eyes, he felt as though he could not breathe, and all over his body he had a sensation as though he had fallen into a marsh full of leeches. It seemed to him as though, instead of vodka, he had swallowed dynamite, which blew up his body, the house, and the whole street. . . . His head, his arms, his legs—all seemed to be torn off and to be flying away somewhere to the devil, into space.

For some three minutes he lay on the chest, not moving and scarcely breathing, then he got up and asked himself:

“Where am I?”

The first thing of which he was clearly conscious on coming to himself was the pronounced smell of paraffin.

“Holy saints,” he thought in horror, “it’s paraffin I have drunk instead of vodka.”

The thought that he had poisoned himself threw him into a cold shiver, then into a fever. That it was really poison that he had taken was proved not only by the smell in the room but also by the burning taste in his mouth, the flashes before his eyes, the ringing in his head, and the colicky pain in his stomach. Feeling the approach of death and not buoying himself up with false hopes, he wanted to say good-bye to those nearest to him, and made his way to Dashenka’s bedroom (being a widower he had his sister-in-law called Dashenka, an old maid, living in the flat to keep house for him).

“Dashenka,” he said in a tearful voice as he went into the bedroom, “dear Dashenka!”

Something grumbled in the darkness and uttered a deep sigh.

“Dashenka.”

“Eh? What?” A woman’s voice articulated rapidly. “Is that you, Pyotr Petrovitch? Are you back already? Well, what is it? What has the baby been christened? Who was godmother?”

“The godmother was Natalya Andreyevna Velikosvyetsky, and the godfather Pavel Ivanitch Bezsonnitsin. . . . I . . . I believe, Dashenka, I am dying. And the baby has been christened Olimpiada, in honour of their kind patroness. . . . I . . . I have just drunk paraffin, Dashenka!”

“What next! You don’t say they gave you paraffin there?”

“I must own I wanted to get a drink of vodka without asking you, and . . . and the Lord chastised me: by accident in the dark I took paraffin. . . . What am I to do?”

Dashenka, hearing that the cupboard had been opened without her permission, grew more wide-awake. . . . She quickly lighted a candle, jumped out of bed, and in her nightgown, a freckled, bony figure in curl-papers, padded with bare feet to the cupboard.

“Who told you you might?” she asked sternly, as she scrutinized the inside of the cupboard. “Was the vodka put there for you?”

“I . . . I haven’t drunk vodka but paraffin, Dashenka . . .” muttered Strizhin, mopping the cold sweat on his brow.

“And what did you want to touch the paraffin for? That’s nothing to do with you, is it? Is it put there for you? Or do you suppose paraffin costs nothing? Eh? Do you know what paraffin is now? Do you know?”

“Dear Dashenka,” moaned Strizhin, “it’s a question of life and death, and you talk about money!”

“He’s drunk himself tipsy and now he pokes his nose into the cupboard!” cried Dashenka, angrily slamming the cupboard door. “Oh, the monsters, the tormentors! I’m a martyr, a miserable woman, no peace day or night! Vipers, basilisks, accursed Herods, may you suffer the same in the world to come! I am going to-morrow! I am a maiden lady and I won’t allow you to stand before me in your underclothes! How dare you look at me when I am not dressed!”

And she went on and on. . . . Knowing that when Dashenka was enraged there was no moving her with prayers or vows or even by firing a cannon, Strizhin waved his hand in despair, dressed, and made up his mind to go to the doctor. But a doctor is only readily found when he is not wanted. After running through three streets and ringing five times at Dr. Tchepharyants’s, and seven times at Dr. Bultyhin’s, Strizhin raced off to a chemist’s shop, thinking possibly the chemist could help him. There, after a long interval, a little dark and curly-headed chemist came out to him in his dressing gown, with drowsy eyes, and such a wise and serious face that it was positively terrifying.

“What do you want?” he asked in a tone in which only very wise and dignified chemists of Jewish persuasion can speak.

“For God’s sake . . . I entreat you . . .” said Strizhin breathlessly, “give me something. I have just accidentally drunk paraffin, I am dying!”

“I beg you not to excite yourself and to answer the questions I am about to put to you. The very fact that you are excited prevents me from understanding you. You have drunk paraffin. Yes?”

“Yes, paraffin! Please save me!”

The chemist went coolly and gravely to the desk, opened a book, became absorbed in reading it. After reading a couple of pages he shrugged one shoulder and then the other, made a contemptuous grimace and, after thinking for a minute, went into the adjoining room. The clock struck four, and when it pointed to ten minutes past the chemist came back with another book and again plunged into reading.

“H’m,” he said as though puzzled, “the very fact that you feel unwell shows you ought to apply to a doctor, not a chemist.”

“But I have been to the doctors already. I could not ring them up.”

“H’m . . . you don’t regard us chemists as human beings, and disturb our rest even at four o’clock at night, though every dog, every cat, can rest in peace. . . . You don’t try to understand anything, and to your thinking we are not people and our nerves are like cords.”

Strizhin listened to the chemist, heaved a sigh, and went home.

“So I am fated to die,” he thought.

And in his mouth was a burning and a taste of paraffin, there were twinges in his stomach, and a sound of boom, boom, boom in his ears. Every moment it seemed to him that his end was near, that his heart was no longer beating.

Returning home he made haste to write: “Let no one be blamed for my death,” then he said his prayers, lay down and pulled the bedclothes over his head. He lay awake till morning expecting death, and all the time he kept fancying how his grave would be covered with fresh green grass and how the birds would twitter over it. . . .

And in the morning he was sitting on his bed, saying with a smile to Dashenka:

“One who leads a steady and regular life, dear sister, is unaffected by any poison. Take me, for example. I have been on the verge of death. I was dying and in agony, yet now I am all right. There is only a burning in my mouth and a soreness in my throat, but I am all right all over, thank God. . . . And why? It’s because of my regular life.”

“No, it’s because it’s inferior paraffin!” sighed Dashenka, thinking of the household expenses and gazing into space. “The man at the shop could not have given me the best quality, but that at three farthings. I am a martyr, I am a miserable woman. You monsters! May you suffer the same, in the world to come, accursed Herods. . . .”

And she went on and on. . . .


THE ALBUM

KRATEROV, the titular councillor, as thin and slender as the Admiralty spire, stepped forward and, addressing Zhmyhov, said:

“Your Excellency! Moved and touched to the bottom of our hearts by the way you have ruled us during long years, and by your fatherly care. . . .”

“During the course of more than ten years. . .” Zakusin prompted.

“During the course of more than ten years, we, your subordinates, on this so memorable for us . . . er . . . day, beg your Excellency to accept in token of our respect and profound gratitude this album with our portraits in it, and express our hope that for the duration of your distinguished life, that for long, long years to come, to your dying day you may not abandon us. . . .”

“With your fatherly guidance in the path of justice and progress. . .” added Zakusin, wiping from his brow the perspiration that had suddenly appeared on it; he was evidently longing to speak, and in all probability had a speech ready. “And,” he wound up, “may your standard fly for long, long years in the career of genius, industry, and social self-consciousness.”

A tear trickled down the wrinkled left cheek of Zhmyhov.

“Gentlemen!” he said in a shaking voice, “I did not expect, I had no idea that you were going to celebrate my modest jubilee. . . . I am touched indeed . . . very much so. . . . I shall not forget this moment to my dying day, and believe me . . . believe me, friends, that no one is so desirous of your welfare as I am . . . and if there has been anything . . . it was for your benefit.”

Zhmyhov, the actual civil councillor, kissed the titular councillor Kraterov, who had not expected such an honour, and turned pale with delight. Then the chief made a gesture that signified that he could not speak for emotion, and shed tears as though an expensive album had not been presented to him, but on the contrary, taken from him . . . . Then when he had a little recovered and said a few more words full of feeling and given everyone his hand to shake, he went downstairs amid loud and joyful cheers, got into his carriage and drove off, followed by their blessings. As he sat in his carriage he was aware of a flood of joyous feelings such as he had never known before, and once more he shed tears.

At home new delights awaited him. There his family, his friends, and acquaintances had prepared him such an ovation that it seemed to him that he really had been of very great service to his country, and that if he had never existed his country would perhaps have been in a very bad way. The jubilee dinner was made up of toasts, speeches, and tears. In short, Zhmyhov had never expected that his merits would be so warmly appreciated.

“Gentlemen!” he said before the dessert, “two hours ago I was recompensed for all the sufferings a man has to undergo who is the servant, so to say, not of routine, not of the letter, but of duty! Through the whole duration of my service I have constantly adhered to the principle;—the public does not exist for us, but we for the public, and to-day I received the highest reward! My subordinates presented me with an album . . . see! I was touched.”

Festive faces bent over the album and began examining it.

“It’s a pretty album,” said Zhmyhov’s daughter Olya, “it must have cost fifty roubles, I do believe. Oh, it’s charming! You must give me the album, papa, do you hear? I’ll take care of it, it’s so pretty.”

After dinner Olya carried off the album to her room and shut it up in her table drawer. Next day she took the clerks out of it, flung them on the floor, and put her school friends in their place. The government uniforms made way for white pelerines. Kolya, his Excellency’s little son, picked up the clerks and painted their clothes red. Those who had no moustaches he presented with green moustaches and added brown beards to the beardless. When there was nothing left to paint he cut the little men out of the card-board, pricked their eyes with a pin, and began playing soldiers with them. After cutting out the titular councillor Kraterov, he fixed him on a match-box and carried him in that state to his father’s study.

“Papa, a monument, look!”

Zhmyhov burst out laughing, lurched forward, and, looking tenderly at the child, gave him a warm kiss on the cheek.

“There, you rogue, go and show mamma; let mamma look too.”


OH! THE PUBLIC

“HERE goes, I’ve done with drinking! Nothing. . . n-o-thing shall tempt me to it. It’s time to take myself in hand; I must buck up and work. . . You’re glad to get your salary, so you must do your work honestly, heartily, conscientiously, regardless of sleep and comfort. Chuck taking it easy. You’ve got into the way of taking a salary for nothing, my boy—that’s not the right thing . . . not the right thing at all. . . .”

After administering to himself several such lectures Podtyagin, the head ticket collector, begins to feel an irresistible impulse to get to work. It is past one o’clock at night, but in spite of that he wakes the ticket collectors and with them goes up and down the railway carriages, inspecting the tickets.

“T-t-t-ickets . . . P-p-p-please!” he keeps shouting, briskly snapping the clippers.

Sleepy figures, shrouded in the twilight of the railway carriages, start, shake their heads, and produce their tickets.

“T-t-t-tickets, please!” Podtyagin addresses a second-class passenger, a lean, scraggy-looking man, wrapped up in a fur coat and a rug and surrounded with pillows. “Tickets, please!”

The scraggy-looking man makes no reply. He is buried in sleep. The head ticket-collector touches him on the shoulder and repeats impatiently: “T-t-tickets, p-p-please!”

The passenger starts, opens his eyes, and gazes in alarm at Podtyagin.

“What? . . . Who? . . . Eh?”

“You’re asked in plain language: t-t-tickets, p-p-please! If you please!”

“My God!” moans the scraggy-looking man, pulling a woebegone face. “Good Heavens! I’m suffering from rheumatism. . . . I haven’t slept for three nights! I’ve just taken morphia on purpose to get to sleep, and you . . . with your tickets! It’s merciless, it’s inhuman! If you knew how hard it is for me to sleep you wouldn’t disturb me for such nonsense. . . . It’s cruel, it’s absurd! And what do you want with my ticket! It’s positively stupid!”

Podtyagin considers whether to take offence or not—and decides to take offence.

“Don’t shout here! This is not a tavern!”

“No, in a tavern people are more humane. . .” coughs the passenger. “Perhaps you’ll let me go to sleep another time! It’s extraordinary: I’ve travelled abroad, all over the place, and no one asked for my ticket there, but here you’re at it again and again, as though the devil were after you. . . .”

“Well, you’d better go abroad again since you like it so much.”

“It’s stupid, sir! Yes! As though it’s not enough killing the passengers with fumes and stuffiness and draughts, they want to strangle us with red tape, too, damn it all! He must have the ticket! My goodness, what zeal! If it were of any use to the company—but half the passengers are travelling without a ticket!”

“Listen, sir!” cries Podtyagin, flaring up. “If you don’t leave off shouting and disturbing the public, I shall be obliged to put you out at the next station and to draw up a report on the incident!”

“This is revolting!” exclaims “the public,” growing indignant. “Persecuting an invalid! Listen, and have some consideration!”

“But the gentleman himself was abusive!” says Podtyagin, a little scared. “Very well. . . . I won’t take the ticket . . . as you like . . . . Only, of course, as you know very well, it’s my duty to do so. . . . If it were not my duty, then, of course. . . You can ask the station-master . . . ask anyone you like. . . .”

Podtyagin shrugs his shoulders and walks away from the invalid. At first he feels aggrieved and somewhat injured, then, after passing through two or three carriages, he begins to feel a certain uneasiness not unlike the pricking of conscience in his ticket-collector’s bosom.

“There certainly was no need to wake the invalid,” he thinks, “though it was not my fault. . . .They imagine I did it wantonly, idly. They don’t know that I’m bound in duty . . . if they don’t believe it, I can bring the station-master to them.” A station. The train stops five minutes. Before the third bell, Podtyagin enters the same second-class carriage. Behind him stalks the station-master in a red cap.

“This gentleman here,” Podtyagin begins, “declares that I have no right to ask for his ticket and . . . and is offended at it. I ask you, Mr. Station-master, to explain to him. . . . Do I ask for tickets according to regulation or to please myself? Sir,” Podtyagin addresses the scraggy-looking man, “sir! you can ask the station-master here if you don’t believe me.”

The invalid starts as though he had been stung, opens his eyes, and with a woebegone face sinks back in his seat.

“My God! I have taken another powder and only just dozed off when here he is again. . . again! I beseech you have some pity on me!”

“You can ask the station-master . . . whether I have the right to demand your ticket or not.”

“This is insufferable! Take your ticket. . . take it! I’ll pay for five extra if you’ll only let me die in peace! Have you never been ill yourself? Heartless people!”

“This is simply persecution!” A gentleman in military uniform grows indignant. “I can see no other explanation of this persistence.”

“Drop it . . .” says the station-master, frowning and pulling Podtyagin by the sleeve.

Podtyagin shrugs his shoulders and slowly walks after the station-master.

“There’s no pleasing them!” he thinks, bewildered. “It was for his sake I brought the station-master, that he might understand and be pacified, and he . . . swears!”

Another station. The train stops ten minutes. Before the second bell, while Podtyagin is standing at the refreshment bar, drinking seltzer water, two gentlemen go up to him, one in the uniform of an engineer, and the other in a military overcoat.

“Look here, ticket-collector!” the engineer begins, addressing Podtyagin. “Your behaviour to that invalid passenger has revolted all who witnessed it. My name is Puzitsky; I am an engineer, and this gentleman is a colonel. If you do not apologize to the passenger, we shall make a complaint to the traffic manager, who is a friend of ours.”

“Gentlemen! Why of course I . . . why of course you . . .” Podtyagin is panic-stricken.

“We don’t want explanations. But we warn you, if you don’t apologize, we shall see justice done to him.”

“Certainly I . . . I’ll apologize, of course. . . To be sure. . . .”

Half an hour later, Podtyagin having thought of an apologetic phrase which would satisfy the passenger without lowering his own dignity, walks into the carriage. “Sir,” he addresses the invalid. “Listen, sir. . . .”

The invalid starts and leaps up: “What?”

“I . . . what was it? . . . You mustn’t be offended. . . .”

“Och! Water . . .” gasps the invalid, clutching at his heart. “I’d just taken a third dose of morphia, dropped asleep, and . . . again! Good God! when will this torture cease!”

“I only . . . you must excuse . . .”

“Oh! . . . Put me out at the next station! I can’t stand any more . . . . I . . . I am dying. . . .”

“This is mean, disgusting!” cry the “public,” revolted. “Go away! You shall pay for such persecution. Get away!”

Podtyagin waves his hand in despair, sighs, and walks out of the carriage. He goes to the attendants’ compartment, sits down at the table, exhausted, and complains:

“Oh, the public! There’s no satisfying them! It’s no use working and doing one’s best! One’s driven to drinking and cursing it all . . . . If you do nothing—they’re angry; if you begin doing your duty, they’re angry too. There’s nothing for it but drink!”

Podtyagin empties a bottle straight off and thinks no more of work, duty, and honesty!


A TRIPPING TONGUE

NATALYA MIHALOVNA, a young married lady who had arrived in the morning from Yalta, was having her dinner, and in a never-ceasing flow of babble was telling her husband of all the charms of the Crimea. Her husband, delighted, gazed tenderly at her enthusiastic face, listened, and from time to time put in a question.

“But they say living is dreadfully expensive there?” he asked, among other things.

“Well, what shall I say? To my thinking this talk of its being so expensive is exaggerated, hubby. The devil is not as black as he is painted. Yulia Petrovna and I, for instance, had very decent and comfortable rooms for twenty roubles a day. Everything depends on knowing how to do things, my dear. Of course if you want to go up into the mountains . . . to Aie-Petri for instance . . . if you take a horse, a guide, then of course it does come to something. It’s awful what it comes to! But, Vassitchka, the mountains there! Imagine high, high mountains, a thousand times higher than the church. . . . At the top—mist, mist, mist. . . . At the bottom —enormous stones, stones, stones. . . . And pines. . . . Ah, I can’t bear to think of it!”

“By the way, I read about those Tatar guides there, in some magazine while you were away . . . . such abominable stories! Tell me is there really anything out of the way about them?”

Natalya Mihalovna made a little disdainful grimace and shook her head.

“Just ordinary Tatars, nothing special . . .” she said, “though indeed I only had a glimpse of them in the distance. They were pointed out to me, but I did not take much notice of them. You know, hubby, I always had a prejudice against all such Circassians, Greeks . . . Moors!”

“They are said to be terrible Don Juans.”

“Perhaps! There are shameless creatures who . . . .”

Natalya Mihalovna suddenly jumped up from her chair, as though she had thought of something dreadful; for half a minute she looked with frightened eyes at her husband and said, accentuating each word:

“Vassitchka, I say, the im-mo-ral women there are in the world! Ah, how immoral! And it’s not as though they were working-class or middle-class people, but aristocratic ladies, priding themselves on their bon-ton! It was simply awful, I could not believe my own eyes! I shall remember it as long as I live! To think that people can forget themselves to such a point as . . . ach, Vassitchka, I don’t like to speak of it! Take my companion, Yulia Petrovna, for example. . . . Such a good husband, two children . . . she moves in a decent circle, always poses as a saint—and all at once, would you believe it. . . . Only, hubby, of course this is entre nous. . . . Give me your word of honour you won’t tell a soul?”

“What next! Of course I won’t tell.”

“Honour bright? Mind now! I trust you. . . .”

The little lady put down her fork, assumed a mysterious air, and whispered:

“Imagine a thing like this. . . . That Yulia Petrovna rode up into the mountains . . . . It was glorious weather! She rode on ahead with her guide, I was a little behind. We had ridden two or three miles, all at once, only fancy, Vassitchka, Yulia cried out and clutched at her bosom. Her Tatar put his arm round her waist or she would have fallen off the saddle. . . . I rode up to her with my guide. . . . ‘What is it? What is the matter?’ ‘Oh,’ she cried, ‘I am dying! I feel faint! I can’t go any further’ Fancy my alarm! ‘Let us go back then,’ I said. ‘No, Natalie,’ she said, ‘I can’t go back! I shall die of pain if I move another step! I have spasms.’ And she prayed and besought my Suleiman and me to ride back to the town and fetch her some of her drops which always do her good.”

“Stay. . . . I don’t quite understand you,” muttered the husband, scratching his forehead. “You said just now that you had only seen those Tatars from a distance, and now you are talking of some Suleiman.”

“There, you are finding fault again,” the lady pouted, not in the least disconcerted. “I can’t endure suspiciousness! I can’t endure it! It’s stupid, stupid!”

“I am not finding fault, but . . . why say what is not true? If you rode about with Tatars, so be it, God bless you, but . . . why shuffle about it?”

“H’m! . . . you are a queer one!” cried the lady, revolted. “He is jealous of Suleiman! as though one could ride up into the mountains without a guide! I should like to see you do it! If you don’t know the ways there, if you don’t understand, you had better hold your tongue! Yes, hold your tongue. You can’t take a step there without a guide.”

“So it seems!”

“None of your silly grins, if you please! I am not a Yulia. . . . I don’t justify her but I . . . ! Though I don’t pose as a saint, I don’t forget myself to that degree. My Suleiman never overstepped the limits. . . . No-o! Mametkul used to be sitting at Yulia’s all day long, but in my room as soon as it struck eleven: ‘Suleiman, march! Off you go!’ And my foolish Tatar boy would depart. I made him mind his p’s and q’s, hubby! As soon as he began grumbling about money or anything, I would say ‘How? Wha-at? Wha-a-a-t?’ And his heart would be in his mouth directly. . . . Ha-ha-ha! His eyes, you know, Vassitchka, were as black, as black, like coals, such an amusing little Tatar face, so funny and silly! I kept him in order, didn’t I just!”

“I can fancy . . .” mumbled her husband, rolling up pellets of bread.

“That’s stupid, Vassitchka! I know what is in your mind! I know what you are thinking . . . But I assure you even when we were on our expeditions I never let him overstep the limits. For instance, if we rode to the mountains or to the U-Chan-Su waterfall, I would always say to him, ‘Suleiman, ride behind! Do you hear!’ And he always rode behind, poor boy. . . . Even when we . . . even at the most dramatic moments I would say to him, ‘Still, you must not forget that you are only a Tatar and I am the wife of a civil councillor!’ Ha-ha. . . .”

The little lady laughed, then, looking round her quickly and assuming an alarmed expression, whispered:

“But Yulia! Oh, that Yulia! I quite see, Vassitchka, there is no reason why one shouldn’t have a little fun, a little rest from the emptiness of conventional life! That’s all right, have your fling by all means—no one will blame you, but to take the thing seriously, to get up scenes . . . no, say what you like, I cannot understand that! Just fancy, she was jealous! Wasn’t that silly? One day Mametkul, her grande passion, came to see her . . . she was not at home. . . . Well, I asked him into my room . . . there was conversation, one thing and another . . . they’re awfully amusing, you know! The evening passed without our noticing it. . . . All at once Yulia rushed in. . . . She flew at me and at Mametkul —made such a scene . . . fi! I can’t understand that sort of thing, Vassitchka.”

Vassitchka cleared his throat, frowned, and walked up and down the room.

“You had a gay time there, I must say,” he growled with a disdainful smile.

“How stu-upid that is!” cried Natalya Mihalovna, offended. “I know what you are thinking about! You always have such horrid ideas! I won’t tell you anything! No, I won’t!”

The lady pouted and said no more.


OVERDOING IT

GLYEB GAVRILOVITCH SMIRNOV, a land surveyor, arrived at the station of Gnilushki. He had another twenty or thirty miles to drive before he would reach the estate which he had been summoned to survey. (If the driver were not drunk and the horses were not bad, it would hardly be twenty miles, but if the driver had had a drop and his steeds were worn out it would mount up to a good forty.)

“Tell me, please, where can I get post-horses here?” the surveyor asked of the station gendarme.

“What? Post-horses? There’s no finding a decent dog for seventy miles round, let alone post-horses. . . . But where do you want to go?”

“To Dyevkino, General Hohotov’s estate.”

“Well,” yawned the gendarme, “go outside the station, there are sometimes peasants in the yard there, they will take passengers.”

The surveyor heaved a sigh and made his way out of the station.

There, after prolonged enquiries, conversations, and hesitations, he found a very sturdy, sullen-looking pock-marked peasant, wearing a tattered grey smock and bark-shoes.

“You have got a queer sort of cart!” said the surveyor, frowning as he clambered into the cart. “There is no making out which is the back and which is the front.”

“What is there to make out? Where the horse’s tail is, there’s the front, and where your honour’s sitting, there’s the back.”

The little mare was young, but thin, with legs planted wide apart and frayed ears. When the driver stood up and lashed her with a whip made of cord, she merely shook her head; when he swore at her and lashed her once more, the cart squeaked and shivered as though in a fever. After the third lash the cart gave a lurch, after the fourth, it moved forward.

“Are we going to drive like this all the way?” asked the surveyor, violently jolted and marvelling at the capacity of Russian drivers for combining a slow tortoise-like pace with a jolting that turns the soul inside out.

“We shall ge-et there!” the peasant reassured him. “The mare is young and frisky. . . . Only let her get running and then there is no stopping her. . . . No-ow, cur-sed brute!”

It was dusk by the time the cart drove out of the station. On the surveyor’s right hand stretched a dark frozen plain, endless and boundless. If you drove over it you would certainly get to the other side of beyond. On the horizon, where it vanished and melted into the sky, there was the languid glow of a cold autumn sunset. . . . On the left of the road, mounds of some sort, that might be last year’s stacks or might be a village, rose up in the gathering darkness. The surveyor could not see what was in front as his whole field of vision on that side was covered by the broad clumsy back of the driver. The air was still, but it was cold and frosty.

“What a wilderness it is here,” thought the surveyor, trying to cover his ears with the collar of his overcoat. “Neither post nor paddock. If, by ill-luck, one were attacked and robbed no one would hear you, whatever uproar you made. . . . And the driver is not one you could depend on. . . . Ugh, what a huge back! A child of nature like that has only to move a finger and it would be all up with one! And his ugly face is suspicious and brutal-looking.”

“Hey, my good man!” said the surveyor, “What is your name?”

“Mine? Klim.”

“Well, Klim, what is it like in your parts here? Not dangerous? Any robbers on the road?”

“It is all right, the Lord has spared us. . . . Who should go robbing on the road?”

“It’s a good thing there are no robbers. But to be ready for anything I have got three revolvers with me,” said the surveyor untruthfully. “And it doesn’t do to trifle with a revolver, you know. One can manage a dozen robbers. . . .”

It had become quite dark. The cart suddenly began creaking, squeaking, shaking, and, as though unwillingly, turned sharply to the left.

“Where is he taking me to?” the surveyor wondered. “He has been driving straight and now all at once to the left. I shouldn’t wonder if he’ll take me, the rascal, to some den of thieves . . . and. . . . Things like that do happen.”

“I say,” he said, addressing the driver, “so you tell me it’s not dangerous here? That’s a pity. . . I like a fight with robbers. . . . I am thin and sickly-looking, but I have the strength of a bull . . . . Once three robbers attacked me and what do you think? I gave one such a dressing that. . . that he gave up his soul to God, you understand, and the other two were sent to penal servitude in Siberia. And where I got the strength I can’t say. . . . One grips a strapping fellow of your sort with one hand and . . . wipes him out.”

Klim looked round at the surveyor, wrinkled up his whole face, and lashed his horse.

“Yes . . .” the surveyor went on. “God forbid anyone should tackle me. The robber would have his bones broken, and, what’s more, he would have to answer for it in the police court too. . . . I know all the judges and the police captains, I am a man in the Government, a man of importance. Here I am travelling and the authorities know . . . they keep a regular watch over me to see no one does me a mischief. There are policemen and village constables stuck behind bushes all along the road. . . . Sto . . . sto . . . . stop!” the surveyor bawled suddenly. “Where have you got to? Where are you taking me to?”

“Why, don’t you see? It’s a forest!”

“It certainly is a forest,” thought the surveyor. “I was frightened! But it won’t do to betray my feelings. . . . He has noticed already that I am in a funk. Why is it he has taken to looking round at me so often? He is plotting something for certain. . . . At first he drove like a snail and now how he is dashing along!”

“I say, Klim, why are you making the horse go like that?”

“I am not making her go. She is racing along of herself. . . . Once she gets into a run there is no means of stopping her. It’s no pleasure to her that her legs are like that.”

“You are lying, my man, I see that you are lying. Only I advise you not to drive so fast. Hold your horse in a bit. . . . Do you hear? Hold her in!”

“What for?”

“Why . . . why, because four comrades were to drive after me from the station. We must let them catch us up. . . . They promised to overtake us in this forest. It will be more cheerful in their company. . . . They are a strong, sturdy set of fellows. . . . And each of them has got a pistol. Why do you keep looking round and fidgeting as though you were sitting on thorns? eh? I, my good fellow, er . . . my good fellow . . . there is no need to look around at me . . . there is nothing interesting about me. . . . Except perhaps the revolvers. Well, if you like I will take them out and show you. . . .”

The surveyor made a pretence of feeling in his pockets and at that moment something happened which he could not have expected with all his cowardice. Klim suddenly rolled off the cart and ran as fast as he could go into the forest.

“Help!” he roared. “Help! Take the horse and the cart, you devil, only don’t take my life. Help!”

There was the sound of footsteps hurriedly retreating, of twigs snapping—and all was still. . . . The surveyor had not expected such a dénouement. He first stopped the horse and then settled himself more comfortably in the cart and fell to thinking.

“He has run off . . . he was scared, the fool. Well, what’s to be done now? I can’t go on alone because I don’t know the way; besides they may think I have stolen his horse. . . . What’s to be done?”

“Klim! Klim,” he cried.

“Klim,” answered the echo.

At the thought that he would have to sit through the whole night in the cold and dark forest and hear nothing but the wolves, the echo, and the snorting of the scraggy mare, the surveyor began to have twinges down his spine as though it were being rasped with a cold file.

“Klimushka,” he shouted. “Dear fellow! Where are you, Klimushka?”

For two hours the surveyor shouted, and it was only after he was quite husky and had resigned himself to spending the night in the forest that a faint breeze wafted the sound of a moan to him.

“Klim, is it you, dear fellow? Let us go on.”

“You’ll mu-ur-der me!”

“But I was joking, my dear man! I swear to God I was joking! As though I had revolvers! I told a lie because I was frightened. For goodness sake let us go on, I am freezing!”

Klim, probably reflecting that a real robber would have vanished long ago with the horse and cart, came out of the forest and went hesitatingly up to his passenger.

“Well, what were you frightened of, stupid? I . . . I was joking and you were frightened. Get in!”

“God be with you, sir,” Klim muttered as he clambered into the cart, “if I had known I wouldn’t have taken you for a hundred roubles. I almost died of fright. . . .”

Klim lashed at the little mare. The cart swayed. Klim lashed once more and the cart gave a lurch. After the fourth stroke of the whip when the cart moved forward, the surveyor hid his ears in his collar and sank into thought.

The road and Klim no longer seemed dangerous to him.


THE ORATOR

ONE fine morning the collegiate assessor, Kirill Ivanovitch Babilonov, who had died of the two afflictions so widely spread in our country, a bad wife and alcoholism, was being buried. As the funeral procession set off from the church to the cemetery, one of the deceased’s colleagues, called Poplavsky, got into a cab and galloped off to find a friend, one Grigory Petrovitch Zapoikin, a man who though still young had acquired considerable popularity. Zapoikin, as many of my readers are aware, possesses a rare talent for impromptu speechifying at weddings, jubilees, and funerals. He can speak whenever he likes: in his sleep, on an empty stomach, dead drunk or in a high fever. His words flow smoothly and evenly, like water out of a pipe, and in abundance; there are far more moving words in his oratorical dictionary than there are beetles in any restaurant. He always speaks eloquently and at great length, so much so that on some occasions, particularly at merchants’ weddings, they have to resort to assistance from the police to stop him.

“I have come for you, old man!” began Poplavsky, finding him at home. “Put on your hat and coat this minute and come along. One of our fellows is dead, we are just sending him off to the other world, so you must do a bit of palavering by way of farewell to him. . . . You are our only hope. If it had been one of the smaller fry it would not have been worth troubling you, but you see it’s the secretary . . . a pillar of the office, in a sense. It’s awkward for such a whopper to be buried without a speech.”

“Oh, the secretary!” yawned Zapoikin. “You mean the drunken one?”

“Yes. There will be pancakes, a lunch . . . you’ll get your cab-fare. Come along, dear chap. You spout out some rigmarole like a regular Cicero at the grave and what gratitude you will earn!”

Zapoikin readily agreed. He ruffled up his hair, cast a shade of melancholy over his face, and went out into the street with Poplavsky.

“I know your secretary,” he said, as he got into the cab. “A cunning rogue and a beast—the kingdom of heaven be his—such as you don’t often come across.”

“Come, Grisha, it is not the thing to abuse the dead.”

“Of course not, aut mortuis nihil bene, but still he was a rascal.”

The friends overtook the funeral procession and joined it. The coffin was borne along slowly so that before they reached the cemetery they were able three times to drop into a tavern and imbibe a little to the health of the departed.

In the cemetery came the service by the graveside. The mother-in-law, the wife, and the sister-in-law in obedience to custom shed many tears. When the coffin was being lowered into the grave the wife even shrieked “Let me go with him!” but did not follow her husband into the grave probably recollecting her pension. Waiting till everything was quiet again Zapoikin stepped forward, turned his eyes on all present, and began:

“Can I believe my eyes and ears? Is it not a terrible dream this grave, these tear-stained faces, these moans and lamentations? Alas, it is not a dream and our eyes do not deceive us! He whom we have only so lately seen, so full of courage, so youthfully fresh and pure, who so lately before our eyes like an unwearying bee bore his honey to the common hive of the welfare of the state, he who . . . he is turned now to dust, to inanimate mirage. Inexorable death has laid his bony hand upon him at the time when, in spite of his bowed age, he was still full of the bloom of strength and radiant hopes. An irremediable loss! Who will fill his place for us? Good government servants we have many, but Prokofy Osipitch was unique. To the depths of his soul he was devoted to his honest duty; he did not spare his strength but worked late at night, and was disinterested, impervious to bribes. . . . How he despised those who to the detriment of the public interest sought to corrupt him, who by the seductive goods of this life strove to draw him to betray his duty! Yes, before our eyes Prokofy Osipitch would divide his small salary between his poorer colleagues, and you have just heard yourselves the lamentations of the widows and orphans who lived upon his alms. Devoted to good works and his official duty, he gave up the joys of this life and even renounced the happiness of domestic existence; as you are aware, to the end of his days he was a bachelor. And who will replace him as a comrade? I can see now the kindly, shaven face turned to us with a gentle smile, I can hear now his soft friendly voice. Peace to thine ashes, Prokofy Osipitch! Rest, honest, noble toiler!”

Zapoikin continued while his listeners began whispering together. His speech pleased everyone and drew some tears, but a good many things in it seemed strange. In the first place they could not make out why the orator called the deceased Prokofy Osipitch when his name was Kirill Ivanovitch. In the second, everyone knew that the deceased had spent his whole life quarelling with his lawful wife, and so consequently could not be called a bachelor; in the third, he had a thick red beard and had never been known to shave, and so no one could understand why the orator spoke of his shaven face. The listeners were perplexed; they glanced at each other and shrugged their shoulders.

“Prokofy Osipitch,” continued the orator, looking with an air of inspiration into the grave, “your face was plain, even hideous, you were morose and austere, but we all know that under that outer husk there beat an honest, friendly heart!”

Soon the listeners began to observe something strange in the orator himself. He gazed at one point, shifted about uneasily and began to shrug his shoulders too. All at once he ceased speaking, and gaping with astonishment, turned to Poplavsky.

“I say! he’s alive,” he said, staring with horror.

“Who’s alive?”

“Why, Prokofy Osipitch, there he stands, by that tombstone!”

“He never died! It’s Kirill Ivanovitch who’s dead.”

“But you told me yourself your secretary was dead.”

“Kirill Ivanovitch was our secretary. You’ve muddled it, you queer fish. Prokofy Osipitch was our secretary before, that’s true, but two years ago he was transferred to the second division as head clerk.”

“How the devil is one to tell?”

“Why are you stopping? Go on, it’s awkward.”

Zapoikin turned to the grave, and with the same eloquence continued his interrupted speech. Prokofy Osipitch, an old clerk with a clean-shaven face, was in fact standing by a tombstone. He looked at the orator and frowned angrily.

“Well, you have put your foot into it, haven’t you!” laughed his fellow-clerks as they returned from the funeral with Zapoikin. “Burying a man alive!”

“It’s unpleasant, young man,” grumbled Prokofy Osipitch. “Your speech may be all right for a dead man, but in reference to a living one it is nothing but sarcasm! Upon my soul what have you been saying? Disinterested, incorruptible, won’t take bribes! Such things can only be said of the living in sarcasm. And no one asked you, sir, to expatiate on my face. Plain, hideous, so be it, but why exhibit my countenance in that public way! It’s insulting.”


MALINGERERS

MARFA PETROVNA PETCHONKIN, the General’s widow, who has been practising for ten years as a homeopathic doctor, is seeing patients in her study on one of the Tuesdays in May. On the table before her lie a chest of homeopathic drugs, a book on homeopathy, and bills from a homeopathic chemist. On the wall the letters from some Petersburg homeopath, in Marfa Petrovna’s opinion a very celebrated and great man, hang under glass in a gilt frame, and there also is a portrait of Father Aristark, to whom the lady owes her salvation —that is, the renunciation of pernicious allopathy and the knowledge of the truth. In the vestibule patients are sitting waiting, for the most part peasants. All but two or three of them are barefoot, as the lady has given orders that their ill-smelling boots are to be left in the yard.

Marfa Petrovna has already seen ten patients when she calls the eleventh: “Gavrila Gruzd!”

The door opens and instead of Gavrila Gruzd, Zamuhrishen, a neighbouring landowner who has sunk into poverty, a little old man with sour eyes, and with a gentleman’s cap under his arm, walks into the room. He puts down his stick in the corner, goes up to the lady, and without a word drops on one knee before her.

“What are you about, Kuzma Kuzmitch?” cries the lady in horror, flushing crimson. “For goodness sake!”

“While I live I will not rise,” says Zamuhrishen, bending over her hand. “Let all the world see my homage on my knees, our guardian angel, benefactress of the human race! Let them! Before the good fairy who has given me life, guided me into the path of truth, and enlightened my scepticism I am ready not merely to kneel but to pass through fire, our miraculous healer, mother of the orphan and the widowed! I have recovered. I am a new man, enchantress!”

“I . . . I am very glad . . .” mutters the lady, flushing with pleasure. “It’s so pleasant to hear that. . . Sit down please! Why, you were so seriously ill that Tuesday.”

“Yes indeed, how ill I was! It’s awful to recall it,” says Zamuhrishen, taking a seat. “I had rheumatism in every part and every organ. I have been in misery for eight years, I’ve had no rest from it . . . by day or by night, my benefactress. I have consulted doctors, and I went to professors at Kazan; I have tried all sorts of mud-baths, and drunk waters, and goodness knows what I haven’t tried! I have wasted all my substance on doctors, my beautiful lady. The doctors did me nothing but harm. They drove the disease inwards. Drive in, that they did, but to drive out was beyond their science. All they care about is their fees, the brigands; but as for the benefit of humanity—for that they don’t care a straw. They prescribe some quackery, and you have to drink it. Assassins, that’s the only word for them. If it hadn’t been for you, our angel, I should have been in the grave by now! I went home from you that Tuesday, looked at the pilules that you gave me then, and wondered what good there could be in them. Was it possible that those little grains, scarcely visible, could cure my immense, long-standing disease? That’s what I thought—unbeliever that I was!—and I smiled; but when I took the pilule—it was instantaneous! It was as though I had not been ill, or as though it had been lifted off me. My wife looked at me with her eyes starting out of her head and couldn’t believe it. ‘Why, is it you, Kolya?’ ‘Yes, it is I,’ I said. And we knelt down together before the ikon, and fell to praying for our angel: ‘Send her, O Lord, all that we are feeling!’”

Zamuhrishen wipes his eyes with his sleeve gets up from his chair, and shows a disposition to drop on one knee again; but the lady checks him and makes him sit down.

“It’s not me you must thank,” she says, blushing with excitement and looking enthusiastically at the portrait of Father Aristark. “It’s not my doing. . . . I am only the obedient instrument . . It’s really a miracle. Rheumatism of eight years’ standing by one pilule of scrofuloso!”

“Excuse me, you were so kind as to give me three pilules. One I took at dinner and the effect was instantaneous! Another in the evening, and the third next day; and since then not a touch! Not a twinge anywhere! And you know I thought I was dying, I had written to Moscow for my son to come! The Lord has given you wisdom, our lady of healing! Now I am walking, and feel as though I were in Paradise. The Tuesday I came to you I was hobbling, and now I am ready to run after a hare. . . . I could live for a hundred years. There’s only one trouble, our lack of means. I’m well now, but what’s the use of health if there’s nothing to live on? Poverty weighs on me worse than illness. . . . For example, take this . . . It’s the time to sow oats, and how is one to sow it if one has no seed? I ought to buy it, but the money . . . everyone knows how we are off for money. . . .”

“I will give you oats, Kuzma Kuzmitch. . . . Sit down, sit down. You have so delighted me, you have given me so much pleasure that it’s not you but I that should say thank you!”

“You are our joy! That the Lord should create such goodness! Rejoice, Madam, looking at your good deeds! . . . While we sinners have no cause for rejoicing in ourselves. . . . We are paltry, poor-spirited, useless people . . . a mean lot. . . . We are only gentry in name, but in a material sense we are the same as peasants, only worse. . . . We live in stone houses, but it’s a mere make-believe . . . for the roof leaks. And there is no money to buy wood to mend it with.”

“I’ll give you the wood, Kuzma Kuzmitch.”

Zamuhrishen asks for and gets a cow too, a letter of recommendation for his daughter whom he wants to send to a boarding school, and . . . touched by the lady’s liberality he whimpers with excess of feeling, twists his mouth, and feels in his pocket for his handkerchief . . . .

Marfa Petrovna sees a red paper slip out of his pocket with his handkerchief and fall noiselessly to the floor.

“I shall never forget it to all eternity . . .” he mutters, “and I shall make my children and my grandchildren remember it . . . from generation to generation. ‘See, children,’ I shall say, ‘who has saved me from the grave, who . . .’”

When she has seen her patient out, the lady looks for a minute at Father Aristark with eyes full of tears, then turns her caressing, reverent gaze on the drug chest, the books, the bills, the armchair in which the man she had saved from death has just been sitting, and her eyes fall on the paper just dropped by her patient. She picks up the paper, unfolds it, and sees in it three pilules—the very pilules she had given Zamuhrishen the previous Tuesday.

“They are the very ones,” she thinks puzzled. “. . . The paper is the same. . . . He hasn’t even unwrapped them! What has he taken then? Strange. . . . Surely he wouldn’t try to deceive me!”

And for the first time in her ten years of practice a doubt creeps into Marfa Petrovna’s mind. . . . She summons the other patients, and while talking to them of their complaints notices what has hitherto slipped by her ears unnoticed. The patients, every one of them as though they were in a conspiracy, first belaud her for their miraculous cure, go into raptures over her medical skill, and abuse allopath doctors, then when she is flushed with excitement, begin holding forth on their needs. One asks for a bit of land to plough, another for wood, a third for permission to shoot in her forests, and so on. She looks at the broad, benevolent countenance of Father Aristark who has revealed the truth to her, and a new truth begins gnawing at her heart. An evil oppressive truth. . . .

The deceitfulness of man!


IN THE GRAVEYARD

“THE wind has got up, friends, and it is beginning to get dark. Hadn’t we better take ourselves off before it gets worse?”

The wind was frolicking among the yellow leaves of the old birch trees, and a shower of thick drops fell upon us from the leaves. One of our party slipped on the clayey soil, and clutched at a big grey cross to save himself from falling.

“Yegor Gryaznorukov, titular councillor and cavalier . .” he read. “I knew that gentleman. He was fond of his wife, he wore the Stanislav ribbon, and read nothing. . . . His digestion worked well . . . . life was all right, wasn’t it? One would have thought he had no reason to die, but alas! fate had its eye on him. . . . The poor fellow fell a victim to his habits of observation. On one occasion, when he was listening at a keyhole, he got such a bang on the head from the door that he sustained concussion of the brain (he had a brain), and died. And here, under this tombstone, lies a man who from his cradle detested verses and epigrams. . . . As though to mock him his whole tombstone is adorned with verses. . . . There is someone coming!”

A man in a shabby overcoat, with a shaven, bluish-crimson countenance, overtook us. He had a bottle under his arm and a parcel of sausage was sticking out of his pocket.

“Where is the grave of Mushkin, the actor?” he asked us in a husky voice.

We conducted him towards the grave of Mushkin, the actor, who had died two years before.

“You are a government clerk, I suppose?” we asked him.

“No, an actor. Nowadays it is difficult to distinguish actors from clerks of the Consistory. No doubt you have noticed that. . . . That’s typical, but it’s not very flattering for the government clerk.”

It was with difficulty that we found the actor’s grave. It had sunken, was overgrown with weeds, and had lost all appearance of a grave. A cheap, little cross that had begun to rot, and was covered with green moss blackened by the frost, had an air of aged dejection and looked, as it were, ailing.

“. . . forgotten friend Mushkin . . .” we read.

Time had erased the never, and corrected the falsehood of man.

“A subscription for a monument to him was got up among actors and journalists, but they drank up the money, the dear fellows . . .” sighed the actor, bowing down to the ground and touching the wet earth with his knees and his cap.

“How do you mean, drank it?”

That’s very simple. They collected the money, published a paragraph about it in the newspaper, and spent it on drink. . . . I don’t say it to blame them. . . . I hope it did them good, dear things! Good health to them, and eternal memory to him.”

“Drinking means bad health, and eternal memory nothing but sadness. God give us remembrance for a time, but eternal memory—what next!”

“You are right there. Mushkin was a well-known man, you see; there were a dozen wreaths on the coffin, and he is already forgotten. Those to whom he was dear have forgotten him, but those to whom he did harm remember him. I, for instance, shall never, never forget him, for I got nothing but harm from him. I have no love for the deceased.”

“What harm did he do you?”

“Great harm,” sighed the actor, and an expression of bitter resentment overspread his face. “To me he was a villain and a scoundrel—the Kingdom of Heaven be his! It was through looking at him and listening to him that I became an actor. By his art he lured me from the parental home, he enticed me with the excitements of an actor’s life, promised me all sorts of things—and brought tears and sorrow. . . . An actor’s lot is a bitter one! I have lost youth, sobriety, and the divine semblance. . . . I haven’t a half-penny to bless myself with, my shoes are down at heel, my breeches are frayed and patched, and my face looks as if it had been gnawed by dogs. . . . My head’s full of freethinking and nonsense. . . . He robbed me of my faith—my evil genius! It would have been something if I had had talent, but as it is, I am ruined for nothing. . . . It’s cold, honoured friends. . . . Won’t you have some? There is enough for all. . . . B-r-r-r. . . . Let us drink to the rest of his soul! Though I don’t like him and though he’s dead, he was the only one I had in the world, the only one. It’s the last time I shall visit him. . . . The doctors say I shall soon die of drink, so here I have come to say good-bye. One must forgive one’s enemies.”

We left the actor to converse with the dead Mushkin and went on. It began drizzling a fine cold rain.

At the turning into the principal avenue strewn with gravel, we met a funeral procession. Four bearers, wearing white calico sashes and muddy high boots with leaves sticking on them, carried the brown coffin. It was getting dark and they hastened, stumbling and shaking their burden. . . .

“We’ve only been walking here for a couple of hours and that is the third brought in already. . . . Shall we go home, friends?”


HUSH!

IVAN YEGORITCH KRASNYHIN, a fourth-rate journalist, returns home late at night, grave and careworn, with a peculiar air of concentration. He looks like a man expecting a police-raid or contemplating suicide. Pacing about his rooms he halts abruptly, ruffles up his hair, and says in the tone in which Laertes announces his intention of avenging his sister:

“Shattered, soul-weary, a sick load of misery on the heart . . . and then to sit down and write. And this is called life! How is it nobody has described the agonizing discord in the soul of a writer who has to amuse the crowd when his heart is heavy or to shed tears at the word of command when his heart is light? I must be playful, coldly unconcerned, witty, but what if I am weighed down with misery, what if I am ill, or my child is dying or my wife in anguish!”

He says this, brandishing his fists and rolling his eyes. . . . Then he goes into the bedroom and wakes his wife.

“Nadya,” he says, “I am sitting down to write. . . . Please don’t let anyone interrupt me. I can’t write with children crying or cooks snoring. . . . See, too, that there’s tea and . . . steak or something. . . . You know that I can’t write without tea. . . . Tea is the one thing that gives me the energy for my work.”

Returning to his room he takes off his coat, waistcoat, and boots. He does this very slowly; then, assuming an expression of injured innocence, he sits down to his table.

There is nothing casual, nothing ordinary on his writing-table, down to the veriest trifle everything bears the stamp of a stern, deliberately planned programme. Little busts and photographs of distinguished writers, heaps of rough manuscripts, a volume of Byelinsky with a page turned down, part of a skull by way of an ash-tray, a sheet of newspaper folded carelessly, but so that a passage is uppermost, boldly marked in blue pencil with the word “disgraceful.” There are a dozen sharply-pointed pencils and several penholders fitted with new nibs, put in readiness that no accidental breaking of a pen may for a single second interrupt the flight of his creative fancy.

Ivan Yegoritch throws himself back in his chair, and closing his eyes concentrates himself on his subject. He hears his wife shuffling about in her slippers and splitting shavings to heat the samovar. She is hardly awake, that is apparent from the way the knife and the lid of the samovar keep dropping from her hands. Soon the hissing of the samovar and the spluttering of the frying meat reaches him. His wife is still splitting shavings and rattling with the doors and blowers of the stove.

All at once Ivan Yegoritch starts, opens frightened eyes, and begins to sniff the air.

“Heavens! the stove is smoking!” he groans, grimacing with a face of agony. “Smoking! That insufferable woman makes a point of trying to poison me! How, in God’s Name, am I to write in such surroundings, kindly tell me that?”

He rushes into the kitchen and breaks into a theatrical wail. When a little later, his wife, stepping cautiously on tiptoe, brings him in a glass of tea, he is sitting in an easy chair as before with his eyes closed, absorbed in his article. He does not stir, drums lightly on his forehead with two fingers, and pretends he is not aware of his wife’s presence. . . . His face wears an expression of injured innocence.

Like a girl who has been presented with a costly fan, he spends a long time coquetting, grimacing, and posing to himself before he writes the title. . . . He presses his temples, he wriggles, and draws his legs up under his chair as though he were in pain, or half closes his eyes languidly like a cat on the sofa. At last, not without hesitation, he stretches out his hand towards the inkstand, and with an expression as though he were signing a death-warrant, writes the title. . . .

“Mammy, give me some water!” he hears his son’s voice.

“Hush!” says his mother. “Daddy’s writing! Hush!”

Daddy writes very, very quickly, without corrections or pauses, he has scarcely time to turn over the pages. The busts and portraits of celebrated authors look at his swiftly racing pen and, keeping stock still, seem to be thinking: “Oh my, how you are going it!”

“Sh!” squeaks the pen.

“Sh!” whisper the authors, when his knee jolts the table and they are set trembling.

All at once Krasnyhin draws himself up, lays down his pen and listens. . . . He hears an even monotonous whispering. . . . It is Foma Nikolaevitch, the lodger in the next room, saying his prayers.

“I say!” cries Krasnyhin. “Couldn’t you, please, say your prayers more quietly? You prevent me from writing!”

“Very sorry. . . .” Foma Nikolaevitch answers timidly.

After covering five pages, Krasnyhin stretches and looks at his watch.

“Goodness, three o’clock already,” he moans. “Other people are asleep while I . . . I alone must work!”

Shattered and exhausted he goes, with his head on one side, to the bedroom to wake his wife, and says in a languid voice:

“Nadya, get me some more tea! I . . . feel weak.”

He writes till four o’clock and would readily have written till six if his subject had not been exhausted. Coquetting and posing to himself and the inanimate objects about him, far from any indiscreet, critical eye, tyrannizing and domineering over the little anthill that fate has put in his power are the honey and the salt of his existence. And how different is this despot here at home from the humble, meek, dull-witted little man we are accustomed to see in the editor’s offices!

“I am so exhausted that I am afraid I shan’t sleep . . .” he says as he gets into bed. “Our work, this cursed, ungrateful hard labour, exhausts the soul even more than the body. . . . I had better take some bromide. . . . God knows, if it were not for my family I’d throw up the work. . . . To write to order! It is awful.”

He sleeps till twelve or one o’clock in the day, sleeps a sound, healthy sleep. . . . Ah! how he would sleep, what dreams he would have, how he would spread himself if he were to become a well-known writer, an editor, or even a sub-editor!

“He has been writing all night,” whispers his wife with a scared expression on her face. “Sh!”

No one dares to speak or move or make a sound. His sleep is something sacred, and the culprit who offends against it will pay dearly for his fault.

“Hush!” floats over the flat. “Hush!”


IN AN HOTEL

“LET me tell you, my good man,” began Madame Nashatyrin, the colonel’s lady at No. 47, crimson and spluttering, as she pounced on the hotel-keeper. “Either give me other apartments, or I shall leave your confounded hotel altogether! It’s a sink of iniquity! Mercy on us, I have grown-up daughters and one hears nothing but abominations day and night! It’s beyond everything! Day and night! Sometimes he fires off such things that it simply makes one’s ears blush! Positively like a cabman. It’s a good thing that my poor girls don’t understand or I should have to fly out into the street with them. . . He’s saying something now! You listen!”

“I know a thing better than that, my boy,” a husky bass floated in from the next room. “Do you remember Lieutenant Druzhkov? Well, that same Druzhkov was one day making a drive with the yellow into the pocket and as he usually did, you know, flung up his leg. . . . All at once something went crrr-ack! At first they thought he had torn the cloth of the billiard table, but when they looked, my dear fellow, his United States had split at every seam! He had made such a high kick, the beast, that not a seam was left. . . . Ha-ha-ha, and there were ladies present, too . . . among others the wife of that drivelling Lieutenant Okurin. . . . Okurin was furious. . . . ‘How dare the fellow,’ said he, ‘behave with impropriety in the presence of my wife?’ One thing led to another . . . you know our fellows! . . . Okurin sent seconds to Druzhkov, and Druzhkov said ‘don’t be a fool’ . . . ha-ha-ha, ‘but tell him he had better send seconds not to me but to the tailor who made me those breeches; it is his fault, you know.’ Ha-ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha. . . .”

Lilya and Mila, the colonel’s daughters, who were sitting in the window with their round cheeks propped on their fists, flushed crimson and dropped their eyes that looked buried in their plump faces.

“Now you have heard him, haven’t you?” Madame Nashatyrin went on, addressing the hotel-keeper. “And that, you consider, of no consequence, I suppose? I am the wife of a colonel, sir! My husband is a commanding officer. I will not permit some cabman to utter such infamies almost in my presence!”

“He is not a cabman, madam, but the staff-captain Kikin. . . . A gentleman born.”

“If he has so far forgotten his station as to express himself like a cabman, then he is even more deserving of contempt! In short, don’t answer me, but kindly take steps!”

“But what can I do, madam? You are not the only one to complain, everybody’s complaining, but what am I to do with him? One goes to his room and begins putting him to shame, saying: ‘Hannibal Ivanitch, have some fear of God! It’s shameful! and he’ll punch you in the face with his fists and say all sorts of things: ‘there, put that in your pipe and smoke it,’ and such like. It’s a disgrace! He wakes up in the morning and sets to walking about the corridor in nothing, saving your presence, but his underclothes. And when he has had a drop he will pick up a revolver and set to putting bullets into the wall. By day he is swilling liquor and at night he plays cards like mad, and after cards it is fighting. . . . I am ashamed for the other lodgers to see it!”

“Why don’t you get rid of the scoundrel?”

“Why, there’s no getting him out! He owes me for three months, but we don’t ask for our money, we simply ask him to get out as a favour . . . . The magistrate has given him an order to clear out of the rooms, but he’s taking it from one court to another, and so it drags on. . . . He’s a perfect nuisance, that’s what he is. And, good Lord, such a man, too! Young, good-looking and intellectual. . . . When he hasn’t had a drop you couldn’t wish to see a nicer gentleman. The other day he wasn’t drunk and he spent the whole day writing letters to his father and mother.”

“Poor father and mother!” sighed the colonel’s lady.

“They are to be pitied, to be sure! There’s no comfort in having such a scamp! He’s sworn at and turned out of his lodgings, and not a day passes but he is in trouble over some scandal. It’s sad!”

“His poor unhappy wife!” sighed the lady.

“He has no wife, madam. A likely idea! She would have to thank God if her head were not broken. . . .”

The lady walked up and down the room.

“He is not married, you say?”

“Certainly not, madam.”

The lady walked up and down the room again and mused a little.

“H’m, not married . . .” she pronounced meditatively. “H’m. Lilya and Mila, don’t sit at the window, there’s a draught! What a pity! A young man and to let himself sink to this! And all owing to what? The lack of good influence! There is no mother who would. . . . Not married? Well . . . there it is. . . . Please be so good,” the lady continued suavely after a moment’s thought, “as to go to him and ask him in my name to . . . refrain from using expressions. . . . Tell him that Madame Nashatyrin begs him. . . . Tell him she is staying with her daughters in No. 47 . . . that she has come up from her estate in the country. . . .”

“Certainly.”

“Tell him, a colonel’s lady and her daughters. He might even come and apologize. . . . We are always at home after dinner. Oh, Mila, shut the window!”

“Why, what do you want with that . . . black sheep, mamma?” drawled Lilya when the hotel-keeper had retired. “A queer person to invite! A drunken, rowdy rascal!”

“Oh, don’t say so, ma chère! You always talk like that; and there . . . sit down! Why, whatever he may be, we ought not to despise him. . . . There’s something good in everyone. Who knows,” sighed the colonel’s lady, looking her daughters up and down anxiously, “perhaps your fate is here. Change your dresses anyway. . . .”


IN A STRANGE LAND

SUNDAY, midday. A landowner, called Kamyshev, is sitting in his dining-room, deliberately eating his lunch at a luxuriously furnished table. Monsieur Champoun, a clean, neat, smoothly-shaven, old Frenchman, is sharing the meal with him. This Champoun had once been a tutor in Kamyshev’s household, had taught his children good manners, the correct pronunciation of French, and dancing: afterwards when Kamyshev’s children had grown up and become lieutenants, Champoun had become something like a bonne of the male sex. The duties of the former tutor were not complicated. He had to be properly dressed, to smell of scent, to listen to Kamyshev’s idle babble, to eat and drink and sleep—and apparently that was all. For this he received a room, his board, and an indefinite salary.

Kamyshev eats and as usual babbles at random.

“Damnation!” he says, wiping away the tears that have come into his eyes after a mouthful of ham thickly smeared with mustard. “Ough! It has shot into my head and all my joints. Your French mustard would not do that, you know, if you ate the whole potful.”

“Some like the French, some prefer the Russian. . .” Champoun assents mildly.

“No one likes French mustard except Frenchmen. And a Frenchman will eat anything, whatever you give him—frogs and rats and black beetles. . . brrr! You don’t like that ham, for instance, because it is Russian, but if one were to give you a bit of baked glass and tell you it was French, you would eat it and smack your lips. . . . To your thinking everything Russian is nasty.”

“I don’t say that.”

“Everything Russian is nasty, but if it’s French—o say tray zholee! To your thinking there is no country better than France, but to my mind. . . Why, what is France, to tell the truth about it? A little bit of land. Our police captain was sent out there, but in a month he asked to be transferred: there was nowhere to turn round! One can drive round the whole of your France in one day, while here when you drive out of the gate—you can see no end to the land, you can ride on and on. . .”

“Yes, monsieur, Russia is an immense country.”

“To be sure it is! To your thinking there are no better people than the French. Well-educated, clever people! Civilization! I agree, the French are all well-educated with elegant manners. . . that is true. . . . A Frenchman never allows himself to be rude: he hands a lady a chair at the right minute, he doesn’t eat crayfish with his fork, he doesn’t spit on the floor, but . . . there’s not the same spirit in him! not the spirit in him! I don’t know how to explain it to you but, however one is to express it, there’s nothing in a Frenchman of . . . something . . . (the speaker flourishes his fingers) . . . of something . . . fanatical. I remember I have read somewhere that all of you have intelligence acquired from books, while we Russians have innate intelligence. If a Russian studies the sciences properly, none of your French professors is a match for him.”

“Perhaps,” says Champoun, as it were reluctantly.

“No, not perhaps, but certainly! It’s no use your frowning, it’s the truth I am speaking. The Russian intelligence is an inventive intelligence. Only of course he is not given a free outlet for it, and he is no hand at boasting. He will invent something—and break it or give it to the children to play with, while your Frenchman will invent some nonsensical thing and make an uproar for all the world to hear it. The other day Iona the coachman carved a little man out of wood, if you pull the little man by a thread he plays unseemly antics. But Iona does not brag of it. . . . I don’t like Frenchmen as a rule. I am not referring to you, but speaking generally. . . . They are an immoral people! Outwardly they look like men, but they live like dogs. Take marriage for instance. With us, once you are married, you stick to your wife, and there is no talk about it, but goodness knows how it is with you. The husband is sitting all day long in a café, while his wife fills the house with Frenchmen, and sets to dancing the can-can with them.”

“That’s not true!” Champoun protests, flaring up and unable to restrain himself. “The principle of the family is highly esteemed in France.”

“We know all about that principle! You ought to be ashamed to defend it: one ought to be impartial: a pig is always a pig. . . . We must thank the Germans for having beaten them. . . . Yes indeed, God bless them for it.”

“In that case, monsieur, I don’t understand. . .” says the Frenchman leaping up with flashing eyes, “if you hate the French why do you keep me?”

“What am I to do with you?”

“Let me go, and I will go back to France.”

“Wha-at? But do you suppose they would let you into France now? Why, you are a traitor to your country! At one time Napoleon’s your great man, at another Gambetta. . . . Who the devil can make you out?”

“Monsieur,” says Champoun in French, spluttering and crushing up his table napkin in his hands, “my worst enemy could not have thought of a greater insult than the outrage you have just done to my feelings! All is over!”

And with a tragic wave of his arm the Frenchman flings his dinner napkin on the table majestically, and walks out of the room with dignity.

Three hours later the table is laid again, and the servants bring in the dinner. Kamyshev sits alone at the table. After the preliminary glass he feels a craving to babble. He wants to chatter, but he has no listener.

“What is Alphonse Ludovikovitch doing?” he asks the footman.

“He is packing his trunk, sir.”

“What a noodle! Lord forgive us!” says Kamyshev, and goes in to the Frenchman.

Champoun is sitting on the floor in his room, and with trembling hands is packing in his trunk his linen, scent bottles, prayer-books, braces, ties. . . . All his correct figure, his trunk, his bedstead and the table—all have an air of elegance and effeminacy. Great tears are dropping from his big blue eyes into the trunk.

“Where are you off to?” asks Kamyshev, after standing still for a little.

The Frenchman says nothing.

“Do you want to go away?” Kamyshev goes on. “Well, you know, but . . . I won’t venture to detain you. But what is queer is, how are you going to travel without a passport? I wonder! You know I have lost your passport. I thrust it in somewhere between some papers, and it is lost. . . . And they are strict about passports among us. Before you have gone three or four miles they pounce upon you.”

Champoun raises his head and looks mistrustfully at Kamyshev.

“Yes. . . . You will see! They will see from your face you haven’t a passport, and ask at once: Who is that? Alphonse Champoun. We know that Alphonse Champoun. Wouldn’t you like to go under police escort somewhere nearer home!”

“Are you joking?”

“What motive have I for joking? Why should I? Only mind now; it’s a compact, don’t you begin whining then and writing letters. I won’t stir a finger when they lead you by in fetters!”

Champoun jumps up and, pale and wide-eyed, begins pacing up and down the room.

“What are you doing to me?” he says in despair, clutching at his head. “My God! accursed be that hour when the fatal thought of leaving my country entered my head! . . .”

“Come, come, come . . . I was joking!” says Kamyshev in a lower tone. “Queer fish he is; he doesn’t understand a joke. One can’t say a word!”

“My dear friend!” shrieks Champoun, reassured by Kamyshev’s tone. “I swear I am devoted to Russia, to you and your children. . . . To leave you is as bitter to me as death itself! But every word you utter stabs me to the heart!”

“Ah, you queer fish! If I do abuse the French, what reason have you to take offence? You are a queer fish really! You should follow the example of Lazar Isaakitch, my tenant. I call him one thing and another, a Jew, and a scurvy rascal, and I make a pig’s ear out of my coat tail, and catch him by his Jewish curls. He doesn’t take offence.”

“But he is a slave! For a kopeck he is ready to put up with any insult!”

“Come, come, come . . . that’s enough! Peace and concord!”

Champoun powders his tear-stained face and goes with Kamyshev to the dining-room. The first course is eaten in silence, after the second the same performance begins over again, and so Champoun’s sufferings have no end.


The Party and Other Stories

Translated by Constance Garnett


THE PARTY

I

AFTER the festive dinner with its eight courses and its endless conversation, Olga Mihalovna, whose husband’s name-day was being celebrated, went out into the garden. The duty of smiling and talking incessantly, the clatter of the crockery, the stupidity of the servants, the long intervals between the courses, and the stays she had put on to conceal her condition from the visitors, wearied her to exhaustion. She longed to get away from the house, to sit in the shade and rest her heart with thoughts of the baby which was to be born to her in another two months. She was used to these thoughts coming to her as she turned to the left out of the big avenue into the narrow path. Here in the thick shade of the plums and cherry-trees the dry branches used to scratch her neck and shoulders; a spider’s web would settle on her face, and there would rise up in her mind the image of a little creature of undetermined sex and undefined features, and it began to seem as though it were not the spider’s web that tickled her face and neck caressingly, but that little creature. When, at the end of the path, a thin wicker hurdle came into sight, and behind it podgy beehives with tiled roofs; when in the motionless, stagnant air there came a smell of hay and honey, and a soft buzzing of bees was audible, then the little creature would take complete possession of Olga Mihalovna. She used to sit down on a bench near the shanty woven of branches, and fall to thinking.

This time, too, she went on as far as the seat, sat down, and began thinking; but instead of the little creature there rose up in her imagination the figures of the grown-up people whom she had just left. She felt dreadfully uneasy that she, the hostess, had deserted her guests, and she remembered how her husband, Pyotr Dmitritch, and her uncle, Nikolay Nikolaitch, had argued at dinner about trial by jury, about the press, and about the higher education of women. Her husband, as usual, argued in order to show off his Conservative ideas before his visitors—and still more in order to disagree with her uncle, whom he disliked. Her uncle contradicted him and wrangled over every word he uttered, so as to show the company that he, Uncle Nikolay Nikolaitch, still retained his youthful freshness of spirit and free-thinking in spite of his fifty-nine years. And towards the end of dinner even Olga Mihalovna herself could not resist taking part and unskilfully attempting to defend university education for women—not that that education stood in need of her defence, but simply because she wanted to annoy her husband, who to her mind was unfair. The guests were wearied by this discussion, but they all thought it necessary to take part in it, and talked a great deal, although none of them took any interest in trial by jury or the higher education of women. . . .

Olga Mihalovna was sitting on the nearest side of the hurdle near the shanty. The sun was hidden behind the clouds. The trees and the air were overcast as before rain, but in spite of that it was hot and stifling. The hay cut under the trees on the previous day was lying ungathered, looking melancholy, with here and there a patch of colour from the faded flowers, and from it came a heavy, sickly scent. It was still. The other side of the hurdle there was a monotonous hum of bees. . . .

Suddenly she heard footsteps and voices; some one was coming along the path towards the beehouse.

“How stifling it is!” said a feminine voice. “What do you think— is it going to rain, or not?”

“It is going to rain, my charmer, but not before night,” a very familiar male voice answered languidly. “There will be a good rain.”

Olga Mihalovna calculated that if she made haste to hide in the shanty they would pass by without seeing her, and she would not have to talk and to force herself to smile. She picked up her skirts, bent down and crept into the shanty. At once she felt upon her face, her neck, her arms, the hot air as heavy as steam. If it had not been for the stuffiness and the close smell of rye bread, fennel, and brushwood, which prevented her from breathing freely, it would have been delightful to hide from her visitors here under the thatched roof in the dusk, and to think about the little creature. It was cosy and quiet.

“What a pretty spot!” said a feminine voice. “Let us sit here, Pyotr Dmitritch.”

Olga Mihalovna began peeping through a crack between two branches. She saw her husband, Pyotr Dmitritch, and Lubotchka Sheller, a girl of seventeen who had not long left boarding-school. Pyotr Dmitritch, with his hat on the back of his head, languid and indolent from having drunk so much at dinner, slouched by the hurdle and raked the hay into a heap with his foot; Lubotchka, pink with the heat and pretty as ever, stood with her hands behind her, watching the lazy movements of his big handsome person.

Olga Mihalovna knew that her husband was attractive to women, and did not like to see him with them. There was nothing out of the way in Pyotr Dmitritch’s lazily raking together the hay in order to sit down on it with Lubotchka and chatter to her of trivialities; there was nothing out of the way, either, in pretty Lubotchka’s looking at him with her soft eyes; but yet Olga Mihalovna felt vexed with her husband and frightened and pleased that she could listen to them.

“Sit down, enchantress,” said Pyotr Dmitritch, sinking down on the hay and stretching. “That’s right. Come, tell me something.”

“What next! If I begin telling you anything you will go to sleep.”

“Me go to sleep? Allah forbid! Can I go to sleep while eyes like yours are watching me?”

In her husband’s words, and in the fact that he was lolling with his hat on the back of his head in the presence of a lady, there was nothing out of the way either. He was spoilt by women, knew that they found him attractive, and had adopted with them a special tone which every one said suited him. With Lubotchka he behaved as with all women. But, all the same, Olga Mihalovna was jealous.

“Tell me, please,” said Lubotchka, after a brief silence—“is it true that you are to be tried for something?”

“I? Yes, I am . . . numbered among the transgressors, my charmer.”

“But what for?”

“For nothing, but just . . . it’s chiefly a question of politics,” yawned Pyotr Dmitritch—“the antagonisms of Left and Right. I, an obscurantist and reactionary, ventured in an official paper to make use of an expression offensive in the eyes of such immaculate Gladstones as Vladimir Pavlovitch Vladimirov and our local justice of the peace—Kuzma Grigoritch Vostryakov.”

Pytor Dmitritch yawned again and went on:

“And it is the way with us that you may express disapproval of the sun or the moon, or anything you like, but God preserve you from touching the Liberals! Heaven forbid! A Liberal is like the poisonous dry fungus which covers you with a cloud of dust if you accidentally touch it with your finger.”

“What happened to you?”

“Nothing particular. The whole flare-up started from the merest trifle. A teacher, a detestable person of clerical associations, hands to Vostryakov a petition against a tavern-keeper, charging him with insulting language and behaviour in a public place. Everything showed that both the teacher and the tavern-keeper were drunk as cobblers, and that they behaved equally badly. If there had been insulting behaviour, the insult had anyway been mutual. Vostryakov ought to have fined them both for a breach of the peace and have turned them out of the court—that is all. But that’s not our way of doing things. With us what stands first is not the person—not the fact itself, but the trade-mark and label. However great a rascal a teacher may be, he is always in the right because he is a teacher; a tavern-keeper is always in the wrong because he is a tavern-keeper and a money-grubber. Vostryakov placed the tavern-keeper under arrest. The man appealed to the Circuit Court; the Circuit Court triumphantly upheld Vostryakov’s decision. Well, I stuck to my own opinion. . . . Got a little hot. . . . That was all.”

Pyotr Dmitritch spoke calmly with careless irony. In reality the trial that was hanging over him worried him extremely. Olga Mihalovna remembered how on his return from the unfortunate session he had tried to conceal from his household how troubled he was, and how dissatisfied with himself. As an intelligent man he could not help feeling that he had gone too far in expressing his disagreement; and how much lying had been needful to conceal that feeling from himself and from others! How many unnecessary conversations there had been! How much grumbling and insincere laughter at what was not laughable! When he learned that he was to be brought up before the Court, he seemed at once harassed and depressed; he began to sleep badly, stood oftener than ever at the windows, drumming on the panes with his fingers. And he was ashamed to let his wife see that he was worried, and it vexed her.

“They say you have been in the province of Poltava?” Lubotchka questioned him.

“Yes,” answered Pyotr Dmitritch. “I came back the day before yesterday.”

“I expect it is very nice there.”

“Yes, it is very nice, very nice indeed; in fact, I arrived just in time for the haymaking, I must tell you, and in the Ukraine the haymaking is the most poetical moment of the year. Here we have a big house, a big garden, a lot of servants, and a lot going on, so that you don’t see the haymaking; here it all passes unnoticed. There, at the farm, I have a meadow of forty-five acres as flat as my hand. You can see the men mowing from any window you stand at. They are mowing in the meadow, they are mowing in the garden. There are no visitors, no fuss nor hurry either, so that you can’t help seeing, feeling, hearing nothing but the haymaking. There is a smell of hay indoors and outdoors. There’s the sound of the scythes from sunrise to sunset. Altogether Little Russia is a charming country. Would you believe it, when I was drinking water from the rustic wells and filthy vodka in some Jew’s tavern, when on quiet evenings the strains of the Little Russian fiddle and the tambourines reached me, I was tempted by a fascinating idea—to settle down on my place and live there as long as I chose, far away from Circuit Courts, intellectual conversations, philosophizing women, long dinners. . . .”

Pyotr Dmitritch was not lying. He was unhappy and really longed to rest. And he had visited his Poltava property simply to avoid seeing his study, his servants, his acquaintances, and everything that could remind him of his wounded vanity and his mistakes.

Lubotchka suddenly jumped up and waved her hands about in horror.

“Oh! A bee, a bee!” she shrieked. “It will sting!”

“Nonsense; it won’t sting,” said Pyotr Dmitritch. “What a coward you are!”

“No, no, no,” cried Lubotchka; and looking round at the bees, she walked rapidly back.

Pyotr Dmitritch walked away after her, looking at her with a softened and melancholy face. He was probably thinking, as he looked at her, of his farm, of solitude, and—who knows?—perhaps he was even thinking how snug and cosy life would be at the farm if his wife had been this girl—young, pure, fresh, not corrupted by higher education, not with child. . . .

When the sound of their footsteps had died away, Olga Mihalovna came out of the shanty and turned towards the house. She wanted to cry. She was by now acutely jealous. She could understand that her husband was worried, dissatisfied with himself and ashamed, and when people are ashamed they hold aloof, above all from those nearest to them, and are unreserved with strangers; she could understand, also, that she had nothing to fear from Lubotchka or from those women who were now drinking coffee indoors. But everything in general was terrible, incomprehensible, and it already seemed to Olga Mihalovna that Pyotr Dmitritch only half belonged to her.

“He has no right to do it!” she muttered, trying to formulate her jealousy and her vexation with her husband. “He has no right at all. I will tell him so plainly!”

She made up her mind to find her husband at once and tell him all about it: it was disgusting, absolutely disgusting, that he was attractive to other women and sought their admiration as though it were some heavenly manna; it was unjust and dishonourable that he should give to others what belonged by right to his wife, that he should hide his soul and his conscience from his wife to reveal them to the first pretty face he came across. What harm had his wife done him? How was she to blame? Long ago she had been sickened by his lying: he was for ever posing, flirting, saying what he did not think, and trying to seem different from what he was and what he ought to be. Why this falsity? Was it seemly in a decent man? If he lied he was demeaning himself and those to whom he lied, and slighting what he lied about. Could he not understand that if he swaggered and posed at the judicial table, or held forth at dinner on the prerogatives of Government, that he, simply to provoke her uncle, was showing thereby that he had not a ha’p’orth of respect for the Court, or himself, or any of the people who were listening and looking at him?

Coming out into the big avenue, Olga Mihalovna assumed an expression of face as though she had just gone away to look after some domestic matter. In the verandah the gentlemen were drinking liqueur and eating strawberries: one of them, the Examining Magistrate—a stout elderly man, blagueur and wit—must have been telling some rather free anecdote, for, seeing their hostess, he suddenly clapped his hands over his fat lips, rolled his eyes, and sat down. Olga Mihalovna did not like the local officials. She did not care for their clumsy, ceremonious wives, their scandal-mongering, their frequent visits, their flattery of her husband, whom they all hated. Now, when they were drinking, were replete with food and showed no signs of going away, she felt their presence an agonizing weariness; but not to appear impolite, she smiled cordially to the Magistrate, and shook her finger at him. She walked across the dining-room and drawing-room smiling, and looking as though she had gone to give some order and make some arrangement. “God grant no one stops me,” she thought, but she forced herself to stop in the drawing-room to listen from politeness to a young man who was sitting at the piano playing: after standing for a minute, she cried, “Bravo, bravo, M. Georges!” and clapping her hands twice, she went on.

She found her husband in his study. He was sitting at the table, thinking of something. His face looked stern, thoughtful, and guilty. This was not the same Pyotr Dmitritch who had been arguing at dinner and whom his guests knew, but a different man—wearied, feeling guilty and dissatisfied with himself, whom nobody knew but his wife. He must have come to the study to get cigarettes. Before him lay an open cigarette-case full of cigarettes, and one of his hands was in the table drawer; he had paused and sunk into thought as he was taking the cigarettes.

Olga Mihalovna felt sorry for him. It was as clear as day that this man was harassed, could find no rest, and was perhaps struggling with himself. Olga Mihalovna went up to the table in silence: wanting to show that she had forgotten the argument at dinner and was not cross, she shut the cigarette-case and put it in her husband’s coat pocket.

“What should I say to him?” she wondered; “I shall say that lying is like a forest—the further one goes into it the more difficult it is to get out of it. I will say to him, ‘You have been carried away by the false part you are playing; you have insulted people who were attached to you and have done you no harm. Go and apologize to them, laugh at yourself, and you will feel better. And if you want peace and solitude, let us go away together.’”

Meeting his wife’s gaze, Pyotr Dmitritch’s face immediately assumed the expression it had worn at dinner and in the garden—indifferent and slightly ironical. He yawned and got up.

“It’s past five,” he said, looking at his watch. “If our visitors are merciful and leave us at eleven, even then we have another six hours of it. It’s a cheerful prospect, there’s no denying!”

And whistling something, he walked slowly out of the study with his usual dignified gait. She could hear him with dignified firmness cross the dining-room, then the drawing-room, laugh with dignified assurance, and say to the young man who was playing, “Bravo! bravo!” Soon his footsteps died away: he must have gone out into the garden. And now not jealousy, not vexation, but real hatred of his footsteps, his insincere laugh and voice, took possession of Olga Mihalovna. She went to the window and looked out into the garden. Pyotr Dmitritch was already walking along the avenue. Putting one hand in his pocket and snapping the fingers of the other, he walked with confident swinging steps, throwing his head back a little, and looking as though he were very well satisfied with himself, with his dinner, with his digestion, and with nature. . . .

Two little schoolboys, the children of Madame Tchizhevsky, who had only just arrived, made their appearance in the avenue, accompanied by their tutor, a student wearing a white tunic and very narrow trousers. When they reached Pyotr Dmitritch, the boys and the student stopped, and probably congratulated him on his name-day. With a graceful swing of his shoulders, he patted the children on their cheeks, and carelessly offered the student his hand without looking at him. The student must have praised the weather and compared it with the climate of Petersburg, for Pyotr Dmitritch said in a loud voice, in a tone as though he were not speaking to a guest, but to an usher of the court or a witness:

“What! It’s cold in Petersburg? And here, my good sir, we have a salubrious atmosphere and the fruits of the earth in abundance. Eh? What?”

And thrusting one hand in his pocket and snapping the fingers of the other, he walked on. Till he had disappeared behind the nut bushes, Olga Mihalovna watched the back of his head in perplexity. How had this man of thirty-four come by the dignified deportment of a general? How had he come by that impressive, elegant manner? Where had he got that vibration of authority in his voice? Where had he got these “what’s,” “to be sure’s,” and “my good sir’s”?

Olga Mihalovna remembered how in the first months of her marriage she had felt dreary at home alone and had driven into the town to the Circuit Court, at which Pyotr Dmitritch had sometimes presided in place of her godfather, Count Alexey Petrovitch. In the presidential chair, wearing his uniform and a chain on his breast, he was completely changed. Stately gestures, a voice of thunder, “what,” “to be sure,” careless tones. . . . Everything, all that was ordinary and human, all that was individual and personal to himself that Olga Mihalovna was accustomed to seeing in him at home, vanished in grandeur, and in the presidential chair there sat not Pyotr Dmitritch, but another man whom every one called Mr. President. This consciousness of power prevented him from sitting still in his place, and he seized every opportunity to ring his bell, to glance sternly at the public, to shout. . . . Where had he got his short-sight and his deafness when he suddenly began to see and hear with difficulty, and, frowning majestically, insisted on people speaking louder and coming closer to the table? From the height of his grandeur he could hardly distinguish faces or sounds, so that it seemed that if Olga Mihalovna herself had gone up to him he would have shouted even to her, “Your name?” Peasant witnesses he addressed familiarly, he shouted at the public so that his voice could be heard even in the street, and behaved incredibly with the lawyers. If a lawyer had to speak to him, Pyotr Dmitritch, turning a little away from him, looked with half-closed eyes at the ceiling, meaning to signify thereby that the lawyer was utterly superfluous and that he was neither recognizing him nor listening to him; if a badly-dressed lawyer spoke, Pyotr Dmitritch pricked up his ears and looked the man up and down with a sarcastic, annihilating stare as though to say: “Queer sort of lawyers nowadays!”

“What do you mean by that?” he would interrupt.

If a would-be eloquent lawyer mispronounced a foreign word, saying, for instance, “factitious” instead of “fictitious,” Pyotr Dmitritch brightened up at once and asked, “What? How? Factitious? What does that mean?” and then observed impressively: “Don’t make use of words you do not understand.” And the lawyer, finishing his speech, would walk away from the table, red and perspiring, while Pyotr Dmitritch; with a self-satisfied smile, would lean back in his chair triumphant. In his manner with the lawyers he imitated Count Alexey Petrovitch a little, but when the latter said, for instance, “Counsel for the defence, you keep quiet for a little!” it sounded paternally good-natured and natural, while the same words in Pyotr Dmitritch’s mouth were rude and artificial.

II

There were sounds of applause. The young man had finished playing. Olga Mihalovna remembered her guests and hurried into the drawing-room.

“I have so enjoyed your playing,” she said, going up to the piano. “I have so enjoyed it. You have a wonderful talent! But don’t you think our piano’s out of tune?”

At that moment the two schoolboys walked into the room, accompanied by the student.

“My goodness! Mitya and Kolya,” Olga Mihalovna drawled joyfully, going to meet them: “How big they have grown! One would not know you! But where is your mamma?”

“I congratulate you on the name-day,” the student began in a free-and-easy tone, “and I wish you all happiness. Ekaterina Andreyevna sends her congratulations and begs you to excuse her. She is not very well.”

“How unkind of her! I have been expecting her all day. Is it long since you left Petersburg?” Olga Mihalovna asked the student. “What kind of weather have you there now?” And without waiting for an answer, she looked cordially at the schoolboys and repeated:

“How tall they have grown! It is not long since they used to come with their nurse, and they are at school already! The old grow older while the young grow up. . . . Have you had dinner?”

“Oh, please don’t trouble!” said the student.

“Why, you have not had dinner?”

“For goodness’ sake, don’t trouble!”

“But I suppose you are hungry?” Olga Mihalovna said it in a harsh, rude voice, with impatience and vexation—it escaped her unawares, but at once she coughed, smiled, and flushed crimson. “How tall they have grown!” she said softly.

“Please don’t trouble!” the student said once more.

The student begged her not to trouble; the boys said nothing; obviously all three of them were hungry. Olga Mihalovna took them into the dining-room and told Vassily to lay the table.

“How unkind of your mamma!” she said as she made them sit down. “She has quite forgotten me. Unkind, unkind, unkind . . . you must tell her so. What are you studying?” she asked the student.

“Medicine.”

“Well, I have a weakness for doctors, only fancy. I am very sorry my husband is not a doctor. What courage any one must have to perform an operation or dissect a corpse, for instance! Horrible! Aren’t you frightened? I believe I should die of terror! Of course, you drink vodka?”

“Please don’t trouble.”

“After your journey you must have something to drink. Though I am a woman, even I drink sometimes. And Mitya and Kolya will drink Malaga. It’s not a strong wine; you need not be afraid of it. What fine fellows they are, really! They’ll be thinking of getting married next.”

Olga Mihalovna talked without ceasing; she knew by experience that when she had guests to entertain it was far easier and more comfortable to talk than to listen. When you talk there is no need to strain your attention to think of answers to questions, and to change your expression of face. But unawares she asked the student a serious question; the student began a lengthy speech and she was forced to listen. The student knew that she had once been at the University, and so tried to seem a serious person as he talked to her.

“What subject are you studying?” she asked, forgetting that she had already put that question to him.

“Medicine.”

Olga Mihalovna now remembered that she had been away from the ladies for a long while.

“Yes? Then I suppose you are going to be a doctor?” she said, getting up. “That’s splendid. I am sorry I did not go in for medicine myself. So you will finish your dinner here, gentlemen, and then come into the garden. I will introduce you to the young ladies.”

She went out and glanced at her watch: it was five minutes to six. And she wondered that the time had gone so slowly, and thought with horror that there were six more hours before midnight, when the party would break up. How could she get through those six hours? What phrases could she utter? How should she behave to her husband?

There was not a soul in the drawing-room or on the verandah. All the guests were sauntering about the garden.

“I shall have to suggest a walk in the birchwood before tea, or else a row in the boats,” thought Olga Mihalovna, hurrying to the croquet ground, from which came the sounds of voices and laughter.

“And sit the old people down to vint. . . .” She met Grigory the footman coming from the croquet ground with empty bottles.

“Where are the ladies?” she asked.

“Among the raspberry-bushes. The master’s there, too.”

“Oh, good heavens!” some one on the croquet lawn shouted with exasperation. “I have told you a thousand times over! To know the Bulgarians you must see them! You can’t judge from the papers!”

Either because of the outburst or for some other reason, Olga Mihalovna was suddenly aware of a terrible weakness all over, especially in her legs and in her shoulders. She felt she could not bear to speak, to listen, or to move.

“Grigory,” she said faintly and with an effort, “when you have to serve tea or anything, please don’t appeal to me, don’t ask me anything, don’t speak of anything. . . . Do it all yourself, and . . . and don’t make a noise with your feet, I entreat you. . . . I can’t, because . . .”

Without finishing, she walked on towards the croquet lawn, but on the way she thought of the ladies, and turned towards the raspberry-bushes. The sky, the air, and the trees looked gloomy again and threatened rain; it was hot and stifling. An immense flock of crows, foreseeing a storm, flew cawing over the garden. The paths were more overgrown, darker, and narrower as they got nearer the kitchen garden. In one of them, buried in a thick tangle of wild pear, crab-apple, sorrel, young oaks, and hopbine, clouds of tiny black flies swarmed round Olga Mihalovna. She covered her face with her hands and began forcing herself to think of the little creature . . . . There floated through her imagination the figures of Grigory, Mitya, Kolya, the faces of the peasants who had come in the morning to present their congratulations.

She heard footsteps, and she opened her eyes. Uncle Nikolay Nikolaitch was coming rapidly towards her.

“It’s you, dear? I am very glad . . .” he began, breathless. “A couple of words. . . .” He mopped with his handkerchief his red shaven chin, then suddenly stepped back a pace, flung up his hands and opened his eyes wide. “My dear girl, how long is this going on?” he said rapidly, spluttering. “I ask you: is there no limit to it? I say nothing of the demoralizing effect of his martinet views on all around him, of the way he insults all that is sacred and best in me and in every honest thinking man—I will say nothing about that, but he might at least behave decently! Why, he shouts, he bellows, gives himself airs, poses as a sort of Bonaparte, does not let one say a word. . . . I don’t know what the devil’s the matter with him! These lordly gestures, this condescending tone; and laughing like a general! Who is he, allow me to ask you? I ask you, who is he? The husband of his wife, with a few paltry acres and the rank of a titular who has had the luck to marry an heiress! An upstart and a junker, like so many others! A type out of Shtchedrin! Upon my word, it’s either that he’s suffering from megalomania, or that old rat in his dotage, Count Alexey Petrovitch, is right when he says that children and young people are a long time growing up nowadays, and go on playing they are cabmen and generals till they are forty!”

“That’s true, that’s true,” Olga Mihalovna assented. “Let me pass.”

“Now just consider: what is it leading to?” her uncle went on, barring her way. “How will this playing at being a general and a Conservative end? Already he has got into trouble! Yes, to stand his trial! I am very glad of it! That’s what his noise and shouting has brought him to—to stand in the prisoner’s dock. And it’s not as though it were the Circuit Court or something: it’s the Central Court! Nothing worse could be imagined, I think! And then he has quarrelled with every one! He is celebrating his name-day, and look, Vostryakov’s not here, nor Yahontov, nor Vladimirov, nor Shevud, nor the Count. . . . There is no one, I imagine, more Conservative than Count Alexey Petrovitch, yet even he has not come. And he never will come again. He won’t come, you will see!”

“My God! but what has it to do with me?” asked Olga Mihalovna.

“What has it to do with you? Why, you are his wife! You are clever, you have had a university education, and it was in your power to make him an honest worker!”

“At the lectures I went to they did not teach us how to influence tiresome people. It seems as though I should have to apologize to all of you for having been at the University,” said Olga Mihalovna sharply. “Listen, uncle. If people played the same scales over and over again the whole day long in your hearing, you wouldn’t be able to sit still and listen, but would run away. I hear the same thing over again for days together all the year round. You must have pity on me at last.”

Her uncle pulled a very long face, then looked at her searchingly and twisted his lips into a mocking smile.

“So that’s how it is,” he piped in a voice like an old woman’s. “I beg your pardon!” he said, and made a ceremonious bow. “If you have fallen under his influence yourself, and have abandoned your convictions, you should have said so before. I beg your pardon!”

“Yes, I have abandoned my convictions,” she cried. “There; make the most of it!”

“I beg your pardon!”

Her uncle for the last time made her a ceremonious bow, a little on one side, and, shrinking into himself, made a scrape with his foot and walked back.

“Idiot!” thought Olga Mihalovna. “I hope he will go home.”

She found the ladies and the young people among the raspberries in the kitchen garden. Some were eating raspberries; others, tired of eating raspberries, were strolling about the strawberry beds or foraging among the sugar-peas. A little on one side of the raspberry bed, near a branching appletree propped up by posts which had been pulled out of an old fence, Pyotr Dmitritch was mowing the grass. His hair was falling over his forehead, his cravat was untied. His watch-chain was hanging loose. Every step and every swing of the scythe showed skill and the possession of immense physical strength. Near him were standing Lubotchka and the daughters of a neighbour, Colonel Bukryeev—two anaemic and unhealthily stout fair girls, Natalya and Valentina, or, as they were always called, Nata and Vata, both wearing white frocks and strikingly like each other. Pyotr Dmitritch was teaching them to mow.

“It’s very simple,” he said. “You have only to know how to hold the scythe and not to get too hot over it—that is, not to use more force than is necessary! Like this. . . . Wouldn’t you like to try?” he said, offering the scythe to Lubotchka. “Come!”

Lubotchka took the scythe clumsily, blushed crimson, and laughed.

“Don’t be afraid, Lubov Alexandrovna!” cried Olga Mihalovna, loud enough for all the ladies to hear that she was with them. “Don’t be afraid! You must learn! If you marry a Tolstoyan he will make you mow.”

Lubotchka raised the scythe, but began laughing again, and, helpless with laughter, let go of it at once. She was ashamed and pleased at being talked to as though grown up. Nata, with a cold, serious face, with no trace of smiling or shyness, took the scythe, swung it and caught it in the grass; Vata, also without a smile, as cold and serious as her sister, took the scythe, and silently thrust it into the earth. Having done this, the two sisters linked arms and walked in silence to the raspberries.

Pyotr Dmitritch laughed and played about like a boy, and this childish, frolicsome mood in which he became exceedingly good-natured suited him far better than any other. Olga Mihalovna loved him when he was like that. But his boyishness did not usually last long. It did not this time; after playing with the scythe, he for some reason thought it necessary to take a serious tone about it.

“When I am mowing, I feel, do you know, healthier and more normal,” he said. “If I were forced to confine myself to an intellectual life I believe I should go out of my mind. I feel that I was not born to be a man of culture! I ought to mow, plough, sow, drive out the horses.”

And Pyotr Dmitritch began a conversation with the ladies about the advantages of physical labour, about culture, and then about the pernicious effects of money, of property. Listening to her husband, Olga Mihalovna, for some reason, thought of her dowry.

“And the time will come, I suppose,” she thought, “when he will not forgive me for being richer than he. He is proud and vain. Maybe he will hate me because he owes so much to me.”

She stopped near Colonel Bukryeev, who was eating raspberries and also taking part in the conversation.

“Come,” he said, making room for Olga Mihalovna and Pyotr Dmitritch. “The ripest are here. . . . And so, according to Proudhon,” he went on, raising his voice, “property is robbery. But I must confess I don’t believe in Proudhon, and don’t consider him a philosopher. The French are not authorities, to my thinking—God bless them!”

“Well, as for Proudhons and Buckles and the rest of them, I am weak in that department,” said Pyotr Dmitritch. “For philosophy you must apply to my wife. She has been at University lectures and knows all your Schopenhauers and Proudhons by heart. . . .”

Olga Mihalovna felt bored again. She walked again along a little path by apple and pear trees, and looked again as though she was on some very important errand. She reached the gardener’s cottage. In the doorway the gardener’s wife, Varvara, was sitting together with her four little children with big shaven heads. Varvara, too, was with child and expecting to be confined on Elijah’s Day. After greeting her, Olga Mihalovna looked at her and the children in silence and asked:

“Well, how do you feel?”

“Oh, all right. . . .”

A silence followed. The two women seemed to understand each other without words.

“It’s dreadful having one’s first baby,” said Olga Mihalovna after a moment’s thought. “I keep feeling as though I shall not get through it, as though I shall die.”

“I fancied that, too, but here I am alive. One has all sorts of fancies.”

Varvara, who was just going to have her fifth, looked down a little on her mistress from the height of her experience and spoke in a rather didactic tone, and Olga Mihalovna could not help feeling her authority; she would have liked to have talked of her fears, of the child, of her sensations, but she was afraid it might strike Varvara as naïve and trivial. And she waited in silence for Varvara to say something herself.

“Olya, we are going indoors,” Pyotr Dmitritch called from the raspberries.

Olga Mihalovna liked being silent, waiting and watching Varvara. She would have been ready to stay like that till night without speaking or having any duty to perform. But she had to go. She had hardly left the cottage when Lubotchka, Nata, and Vata came running to meet her. The sisters stopped short abruptly a couple of yards away; Lubotchka ran right up to her and flung herself on her neck.

“You dear, darling, precious,” she said, kissing her face and her neck. “Let us go and have tea on the island!”

“On the island, on the island!” said the precisely similar Nata and Vata, both at once, without a smile.

“But it’s going to rain, my dears.”

“It’s not, it’s not,” cried Lubotchka with a woebegone face. “They’ve all agreed to go. Dear! darling!”

“They are all getting ready to have tea on the island,” said Pyotr Dmitritch, coming up. “See to arranging things. . . . We will all go in the boats, and the samovars and all the rest of it must be sent in the carriage with the servants.”

He walked beside his wife and gave her his arm. Olga Mihalovna had a desire to say something disagreeable to her husband, something biting, even about her dowry perhaps—the crueller the better, she felt. She thought a little, and said:

“Why is it Count Alexey Petrovitch hasn’t come? What a pity!”

“I am very glad he hasn’t come,” said Pyotr Dmitritch, lying. “I’m sick to death of that old lunatic.”

“But yet before dinner you were expecting him so eagerly!”

III

Half an hour later all the guests were crowding on the bank near the pile to which the boats were fastened. They were all talking and laughing, and were in such excitement and commotion that they could hardly get into the boats. Three boats were crammed with passengers, while two stood empty. The keys for unfastening these two boats had been somehow mislaid, and messengers were continually running from the river to the house to look for them. Some said Grigory had the keys, others that the bailiff had them, while others suggested sending for a blacksmith and breaking the padlocks. And all talked at once, interrupting and shouting one another down. Pyotr Dmitritch paced impatiently to and fro on the bank, shouting:

“What the devil’s the meaning of it! The keys ought always to be lying in the hall window! Who has dared to take them away? The bailiff can get a boat of his own if he wants one!”

At last the keys were found. Then it appeared that two oars were missing. Again there was a great hullabaloo. Pyotr Dmitritch, who was weary of pacing about the bank, jumped into a long, narrow boat hollowed out of the trunk of a poplar, and, lurching from side to side and almost falling into the water, pushed off from the bank. The other boats followed him one after another, amid loud laughter and the shrieks of the young ladies.

The white cloudy sky, the trees on the riverside, the boats with the people in them, and the oars, were reflected in the water as in a mirror; under the boats, far away below in the bottomless depths, was a second sky with the birds flying across it. The bank on which the house and gardens stood was high, steep, and covered with trees; on the other, which was sloping, stretched broad green water-meadows with sheets of water glistening in them. The boats had floated a hundred yards when, behind the mournfully drooping willows on the sloping banks, huts and a herd of cows came into sight; they began to hear songs, drunken shouts, and the strains of a concertina.

Here and there on the river fishing-boats were scattered about, setting their nets for the night. In one of these boats was the festive party, playing on home-made violins and violoncellos.

Olga Mihalovna was sitting at the rudder; she was smiling affably and talking a great deal to entertain her visitors, while she glanced stealthily at her husband. He was ahead of them all, standing up punting with one oar. The light sharp-nosed canoe, which all the guests called the “death-trap”—while Pyotr Dmitritch, for some reason, called it Penderaklia—flew along quickly; it had a brisk, crafty expression, as though it hated its heavy occupant and was looking out for a favourable moment to glide away from under his feet. Olga Mihalovna kept looking at her husband, and she loathed his good looks which attracted every one, the back of his head, his attitude, his familiar manner with women; she hated all the women sitting in the boat with her, was jealous, and at the same time was trembling every minute in terror that the frail craft would upset and cause an accident.

“Take care, Pyotr!” she cried, while her heart fluttered with terror. “Sit down! We believe in your courage without all that!”

She was worried, too, by the people who were in the boat with her. They were all ordinary good sort of people like thousands of others, but now each one of them struck her as exceptional and evil. In each one of them she saw nothing but falsity. “That young man,” she thought, “rowing, in gold-rimmed spectacles, with chestnut hair and a nice-looking beard: he is a mamma’s darling, rich, and well-fed, and always fortunate, and every one considers him an honourable, free-thinking, advanced man. It’s not a year since he left the University and came to live in the district, but he already talks of himself as ‘we active members of the Zemstvo.’ But in another year he will be bored like so many others and go off to Petersburg, and to justify running away, will tell every one that the Zemstvos are good-for-nothing, and that he has been deceived in them. While from the other boat his young wife keeps her eyes fixed on him, and believes that he is ‘an active member of the Zemstvo,’ just as in a year she will believe that the Zemstvo is good-for-nothing. And that stout, carefully shaven gentleman in the straw hat with the broad ribbon, with an expensive cigar in his mouth: he is fond of saying, ‘It is time to put away dreams and set to work!’ He has Yorkshire pigs, Butler’s hives, rape-seed, pine-apples, a dairy, a cheese factory, Italian bookkeeping by double entry; but every summer he sells his timber and mortgages part of his land to spend the autumn with his mistress in the Crimea. And there’s Uncle Nikolay Nikolaitch, who has quarrelled with Pyotr Dmitritch, and yet for some reason does not go home.”

Olga Mihalovna looked at the other boats, and there, too, she saw only uninteresting, queer creatures, affected or stupid people. She thought of all the people she knew in the district, and could not remember one person of whom one could say or think anything good. They all seemed to her mediocre, insipid, unintelligent, narrow, false, heartless; they all said what they did not think, and did what they did not want to. Dreariness and despair were stifling her; she longed to leave off smiling, to leap up and cry out, “I am sick of you,” and then jump out and swim to the bank.

“I say, let’s take Pyotr Dmitritch in tow!” some one shouted.

“In tow, in tow!” the others chimed in. “Olga Mihalovna, take your husband in tow.”

To take him in tow, Olga Mihalovna, who was steering, had to seize the right moment and to catch bold of his boat by the chain at the beak. When she bent over to the chain Pyotr Dmitritch frowned and looked at her in alarm.

“I hope you won’t catch cold,” he said.

“If you are uneasy about me and the child, why do you torment me?” thought Olga Mihalovna.

Pyotr Dmitritch acknowledged himself vanquished, and, not caring to be towed, jumped from the Penderaklia into the boat which was overful already, and jumped so carelessly that the boat lurched violently, and every one cried out in terror.

“He did that to please the ladies,” thought Olga Mihalovna; “he knows it’s charming.” Her hands and feet began trembling, as she supposed, from boredom, vexation from the strain of smiling and the discomfort she felt all over her body. And to conceal this trembling from her guests, she tried to talk more loudly, to laugh, to move.

“If I suddenly begin to cry,” she thought, “I shall say I have toothache. . . .”

But at last the boats reached the “Island of Good Hope,” as they called the peninsula formed by a bend in the river at an acute angle, covered with a copse of old birch-trees, oaks, willows, and poplars. The tables were already laid under the trees; the samovars were smoking, and Vassily and Grigory, in their swallow-tails and white knitted gloves, were already busy with the tea-things. On the other bank, opposite the “Island of Good Hope,” there stood the carriages which had come with the provisions. The baskets and parcels of provisions were carried across to the island in a little boat like the Penderaklia. The footmen, the coachmen, and even the peasant who was sitting in the boat, had the solemn expression befitting a name-day such as one only sees in children and servants.

While Olga Mihalovna was making the tea and pouring out the first glasses, the visitors were busy with the liqueurs and sweet things. Then there was the general commotion usual at picnics over drinking tea, very wearisome and exhausting for the hostess. Grigory and Vassily had hardly had time to take the glasses round before hands were being stretched out to Olga Mihalovna with empty glasses. One asked for no sugar, another wanted it stronger, another weak, a fourth declined another glass. And all this Olga Mihalovna had to remember, and then to call, “Ivan Petrovitch, is it without sugar for you?” or, “Gentlemen, which of you wanted it weak?” But the guest who had asked for weak tea, or no sugar, had by now forgotten it, and, absorbed in agreeable conversation, took the first glass that came. Depressed-looking figures wandered like shadows at a little distance from the table, pretending to look for mushrooms in the grass, or reading the labels on the boxes—these were those for whom there were not glasses enough. “Have you had tea?” Olga Mihalovna kept asking, and the guest so addressed begged her not to trouble, and said, “I will wait,” though it would have suited her better for the visitors not to wait but to make haste.

Some, absorbed in conversation, drank their tea slowly, keeping their glasses for half an hour; others, especially some who had drunk a good deal at dinner, would not leave the table, and kept on drinking glass after glass, so that Olga Mihalovna scarcely had time to fill them. One jocular young man sipped his tea through a lump of sugar, and kept saying, “Sinful man that I am, I love to indulge myself with the Chinese herb.” He kept asking with a heavy sigh: “Another tiny dish of tea more, if you please.” He drank a great deal, nibbled his sugar, and thought it all very amusing and original, and imagined that he was doing a clever imitation of a Russian merchant. None of them understood that these trifles were agonizing to their hostess, and, indeed, it was hard to understand it, as Olga Mihalovna went on all the time smiling affably and talking nonsense.

But she felt ill. . . . She was irritated by the crowd of people, the laughter, the questions, the jocular young man, the footmen harassed and run off their legs, the children who hung round the table; she was irritated at Vata’s being like Nata, at Kolya’s being like Mitya, so that one could not tell which of them had had tea and which of them had not. She felt that her smile of forced affability was passing into an expression of anger, and she felt every minute as though she would burst into tears.

“Rain, my friends,” cried some one.

Every one looked at the sky.

“Yes, it really is rain . . .” Pyotr Dmitritch assented, and wiped his cheek.

Only a few drops were falling from the sky—the real rain had not begun yet; but the company abandoned their tea and made haste to get off. At first they all wanted to drive home in the carriages, but changed their minds and made for the boats. On the pretext that she had to hasten home to give directions about the supper, Olga Mihalovna asked to be excused for leaving the others, and went home in the carriage.

When she got into the carriage, she first of all let her face rest from smiling. With an angry face she drove through the village, and with an angry face acknowledged the bows of the peasants she met. When she got home, she went to the bedroom by the back way and lay down on her husband’s bed.

“Merciful God!” she whispered. “What is all this hard labour for? Why do all these people hustle each other here and pretend that they are enjoying themselves? Why do I smile and lie? I don’t understand it.”

She heard steps and voices. The visitors had come back.

“Let them come,” thought Olga Mihalovna; “I shall lie a little longer.”

But a maid-servant came and said:

“Marya Grigoryevna is going, madam.”

Olga Mihalovna jumped up, tidied her hair and hurried out of the room.

“Marya Grigoryevna, what is the meaning of this?” she began in an injured voice, going to meet Marya Grigoryevna. “Why are you in such a hurry?”

“I can’t help it, darling! I’ve stayed too long as it is; my children are expecting me home.”

“It’s too bad of you! Why didn’t you bring your children with you?”

“If you will let me, dear, I will bring them on some ordinary day, but to-day . . .”

“Oh, please do,” Olga Mihalovna interrupted; “I shall be delighted! Your children are so sweet! Kiss them all for me. . . . But, really, I am offended with you! I don’t understand why you are in such a hurry!”

“I really must, I really must. . . . Good-bye, dear. Take care of yourself. In your condition, you know . . .”

And the ladies kissed each other. After seeing the departing guest to her carriage, Olga Mihalovna went in to the ladies in the drawing-room. There the lamps were already lighted and the gentlemen were sitting down to cards.

IV

The party broke up after supper about a quarter past twelve. Seeing her visitors off, Olga Mihalovna stood at the door and said:

“You really ought to take a shawl! It’s turning a little chilly. Please God, you don’t catch cold!”

“Don’t trouble, Olga Mihalovna,” the ladies answered as they got into the carriage. “Well, good-bye. Mind now, we are expecting you; don’t play us false!”

“Wo-o-o!” the coachman checked the horses.

“Ready, Denis! Good-bye, Olga Mihalovna!”

“Kiss the children for me!”

The carriage started and immediately disappeared into the darkness. In the red circle of light cast by the lamp in the road, a fresh pair or trio of impatient horses, and the silhouette of a coachman with his hands held out stiffly before him, would come into view. Again there began kisses, reproaches, and entreaties to come again or to take a shawl. Pyotr Dmitritch kept running out and helping the ladies into their carriages.

“You go now by Efremovshtchina,” he directed the coachman; “it’s nearer through Mankino, but the road is worse that way. You might have an upset. . . . Good-bye, my charmer. Mille compliments to your artist!”

“Good-bye, Olga Mihalovna, darling! Go indoors, or you will catch cold! It’s damp!”

“Wo-o-o! you rascal!”

“What horses have you got here?” Pyotr Dmitritch asked.

“They were bought from Haidorov, in Lent,” answered the coachman.

“Capital horses. . . .”

And Pyotr Dmitritch patted the trace horse on the haunch.

“Well, you can start! God give you good luck!”

The last visitor was gone at last; the red circle on the road quivered, moved aside, contracted and went out, as Vassily carried away the lamp from the entrance. On previous occasions when they had seen off their visitors, Pyotr Dmitritch and Olga Mihalovna had begun dancing about the drawing-room, facing each other, clapping their hands and singing: “They’ve gone! They’ve gone!” But now Olga Mihalovna was not equal to that. She went to her bedroom, undressed, and got into bed.

She fancied she would fall asleep at once and sleep soundly. Her legs and her shoulders ached painfully, her head was heavy from the strain of talking, and she was conscious, as before, of discomfort all over her body. Covering her head over, she lay still for three or four minutes, then peeped out from under the bed-clothes at the lamp before the ikon, listened to the silence, and smiled.

“It’s nice, it’s nice,” she whispered, curling up her legs, which felt as if they had grown longer from so much walking. “Sleep, sleep . . . .”

Her legs would not get into a comfortable position; she felt uneasy all over, and she turned on the other side. A big fly blew buzzing about the bedroom and thumped against the ceiling. She could hear, too, Grigory and Vassily stepping cautiously about the drawing-room, putting the chairs back in their places; it seemed to Olga Mihalovna that she could not go to sleep, nor be comfortable till those sounds were hushed. And again she turned over on the other side impatiently.

She heard her husband’s voice in the drawing-room. Some one must be staying the night, as Pyotr Dmitritch was addressing some one and speaking loudly:

“I don’t say that Count Alexey Petrovitch is an impostor. But he can’t help seeming to be one, because all of you gentlemen attempt to see in him something different from what he really is. His craziness is looked upon as originality, his familiar manners as good-nature, and his complete absence of opinions as Conservatism. Even granted that he is a Conservative of the stamp of ‘84, what after all is Conservatism?”

Pyotr Dmitritch, angry with Count Alexey Petrovitch, his visitors, and himself, was relieving his heart. He abused both the Count and his visitors, and in his vexation with himself was ready to speak out and to hold forth upon anything. After seeing his guest to his room, he walked up and down the drawing-room, walked through the dining-room, down the corridor, then into his study, then again went into the drawing-room, and came into the bedroom. Olga Mihalovna was lying on her back, with the bed-clothes only to her waist (by now she felt hot), and with an angry face, watched the fly that was thumping against the ceiling.

“Is some one staying the night?” she asked.

“Yegorov.”

Pyotr Dmitritch undressed and got into his bed.

Without speaking, he lighted a cigarette, and he, too, fell to watching the fly. There was an uneasy and forbidding look in his eyes. Olga Mihalovna looked at his handsome profile for five minutes in silence. It seemed to her for some reason that if her husband were suddenly to turn facing her, and to say, “Olga, I am unhappy,” she would cry or laugh, and she would be at ease. She fancied that her legs were aching and her body was uncomfortable all over because of the strain on her feelings.

“Pyotr, what are you thinking of?” she said.

“Oh, nothing . . .” her husband answered.

“You have taken to having secrets from me of late: that’s not right.”

“Why is it not right?” answered Pyotr Dmitritch drily and not at once. “We all have our personal life, every one of us, and we are bound to have our secrets.”

“Personal life, our secrets . . . that’s all words! Understand you are wounding me!” said Olga Mihalovna, sitting up in bed. “If you have a load on your heart, why do you hide it from me? And why do you find it more suitable to open your heart to women who are nothing to you, instead of to your wife? I overheard your outpourings to Lubotchka by the bee-house to-day.”

“Well, I congratulate you. I am glad you did overhear it.”

This meant “Leave me alone and let me think.” Olga Mihalovna was indignant. Vexation, hatred, and wrath, which had been accumulating within her during the whole day, suddenly boiled over; she wanted at once to speak out, to hurt her husband without putting it off till to-morrow, to wound him, to punish him. . . . Making an effort to control herself and not to scream, she said:

“Let me tell you, then, that it’s all loathsome, loathsome, loathsome! I’ve been hating you all day; you see what you’ve done.”

Pyotr Dmitritch, too, got up and sat on the bed.

“It’s loathsome, loathsome, loathsome,” Olga Mihalovna went on, beginning to tremble all over. “There’s no need to congratulate me; you had better congratulate yourself! It’s a shame, a disgrace. You have wrapped yourself in lies till you are ashamed to be alone in the room with your wife! You are a deceitful man! I see through you and understand every step you take!”

“Olya, I wish you would please warn me when you are out of humour. Then I will sleep in the study.”

Saying this, Pyotr Dmitritch picked up his pillow and walked out of the bedroom. Olga Mihalovna had not foreseen this. For some minutes she remained silent with her mouth open, trembling all over and looking at the door by which her husband had gone out, and trying to understand what it meant. Was this one of the devices to which deceitful people have recourse when they are in the wrong, or was it a deliberate insult aimed at her pride? How was she to take it? Olga Mihalovna remembered her cousin, a lively young officer, who often used to tell her, laughing, that when “his spouse nagged at him” at night, he usually picked up his pillow and went whistling to spend the night in his study, leaving his wife in a foolish and ridiculous position. This officer was married to a rich, capricious, and foolish woman whom he did not respect but simply put up with.

Olga Mihalovna jumped out of bed. To her mind there was only one thing left for her to do now; to dress with all possible haste and to leave the house forever. The house was her own, but so much the worse for Pyotr Dmitritch. Without pausing to consider whether this was necessary or not, she went quickly to the study to inform her husband of her intention (“Feminine logic!” flashed through her mind), and to say something wounding and sarcastic at parting. . . .

Pyotr Dmitritch was lying on the sofa and pretending to read a newspaper. There was a candle burning on a chair near him. His face could not be seen behind the newspaper.

“Be so kind as to tell me what this means? I am asking you.”

“Be so kind . . .” Pyotr Dmitritch mimicked her, not showing his face. “It’s sickening, Olga! Upon my honour, I am exhausted and not up to it. . . . Let us do our quarrelling to-morrow.”

“No, I understand you perfectly!” Olga Mihalovna went on. “You hate me! Yes, yes! You hate me because I am richer than you! You will never forgive me for that, and will always be lying to me!” (“Feminine logic!” flashed through her mind again.) “You are laughing at me now. . . . I am convinced, in fact, that you only married me in order to have property qualifications and those wretched horses. . . . Oh, I am miserable!”

Pyotr Dmitritch dropped the newspaper and got up. The unexpected insult overwhelmed him. With a childishly helpless smile he looked desperately at his wife, and holding out his hands to her as though to ward off blows, he said imploringly:

“Olya!”

And expecting her to say something else awful, he leaned back in his chair, and his huge figure seemed as helplessly childish as his smile.

“Olya, how could you say it?” he whispered.

Olga Mihalovna came to herself. She was suddenly aware of her passionate love for this man, remembered that he was her husband, Pyotr Dmitritch, without whom she could not live for a day, and who loved her passionately, too. She burst into loud sobs that sounded strange and unlike her, and ran back to her bedroom.

She fell on the bed, and short hysterical sobs, choking her and making her arms and legs twitch, filled the bedroom. Remembering there was a visitor sleeping three or four rooms away, she buried her head under the pillow to stifle her sobs, but the pillow rolled on to the floor, and she almost fell on the floor herself when she stooped to pick it up. She pulled the quilt up to her face, but her hands would not obey her, but tore convulsively at everything she clutched.

She thought that everything was lost, that the falsehood she had told to wound her husband had shattered her life into fragments. Her husband would not forgive her. The insult she had hurled at him was not one that could be effaced by any caresses, by any vows. . . . How could she convince her husband that she did not believe what she had said?

“It’s all over, it’s all over!” she cried, not noticing that the pillow had slipped on to the floor again. “For God’s sake, for God’s sake!”

Probably roused by her cries, the guest and the servants were now awake; next day all the neighbourhood would know that she had been in hysterics and would blame Pyotr Dmitritch. She made an effort to restrain herself, but her sobs grew louder and louder every minute.

“For God’s sake,” she cried in a voice not like her own, and not knowing why she cried it. “For God’s sake!”

She felt as though the bed were heaving under her and her feet were entangled in the bed-clothes. Pyotr Dmitritch, in his dressing-gown, with a candle in his hand, came into the bedroom.

“Olya, hush!” he said.

She raised herself, and kneeling up in bed, screwing up her eyes at the light, articulated through her sobs:

“Understand . . . understand! . . . .”

She wanted to tell him that she was tired to death by the party, by his falsity, by her own falsity, that it had all worked together, but she could only articulate:

“Understand . . . understand!”

“Come, drink!” he said, handing her some water.

She took the glass obediently and began drinking, but the water splashed over and was spilt on her arms, her throat and knees.

“I must look horribly unseemly,” she thought.

Pyotr Dmitritch put her back in bed without a word, and covered her with the quilt, then he took the candle and went out.

“For God’s sake!” Olga Mihalovna cried again. “Pyotr, understand, understand!”

Suddenly something gripped her in the lower part of her body and back with such violence that her wailing was cut short, and she bit the pillow from the pain. But the pain let her go again at once, and she began sobbing again.

The maid came in, and arranging the quilt over her, asked in alarm:

“Mistress, darling, what is the matter?”

“Go out of the room,” said Pyotr Dmitritch sternly, going up to the bed.

“Understand . . . understand! . . .” Olga Mihalovna began.

“Olya, I entreat you, calm yourself,” he said. “I did not mean to hurt you. I would not have gone out of the room if I had known it would have hurt you so much; I simply felt depressed. I tell you, on my honour . . .”

“Understand! . . . You were lying, I was lying. . . .”

“I understand. . . . Come, come, that’s enough! I understand,” said Pyotr Dmitritch tenderly, sitting down on her bed. “You said that in anger; I quite understand. I swear to God I love you beyond anything on earth, and when I married you I never once thought of your being rich. I loved you immensely, and that’s all . . . I assure you. I have never been in want of money or felt the value of it, and so I cannot feel the difference between your fortune and mine. It always seemed to me we were equally well off. And that I have been deceitful in little things, that . . . of course, is true. My life has hitherto been arranged in such a frivolous way that it has somehow been impossible to get on without paltry lying. It weighs on me, too, now. . . . Let us leave off talking about it, for goodness’ sake!”

Olga Mihalovna again felt in acute pain, and clutched her husband by the sleeve.

“I am in pain, in pain, in pain . . .” she said rapidly. “Oh, what pain!”

“Damnation take those visitors!” muttered Pyotr Dmitritch, getting up. “You ought not to have gone to the island to-day!” he cried. “What an idiot I was not to prevent you! Oh, my God!”

He scratched his head in vexation, and, with a wave of his hand, walked out of the room.

Then he came into the room several times, sat down on the bed beside her, and talked a great deal, sometimes tenderly, sometimes angrily, but she hardly heard him. Her sobs were continually interrupted by fearful attacks of pain, and each time the pain was more acute and prolonged. At first she held her breath and bit the pillow during the pain, but then she began screaming on an unseemly piercing note. Once seeing her husband near her, she remembered that she had insulted him, and without pausing to think whether it were really Pyotr Dmitritch or whether she were in delirium, clutched his hand in both hers and began kissing it.

“You were lying, I was lying . . .” she began justifying herself. “Understand, understand. . . . They have exhausted me, driven me out of all patience.”

“Olya, we are not alone,” said Pyotr Dmitritch.

Olga Mihalovna raised her head and saw Varvara, who was kneeling by the chest of drawers and pulling out the bottom drawer. The top drawers were already open. Then Varvara got up, red from the strained position, and with a cold, solemn face began trying to unlock a box.

“Marya, I can’t unlock it!” she said in a whisper. “You unlock it, won’t you?”

Marya, the maid, was digging a candle end out of the candlestick with a pair of scissors, so as to put in a new candle; she went up to Varvara and helped her to unlock the box.

“There should be nothing locked . . .” whispered Varvara. “Unlock this basket, too, my good girl. Master,” she said, “you should send to Father Mihail to unlock the holy gates! You must!”

“Do what you like,” said Pyotr Dmitritch, breathing hard, “only, for God’s sake, make haste and fetch the doctor or the midwife! Has Vassily gone? Send some one else. Send your husband!”

“It’s the birth,” Olga Mihalovna thought. “Varvara,” she moaned, “but he won’t be born alive!”

“It’s all right, it’s all right, mistress,” whispered Varvara. “Please God, he will be alive! he will be alive!”

When Olga Mihalovna came to herself again after a pain she was no longer sobbing nor tossing from side to side, but moaning. She could not refrain from moaning even in the intervals between the pains. The candles were still burning, but the morning light was coming through the blinds. It was probably about five o’clock in the morning. At the round table there was sitting some unknown woman with a very discreet air, wearing a white apron. From her whole appearance it was evident she had been sitting there a long time. Olga Mihalovna guessed that she was the midwife.

“Will it soon be over?” she asked, and in her voice she heard a peculiar and unfamiliar note which had never been there before. “I must be dying in childbirth,” she thought.

Pyotr Dmitritch came cautiously into the bedroom, dressed for the day, and stood at the window with his back to his wife. He lifted the blind and looked out of window.

“What rain!” he said.

“What time is it?” asked Olga Mihalovna, in order to hear the unfamiliar note in her voice again.

“A quarter to six,” answered the midwife.

“And what if I really am dying?” thought Olga Mihalovna, looking at her husband’s head and the window-panes on which the rain was beating. “How will he live without me? With whom will he have tea and dinner, talk in the evenings, sleep?”

And he seemed to her like a forlorn child; she felt sorry for him and wanted to say something nice, caressing and consolatory. She remembered how in the spring he had meant to buy himself some harriers, and she, thinking it a cruel and dangerous sport, had prevented him from doing it.

“Pyotr, buy yourself harriers,” she moaned.

He dropped the blind and went up to the bed, and would have said something; but at that moment the pain came back, and Olga Mihalovna uttered an unseemly, piercing scream.

The pain and the constant screaming and moaning stupefied her. She heard, saw, and sometimes spoke, but hardly understood anything, and was only conscious that she was in pain or was just going to be in pain. It seemed to her that the nameday party had been long, long ago—not yesterday, but a year ago perhaps; and that her new life of agony had lasted longer than her childhood, her school-days, her time at the University, and her marriage, and would go on for a long, long time, endlessly. She saw them bring tea to the midwife, and summon her at midday to lunch and afterwards to dinner; she saw Pyotr Dmitritch grow used to coming in, standing for long intervals by the window, and going out again; saw strange men, the maid, Varvara, come in as though they were at home. . . . Varvara said nothing but, “He will, he will,” and was angry when any one closed the drawers and the chest. Olga Mihalovna saw the light change in the room and in the windows: at one time it was twilight, then thick like fog, then bright daylight as it had been at dinner-time the day before, then again twilight . . . and each of these changes lasted as long as her childhood, her school-days, her life at the University. . . .

In the evening two doctors—one bony, bald, with a big red beard; the other with a swarthy Jewish face and cheap spectacles—performed some sort of operation on Olga Mihalovna. To these unknown men touching her body she felt utterly indifferent. By now she had no feeling of shame, no will, and any one might do what he would with her. If any one had rushed at her with a knife, or had insulted Pyotr Dmitritch, or had robbed her of her right to the little creature, she would not have said a word.

They gave her chloroform during the operation. When she came to again, the pain was still there and insufferable. It was night. And Olga Mihalovna remembered that there had been just such a night with the stillness, the lamp, with the midwife sitting motionless by the bed, with the drawers of the chest pulled out, with Pyotr Dmitritch standing by the window, but some time very, very long ago. . . .

V

“I am not dead . . .” thought Olga Mihalovna when she began to understand her surroundings again, and when the pain was over.

A bright summer day looked in at the widely open windows; in the garden below the windows, the sparrows and the magpies never ceased chattering for one instant.

The drawers were shut now, her husband’s bed had been made. There was no sign of the midwife or of the maid, or of Varvara in the room, only Pyotr Dmitritch was standing, as before, motionless by the window looking into the garden. There was no sound of a child’s crying, no one was congratulating her or rejoicing, it was evident that the little creature had not been born alive.

“Pyotr!”

Olga Mihalovna called to her husband.

Pyotr Dmitritch looked round. It seemed as though a long time must have passed since the last guest had departed and Olga Mihalovna had insulted her husband, for Pyotr Dmitritch was perceptibly thinner and hollow-eyed.

“What is it?” he asked, coming up to the bed.

He looked away, moved his lips and smiled with childlike helplessness.

“Is it all over?” asked Olga Mihalovna.

Pyotr Dmitritch tried to make some answer, but his lips quivered and his mouth worked like a toothless old man’s, like Uncle Nikolay Nikolaitch’s.

“Olya,” he said, wringing his hands; big tears suddenly dropping from his eyes. “Olya, I don’t care about your property qualification, nor the Circuit Courts . . .” (he gave a sob) “nor particular views, nor those visitors, nor your fortune. . . . I don’t care about anything! Why didn’t we take care of our child? Oh, it’s no good talking!”

With a despairing gesture he went out of the bedroom.

But nothing mattered to Olga Mihalovna now, there was a mistiness in her brain from the chloroform, an emptiness in her soul. . . . The dull indifference to life which had overcome her when the two doctors were performing the operation still had possession of her.


TERROR

My Friend’s Story

DMITRI PETROVITCH SILIN had taken his degree and entered the government service in Petersburg, but at thirty he gave up his post and went in for agriculture. His farming was fairly successful, and yet it always seemed to me that he was not in his proper place, and that he would do well to go back to Petersburg. When sunburnt, grey with dust, exhausted with toil, he met me near the gates or at the entrance, and then at supper struggled with sleepiness and his wife took him off to bed as though he were a baby; or when, overcoming his sleepiness, he began in his soft, cordial, almost imploring voice, to talk about his really excellent ideas, I saw him not as a farmer nor an agriculturist, but only as a worried and exhausted man, and it was clear to me that he did not really care for farming, but that all he wanted was for the day to be over and “Thank God for it.”

I liked to be with him, and I used to stay on his farm for two or three days at a time. I liked his house, and his park, and his big fruit garden, and the river—and his philosophy, which was clear, though rather spiritless and rhetorical. I suppose I was fond of him on his own account, though I can’t say that for certain, as I have not up to now succeeded in analysing my feelings at that time. He was an intelligent, kind-hearted, genuine man, and not a bore, but I remember that when he confided to me his most treasured secrets and spoke of our relation to each other as friendship, it disturbed me unpleasantly, and I was conscious of awkwardness. In his affection for me there was something inappropriate, tiresome, and I should have greatly preferred commonplace friendly relations.

The fact is that I was extremely attracted by his wife, Marya Sergeyevna. I was not in love with her, but I was attracted by her face, her eyes, her voice, her walk. I missed her when I did not see her for a long time, and my imagination pictured no one at that time so eagerly as that young, beautiful, elegant woman. I had no definite designs in regard to her, and did not dream of anything of the sort, yet for some reason, whenever we were left alone, I remembered that her husband looked upon me as his friend, and I felt awkward. When she played my favourite pieces on the piano or told me something interesting, I listened with pleasure, and yet at the same time for some reason the reflection that she loved her husband, that he was my friend, and that she herself looked upon me as his friend, obtruded themselves upon me, my spirits flagged, and I became listless, awkward, and dull. She noticed this change and would usually say:

“You are dull without your friend. We must send out to the fields for him.”

And when Dmitri Petrovitch came in, she would say:

“Well, here is your friend now. Rejoice.”

So passed a year and a half.

It somehow happened one July Sunday that Dmitri Petrovitch and I, having nothing to do, drove to the big village of Klushino to buy things for supper. While we were going from one shop to another the sun set and the evening came on—the evening which I shall probably never forget in my life. After buying cheese that smelt like soap, and petrified sausages that smelt of tar, we went to the tavern to ask whether they had any beer. Our coachman went off to the blacksmith to get our horses shod, and we told him we would wait for him near the church. We walked, talked, laughed over our purchases, while a man who was known in the district by a very strange nickname, “Forty Martyrs,” followed us all the while in silence with a mysterious air like a detective. This Forty Martyrs was no other than Gavril Syeverov, or more simply Gavryushka, who had been for a short time in my service as a footman and had been dismissed by me for drunkenness. He had been in Dmitri Petrovitch’s service, too, and by him had been dismissed for the same vice. He was an inveterate drunkard, and indeed his whole life was as drunk and disorderly as himself. His father had been a priest and his mother of noble rank, so by birth he belonged to the privileged class; but however carefully I scrutinized his exhausted, respectful, and always perspiring face, his red beard now turning grey, his pitifully torn reefer jacket and his red shirt, I could not discover in him the faintest trace of anything we associate with privilege. He spoke of himself as a man of education, and used to say that he had been in a clerical school, but had not finished his studies there, as he had been expelled for smoking; then he had sung in the bishop’s choir and lived for two years in a monastery, from which he was also expelled, but this time not for smoking but for “his weakness.” He had walked all over two provinces, had presented petitions to the Consistory, and to various government offices, and had been four times on his trial. At last, being stranded in our district, he had served as a footman, as a forester, as a kennelman, as a sexton, had married a cook who was a widow and rather a loose character, and had so hopelessly sunk into a menial position, and had grown so used to filth and dirt, that he even spoke of his privileged origin with a certain scepticism, as of some myth. At the time I am describing, he was hanging about without a job, calling himself a carrier and a huntsman, and his wife had disappeared and made no sign.

From the tavern we went to the church and sat in the porch, waiting for the coachman. Forty Martyrs stood a little way off and put his hand before his mouth in order to cough in it respectfully if need be. By now it was dark; there was a strong smell of evening dampness, and the moon was on the point of rising. There were only two clouds in the clear starry sky exactly over our heads: one big one and one smaller; alone in the sky they were racing after one another like mother and child, in the direction where the sunset was glowing.

“What a glorious day!” said Dmitri Petrovitch.

“In the extreme . . .” Forty Martyrs assented, and he coughed respectfully into his hand. “How was it, Dmitri Petrovitch, you thought to visit these parts?” he asked in an ingratiating voice, evidently anxious to get up a conversation.

Dmitri Petrovitch made no answer. Forty Martyrs heaved a deep sigh and said softly, not looking at us:

“I suffer solely through a cause to which I must answer to Almighty God. No doubt about it, I am a hopeless and incompetent man; but believe me, on my conscience, I am without a crust of bread and worse off than a dog. . . . Forgive me, Dmitri Petrovitch.”

Silin was not listening, but sat musing with his head propped on his fists. The church stood at the end of the street on the high river-bank, and through the trellis gate of the enclosure we could see the river, the water-meadows on the near side of it, and the crimson glare of a camp fire about which black figures of men and horses were moving. And beyond the fire, further away, there were other lights, where there was a little village. They were singing there. On the river, and here and there on the meadows, a mist was rising. High narrow coils of mist, thick and white as milk, were trailing over the river, hiding the reflection of the stars and hovering over the willows. Every minute they changed their form, and it seemed as though some were embracing, others were bowing, others lifting up their arms to heaven with wide sleeves like priests, as though they were praying. . . . Probably they reminded Dmitri Petrovitch of ghosts and of the dead, for he turned facing me and asked with a mournful smile:

“Tell me, my dear fellow, why is it that when we want to tell some terrible, mysterious, and fantastic story, we draw our material, not from life, but invariably from the world of ghosts and of the shadows beyond the grave.”

“We are frightened of what we don’t understand.”

“And do you understand life? Tell me: do you understand life better than the world beyond the grave?”

Dmitri Petrovitch was sitting quite close to me, so that I felt his breath upon my cheek. In the evening twilight his pale, lean face seemed paler than ever and his dark beard was black as soot. His eyes were sad, truthful, and a little frightened, as though he were about to tell me something horrible. He looked into my eyes and went on in his habitual imploring voice:

“Our life and the life beyond the grave are equally incomprehensible and horrible. If any one is afraid of ghosts he ought to be afraid, too, of me, and of those lights and of the sky, seeing that, if you come to reflect, all that is no less fantastic and beyond our grasp than apparitions from the other world. Prince Hamlet did not kill himself because he was afraid of the visions that might haunt his dreams after death. I like that famous soliloquy of his, but, to be candid, it never touched my soul. I will confess to you as a friend that in moments of depression I have sometimes pictured to myself the hour of my death. My fancy invented thousands of the gloomiest visions, and I have succeeded in working myself up to an agonizing exaltation, to a state of nightmare, and I assure you that that did not seem to me more terrible than reality. What I mean is, apparitions are terrible, but life is terrible, too. I don’t understand life and I am afraid of it, my dear boy; I don’t know. Perhaps I am a morbid person, unhinged. It seems to a sound, healthy man that he understands everything he sees and hears, but that ‘seeming’ is lost to me, and from day to day I am poisoning myself with terror. There is a disease, the fear of open spaces, but my disease is the fear of life. When I lie on the grass and watch a little beetle which was born yesterday and understands nothing, it seems to me that its life consists of nothing else but fear, and in it I see myself.”

“What is it exactly you are frightened of?” I asked.

“I am afraid of everything. I am not by nature a profound thinker, and I take little interest in such questions as the life beyond the grave, the destiny of humanity, and, in fact, I am rarely carried away to the heights. What chiefly frightens me is the common routine of life from which none of us can escape. I am incapable of distinguishing what is true and what is false in my actions, and they worry me. I recognize that education and the conditions of life have imprisoned me in a narrow circle of falsity, that my whole life is nothing else than a daily effort to deceive myself and other people, and to avoid noticing it; and I am frightened at the thought that to the day of my death I shall not escape from this falsity. To-day I do something and to-morrow I do not understand why I did it. I entered the service in Petersburg and took fright; I came here to work on the land, and here, too, I am frightened. . . . I see that we know very little and so make mistakes every day. We are unjust, we slander one another and spoil each other’s lives, we waste all our powers on trash which we do not need and which hinders us from living; and that frightens me, because I don’t understand why and for whom it is necessary. I don’t understand men, my dear fellow, and I am afraid of them. It frightens me to look at the peasants, and I don’t know for what higher objects they are suffering and what they are living for. If life is an enjoyment, then they are unnecessary, superfluous people; if the object and meaning of life is to be found in poverty and unending, hopeless ignorance, I can’t understand for whom and what this torture is necessary. I understand no one and nothing. Kindly try to understand this specimen, for instance,” said Dmitri Petrovitch, pointing to Forty Martyrs. “Think of him!”

Noticing that we were looking at him, Forty Martyrs coughed deferentially into his fist and said:

“I was always a faithful servant with good masters, but the great trouble has been spirituous liquor. If a poor fellow like me were shown consideration and given a place, I would kiss the ikon. My word’s my bond.”

The sexton walked by, looked at us in amazement, and began pulling the rope. The bell, abruptly breaking upon the stillness of the evening, struck ten with a slow and prolonged note.

“It’s ten o’clock, though,” said Dmitri Petrovitch. “It’s time we were going. Yes, my dear fellow,” he sighed, “if only you knew how afraid I am of my ordinary everyday thoughts, in which one would have thought there should be nothing dreadful. To prevent myself thinking I distract my mind with work and try to tire myself out that I may sleep sound at night. Children, a wife—all that seems ordinary with other people; but how that weighs upon me, my dear fellow!”

He rubbed his face with his hands, cleared his throat, and laughed.

“If I could only tell you how I have played the fool in my life!” he said. “They all tell me that I have a sweet wife, charming children, and that I am a good husband and father. They think I am very happy and envy me. But since it has come to that, I will tell you in secret: my happy family life is only a grievous misunderstanding, and I am afraid of it.” His pale face was distorted by a wry smile. He put his arm round my waist and went on in an undertone:

“You are my true friend; I believe in you and have a deep respect for you. Heaven gave us friendship that we may open our hearts and escape from the secrets that weigh upon us. Let me take advantage of your friendly feeling for me and tell you the whole truth. My home life, which seems to you so enchanting, is my chief misery and my chief terror. I got married in a strange and stupid way. I must tell you that I was madly in love with Masha before I married her, and was courting her for two years. I asked her to marry me five times, and she refused me because she did not care for me in the least. The sixth, when burning with passion I crawled on my knees before her and implored her to take a beggar and marry me, she consented. . . . What she said to me was: ‘I don’t love you, but I will be true to you. . . .’ I accepted that condition with rapture. At the time I understood what that meant, but I swear to God I don’t understand it now. ‘I don’t love you, but I will be true to you.’ What does that mean? It’s a fog, a darkness. I love her now as intensely as I did the day we were married, while she, I believe, is as indifferent as ever, and I believe she is glad when I go away from home. I don’t know for certain whether she cares for me or not —I don’t know, I don’t know; but, as you see, we live under the same roof, call each other ‘thou,’ sleep together, have children, our property is in common. . . . What does it mean, what does it mean? What is the object of it? And do you understand it at all, my dear fellow? It’s cruel torture! Because I don’t understand our relations, I hate, sometimes her, sometimes myself, sometimes both at once. Everything is in a tangle in my brain; I torment myself and grow stupid. And as though to spite me, she grows more beautiful every day, she is getting more wonderful. . . I fancy her hair is marvellous, and her smile is like no other woman’s. I love her, and I know that my love is hopeless. Hopeless love for a woman by whom one has two children! Is that intelligible? And isn’t it terrible? Isn’t it more terrible than ghosts?”

He was in the mood to have talked on a good deal longer, but luckily we heard the coachman’s voice. Our horses had arrived. We got into the carriage, and Forty Martyrs, taking off his cap, helped us both into the carriage with an expression that suggested that he had long been waiting for an opportunity to come in contact with our precious persons.

“Dmitri Petrovitch, let me come to you,” he said, blinking furiously and tilting his head on one side. “Show divine mercy! I am dying of hunger!”

“Very well,” said Silin. “Come, you shall stay three days, and then we shall see.”

“Certainly, sir,” said Forty Martyrs, overjoyed. “I’ll come today, sir.”

It was a five miles’ drive home. Dmitri Petrovitch, glad that he had at last opened his heart to his friend, kept his arm round my waist all the way; and speaking now, not with bitterness and not with apprehension, but quite cheerfully, told me that if everything had been satisfactory in his home life, he should have returned to Petersburg and taken up scientific work there. The movement which had driven so many gifted young men into the country was, he said, a deplorable movement. We had plenty of rye and wheat in Russia, but absolutely no cultured people. The strong and gifted among the young ought to take up science, art, and politics; to act otherwise meant being wasteful. He generalized with pleasure and expressed regret that he would be parting from me early next morning, as he had to go to a sale of timber.

And I felt awkward and depressed, and it seemed to me that I was deceiving the man. And at the same time it was pleasant to me. I gazed at the immense crimson moon which was rising, and pictured the tall, graceful, fair woman, with her pale face, always well-dressed and fragrant with some special scent, rather like musk, and for some reason it pleased me to think she did not love her husband.

On reaching home, we sat down to supper. Marya Sergeyevna, laughing, regaled us with our purchases, and I thought that she certainly had wonderful hair and that her smile was unlike any other woman’s. I watched her, and I wanted to detect in every look and movement that she did not love her husband, and I fancied that I did see it.

Dmitri Petrovitch was soon struggling with sleep. After supper he sat with us for ten minutes and said:

“Do as you please, my friends, but I have to be up at three o’clock tomorrow morning. Excuse my leaving you.”

He kissed his wife tenderly, pressed my hand with warmth and gratitude, and made me promise that I would certainly come the following week. That he might not oversleep next morning, he went to spend the night in the lodge.

Marya Sergeyevna always sat up late, in the Petersburg fashion, and for some reason on this occasion I was glad of it.

“And now,” I began when we were left alone, “and now you’ll be kind and play me something.”

I felt no desire for music, but I did not know how to begin the conversation. She sat down to the piano and played, I don’t remember what. I sat down beside her and looked at her plump white hands and tried to read something on her cold, indifferent face. Then she smiled at something and looked at me.

“You are dull without your friend,” she said.

I laughed.

“It would be enough for friendship to be here once a month, but I turn up oftener than once a week.”

Saying this, I got up and walked from one end of the room to the other. She too got up and walked away to the fireplace.

“What do you mean to say by that?” she said, raising her large, clear eyes and looking at me.

I made no answer.

“What you say is not true,” she went on, after a moment’s thought. “You only come here on account of Dmitri Petrovitch. Well, I am very glad. One does not often see such friendships nowadays.”

“Aha!” I thought, and, not knowing what to say, I asked: “Would you care for a turn in the garden?”

I went out upon the verandah. Nervous shudders were running over my head and I felt chilly with excitement. I was convinced now that our conversation would be utterly trivial, and that there was nothing particular we should be able to say to one another, but that, that night, what I did not dare to dream of was bound to happen—that it was bound to be that night or never.

“What lovely weather!” I said aloud.

“It makes absolutely no difference to me,” she answered.

I went into the drawing-room. Marya Sergeyevna was standing, as before, near the fireplace, with her hands behind her back, looking away and thinking of something.

“Why does it make no difference to you?” I asked.

“Because I am bored. You are only bored without your friend, but I am always bored. However . . . that is of no interest to you.”

I sat down to the piano and struck a few chords, waiting to hear what she would say.

“Please don’t stand on ceremony,” she said, looking angrily at me, and she seemed as though on the point of crying with vexation. “If you are sleepy, go to bed. Because you are Dmitri Petrovitch’s friend, you are not in duty bound to be bored with his wife’s company. I don’t want a sacrifice. Please go.”

I did not, of course, go to bed. She went out on the verandah while I remained in the drawing-room and spent five minutes turning over the music. Then I went out, too. We stood close together in the shadow of the curtains, and below us were the steps bathed in moonlight. The black shadows of the trees stretched across the flower beds and the yellow sand of the paths.

“I shall have to go away tomorrow, too,” I said.

“Of course, if my husband’s not at home you can’t stay here,” she said sarcastically. “I can imagine how miserable you would be if you were in love with me! Wait a bit: one day I shall throw myself on your neck. . . . I shall see with what horror you will run away from me. That would be interesting.”

Her words and her pale face were angry, but her eyes were full of tender passionate love. I already looked upon this lovely creature as my property, and then for the first time I noticed that she had golden eyebrows, exquisite eyebrows. I had never seen such eyebrows before. The thought that I might at once press her to my heart, caress her, touch her wonderful hair, seemed to me such a miracle that I laughed and shut my eyes.

“It’s bed-time now. . . . A peaceful night,” she said.

“I don’t want a peaceful night,” I said, laughing, following her into the drawing-room. “I shall curse this night if it is a peaceful one.”

Pressing her hand, and escorting her to the door, I saw by her face that she understood me, and was glad that I understood her, too.

I went to my room. Near the books on the table lay Dmitri Petrovitch’s cap, and that reminded me of his affection for me. I took my stick and went out into the garden. The mist had risen here, too, and the same tall, narrow, ghostly shapes which I had seen earlier on the river were trailing round the trees and bushes and wrapping about them. What a pity I could not talk to them!

In the extraordinarily transparent air, each leaf, each drop of dew stood out distinctly; it was all smiling at me in the stillness half asleep, and as I passed the green seats I recalled the words in some play of Shakespeare’s: “How sweetly falls the moonlight on yon seat!”

There was a mound in the garden; I went up it and sat down. I was tormented by a delicious feeling. I knew for certain that in a moment I should hold in my arms, should press to my heart her magnificent body, should kiss her golden eyebrows; and I wanted to disbelieve it, to tantalize myself, and was sorry that she had cost me so little trouble and had yielded so soon.

But suddenly I heard heavy footsteps. A man of medium height appeared in the avenue, and I recognized him at once as Forty Martyrs. He sat down on the bench and heaved a deep sigh, then crossed himself three times and lay down. A minute later he got up and lay on the other side. The gnats and the dampness of the night prevented his sleeping.

“Oh, life!” he said. “Wretched, bitter life!”

Looking at his bent, wasted body and hearing his heavy, noisy sighs, I thought of an unhappy, bitter life of which the confession had been made to me that day, and I felt uneasy and frightened at my blissful mood. I came down the knoll and went to the house.

“Life, as he thinks, is terrible,” I thought, “so don’t stand on ceremony with it, bend it to your will, and until it crushes you, snatch all you can wring from it.”

Marya Sergeyevna was standing on the verandah. I put my arms round her without a word, and began greedily kissing her eyebrows, her temples, her neck. . . .

In my room she told me she had loved me for a long time, more than a year. She vowed eternal love, cried and begged me to take her away with me. I repeatedly took her to the window to look at her face in the moonlight, and she seemed to me a lovely dream, and I made haste to hold her tight to convince myself of the truth of it. It was long since I had known such raptures. . . . Yet somewhere far away at the bottom of my heart I felt an awkwardness, and I was ill at ease. In her love for me there was something incongruous and burdensome, just as in Dmitri Petrovitch’s friendship. It was a great, serious passion with tears and vows, and I wanted nothing serious in it—no tears, no vows, no talk of the future. Let that moonlight night flash through our lives like a meteor and—basta!

At three o’clock she went out of my room, and, while I was standing in the doorway, looking after her, at the end of the corridor Dmitri Petrovitch suddenly made his appearance; she started and stood aside to let him pass, and her whole figure was expressive of repulsion. He gave a strange smile, coughed, and came into my room.

“I forgot my cap here yesterday,” he said without looking at me.

He found it and, holding it in both hands, put it on his head; then he looked at my confused face, at my slippers, and said in a strange, husky voice unlike his own:

“I suppose it must be my fate that I should understand nothing. . . . If you understand anything, I congratulate you. It’s all darkness before my eyes.”

And he went out, clearing his throat. Afterwards from the window I saw him by the stable, harnessing the horses with his own hands. His hands were trembling, he was in nervous haste and kept looking round at the house; probably he was feeling terror. Then he got into the gig, and, with a strange expression as though afraid of being pursued, lashed the horses.

Shortly afterwards I set off, too. The sun was already rising, and the mist of the previous day clung timidly to the bushes and the hillocks. On the box of the carriage was sitting Forty Martyrs; he had already succeeded in getting drunk and was muttering tipsy nonsense.

“I am a free man,” he shouted to the horses. “Ah, my honeys, I am a nobleman in my own right, if you care to know!”

The terror of Dmitri Petrovitch, the thought of whom I could not get out of my head, infected me. I thought of what had happened and could make nothing of it. I looked at the rooks, and it seemed so strange and terrible that they were flying.

“Why have I done this?” I kept asking myself in bewilderment and despair. “Why has it turned out like this and not differently? To whom and for what was it necessary that she should love me in earnest, and that he should come into my room to fetch his cap? What had a cap to do with it?”

I set off for Petersburg that day, and I have not seen Dmitri Petrovitch nor his wife since. I am told that they are still living together.


A WOMAN’S KINGDOM

I

Christmas Eve

HERE was a thick roll of notes. It came from the bailiff at the forest villa; he wrote that he was sending fifteen hundred roubles, which he had been awarded as damages, having won an appeal. Anna Akimovna disliked and feared such words as “awarded damages” and “won the suit.” She knew that it was impossible to do without the law, but for some reason, whenever Nazaritch, the manager of the factory, or the bailiff of her villa in the country, both of whom frequently went to law, used to win lawsuits of some sort for her benefit, she always felt uneasy and, as it were, ashamed. On this occasion, too, she felt uneasy and awkward, and wanted to put that fifteen hundred roubles further away that it might be out of her sight.

She thought with vexation that other girls of her age—she was in her twenty-sixth year—were now busy looking after their households, were weary and would sleep sound, and would wake up tomorrow morning in holiday mood; many of them had long been married and had children. Only she, for some reason, was compelled to sit like an old woman over these letters, to make notes upon them, to write answers, then to do nothing the whole evening till midnight, but wait till she was sleepy; and tomorrow they would all day long be coming with Christmas greetings and asking for favours; and the day after tomorrow there would certainly be some scandal at the factory—some one would be beaten or would die of drinking too much vodka, and she would be fretted by pangs of conscience; and after the holidays Nazaritch would turn off some twenty of the workpeople for absence from work, and all of the twenty would hang about at the front door, without their caps on, and she would be ashamed to go out to them, and they would be driven away like dogs. And all her acquaintances would say behind her back, and write to her in anonymous letters, that she was a millionaire and exploiter —that she was devouring other men’s lives and sucking the blood of the workers.

Here there lay a heap of letters read through and laid aside already. They were all begging letters. They were from people who were hungry, drunken, dragged down by large families, sick, degraded, despised . . . . Anna Akimovna had already noted on each letter, three roubles to be paid to one, five to another; these letters would go the same day to the office, and next the distribution of assistance would take place, or, as the clerks used to say, the beasts would be fed.

They would distribute also in small sums four hundred and seventy roubles—the interest on a sum bequeathed by the late Akim Ivanovitch for the relief of the poor and needy. There would be a hideous crush. From the gates to the doors of the office there would stretch a long file of strange people with brutal faces, in rags, numb with cold, hungry and already drunk, in husky voices calling down blessings upon Anna Akimovna, their benefactress, and her parents: those at the back would press upon those in front, and those in front would abuse them with bad language. The clerk would get tired of the noise, the swearing, and the sing-song whining and blessing; would fly out and give some one a box on the ear to the delight of all. And her own people, the factory hands, who received nothing at Christmas but their wages, and had already spent every farthing of it, would stand in the middle of the yard, looking on and laughing—some enviously, others ironically.

“Merchants, and still more their wives, are fonder of beggars than they are of their own workpeople,” thought Anna Akimovna. “It’s always so.”

Her eye fell upon the roll of money. It would be nice to distribute that hateful, useless money among the workpeople tomorrow, but it did not do to give the workpeople anything for nothing, or they would demand it again next time. And what would be the good of fifteen hundred roubles when there were eighteen hundred workmen in the factory besides their wives and children? Or she might, perhaps, pick out one of the writers of those begging letters— some luckless man who had long ago lost all hope of anything better, and give him the fifteen hundred. The money would come upon the poor creature like a thunder-clap, and perhaps for the first time in his life he would feel happy. This idea struck Anna Akimovna as original and amusing, and it fascinated her. She took one letter at random out of the pile and read it. Some petty official called Tchalikov had long been out of a situation, was ill, and living in Gushtchin’s Buildings; his wife was in consumption, and he had five little girls. Anna Akimovna knew well the four-storeyed house, Gushtchin’s Buildings, in which Tchalikov lived. Oh, it was a horrid, foul, unhealthy house!

“Well, I will give it to that Tchalikov,” she decided. “I won’t send it; I had better take it myself to prevent unnecessary talk. Yes,” she reflected, as she put the fifteen hundred roubles in her pocket, “and I’ll have a look at them, and perhaps I can do something for the little girls.”

She felt light-hearted; she rang the bell and ordered the horses to be brought round.

When she got into the sledge it was past six o’clock in the evening. The windows in all the blocks of buildings were brightly lighted up, and that made the huge courtyard seem very dark: at the gates, and at the far end of the yard near the warehouses and the workpeople’s barracks, electric lamps were gleaming.

Anna Akimovna disliked and feared those huge dark buildings, warehouses, and barracks where the workmen lived. She had only once been in the main building since her father’s death. The high ceilings with iron girders; the multitude of huge, rapidly turning wheels, connecting straps and levers; the shrill hissing; the clank of steel; the rattle of the trolleys; the harsh puffing of steam; the faces—pale, crimson, or black with coal-dust; the shirts soaked with sweat; the gleam of steel, of copper, and of fire; the smell of oil and coal; and the draught, at times very hot and at times very cold—gave her an impression of hell. It seemed to her as though the wheels, the levers, and the hot hissing cylinders were trying to tear themselves away from their fastenings to crush the men, while the men, not hearing one another, ran about with anxious faces, and busied themselves about the machines, trying to stop their terrible movement. They showed Anna Akimovna something and respectfully explained it to her. She remembered how in the forge a piece of red-hot iron was pulled out of the furnace; and how an old man with a strap round his head, and another, a young man in a blue shirt with a chain on his breast, and an angry face, probably one of the foremen, struck the piece of iron with hammers; and how the golden sparks had been scattered in all directions; and how, a little afterwards, they had dragged out a huge piece of sheet-iron with a clang. The old man had stood erect and smiled, while the young man had wiped his face with his sleeve and explained something to her. And she remembered, too, how in another department an old man with one eye had been filing a piece of iron, and how the iron filings were scattered about; and how a red-haired man in black spectacles, with holes in his shirt, had been working at a lathe, making something out of a piece of steel: the lathe roared and hissed and squeaked, and Anna Akimovna felt sick at the sound, and it seemed as though they were boring into her ears. She looked, listened, did not understand, smiled graciously, and felt ashamed. To get hundreds of thousands of roubles from a business which one does not understand and cannot like—how strange it is!

And she had not once been in the workpeople’s barracks. There, she was told, it was damp; there were bugs, debauchery, anarchy. It was an astonishing thing: a thousand roubles were spent annually on keeping the barracks in good order, yet, if she were to believe the anonymous letters, the condition of the workpeople was growing worse and worse every year.

“There was more order in my father’s day,” thought Anna Akimovna, as she drove out of the yard, “because he had been a workman himself. I know nothing about it and only do silly things.”

She felt depressed again, and was no longer glad that she had come, and the thought of the lucky man upon whom fifteen hundred roubles would drop from heaven no longer struck her as original and amusing. To go to some Tchalikov or other, when at home a business worth a million was gradually going to pieces and being ruined, and the workpeople in the barracks were living worse than convicts, meant doing something silly and cheating her conscience. Along the highroad and across the fields near it, workpeople from the neighbouring cotton and paper factories were walking towards the lights of the town. There was the sound of talk and laughter in the frosty air. Anna Akimovna looked at the women and young people, and she suddenly felt a longing for a plain rough life among a crowd. She recalled vividly that far-away time when she used to be called Anyutka, when she was a little girl and used to lie under the same quilt with her mother, while a washerwoman who lodged with them used to wash clothes in the next room; while through the thin walls there came from the neighbouring flats sounds of laughter, swearing, children’s crying, the accordion, and the whirr of carpenters’ lathes and sewing-machines; while her father, Akim Ivanovitch, who was clever at almost every craft, would be soldering something near the stove, or drawing or planing, taking no notice whatever of the noise and stuffiness. And she longed to wash, to iron, to run to the shop and the tavern as she used to do every day when she lived with her mother. She ought to have been a work-girl and not the factory owner! Her big house with its chandeliers and pictures; her footman Mishenka, with his glossy moustache and swallowtail coat; the devout and dignified Varvarushka, and smooth-tongued Agafyushka; and the young people of both sexes who came almost every day to ask her for money, and with whom she always for some reason felt guilty; and the clerks, the doctors, and the ladies who were charitable at her expense, who flattered her and secretly despised her for her humble origin— how wearisome and alien it all was to her!

Here was the railway crossing and the city gate; then came houses alternating with kitchen gardens; and at last the broad street where stood the renowned Gushtchin’s Buildings. The street, usually quiet, was now on Christmas Eve full of life and movement. The eating-houses and beer-shops were noisy. If some one who did not belong to that quarter but lived in the centre of the town had driven through the street now, he would have noticed nothing but dirty, drunken, and abusive people; but Anna Akimovna, who had lived in those parts all her life, was constantly recognizing in the crowd her own father or mother or uncle. Her father was a soft fluid character, a little fantastical, frivolous, and irresponsible. He did not care for money, respectability, or power; he used to say that a working man had no time to keep the holy-days and go to church; and if it had not been for his wife, he would probably never have gone to confession, taken the sacrament or kept the fasts. While her uncle, Ivan Ivanovitch, on the contrary, was like flint; in everything relating to religion, politics, and morality, he was harsh and relentless, and kept a strict watch, not only over himself, but also over all his servants and acquaintances. God forbid that one should go into his room without crossing oneself before the ikon! The luxurious mansion in which Anna Akimovna now lived he had always kept locked up, and only opened it on great holidays for important visitors, while he lived himself in the office, in a little room covered with ikons. He had leanings towards the Old Believers, and was continually entertaining priests and bishops of the old ritual, though he had been christened, and married, and had buried his wife in accordance with the Orthodox rites. He disliked Akim, his only brother and his heir, for his frivolity, which he called simpleness and folly, and for his indifference to religion. He treated him as an inferior, kept him in the position of a workman, paid him sixteen roubles a month. Akim addressed his brother with formal respect, and on the days of asking forgiveness, he and his wife and daughter bowed down to the ground before him. But three years before his death Ivan Ivanovitch had drawn closer to his brother, forgave his shortcomings, and ordered him to get a governess for Anyutka.

There was a dark, deep, evil-smelling archway under Gushtchin’s Buildings; there was a sound of men coughing near the walls. Leaving the sledge in the street, Anna Akimovna went in at the gate and there inquired how to get to No. 46 to see a clerk called Tchalikov. She was directed to the furthest door on the right in the third story. And in the courtyard and near the outer door, and even on the stairs, there was still the same loathsome smell as under the archway. In Anna Akimovna’s childhood, when her father was a simple workman, she used to live in a building like that, and afterwards, when their circumstances were different, she had often visited them in the character of a Lady Bountiful. The narrow stone staircase with its steep dirty steps, with landings at every story; the greasy swinging lanterns; the stench; the troughs, pots, and rags on the landings near the doors,—all this had been familiar to her long ago. . . . One door was open, and within could be seen Jewish tailors in caps, sewing. Anna Akimovna met people on the stairs, but it never entered her head that people might be rude to her. She was no more afraid of peasants or workpeople, drunk or sober, than of her acquaintances of the educated class.

There was no entry at No. 46; the door opened straight into the kitchen. As a rule the dwellings of workmen and mechanics smell of varnish, tar, hides, smoke, according to the occupation of the tenant; the dwellings of persons of noble or official class who have come to poverty may be known by a peculiar rancid, sour smell. This disgusting smell enveloped Anna Akimovna on all sides, and as yet she was only on the threshold. A man in a black coat, no doubt Tchalikov himself, was sitting in a corner at the table with his back to the door, and with him were five little girls. The eldest, a broad-faced thin girl with a comb in her hair, looked about fifteen, while the youngest, a chubby child with hair that stood up like a hedge-hog, was not more than three. All the six were eating. Near the stove stood a very thin little woman with a yellow face, far gone in pregnancy. She was wearing a skirt and a white blouse, and had an oven fork in her hand.

“I did not expect you to be so disobedient, Liza,” the man was saying reproachfully. “Fie, fie, for shame! Do you want papa to whip you—eh?”

Seeing an unknown lady in the doorway, the thin woman started, and put down the fork.

“Vassily Nikititch!” she cried, after a pause, in a hollow voice, as though she could not believe her eyes.

The man looked round and jumped up. He was a flat-chested, bony man with narrow shoulders and sunken temples. His eyes were small and hollow with dark rings round them, he had a wide mouth, and a long nose like a bird’s beak—a little bit bent to the right. His beard was parted in the middle, his moustache was shaven, and this made him look more like a hired footman than a government clerk.

“Does Mr. Tchalikov live here?” asked Anna Akimovna.

“Yes, madam,” Tchalikov answered severely, but immediately recognizing Anna Akimovna, he cried: “Anna Akimovna!” and all at once he gasped and clasped his hands as though in terrible alarm. “Benefactress!”

With a moan he ran to her, grunting inarticulately as though he were paralyzed—there was cabbage on his beard and he smelt of vodka—pressed his forehead to her muff, and seemed as though he were in a swoon.

“Your hand, your holy hand!” he brought out breathlessly. “It’s a dream, a glorious dream! Children, awaken me!”

He turned towards the table and said in a sobbing voice, shaking his fists:

“Providence has heard us! Our saviour, our angel, has come! We are saved! Children, down on your knees! on your knees!”

Madame Tchalikov and the little girls, except the youngest one, began for some reason rapidly clearing the table.

“You wrote that your wife was very ill,” said Anna Akimovna, and she felt ashamed and annoyed. “I am not going to give them the fifteen hundred,” she thought.

“Here she is, my wife,” said Tchalikov in a thin feminine voice, as though his tears had gone to his head. “Here she is, unhappy creature! With one foot in the grave! But we do not complain, madam. Better death than such a life. Better die, unhappy woman!”

“Why is he playing these antics?” thought Anna Akimovna with annoyance. “One can see at once he is used to dealing with merchants.”

“Speak to me like a human being,” she said. “I don’t care for farces.‘’

“Yes, madam; five bereaved children round their mother’s coffin with funeral candles—that’s a farce? Eh?” said Tchalikov bitterly, and turned away.

“Hold your tongue,” whispered his wife, and she pulled at his sleeve. “The place has not been tidied up, madam,” she said, addressing Anna Akimovna; “please excuse it . . . you know what it is where there are children. A crowded hearth, but harmony.”

“I am not going to give them the fifteen hundred,” Anna Akimovna thought again.

And to escape as soon as possible from these people and from the sour smell, she brought out her purse and made up her mind to leave them twenty-five roubles, not more; but she suddenly felt ashamed that she had come so far and disturbed people for so little.

“If you give me paper and ink, I will write at once to a doctor who is a friend of mine to come and see you,” she said, flushing red. “He is a very good doctor. And I will leave you some money for medicine.”

Madame Tchalikov was hastening to wipe the table.

“It’s messy here! What are you doing?” hissed Tchalikov, looking at her wrathfully. “Take her to the lodger’s room! I make bold to ask you, madam, to step into the lodger’s room,” he said, addressing Anna Akimovna. “It’s clean there.”

“Osip Ilyitch told us not to go into his room!” said one of the little girls, sternly.

But they had already led Anna Akimovna out of the kitchen, through a narrow passage room between two bedsteads: it was evident from the arrangement of the beds that in one two slept lengthwise, and in the other three slept across the bed. In the lodger’s room, that came next, it really was clean. A neat-looking bed with a red woollen quilt, a pillow in a white pillow-case, even a slipper for the watch, a table covered with a hempen cloth and on it, an inkstand of milky-looking glass, pens, paper, photographs in frames— everything as it ought to be; and another table for rough work, on which lay tidily arranged a watchmaker’s tools and watches taken to pieces. On the walls hung hammers, pliers, awls, chisels, nippers, and so on, and there were three hanging clocks which were ticking; one was a big clock with thick weights, such as one sees in eating-houses.

As she sat down to write the letter, Anna Akimovna saw facing her on the table the photographs of her father and of herself. That surprised her.

“Who lives here with you?” she asked.

“Our lodger, madam, Pimenov. He works in your factory.”

“Oh, I thought he must be a watchmaker.”

“He repairs watches privately, in his leisure hours. He is an amateur.”

After a brief silence during which nothing could be heard but the ticking of the clocks and the scratching of the pen on the paper, Tchalikov heaved a sigh and said ironically, with indignation:

“It’s a true saying: gentle birth and a grade in the service won’t put a coat on your back. A cockade in your cap and a noble title, but nothing to eat. To my thinking, if any one of humble class helps the poor he is much more of a gentleman than any Tchalikov who has sunk into poverty and vice.”

To flatter Anna Akimovna, he uttered a few more disparaging phrases about his gentle birth, and it was evident that he was humbling himself because he considered himself superior to her. Meanwhile she had finished her letter and had sealed it up. The letter would be thrown away and the money would not be spent on medicine—that she knew, but she put twenty-five roubles on the table all the same, and after a moment’s thought, added two more red notes. She saw the wasted, yellow hand of Madame Tchalikov, like the claw of a hen, dart out and clutch the money tight.

“You have graciously given this for medicine,” said Tchalikov in a quivering voice, “but hold out a helping hand to me also . . . and the children!” he added with a sob. “My unhappy children! I am not afraid for myself; it is for my daughters I fear! It’s the hydra of vice that I fear!”

Trying to open her purse, the catch of which had gone wrong, Anna Akimovna was confused and turned red. She felt ashamed that people should be standing before her, looking at her hands and waiting, and most likely at the bottom of their hearts laughing at her. At that instant some one came into the kitchen and stamped his feet, knocking the snow off.

“The lodger has come in,” said Madame Tchalikov.

Anna Akimovna grew even more confused. She did not want any one from the factory to find her in this ridiculous position. As ill-luck would have it, the lodger came in at the very moment when, having broken the catch at last, she was giving Tchalikov some notes, and Tchalikov, grunting as though he were paraylzed, was feeling about with his lips where he could kiss her. In the lodger she recognized the workman who had once clanked the sheet-iron before her in the forge, and had explained things to her. Evidently he had come in straight from the factory; his face looked dark and grimy, and on one cheek near his nose was a smudge of soot. His hands were perfectly black, and his unbelted shirt shone with oil and grease. He was a man of thirty, of medium height, with black hair and broad shoulders, and a look of great physical strength. At the first glance Anna Akimovna perceived that he must be a foreman, who must be receiving at least thirty-five roubles a month, and a stern, loud-voiced man who struck the workmen in the face; all this was evident from his manner of standing, from the attitude he involuntarily assumed at once on seeing a lady in his room, and most of all from the fact that he did not wear top-boots, that he had breast pockets, and a pointed, picturesquely clipped beard. Her father, Akim Ivanovitch, had been the brother of the factory owner, and yet he had been afraid of foremen like this lodger and had tried to win their favour.

“Excuse me for having come in here in your absence,” said Anna Akimovna.

The workman looked at her in surprise, smiled in confusion and did not speak.

“You must speak a little louder, madam . . . .” said Tchalikov softly. “When Mr. Pimenov comes home from the factory in the evenings he is a little hard of hearing.”

But Anna Akimovna was by now relieved that there was nothing more for her to do here; she nodded to them and went rapidly out of the room. Pimenov went to see her out.

“Have you been long in our employment?” she asked in a loud voice, without turning to him.

“From nine years old. I entered the factory in your uncle’s time.”

“That’s a long while! My uncle and my father knew all the workpeople, and I know hardly any of them. I had seen you before, but I did not know your name was Pimenov.”

Anna Akimovna felt a desire to justify herself before him, to pretend that she had just given the money not seriously, but as a joke.

“Oh, this poverty,” she sighed. “We give charity on holidays and working days, and still there is no sense in it. I believe it is useless to help such people as this Tchalikov.”

“Of course it is useless,” he agreed. “However much you give him, he will drink it all away. And now the husband and wife will be snatching it from one another and fighting all night,” he added with a laugh.

“Yes, one must admit that our philanthropy is useless, boring, and absurd. But still, you must agree, one can’t sit with one’s hand in one’s lap; one must do something. What’s to be done with the Tchalikovs, for instance?”

She turned to Pimenov and stopped, expecting an answer from him; he, too, stopped and slowly, without speaking, shrugged his shoulders. Obviously he knew what to do with the Tchalikovs, but the treatment would have been so coarse and inhuman that he did not venture to put it into words. And the Tchalikovs were to him so utterly uninteresting and worthless, that a moment later he had forgotten them; looking into Anna Akimovna’s eyes, he smiled with pleasure, and his face wore an expression as though he were dreaming about something very pleasant. Only, now standing close to him, Anna Akimovna saw from his face, and especially from his eyes, how exhausted and sleepy he was.

“Here, I ought to give him the fifteen hundred roubles!” she thought, but for some reason this idea seemed to her incongruous and insulting to Pimenov.

“I am sure you are aching all over after your work, and you come to the door with me,” she said as they went down the stairs. “Go home.”

But he did not catch her words. When they came out into the street, he ran on ahead, unfastened the cover of the sledge, and helping Anna Akimovna in, said:

“I wish you a happy Christmas!”

II

Christmas Morning

“They have left off ringing ever so long! It’s dreadful; you won’t be there before the service is over! Get up!”

“Two horses are racing, racing . . .” said Anna Akimovna, and she woke up; before her, candle in hand, stood her maid, red-haired Masha. “Well, what is it?”

“Service is over already,” said Masha with despair. “I have called you three times! Sleep till evening for me, but you told me yourself to call you!”

Anna Akimovna raised herself on her elbow and glanced towards the window. It was still quite dark outside, and only the lower edge of the window-frame was white with snow. She could hear a low, mellow chime of bells; it was not the parish church, but somewhere further away. The watch on the little table showed three minutes past six.

“Very well, Masha. . . . In three minutes . . .” said Anna Akimovna in an imploring voice, and she snuggled under the bed-clothes.

She imagined the snow at the front door, the sledge, the dark sky, the crowd in the church, and the smell of juniper, and she felt dread at the thought; but all the same, she made up her mind that she would get up at once and go to early service. And while she was warm in bed and struggling with sleep—which seems, as though to spite one, particularly sweet when one ought to get up—and while she had visions of an immense garden on a mountain and then Gushtchin’s Buildings, she was worried all the time by the thought that she ought to get up that very minute and go to church.

But when she got up it was quite light, and it turned out to be half-past nine. There had been a heavy fall of snow in the night; the trees were clothed in white, and the air was particularly light, transparent, and tender, so that when Anna Akimovna looked out of the window her first impulse was to draw a deep, deep breath. And when she had washed, a relic of far-away childish feelings—joy that today was Christmas—suddenly stirred within her; after that she felt light-hearted, free and pure in soul, as though her soul, too, had been washed or plunged in the white snow. Masha came in, dressed up and tightly laced, and wished her a happy Christmas; then she spent a long time combing her mistress’s hair and helping her to dress. The fragrance and feeling of the new, gorgeous, splendid dress, its faint rustle, and the smell of fresh scent, excited Anna Akimoyna.

“Well, it’s Christmas,” she said gaily to Masha. “Now we will try our fortunes.”

“Last year, I was to marry an old man. It turned up three times the same.”

“Well, God is merciful.”

“Well, Anna Akimovna, what I think is, rather than neither one thing nor the other, I’d marry an old man,” said Masha mournfully, and she heaved a sigh. “I am turned twenty; it’s no joke.”

Every one in the house knew that red-haired Masha was in love with Mishenka, the footman, and this genuine, passionate, hopeless love had already lasted three years.

“Come, don’t talk nonsense,” Anna Akimovna consoled her. “I am going on for thirty, but I am still meaning to marry a young man.”

While his mistress was dressing, Mishenka, in a new swallow-tail and polished boots, walked about the hall and drawing-room and waited for her to come out, to wish her a happy Christmas. He had a peculiar walk, stepping softly and delicately; looking at his feet, his hands, and the bend of his head, it might be imagined that he was not simply walking, but learning to dance the first figure of a quadrille. In spite of his fine velvety moustache and handsome, rather flashy appearance, he was steady, prudent, and devout as an old man. He said his prayers, bowing down to the ground, and liked burning incense in his room. He respected people of wealth and rank and had a reverence for them; he despised poor people, and all who came to ask favours of any kind, with all the strength of his cleanly flunkey soul. Under his starched shirt he wore a flannel, winter and summer alike, being very careful of his health; his ears were plugged with cotton-wool.

When Anna Akimovna crossed the hall with Masha, he bent his head downwards a little and said in his agreeable, honeyed voice:

“I have the honour to congratulate you, Anna Akimovna, on the most solemn feast of the birth of our Lord.”

Anna Akimovna gave him five roubles, while poor Masha was numb with ecstasy. His holiday get-up, his attitude, his voice, and what he said, impressed her by their beauty and elegance; as she followed her mistress she could think of nothing, could see nothing, she could only smile, first blissfully and then bitterly. The upper story of the house was called the best or visitors’ half, while the name of the business part—old people’s or simply women’s part —was given to the rooms on the lower story where Aunt Tatyana Ivanovna kept house. In the upper part the gentry and educated visitors were entertained; in the lower story, simpler folk and the aunt’s personal friends. Handsome, plump, and healthy, still young and fresh, and feeling she had on a magnificent dress which seemed to her to diffuse a sort of radiance all about her, Anna Akimovna went down to the lower story. Here she was met with reproaches for forgetting God now that she was so highly educated, for sleeping too late for the service, and for not coming downstairs to break the fast, and they all clasped their hands and exclaimed with perfect sincerity that she was lovely, wonderful; and she believed it, laughed, kissed them, gave one a rouble, another three or five according to their position. She liked being downstairs. Wherever one looked there were shrines, ikons, little lamps, portraits of ecclesiastical personages—the place smelt of monks; there was a rattle of knives in the kitchen, and already a smell of something savoury, exceedingly appetizing, was pervading all the rooms. The yellow-painted floors shone, and from the doors narrow rugs with bright blue stripes ran like little paths to the ikon corner, and the sunshine was simply pouring in at the windows.

In the dining-room some old women, strangers, were sitting; in Varvarushka’s room, too, there were old women, and with them a deaf and dumb girl, who seemed abashed about something and kept saying, “Bli, bli! . . .” Two skinny-looking little girls who had been brought out of the orphanage for Christmas came up to kiss Anna Akimovna’s hand, and stood before her transfixed with admiration of her splendid dress; she noticed that one of the girls squinted, and in the midst of her light-hearted holiday mood she felt a sick pang at her heart at the thought that young men would despise the girl, and that she would never marry. In the cook Agafya’s room, five huge peasants in new shirts were sitting round the samovar; these were not workmen from the factory, but relations of the cook. Seeing Anna Akimovna, all the peasants jumped up from their seats, and from regard for decorum, ceased munching, though their mouths were full. The cook Stepan, in a white cap, with a knife in his hand, came into the room and gave her his greetings; porters in high felt boots came in, and they, too, offered their greetings. The water-carrier peeped in with icicles on his beard, but did not venture to come in.

Anna Akimovna walked through the rooms followed by her retinue— the aunt, Varvarushka, Nikandrovna, the sewing-maid Marfa Petrovna, and the downstairs Masha. Varvarushka—a tall, thin, slender woman, taller than any one in the house, dressed all in black, smelling of cypress and coffee—crossed herself in each room before the ikon, bowing down from the waist. And whenever one looked at her one was reminded that she had already prepared her shroud and that lottery tickets were hidden away by her in the same box.

“Anyutinka, be merciful at Christmas,” she said, opening the door into the kitchen. “Forgive him, bless the man! Have done with it!”

The coachman Panteley, who had been dismissed for drunkenness in November, was on his knees in the middle of the kitchen. He was a good-natured man, but he used to be unruly when he was drunk, and could not go to sleep, but persisted in wandering about the buildings and shouting in a threatening voice, “I know all about it!” Now from his beefy and bloated face and from his bloodshot eyes it could be seen that he had been drinking continually from November till Christmas.

“Forgive me, Anna Akimovna,” he brought out in a hoarse voice, striking his forehead on the floor and showing his bull-like neck.

“It was Auntie dismissed you; ask her.”

“What about auntie?” said her aunt, walking into the kitchen, breathing heavily; she was very stout, and on her bosom one might have stood a tray of teacups and a samovar. “What about auntie now? You are mistress here, give your own orders; though these rascals might be all dead for all I care. Come, get up, you hog!” she shouted at Panteley, losing patience. “Get out of my sight! It’s the last time I forgive you, but if you transgress again—don’t ask for mercy!”

Then they went into the dining-room to coffee. But they had hardly sat down, when the downstairs Masha rushed headlong in, saying with horror, “The singers!” And ran back again. They heard some one blowing his nose, a low bass cough, and footsteps that sounded like horses’ iron-shod hoofs tramping about the entry near the hall. For half a minute all was hushed. . . . The singers burst out so suddenly and loudly that every one started. While they were singing, the priest from the almshouses with the deacon and the sexton arrived. Putting on the stole, the priest slowly said that when they were ringing for matins it was snowing and not cold, but that the frost was sharper towards morning, God bless it! and now there must be twenty degrees of frost.

“Many people maintain, though, that winter is healthier than summer,” said the deacon; then immediately assumed an austere expression and chanted after the priest. “Thy Birth, O Christ our Lord. . . .”

Soon the priest from the workmen’s hospital came with the deacon, then the Sisters from the hospital, children from the orphanage, and then singing could be heard almost uninterruptedly. They sang, had lunch, and went away.

About twenty men from the factory came to offer their Christmas greetings. They were only the foremen, mechanicians, and their assistants, the pattern-makers, the accountant, and so on—all of good appearance, in new black coats. They were all first-rate men, as it were picked men; each one knew his value—that is, knew that if he lost his berth today, people would be glad to take him on at another factory. Evidently they liked Auntie, as they behaved freely in her presence and even smoked, and when they had all trooped in to have something to eat, the accountant put his arm round her immense waist. They were free-and-easy, perhaps, partly also because Varvarushka, who under the old masters had wielded great power and had kept watch over the morals of the clerks, had now no authority whatever in the house; and perhaps because many of them still remembered the time when Auntie Tatyana Ivanovna, whose brothers kept a strict hand over her, had been dressed like a simple peasant woman like Agafya, and when Anna Akimovna used to run about the yard near the factory buildings and every one used to call her Anyutya.

The foremen ate, talked, and kept looking with amazement at Anna Akimovna, how she had grown up and how handsome she had become! But this elegant girl, educated by governesses and teachers, was a stranger to them; they could not understand her, and they instinctively kept closer to “Auntie,” who called them by their names, continually pressed them to eat and drink, and, clinking glasses with them, had already drunk two wineglasses of rowanberry wine with them. Anna Akimovna was always afraid of their thinking her proud, an upstart, or a crow in peacock’s feathers; and now while the foremen were crowding round the food, she did not leave the dining-room, but took part in the conversation. She asked Pimenov, her acquaintance of the previous day:

“Why have you so many clocks in your room?”

“I mend clocks,” he answered. “I take the work up between times, on holidays, or when I can’t sleep.”

“So if my watch goes wrong I can bring it to you to be repaired?” Anna Akimovna asked, laughing.

“To be sure, I will do it with pleasure,” said Pimenov, and there was an expression of tender devotion in his face, when, not herself knowing why, she unfastened her magnificent watch from its chain and handed it to him; he looked at it in silence and gave it back. “To be sure, I will do it with pleasure,” he repeated. “I don’t mend watches now. My eyes are weak, and the doctors have forbidden me to do fine work. But for you I can make an exception.”

“Doctors talk nonsense,” said the accountant. They all laughed. “Don’t you believe them,” he went on, flattered by the laughing; “last year a tooth flew out of a cylinder and hit old Kalmykov such a crack on the head that you could see his brains, and the doctor said he would die; but he is alive and working to this day, only he has taken to stammering since that mishap.”

“Doctors do talk nonsense, they do, but not so much,” sighed Auntie. “Pyotr Andreyitch, poor dear, lost his sight. Just like you, he used to work day in day out at the factory near the hot furnace, and he went blind. The eyes don’t like heat. But what are we talking about?” she said, rousing herself. “Come and have a drink. My best wishes for Christmas, my dears. I never drink with any one else, but I drink with you, sinful woman as I am. Please God!”

Anna Akimovna fancied that after yesterday Pimenov despised her as a philanthropist, but was fascinated by her as a woman. She looked at him and thought that he behaved very charmingly and was nicely dressed. It is true that the sleeves of his coat were not quite long enough, and the coat itself seemed short-waisted, and his trousers were not wide and fashionable, but his tie was tied carelessly and with taste and was not as gaudy as the others’. And he seemed to be a good-natured man, for he ate submissively whatever Auntie put on his plate. She remembered how black he had been the day before, and how sleepy, and the thought of it for some reason touched her.

When the men were preparing to go, Anna Akimovna put out her hand to Pimenov. She wanted to ask him to come in sometimes to see her, without ceremony, but she did not know how to—her tongue would not obey her; and that they might not think she was attracted by Pimenov, she shook hands with his companions, too.

Then the boys from the school of which she was a patroness came. They all had their heads closely cropped and all wore grey blouses of the same pattern. The teacher—a tall, beardless young man with patches of red on his face—was visibly agitated as he formed the boys into rows; the boys sang in tune, but with harsh, disagreeable voices. The manager of the factory, Nazaritch, a bald, sharp-eyed Old Believer, could never get on with the teachers, but the one who was now anxiously waving his hands he despised and hated, though he could not have said why. He behaved rudely and condescendingly to the young man, kept back his salary, meddled with the teaching, and had finally tried to dislodge him by appointing, a fortnight before Christmas, as porter to the school a drunken peasant, a distant relation of his wife’s, who disobeyed the teacher and said rude things to him before the boys.

Anna Akimovna was aware of all this, but she could be of no help, for she was afraid of Nazaritch herself. Now she wanted at least to be very nice to the schoolmaster, to tell him she was very much pleased with him; but when after the singing he began apologizing for something in great confusion, and Auntie began to address him familiarly as she drew him without ceremony to the table, she felt, for some reason, bored and awkward, and giving orders that the children should be given sweets, went upstairs.

“In reality there is something cruel in these Christmas customs,” she said a little while afterwards, as it were to herself, looking out of window at the boys, who were flocking from the house to the gates and shivering with cold, putting their coats on as they ran. “At Christmas one wants to rest, to sit at home with one’s own people, and the poor boys, the teacher, and the clerks and foremen, are obliged for some reason to go through the frost, then to offer their greetings, show their respect, be put to confusion . . .”

Mishenka, who was standing at the door of the drawing-room and overheard this, said:

“It has not come from us, and it will not end with us. Of course, I am not an educated man, Anna Akimovna, but I do understand that the poor must always respect the rich. It is well said, ‘God marks the rogue.’ In prisons, night refuges, and pot-houses you never see any but the poor, while decent people, you may notice, are always rich. It has been said of the rich, ‘Deep calls to deep.’”

“You always express yourself so tediously and incomprehensibly,” said Anna Akimovna, and she walked to the other end of the big drawing-room.

It was only just past eleven. The stillness of the big room, only broken by the singing that floated up from below, made her yawn. The bronzes, the albums, and the pictures on the walls, representing a ship at sea, cows in a meadow, and views of the Rhine, were so absolutely stale that her eyes simply glided over them without observing them. The holiday mood was already growing tedious. As before, Anna Akimovna felt that she was beautiful, good-natured, and wonderful, but now it seemed to her that that was of no use to any one; it seemed to her that she did not know for whom and for what she had put on this expensive dress, too, and, as always happened on all holidays, she began to be fretted by loneliness and the persistent thought that her beauty, her health, and her wealth, were a mere cheat, since she was not wanted, was of no use to any one, and nobody loved her. She walked through all the rooms, humming and looking out of window; stopping in the drawing-room, she could not resist beginning to talk to Mishenka.

“I don’t know what you think of yourself, Misha,” she said, and heaved a sigh. “Really, God might punish you for it.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean. Excuse my meddling in your affairs. But it seems you are spoiling your own life out of obstinacy. You’ll admit that it is high time you got married, and she is an excellent and deserving girl. You will never find any one better. She’s a beauty, clever, gentle, and devoted. . . . And her appearance! . . . If she belonged to our circle or a higher one, people would be falling in love with her for her red hair alone. See how beautifully her hair goes with her complexion. Oh, goodness! You don’t understand anything, and don’t know what you want,” Anna Akimovna said bitterly, and tears came into her eyes. “Poor girl, I am so sorry for her! I know you want a wife with money, but I have told you already I will give Masha a dowry.”

Mishenka could not picture his future spouse in his imagination except as a tall, plump, substantial, pious woman, stepping like a peacock, and, for some reason, with a long shawl over her shoulders; while Masha was thin, slender, tightly laced, and walked with little steps, and, worst of all, she was too fascinating and at times extremely attractive to Mishenka, and that, in his opinion, was incongruous with matrimony and only in keeping with loose behaviour. When Anna Akimovna had promised to give Masha a dowry, he had hesitated for a time; but once a poor student in a brown overcoat over his uniform, coming with a letter for Anna Akimovna, was fascinated by Masha, and could not resist embracing her near the hat-stand, and she had uttered a faint shriek; Mishenka, standing on the stairs above, had seen this, and from that time had begun to cherish a feeling of disgust for Masha. A poor student! Who knows, if she had been embraced by a rich student or an officer the consequences might have been different.

“Why don’t you wish it?” Anna Akimovna asked. “What more do you want?”

Mishenka was silent and looked at the arm-chair fixedly, and raised his eyebrows.

“Do you love some one else?”

Silence. The red-haired Masha came in with letters and visiting cards on a tray. Guessing that they were talking about her, she blushed to tears.

“The postmen have come,” she muttered. “And there is a clerk called Tchalikov waiting below. He says you told him to come to-day for something.”

“What insolence!” said Anna Akimovna, moved to anger. “I gave him no orders. Tell him to take himself off; say I am not at home!”

A ring was heard. It was the priests from her parish. They were always shown into the aristocratic part of the house—that is, upstairs. After the priests, Nazaritch, the manager of the factory, came to pay his visit, and then the factory doctor; then Mishenka announced the inspector of the elementary schools. Visitors kept arriving.

When there was a moment free, Anna Akimovna sat down in a deep arm-chair in the drawing-room, and shutting her eyes, thought that her loneliness was quite natural because she had not married and never would marry. . . . But that was not her fault. Fate itself had flung her out of the simple working-class surroundings in which, if she could trust her memory, she had felt so snug and at home, into these immense rooms, where she could never think what to do with herself, and could not understand why so many people kept passing before her eyes. What was happening now seemed to her trivial, useless, since it did not and could not give her happiness for one minute.

“If I could fall in love,” she thought, stretching; the very thought of this sent a rush of warmth to her heart. “And if I could escape from the factory . . .” she mused, imagining how the weight of those factory buildings, barracks, and schools would roll off her conscience, roll off her mind. . . . Then she remembered her father, and thought if he had lived longer he would certainly have married her to a working man—to Pimenov, for instance. He would have told her to marry, and that would have been all about it. And it would have been a good thing; then the factory would have passed into capable hands.

She pictured his curly head, his bold profile, his delicate, ironical lips and the strength, the tremendous strength, in his shoulders, in his arms, in his chest, and the tenderness with which he had looked at her watch that day.

“Well,” she said, “it would have been all right. I would have married him.”

“Anna Akimovna,” said Mishenka, coming noiselessly into the drawing-room.

“How you frightened me!” she said, trembling all over. “What do you want?”

“Anna Akimovna,” he said, laying his hand on his heart and raising his eyebrows, “you are my mistress and my benefactress, and no one but you can tell me what I ought to do about marriage, for you are as good as a mother to me. . . . But kindly forbid them to laugh and jeer at me downstairs. They won’t let me pass without it.”

“How do they jeer at you?”

“They call me Mashenka’s Mishenka.”

“Pooh, what nonsense!” cried Anna Akimovna indignantly. “How stupid you all are! What a stupid you are, Misha! How sick I am of you! I can’t bear the sight of you.”

III

Dinner

Just as the year before, the last to pay her visits were Krylin, an actual civil councillor, and Lysevitch, a well-known barrister. It was already dark when they arrived. Krylin, a man of sixty, with a wide mouth and with grey whiskers close to his ears, with a face like a lynx, was wearing a uniform with an Anna ribbon, and white trousers. He held Anna Akimovna’s hand in both of his for a long while, looked intently in her face, moved his lips, and at last said, drawling upon one note:

“I used to respect your uncle . . . and your father, and enjoyed the privilege of their friendship. Now I feel it an agreeable duty, as you see, to present my Christmas wishes to their honoured heiress in spite of my infirmities and the distance I have to come. . . . And I am very glad to see you in good health.”

The lawyer Lysevitch, a tall, handsome fair man, with a slight sprinkling of grey on his temples and beard, was distinguished by exceptionally elegant manners; he walked with a swaying step, bowed as it were reluctantly, and shrugged his shoulders as he talked, and all this with an indolent grace, like a spoiled horse fresh from the stable. He was well fed, extremely healthy, and very well off; on one occasion he had won forty thousand roubles, but concealed the fact from his friends. He was fond of good fare, especially cheese, truffles, and grated radish with hemp oil; while in Paris he had eaten, so he said, baked but unwashed guts. He spoke smoothly, fluently, without hesitation, and only occasionally, for the sake of effect, permitted himself to hesitate and snap his fingers as if picking up a word. He had long ceased to believe in anything he had to say in the law courts, or perhaps he did believe in it, but attached no kind of significance to it; it had all so long been familiar, stale, ordinary. . . . He believed in nothing but what was original and unusual. A copy-book moral in an original form would move him to tears. Both his notebooks were filled with extraordinary expressions which he had read in various authors; and when he needed to look up any expression, he would search nervously in both books, and usually failed to find it. Anna Akimovna’s father had in a good-humoured moment ostentatiously appointed him legal adviser in matters concerning the factory, and had assigned him a salary of twelve thousand roubles. The legal business of the factory had been confined to two or three trivial actions for recovering debts, which Lysevitch handed to his assistants.

Anna Akimovna knew that he had nothing to do at the factory, but she could not dismiss him—she had not the moral courage; and besides, she was used to him. He used to call himself her legal adviser, and his salary, which he invariably sent for on the first of the month punctually, he used to call “stern prose.” Anna Akimovna knew that when, after her father’s death, the timber of her forest was sold for railway sleepers, Lysevitch had made more than fifteen thousand out of the transaction, and had shared it with Nazaritch. When first she found out they had cheated her she had wept bitterly, but afterwards she had grown used to it.

Wishing her a happy Christmas, and kissing both her hands, he looked her up and down, and frowned.

“You mustn’t,” he said with genuine disappointment. “I have told you, my dear, you mustn’t!”

“What do you mean, Viktor Nikolaitch?”

“I have told you you mustn’t get fat. All your family have an unfortunate tendency to grow fat. You mustn’t,” he repeated in an imploring voice, and kissed her hand. “You are so handsome! You are so splendid! Here, your Excellency, let me introduce the one woman in the world whom I have ever seriously loved.”

“There is nothing surprising in that. To know Anna Akimovna at your age and not to be in love with her, that would be impossible.”

“I adore her,” the lawyer continued with perfect sincerity, but with his usual indolent grace. “I love her, but not because I am a man and she is a woman. When I am with her I always feel as though she belongs to some third sex, and I to a fourth, and we float away together into the domain of the subtlest shades, and there we blend into the spectrum. Leconte de Lisle defines such relations better than any one. He has a superb passage, a marvellous passage. . . .”

Lysevitch rummaged in one notebook, then in the other, and, not finding the quotation, subsided. They began talking of the weather, of the opera, of the arrival, expected shortly, of Duse. Anna Akimovna remembered that the year before Lysevitch and, she fancied, Krylin had dined with her, and now when they were getting ready to go away, she began with perfect sincerity pointing out to them in an imploring voice that as they had no more visits to pay, they ought to remain to dinner with her. After some hesitation the visitors agreed.

In addition to the family dinner, consisting of cabbage soup, sucking pig, goose with apples, and so on, a so-called “French” or “chef’s” dinner used to be prepared in the kitchen on great holidays, in case any visitor in the upper story wanted a meal. When they heard the clatter of crockery in the dining-room, Lysevitch began to betray a noticeable excitement; he rubbed his hands, shrugged his shoulders, screwed up his eyes, and described with feeling what dinners her father and uncle used to give at one time, and a marvellous matelote of turbots the cook here could make: it was not a matelote, but a veritable revelation! He was already gloating over the dinner, already eating it in imagination and enjoying it. When Anna Akimovna took his arm and led him to the dining-room, he tossed off a glass of vodka and put a piece of salmon in his mouth; he positively purred with pleasure. He munched loudly, disgustingly, emitting sounds from his nose, while his eyes grew oily and rapacious.

The hors d’oeuvres were superb; among other things, there were fresh white mushrooms stewed in cream, and sauce provençale made of fried oysters and crayfish, strongly flavoured with some bitter pickles. The dinner, consisting of elaborate holiday dishes, was excellent, and so were the wines. Mishenka waited at table with enthusiasm. When he laid some new dish on the table and lifted the shining cover, or poured out the wine, he did it with the solemnity of a professor of black magic, and, looking at his face and his movements suggesting the first figure of a quadrille, the lawyer thought several times, “What a fool!”

After the third course Lysevitch said, turning to Anna Akimovna:

“The fin de siècle woman—I mean when she is young, and of course wealthy—must be independent, clever, elegant, intellectual, bold, and a little depraved. Depraved within limits, a little; for excess, you know, is wearisome. You ought not to vegetate, my dear; you ought not to live like every one else, but to get the full savour of life, and a slight flavour of depravity is the sauce of life. Revel among flowers of intoxicating fragrance, breathe the perfume of musk, eat hashish, and best of all, love, love, love . . . . To begin with, in your place I would set up seven lovers—one for each day of the week; and one I would call Monday, one Tuesday, the third Wednesday, and so on, so that each might know his day.”

This conversation troubled Anna Akimovna; she ate nothing and only drank a glass of wine.

“Let me speak at last,” she said. “For myself personally, I can’t conceive of love without family life. I am lonely, lonely as the moon in the sky, and a waning moon, too; and whatever you may say, I am convinced, I feel that this waning can only be restored by love in its ordinary sense. It seems to me that such love would define my duties, my work, make clear my conception of life. I want from love peace of soul, tranquillity; I want the very opposite of musk, and spiritualism, and fin de siècle . . . in short”—she grew embarrassed—“a husband and children.”

“You want to be married? Well, you can do that, too,” Lysevitch assented. “You ought to have all experiences: marriage, and jealousy, and the sweetness of the first infidelity, and even children. . . . But make haste and live—make haste, my dear: time is passing; it won’t wait.”

“Yes, I’ll go and get married!” she said, looking angrily at his well-fed, satisfied face. “I will marry in the simplest, most ordinary way and be radiant with happiness. And, would you believe it, I will marry some plain working man, some mechanic or draughtsman.”

“There is no harm in that, either. The Duchess Josiana loved Gwinplin, and that was permissible for her because she was a grand duchess. Everything is permissible for you, too, because you are an exceptional woman: if, my dear, you want to love a negro or an Arab, don’t scruple; send for a negro. Don’t deny yourself anything. You ought to be as bold as your desires; don’t fall short of them.”

“Can it be so hard to understand me?” Anna Akimovna asked with amazement, and her eyes were bright with tears. “Understand, I have an immense business on my hands—two thousand workmen, for whom I must answer before God. The men who work for me grow blind and deaf. I am afraid to go on like this; I am afraid! I am wretched, and you have the cruelty to talk to me of negroes and . . . and you smile!” Anna Akimovna brought her fist down on the table. “To go on living the life I am living now, or to marry some one as idle and incompetent as myself, would be a crime. I can’t go on living like this,” she said hotly, “I cannot!”

“How handsome she is!” said Lysevitch, fascinated by her. “My God, how handsome she is! But why are you angry, my dear? Perhaps I am wrong; but surely you don’t imagine that if, for the sake of ideas for which I have the deepest respect, you renounce the joys of life and lead a dreary existence, your workmen will be any the better for it? Not a scrap! No, frivolity, frivolity!” he said decisively. “It’s essential for you; it’s your duty to be frivolous and depraved! Ponder that, my dear, ponder it.”

Anna Akimovna was glad she had spoken out, and her spirits rose. She was pleased she had spoken so well, and that her ideas were so fine and just, and she was already convinced that if Pimenov, for instance, loved her, she would marry him with pleasure.

Mishenka began to pour out champagne.

“You make me angry, Viktor Nikolaitch,” she said, clinking glasses with the lawyer. “It seems to me you give advice and know nothing of life yourself. According to you, if a man be a mechanic or a draughtsman, he is bound to be a peasant and an ignoramus! But they are the cleverest people! Extraordinary people!”

“Your uncle and father . . . I knew them and respected them . . .” Krylin said, pausing for emphasis (he had been sitting upright as a post, and had been eating steadily the whole time), “were people of considerable intelligence and . . . of lofty spiritual qualities.”

“Oh, to be sure, we know all about their qualities,” the lawyer muttered, and asked permission to smoke.

When dinner was over Krylin was led away for a nap. Lysevitch finished his cigar, and, staggering from repletion, followed Anna Akimovna into her study. Cosy corners with photographs and fans on the walls, and the inevitable pink or pale blue lanterns in the middle of the ceiling, he did not like, as the expression of an insipid and unoriginal character; besides, the memory of certain of his love affairs of which he was now ashamed was associated with such lanterns. Anna Akimovna’s study with its bare walls and tasteless furniture pleased him exceedingly. It was snug and comfortable for him to sit on a Turkish divan and look at Anna Akimovna, who usually sat on the rug before the fire, clasping her knees and looking into the fire and thinking of something; and at such moments it seemed to him that her peasant Old Believer blood was stirring within her.

Every time after dinner when coffee and liqueurs were handed, he grew livelier and began telling her various bits of literary gossip. He spoke with eloquence and inspiration, and was carried away by his own stories; and she listened to him and thought every time that for such enjoyment it was worth paying not only twelve thousand, but three times that sum, and forgave him everything she disliked in him. He sometimes told her the story of some tale or novel he had been reading, and then two or three hours passed unnoticed like a minute. Now he began rather dolefully in a failing voice with his eyes shut.

“It’s ages, my dear, since I have read anything,” he said when she asked him to tell her something. “Though I do sometimes read Jules Verne.”

“I was expecting you to tell me something new.”

“H’m! . . . new,” Lysevitch muttered sleepily, and he settled himself further back in the corner of the sofa. “None of the new literature, my dear, is any use for you or me. Of course, it is bound to be such as it is, and to refuse to recognize it is to refuse to recognize —would mean refusing to recognize the natural order of things, and I do recognize it, but . . .” Lysevitch seemed to have fallen asleep. But a minute later his voice was heard again:

“All the new literature moans and howls like the autumn wind in the chimney. ‘Ah, unhappy wretch! Ah, your life may be likened to a prison! Ah, how damp and dark it is in your prison! Ah, you will certainly come to ruin, and there is no chance of escape for you!’ That’s very fine, but I should prefer a literature that would tell us how to escape from prison. Of all contemporary writers, however, I prefer Maupassant.” Lysevitch opened his eyes. “A fine writer, a perfect writer!” Lysevitch shifted in his seat. “A wonderful artist! A terrible, prodigious, supernatural artist!” Lysevitch got up from the sofa and raised his right arm. “Maupassant!” he said rapturously. “My dear, read Maupassant! one page of his gives you more than all the riches of the earth! Every line is a new horizon. The softest, tenderest impulses of the soul alternate with violent tempestuous sensations; your soul, as though under the weight of forty thousand atmospheres, is transformed into the most insignificant little bit of some great thing of an undefined rosy hue which I fancy, if one could put it on one’s tongue, would yield a pungent, voluptuous taste. What a fury of transitions, of motives, of melodies! You rest peacefully on the lilies and the roses, and suddenly a thought —a terrible, splendid, irresistible thought—swoops down upon you like a locomotive, and bathes you in hot steam and deafens you with its whistle. Read Maupassant, dear girl; I insist on it.”

Lysevitch waved his arms and paced from corner to corner in violent excitement.

“Yes, it is inconceivable,” he pronounced, as though in despair; “his last thing overwhelmed me, intoxicated me! But I am afraid you will not care for it. To be carried away by it you must savour it, slowly suck the juice from each line, drink it in. . . . You must drink it in! . . .”

After a long introduction, containing many words such as dæmonic sensuality, a network of the most delicate nerves, simoom, crystal, and so on, he began at last telling the story of the novel. He did not tell the story so whimsically, but told it in minute detail, quoting from memory whole descriptions and conversations; the characters of the novel fascinated him, and to describe them he threw himself into attitudes, changed the expression of his face and voice like a real actor. He laughed with delight at one moment in a deep bass, and at another, on a high shrill note, clasped his hands and clutched at his head with an expression which suggested that it was just going to burst. Anna Akimovna listened enthralled, though she had already read the novel, and it seemed to her ever so much finer and more subtle in the lawyer’s version than in the book itself. He drew her attention to various subtleties, and emphasized the felicitous expressions and the profound thoughts, but she saw in it, only life, life, life and herself, as though she had been a character in the novel. Her spirits rose, and she, too, laughing and clasping her hands, thought that she could not go on living such a life, that there was no need to have a wretched life when one might have a splendid one. She remembered her words and thoughts at dinner, and was proud of them; and when Pimenov suddenly rose up in her imagination, she felt happy and longed for him to love her.

When he had finished the story, Lysevitch sat down on the sofa, exhausted.

“How splendid you are! How handsome!” he began, a little while afterwards in a faint voice as if he were ill. “I am happy near you, dear girl, but why am I forty-two instead of thirty? Your tastes and mine do not coincide: you ought to be depraved, and I have long passed that phase, and want a love as delicate and immaterial as a ray of sunshine—that is, from the point of view of a woman of your age, I am of no earthly use.”

In his own words, he loved Turgenev, the singer of virginal love and purity, of youth, and of the melancholy Russian landscape; but he loved virginal love, not from knowledge but from hearsay, as something abstract, existing outside real life. Now he assured himself that he loved Anna Akimovna platonically, ideally, though he did not know what those words meant. But he felt comfortable, snug, warm. Anna Akimovna seemed to him enchanting, original, and he imagined that the pleasant sensation that was aroused in him by these surroundings was the very thing that was called platonic love.

He laid his cheek on her hand and said in the tone commonly used in coaxing little children:

“My precious, why have you punished me?”

“How? When?”

“I have had no Christmas present from you.”

Anna Akimovna had never heard before of their sending a Christmas box to the lawyer, and now she was at a loss how much to give him. But she must give him something, for he was expecting it, though he looked at her with eyes full of love.

“I suppose Nazaritch forgot it,” she said, “but it is not too late to set it right.”

She suddenly remembered the fifteen hundred she had received the day before, which was now lying in the toilet drawer in her bedroom. And when she brought that ungrateful money and gave it to the lawyer, and he put it in his coat pocket with indolent grace, the whole incident passed off charmingly and naturally. The sudden reminder of a Christmas box and this fifteen hundred was not unbecoming in Lysevitch.

“Merci,” he said, and kissed her finger.

Krylin came in with blissful, sleepy face, but without his decorations.

Lysevitch and he stayed a little longer and drank a glass of tea each, and began to get ready to go. Anna Akimovna was a little embarrassed. . . . She had utterly forgotten in what department Krylin served, and whether she had to give him money or not; and if she had to, whether to give it now or send it afterwards in an envelope.

“Where does he serve?” she whispered to Lysevitch.

“Goodness knows,” muttered Lysevitch, yawning.

She reflected that if Krylin used to visit her father and her uncle and respected them, it was probably not for nothing: apparently he had been charitable at their expense, serving in some charitable institution. As she said good-bye she slipped three hundred roubles into his hand; he seemed taken aback, and looked at her for a minute in silence with his pewtery eyes, but then seemed to understand and said:

“The receipt, honoured Anna Akimovna, you can only receive on the New Year.”

Lysevitch had become utterly limp and heavy, and he staggered when Mishenka put on his overcoat.

As he went downstairs he looked like a man in the last stage of exhaustion, and it was evident that he would drop asleep as soon as he got into his sledge.

“Your Excellency,” he said languidly to Krylin, stopping in the middle of the staircase, “has it ever happened to you to experience a feeling as though some unseen force were drawing you out longer and longer? You are drawn out and turn into the finest wire. Subjectively this finds expression in a curious voluptuous feeling which is impossible to compare with anything.”

Anna Akimovna, standing at the top of the stairs, saw each of them give Mishenka a note.

“Good-bye! Come again!” she called to them, and ran into her bedroom.

She quickly threw off her dress, that she was weary of already, put on a dressing-gown, and ran downstairs; and as she ran downstairs she laughed and thumped with her feet like a school-boy; she had a great desire for mischief.

IV

Evening

Auntie, in a loose print blouse, Varvarushka and two old women, were sitting in the dining-room having supper. A big piece of salt meat, a ham, and various savouries, were lying on the table before them, and clouds of steam were rising from the meat, which looked particularly fat and appetizing. Wine was not served on the lower story, but they made up for it with a great number of spirits and home-made liqueurs. Agafyushka, the fat, white-skinned, well-fed cook, was standing with her arms crossed in the doorway and talking to the old women, and the dishes were being handed by the downstairs Masha, a dark girl with a crimson ribbon in her hair. The old women had had enough to eat before the morning was over, and an hour before supper had had tea and buns, and so they were now eating with effort—as it were, from a sense of duty.

“Oh, my girl!” sighed Auntie, as Anna Akimovna ran into the dining-room and sat down beside her. “You’ve frightened me to death!”

Every one in the house was pleased when Anna Akimovna was in good spirits and played pranks; this always reminded them that the old men were dead and that the old women had no authority in the house, and any one could do as he liked without any fear of being sharply called to account for it. Only the two old women glanced askance at Anna Akimovna with amazement: she was humming, and it was a sin to sing at table.

“Our mistress, our beauty, our picture,” Agafyushka began chanting with sugary sweetness. “Our precious jewel! The people, the people that have come to-day to look at our queen. Lord have mercy upon us! Generals, and officers and gentlemen. . . . I kept looking out of window and counting and counting till I gave it up.”

“I’d as soon they did not come at all,” said Auntie; she looked sadly at her niece and added: “They only waste the time for my poor orphan girl.”

Anna Akimovna felt hungry, as she had eaten nothing since the morning. They poured her out some very bitter liqueur; she drank it off, and tasted the salt meat with mustard, and thought it extraordinarily nice. Then the downstairs Masha brought in the turkey, the pickled apples and the gooseberries. And that pleased her, too. There was only one thing that was disagreeable: there was a draught of hot air from the tiled stove; it was stiflingly close and every one’s cheeks were burning. After supper the cloth was taken off and plates of peppermint biscuits, walnuts, and raisins were brought in.

“You sit down, too . . . no need to stand there!” said Auntie to the cook.

Agafyushka sighed and sat down to the table; Masha set a wineglass of liqueur before her, too, and Anna Akimovna began to feel as though Agafyushka’s white neck were giving out heat like the stove. They were all talking of how difficult it was nowadays to get married, and saying that in old days, if men did not court beauty, they paid attention to money, but now there was no making out what they wanted; and while hunchbacks and cripples used to be left old maids, nowadays men would not have even the beautiful and wealthy. Auntie began to set this down to immorality, and said that people had no fear of God, but she suddenly remembered that Ivan Ivanitch, her brother, and Varvarushka—both people of holy life—had feared God, but all the same had had children on the sly, and had sent them to the Foundling Asylum. She pulled herself up and changed the conversation, telling them about a suitor she had once had, a factory hand, and how she had loved him, but her brothers had forced her to marry a widower, an ikon-painter, who, thank God, had died two years after. The downstairs Masha sat down to the table, too, and told them with a mysterious air that for the last week some unknown man with a black moustache, in a great-coat with an astrachan collar, had made his appearance every morning in the yard, had stared at the windows of the big house, and had gone on further— to the buildings; the man was all right, nice-looking.

All this conversation made Anna Akimovna suddenly long to be married —long intensely, painfully; she felt as though she would give half her life and all her fortune only to know that upstairs there was a man who was closer to her than any one in the world, that he loved her warmly and was missing her; and the thought of such closeness, ecstatic and inexpressible in words, troubled her soul. And the instinct of youth and health flattered her with lying assurances that the real poetry of life was not over but still to come, and she believed it, and leaning back in her chair (her hair fell down as she did so), she began laughing, and, looking at her, the others laughed, too. And it was a long time before this causeless laughter died down in the dining-room.

She was informed that the Stinging Beetle had come. This was a pilgrim woman called Pasha or Spiridonovna—a thin little woman of fifty, in a black dress with a white kerchief, with keen eyes, sharp nose, and a sharp chin; she had sly, viperish eyes and she looked as though she could see right through every one. Her lips were shaped like a heart. Her viperishness and hostility to every one had earned her the nickname of the Stinging Beetle.

Going into the dining-room without looking at any one, she made for the ikons and chanted in a high voice “Thy Holy Birth,” then she sang “The Virgin today gives birth to the Son,” then “Christ is born,” then she turned round and bent a piercing gaze upon all of them.

“A happy Christmas,” she said, and she kissed Anna Akimovna on the shoulder. “It’s all I could do, all I could do to get to you, my kind friends.” She kissed Auntie on the shoulder. “I should have come to you this morning, but I went in to some good people to rest on the way. ‘Stay, Spiridonovna, stay,’ they said, and I did not notice that evening was coming on.”

As she did not eat meat, they gave her salmon and caviare. She ate looking from under her eyelids at the company, and drank three glasses of vodka. When she had finished she said a prayer and bowed down to Anna Akimovna’s feet.

They began to play a game of “kings,” as they had done the year before, and the year before that, and all the servants in both stories crowded in at the doors to watch the game. Anna Akimovna fancied she caught a glimpse once or twice of Mishenka, with a patronizing smile on his face, among the crowd of peasant men and women. The first to be king was Stinging Beetle, and Anna Akimovna as the soldier paid her tribute; and then Auntie was king and Anna Akimovna was peasant, which excited general delight, and Agafyushka was prince, and was quite abashed with pleasure. Another game was got up at the other end of the table—played by the two Mashas, Varvarushka, and the sewing-maid Marfa Ptrovna, who was waked on purpose to play “kings,” and whose face looked cross and sleepy.

While they were playing they talked of men, and of how difficult it was to get a good husband nowadays, and which state was to be preferred—that of an old maid or a widow.

“You are a handsome, healthy, sturdy lass,” said Stinging Beetle to Anna Akimovna. “But I can’t make out for whose sake you are holding back.”

“What’s to be done if nobody will have me?”

“Or maybe you have taken a vow to remain a maid?” Stinging Beetle went on, as though she did not hear. “Well, that’s a good deed. . . . Remain one,” she repeated, looking intently and maliciously at her cards. “All right, my dear, remain one. . . . Yes . . . only maids, these saintly maids, are not all alike.” She heaved a sigh and played the king. “Oh, no, my girl, they are not all alike! Some really watch over themselves like nuns, and butter would not melt in their mouths; and if such a one does sin in an hour of weakness, she is worried to death, poor thing! so it would be a sin to condemn her. While others will go dressed in black and sew their shroud, and yet love rich old men on the sly. Yes, y-es, my canary birds, some hussies will bewitch an old man and rule over him, my doves, rule over him and turn his head; and when they’ve saved up money and lottery tickets enough, they will bewitch him to his death.”

Varvarushka’s only response to these hints was to heave a sigh and look towards the ikons. There was an expression of Christian meekness on her countenance.

“I know a maid like that, my bitterest enemy,” Stinging Beetle went on, looking round at every one in triumph; “she is always sighing, too, and looking at the ikons, the she-devil. When she used to rule in a certain old man’s house, if one went to her she would give one a crust, and bid one bow down to the ikons while she would sing: ‘In conception Thou dost abide a Virgin . . . !’ On holidays she will give one a bite, and on working days she will reproach one for it. But nowadays I will make merry over her! I will make as merry as I please, my jewel.”

Varvarushka glanced at the ikons again and crossed herself.

“But no one will have me, Spiridonovna,” said Anna Akimovna to change the conversation. “What’s to be done?”

“It’s your own fault. You keep waiting for highly educated gentlemen, but you ought to marry one of your own sort, a merchant.”

“We don’t want a merchant,” said Auntie, all in a flutter. “Queen of Heaven, preserve us! A gentleman will spend your money, but then he will be kind to you, you poor little fool. But a merchant will be so strict that you won’t feel at home in your own house. You’ll be wanting to fondle him and he will be counting his money, and when you sit down to meals with him, he’ll grudge you every mouthful, though it’s your own, the lout! . . . Marry a gentleman.”

They all talked at once, loudly interrupting one another, and Auntie tapped on the table with the nutcrackers and said, flushed and angry:

“We won’t have a merchant; we won’t have one! If you choose a merchant I shall go to an almshouse.”

“Sh . . . Sh! . . . Hush!” cried Stinging Beetle; when all were silent she screwed up one eye and said: “Do you know what, Annushka, my birdie . . . ? There is no need for you to get married really like every one else. You’re rich and free, you are your own mistress; but yet, my child, it doesn’t seem the right thing for you to be an old maid. I’ll find you, you know, some trumpery and simple-witted man. You’ll marry him for appearances and then have your fling, bonny lass! You can hand him five thousand or ten maybe, and pack him off where he came from, and you will be mistress in your own house—you can love whom you like and no one can say anything to you. And then you can love your highly educated gentleman. You’ll have a jolly time!” Stinging Beetle snapped her fingers and gave a whistle.

“It’s sinful,” said Auntie.

“Oh, sinful,” laughed Stinging Beetle. “She is educated, she understands. To cut some one’s throat or bewitch an old man— that’s a sin, that’s true; but to love some charming young friend is not a sin at all. And what is there in it, really? There’s no sin in it at all! The old pilgrim women have invented all that to make fools of simple folk. I, too, say everywhere it’s a sin; I don’t know myself why it’s a sin.” Stinging Beetle emptied her glass and cleared her throat. “Have your fling, bonny lass,” this time evidently addressing herself. “For thirty years, wenches, I have thought of nothing but sins and been afraid, but now I see I have wasted my time, I’ve let it slip by like a ninny! Ah, I have been a fool, a fool!” She sighed. “A woman’s time is short and every day is precious. You are handsome, Annushka, and very rich; but as soon as thirty-five or forty strikes for you your time is up. Don’t listen to any one, my girl; live, have your fling till you are forty, and then you will have time to pray forgiveness—there will be plenty of time to bow down and to sew your shroud. A candle to God and a poker to the devil! You can do both at once! Well, how is it to be? Will you make some little man happy?”

“I will,” laughed Anna Akimovna. “I don’t care now; I would marry a working man.”

“Well, that would do all right! Oh, what a fine fellow you would choose then!” Stinging Beetle screwed up her eyes and shook her head. “O—o—oh!”

“I tell her myself,” said Auntie, “it’s no good waiting for a gentleman, so she had better marry, not a gentleman, but some one humbler; anyway we should have a man in the house to look after things. And there are lots of good men. She might have some one out of the factory. They are all sober, steady men. . . .”

“I should think so,” Stinging Beetle agreed. “They are capital fellows. If you like, Aunt, I will make a match for her with Vassily Lebedinsky?”

“Oh, Vasya’s legs are so long,” said Auntie seriously. “He is so lanky. He has no looks.”

There was laughter in the crowd by the door.

“Well, Pimenov? Would you like to marry Pimenov?” Stinging Beetle asked Anna Akimovna.

“Very good. Make a match for me with Pimenov.”

“Really?”

“Yes, do!” Anna Akimovna said resolutely, and she struck her fist on the table. “On my honour, I will marry him.”

“Really?”

Anna Akimovna suddenly felt ashamed that her cheeks were burning and that every one was looking at her; she flung the cards together on the table and ran out of the room. As she ran up the stairs and, reaching the upper story, sat down to the piano in the drawing-room, a murmur of sound reached her from below like the roar of the sea; most likely they were talking of her and of Pimenov, and perhaps Stinging Beetle was taking advantage of her absence to insult Varvarushka and was putting no check on her language.

The lamp in the big room was the only light burning in the upper story, and it sent a glimmer through the door into the dark drawing-room. It was between nine and ten, not later. Anna Akimovna played a waltz, then another, then a third; she went on playing without stopping. She looked into the dark corner beyond the piano, smiled, and inwardly called to it, and the idea occurred to her that she might drive off to the town to see some one, Lysevitch for instance, and tell him what was passing in her heart. She wanted to talk without ceasing, to laugh, to play the fool, but the dark corner was sullenly silent, and all round in all the rooms of the upper story it was still and desolate.

She was fond of sentimental songs, but she had a harsh, untrained voice, and so she only played the accompaniment and sang hardly audibly, just above her breath. She sang in a whisper one song after another, for the most part about love, separation, and frustrated hopes, and she imagined how she would hold out her hands to him and say with entreaty, with tears, “Pimenov, take this burden from me!” And then, just as though her sins had been forgiven, there would be joy and comfort in her soul, and perhaps a free, happy life would begin. In an anguish of anticipation she leant over the keys, with a passionate longing for the change in her life to come at once without delay, and was terrified at the thought that her old life would go on for some time longer. Then she played again and sang hardly above her breath, and all was stillness about her. There was no noise coming from downstairs now, they must have gone to bed. It had struck ten some time before. A long, solitary, wearisome night was approaching.

Anna Akimovna walked through all the rooms, lay down for a while on the sofa, and read in her study the letters that had come that evening; there were twelve letters of Christmas greetings and three anonymous letters. In one of them some workman complained in a horrible, almost illegible handwriting that Lenten oil sold in the factory shop was rancid and smelt of paraffin; in another, some one respectfully informed her that over a purchase of iron Nazaritch had lately taken a bribe of a thousand roubles from some one; in a third she was abused for her inhumanity.

The excitement of Christmas was passing off, and to keep it up Anna Akimovna sat down at the piano again and softly played one of the new waltzes, then she remembered how cleverly and creditably she had spoken at dinner today. She looked round at the dark windows, at the walls with the pictures, at the faint light that came from the big room, and all at once she began suddenly crying, and she felt vexed that she was so lonely, and that she had no one to talk to and consult. To cheer herself she tried to picture Pimenov in her imagination, but it was unsuccessful.

It struck twelve. Mishenka, no longer wearing his swallow-tail but in his reefer jacket, came in, and without speaking lighted two candles; then he went out and returned a minute later with a cup of tea on a tray.

“What are you laughing at?” she asked, noticing a smile on his face.

“I was downstairs and heard the jokes you were making about Pimenov . . .” he said, and put his hand before his laughing mouth. “If he were sat down to dinner today with Viktor Nikolaevitch and the general, he’d have died of fright.” Mishenka’s shoulders were shaking with laughter. “He doesn’t know even how to hold his fork, I bet.”

The footman’s laughter and words, his reefer jacket and moustache, gave Anna Akimovna a feeling of uncleanness. She shut her eyes to avoid seeing him, and, against her own will, imagined Pimenov dining with Lysevitch and Krylin, and his timid, unintellectual figure seemed to her pitiful and helpless, and she felt repelled by it. And only now, for the first time in the whole day, she realized clearly that all she had said and thought about Pimenov and marrying a workman was nonsense, folly, and wilfulness. To convince herself of the opposite, to overcome her repulsion, she tried to recall what she had said at dinner, but now she could not see anything in it: shame at her own thoughts and actions, and the fear that she had said something improper during the day, and disgust at her own lack of spirit, overwhelmed her completely. She took up a candle and, as rapidly as if some one were pursuing her, ran downstairs, woke Spiridonovna, and began assuring her she had been joking. Then she went to her bedroom. Red-haired Masha, who was dozing in an arm-chair near the bed, jumped up and began shaking up the pillows. Her face was exhausted and sleepy, and her magnificent hair had fallen on one side.

“Tchalikov came again this evening,” she said, yawning, “but I did not dare to announce him; he was very drunk. He says he will come again tomorrow.”

“What does he want with me?” said Anna Akimovna, and she flung her comb on the floor. “I won’t see him, I won’t.”

She made up her mind she had no one left in life but this Tchalikov, that he would never leave off persecuting her, and would remind her every day how uninteresting and absurd her life was. So all she was fit for was to help the poor. Oh, how stupid it was!

She lay down without undressing, and sobbed with shame and depression: what seemed to her most vexatious and stupid of all was that her dreams that day about Pimenov had been right, lofty, honourable, but at the same time she felt that Lysevitch and even Krylin were nearer to her than Pimenov and all the workpeople taken together. She thought that if the long day she had just spent could have been represented in a picture, all that had been bad and vulgar—as, for instance, the dinner, the lawyer’s talk, the game of “kings” —would have been true, while her dreams and talk about Pimenov would have stood out from the whole as something false, as out of drawing; and she thought, too, that it was too late to dream of happiness, that everything was over for her, and it was impossible to go back to the life when she had slept under the same quilt with her mother, or to devise some new special sort of life.

Red-haired Masha was kneeling before the bed, gazing at her in mournful perplexity; then she, too, began crying, and laid her face against her mistress’s arm, and without words it was clear why she was so wretched.

“We are fools!” said Anna Akimovna, laughing and crying. “We are fools! Oh, what fools we are!”


A PROBLEM

THE strictest measures were taken that the Uskovs’ family secret might not leak out and become generally known. Half of the servants were sent off to the theatre or the circus; the other half were sitting in the kitchen and not allowed to leave it. Orders were given that no one was to be admitted. The wife of the Colonel, her sister, and the governess, though they had been initiated into the secret, kept up a pretence of knowing nothing; they sat in the dining-room and did not show themselves in the drawing-room or the hall.

Sasha Uskov, the young man of twenty-five who was the cause of all the commotion, had arrived some time before, and by the advice of kind-hearted Ivan Markovitch, his uncle, who was taking his part, he sat meekly in the hall by the door leading to the study, and prepared himself to make an open, candid explanation.

The other side of the door, in the study, a family council was being held. The subject under discussion was an exceedingly disagreeable and delicate one. Sasha Uskov had cashed at one of the banks a false promissory note, and it had become due for payment three days before, and now his two paternal uncles and Ivan Markovitch, the brother of his dead mother, were deciding the question whether they should pay the money and save the family honour, or wash their hands of it and leave the case to go for trial.

To outsiders who have no personal interest in the matter such questions seem simple; for those who are so unfortunate as to have to decide them in earnest they are extremely difficult. The uncles had been talking for a long time, but the problem seemed no nearer decision.

“My friends!” said the uncle who was a colonel, and there was a note of exhaustion and bitterness in his voice. “Who says that family honour is a mere convention? I don’t say that at all. I am only warning you against a false view; I am pointing out the possibility of an unpardonable mistake. How can you fail to see it? I am not speaking Chinese; I am speaking Russian!”

“My dear fellow, we do understand,” Ivan Markovitch protested mildly.

“How can you understand if you say that I don’t believe in family honour? I repeat once more: fa-mil-y ho-nour fal-sely un-der-stood is a prejudice! Falsely understood! That’s what I say: whatever may be the motives for screening a scoundrel, whoever he may be, and helping him to escape punishment, it is contrary to law and unworthy of a gentleman. It’s not saving the family honour; it’s civic cowardice! Take the army, for instance. . . . The honour of the army is more precious to us than any other honour, yet we don’t screen our guilty members, but condemn them. And does the honour of the army suffer in consequence? Quite the opposite!”

The other paternal uncle, an official in the Treasury, a taciturn, dull-witted, and rheumatic man, sat silent, or spoke only of the fact that the Uskovs’ name would get into the newspapers if the case went for trial. His opinion was that the case ought to be hushed up from the first and not become public property; but, apart from publicity in the newspapers, he advanced no other argument in support of this opinion.

The maternal uncle, kind-hearted Ivan Markovitch, spoke smoothly, softly, and with a tremor in his voice. He began with saying that youth has its rights and its peculiar temptations. Which of us has not been young, and who has not been led astray? To say nothing of ordinary mortals, even great men have not escaped errors and mistakes in their youth. Take, for instance, the biography of great writers. Did not every one of them gamble, drink, and draw down upon himself the anger of right-thinking people in his young days? If Sasha’s error bordered upon crime, they must remember that Sasha had received practically no education; he had been expelled from the high school in the fifth class; he had lost his parents in early childhood, and so had been left at the tenderest age without guidance and good, benevolent influences. He was nervous, excitable, had no firm ground under his feet, and, above all, he had been unlucky. Even if he were guilty, anyway he deserved indulgence and the sympathy of all compassionate souls. He ought, of course, to be punished, but he was punished as it was by his conscience and the agonies he was enduring now while awaiting the sentence of his relations. The comparison with the army made by the Colonel was delightful, and did credit to his lofty intelligence; his appeal to their feeling of public duty spoke for the chivalry of his soul, but they must not forget that in each individual the citizen is closely Clinked with the Christian. . . .

“Shall we be false to civic duty,” Ivan Markovitch exclaimed passionately, “if instead of punishing an erring boy we hold out to him a helping hand?”

Ivan Markovitch talked further of family honour. He had not the honour to belong to the Uskov family himself, but he knew their distinguished family went back to the thirteenth century; he did not forget for a minute, either, that his precious, beloved sister had been the wife of one of the representatives of that name. In short, the family was dear to him for many reasons, and he refused to admit the idea that, for the sake of a paltry fifteen hundred roubles, a blot should be cast on the escutcheon that was beyond all price. If all the motives he had brought forward were not sufficiently convincing, he, Ivan Markovitch, in conclusion, begged his listeners to ask themselves what was meant by crime? Crime is an immoral act founded upon ill-will. But is the will of man free? Philosophy has not yet given a positive answer to that question. Different views were held by the learned. The latest school of Lombroso, for instance, denies the freedom of the will, and considers every crime as the product of the purely anatomical peculiarities of the individual.

“Ivan Markovitch,” said the Colonel, in a voice of entreaty, “we are talking seriously about an important matter, and you bring in Lombroso, you clever fellow. Think a little, what are you saying all this for? Can you imagine that all your thunderings and rhetoric will furnish an answer to the question?”

Sasha Uskov sat at the door and listened. He felt neither terror, shame, nor depression, but only weariness and inward emptiness. It seemed to him that it made absolutely no difference to him whether they forgave him or not; he had come here to hear his sentence and to explain himself simply because kind-hearted Ivan Markovitch had begged him to do so. He was not afraid of the future. It made no difference to him where he was: here in the hall, in prison, or in Siberia.

“If Siberia, then let it be Siberia, damn it all!”

He was sick of life and found it insufferably hard. He was inextricably involved in debt; he had not a farthing in his pocket; his family had become detestable to him; he would have to part from his friends and his women sooner or later, as they had begun to be too contemptuous of his sponging on them. The future looked black.

Sasha was indifferent, and was only disturbed by one circumstance; the other side of the door they were calling him a scoundrel and a criminal. Every minute he was on the point of jumping up, bursting into the study and shouting in answer to the detestable metallic voice of the Colonel:

“You are lying!”

“Criminal” is a dreadful word—that is what murderers, thieves, robbers are; in fact, wicked and morally hopeless people. And Sasha was very far from being all that. . . . It was true he owed a great deal and did not pay his debts. But debt is not a crime, and it is unusual for a man not to be in debt. The Colonel and Ivan Markovitch were both in debt. . . .

“What have I done wrong besides?” Sasha wondered.

He had discounted a forged note. But all the young men he knew did the same. Handrikov and Von Burst always forged IOU’s from their parents or friends when their allowances were not paid at the regular time, and then when they got their money from home they redeemed them before they became due. Sasha had done the same, but had not redeemed the IOU because he had not got the money which Handrikov had promised to lend him. He was not to blame; it was the fault of circumstances. It was true that the use of another person’s signature was considered reprehensible; but, still, it was not a crime but a generally accepted dodge, an ugly formality which injured no one and was quite harmless, for in forging the Colonel’s signature Sasha had had no intention of causing anybody damage or loss.

“No, it doesn’t mean that I am a criminal . . .” thought Sasha. “And it’s not in my character to bring myself to commit a crime. I am soft, emotional. . . . When I have the money I help the poor. . . .”

Sasha was musing after this fashion while they went on talking the other side of the door.

“But, my friends, this is endless,” the Colonel declared, getting excited. “Suppose we were to forgive him and pay the money. You know he would not give up leading a dissipated life, squandering money, making debts, going to our tailors and ordering suits in our names! Can you guarantee that this will be his last prank? As far as I am concerned, I have no faith whatever in his reforming!”

The official of the Treasury muttered something in reply; after him Ivan Markovitch began talking blandly and suavely again. The Colonel moved his chair impatiently and drowned the other’s words with his detestable metallic voice. At last the door opened and Ivan Markovitch came out of the study; there were patches of red on his lean shaven face.

“Come along,” he said, taking Sasha by the hand. “Come and speak frankly from your heart. Without pride, my dear boy, humbly and from your heart.”

Sasha went into the study. The official of the Treasury was sitting down; the Colonel was standing before the table with one hand in his pocket and one knee on a chair. It was smoky and stifling in the study. Sasha did not look at the official or the Colonel; he felt suddenly ashamed and uncomfortable. He looked uneasily at Ivan Markovitch and muttered:

“I’ll pay it . . . I’ll give it back. . . .”

“What did you expect when you discounted the IOU?” he heard a metallic voice.

“I . . . Handrikov promised to lend me the money before now.”

Sasha could say no more. He went out of the study and sat down again on the chair near the door.

He would have been glad to go away altogether at once, but he was choking with hatred and he awfully wanted to remain, to tear the Colonel to pieces, to say something rude to him. He sat trying to think of something violent and effective to say to his hated uncle, and at that moment a woman’s figure, shrouded in the twilight, appeared at the drawing-room door. It was the Colonel’s wife. She beckoned Sasha to her, and, wringing her hands, said, weeping:

Alexandre, I know you don’t like me, but . . . listen to me; listen, I beg you. . . . But, my dear, how can this have happened? Why, it’s awful, awful! For goodness’ sake, beg them, defend yourself, entreat them.”

Sasha looked at her quivering shoulders, at the big tears that were rolling down her cheeks, heard behind his back the hollow, nervous voices of worried and exhausted people, and shrugged his shoulders. He had not in the least expected that his aristocratic relations would raise such a tempest over a paltry fifteen hundred roubles! He could not understand her tears nor the quiver of their voices.

An hour later he heard that the Colonel was getting the best of it; the uncles were finally inclining to let the case go for trial.

“The matter’s settled,” said the Colonel, sighing. “Enough.”

After this decision all the uncles, even the emphatic Colonel, became noticeably depressed. A silence followed.

“Merciful Heavens!” sighed Ivan Markovitch. “My poor sister!”

And he began saying in a subdued voice that most likely his sister, Sasha’s mother, was present unseen in the study at that moment. He felt in his soul how the unhappy, saintly woman was weeping, grieving, and begging for her boy. For the sake of her peace beyond the grave, they ought to spare Sasha.

The sound of a muffled sob was heard. Ivan Markovitch was weeping and muttering something which it was impossible to catch through the door. The Colonel got up and paced from corner to corner. The long conversation began over again.

But then the clock in the drawing-room struck two. The family council was over. To avoid seeing the person who had moved him to such wrath, the Colonel went from the study, not into the hall, but into the vestibule. . . . Ivan Markovitch came out into the hall. . . . He was agitated and rubbing his hands joyfully. His tear-stained eyes looked good-humoured and his mouth was twisted into a smile.

“Capital,” he said to Sasha. “Thank God! You can go home, my dear, and sleep tranquilly. We have decided to pay the sum, but on condition that you repent and come with me tomorrow into the country and set to work.”

A minute later Ivan Markovitch and Sasha in their great-coats and caps were going down the stairs. The uncle was muttering something edifying. Sasha did not listen, but felt as though some uneasy weight were gradually slipping off his shoulders. They had forgiven him; he was free! A gust of joy sprang up within him and sent a sweet chill to his heart. He longed to breathe, to move swiftly, to live! Glancing at the street lamps and the black sky, he remembered that Von Burst was celebrating his name-day that evening at the “Bear,” and again a rush of joy flooded his soul. . . .

“I am going!” he decided.

But then he remembered he had not a farthing, that the companions he was going to would despise him at once for his empty pockets. He must get hold of some money, come what may!

“Uncle, lend me a hundred roubles,” he said to Ivan Markovitch.

His uncle, surprised, looked into his face and backed against a lamp-post.

“Give it to me,” said Sasha, shifting impatiently from one foot to the other and beginning to pant. “Uncle, I entreat you, give me a hundred roubles.”

His face worked; he trembled, and seemed on the point of attacking his uncle. . . .

“Won’t you?” he kept asking, seeing that his uncle was still amazed and did not understand. “Listen. If you don’t, I’ll give myself up tomorrow! I won’t let you pay the IOU! I’ll present another false note tomorrow!”

Petrified, muttering something incoherent in his horror, Ivan Markovitch took a hundred-rouble note out of his pocket-book and gave it to Sasha. The young man took it and walked rapidly away from him. . . .

Taking a sledge, Sasha grew calmer, and felt a rush of joy within him again. The “rights of youth” of which kind-hearted Ivan Markovitch had spoken at the family council woke up and asserted themselves. Sasha pictured the drinking-party before him, and, among the bottles, the women, and his friends, the thought flashed through his mind:

“Now I see that I am a criminal; yes, I am a criminal.”


THE KISS

AT eight o’clock on the evening of the twentieth of May all the six batteries of the N—— Reserve Artillery Brigade halted for the night in the village of Myestetchki on their way to camp. When the general commotion was at its height, while some officers were busily occupied around the guns, while others, gathered together in the square near the church enclosure, were listening to the quartermasters, a man in civilian dress, riding a strange horse, came into sight round the church. The little dun-coloured horse with a good neck and a short tail came, moving not straight forward, but as it were sideways, with a sort of dance step, as though it were being lashed about the legs. When he reached the officers the man on the horse took off his hat and said:

“His Excellency Lieutenant-General von Rabbek invites the gentlemen to drink tea with him this minute. . . .”

The horse turned, danced, and retired sideways; the messenger raised his hat once more, and in an instant disappeared with his strange horse behind the church.

“What the devil does it mean?” grumbled some of the officers, dispersing to their quarters. “One is sleepy, and here this Von Rabbek with his tea! We know what tea means.”

The officers of all the six batteries remembered vividly an incident of the previous year, when during manoeuvres they, together with the officers of a Cossack regiment, were in the same way invited to tea by a count who had an estate in the neighbourhood and was a retired army officer: the hospitable and genial count made much of them, fed them, and gave them drink, refused to let them go to their quarters in the village and made them stay the night. All that, of course, was very nice—nothing better could be desired, but the worst of it was, the old army officer was so carried away by the pleasure of the young men’s company that till sunrise he was telling the officers anecdotes of his glorious past, taking them over the house, showing them expensive pictures, old engravings, rare guns, reading them autograph letters from great people, while the weary and exhausted officers looked and listened, longing for their beds and yawning in their sleeves; when at last their host let them go, it was too late for sleep.

Might not this Von Rabbek be just such another? Whether he were or not, there was no help for it. The officers changed their uniforms, brushed themselves, and went all together in search of the gentleman’s house. In the square by the church they were told they could get to His Excellency’s by the lower path—going down behind the church to the river, going along the bank to the garden, and there an avenue would taken them to the house; or by the upper way— straight from the church by the road which, half a mile from the village, led right up to His Excellency’s granaries. The officers decided to go by the upper way.

“What Von Rabbek is it?” they wondered on the way. “Surely not the one who was in command of the N—— cavalry division at Plevna?”

“No, that was not Von Rabbek, but simply Rabbe and no ‘von.’”

“What lovely weather!”

At the first of the granaries the road divided in two: one branch went straight on and vanished in the evening darkness, the other led to the owner’s house on the right. The officers turned to the right and began to speak more softly. . . . On both sides of the road stretched stone granaries with red roofs, heavy and sullen-looking, very much like barracks of a district town. Ahead of them gleamed the windows of the manor-house.

“A good omen, gentlemen,” said one of the officers. “Our setter is the foremost of all; no doubt he scents game ahead of us! . . .”

Lieutenant Lobytko, who was walking in front, a tall and stalwart fellow, though entirely without moustache (he was over five-and-twenty, yet for some reason there was no sign of hair on his round, well-fed face), renowned in the brigade for his peculiar faculty for divining the presence of women at a distance, turned round and said:

“Yes, there must be women here; I feel that by instinct.”

On the threshold the officers were met by Von Rabbek himself, a comely-looking man of sixty in civilian dress. Shaking hands with his guests, he said that he was very glad and happy to see them, but begged them earnestly for God’s sake to excuse him for not asking them to stay the night; two sisters with their children, some brothers, and some neighbours, had come on a visit to him, so that he had not one spare room left.

The General shook hands with every one, made his apologies, and smiled, but it was evident by his face that he was by no means so delighted as their last year’s count, and that he had invited the officers simply because, in his opinion, it was a social obligation to do so. And the officers themselves, as they walked up the softly carpeted stairs, as they listened to him, felt that they had been invited to this house simply because it would have been awkward not to invite them; and at the sight of the footmen, who hastened to light the lamps in the entrance below and in the anteroom above, they began to feel as though they had brought uneasiness and discomfort into the house with them. In a house in which two sisters and their children, brothers, and neighbours were gathered together, probably on account of some family festivity, or event, how could the presence of nineteen unknown officers possibly be welcome?

At the entrance to the drawing-room the officers were met by a tall, graceful old lady with black eyebrows and a long face, very much like the Empress Eugénie. Smiling graciously and majestically, she said she was glad and happy to see her guests, and apologized that her husband and she were on this occasion unable to invite messieurs les officiers to stay the night. From her beautiful majestic smile, which instantly vanished from her face every time she turned away from her guests, it was evident that she had seen numbers of officers in her day, that she was in no humour for them now, and if she invited them to her house and apologized for not doing more, it was only because her breeding and position in society required it of her.

When the officers went into the big dining-room, there were about a dozen people, men and ladies, young and old, sitting at tea at the end of a long table. A group of men was dimly visible behind their chairs, wrapped in a haze of cigar smoke; and in the midst of them stood a lanky young man with red whiskers, talking loudly, with a lisp, in English. Through a door beyond the group could be seen a light room with pale blue furniture.

“Gentlemen, there are so many of you that it is impossible to introduce you all!” said the General in a loud voice, trying to sound very cheerful. “Make each other’s acquaintance, gentlemen, without any ceremony!”

The officers—some with very serious and even stern faces, others with forced smiles, and all feeling extremely awkward—somehow made their bows and sat down to tea.

The most ill at ease of them all was Ryabovitch—a little officer in spectacles, with sloping shoulders, and whiskers like a lynx’s. While some of his comrades assumed a serious expression, while others wore forced smiles, his face, his lynx-like whiskers, and spectacles seemed to say: “I am the shyest, most modest, and most undistinguished officer in the whole brigade!” At first, on going into the room and sitting down to the table, he could not fix his attention on any one face or object. The faces, the dresses, the cut-glass decanters of brandy, the steam from the glasses, the moulded cornices—all blended in one general impression that inspired in Ryabovitch alarm and a desire to hide his head. Like a lecturer making his first appearance before the public, he saw everything that was before his eyes, but apparently only had a dim understanding of it (among physiologists this condition, when the subject sees but does not understand, is called psychical blindness). After a little while, growing accustomed to his surroundings, Ryabovitch saw clearly and began to observe. As a shy man, unused to society, what struck him first was that in which he had always been deficient—namely, the extraordinary boldness of his new acquaintances. Von Rabbek, his wife, two elderly ladies, a young lady in a lilac dress, and the young man with the red whiskers, who was, it appeared, a younger son of Von Rabbek, very cleverly, as though they had rehearsed it beforehand, took seats between the officers, and at once got up a heated discussion in which the visitors could not help taking part. The lilac young lady hotly asserted that the artillery had a much better time than the cavalry and the infantry, while Von Rabbek and the elderly ladies maintained the opposite. A brisk interchange of talk followed. Ryabovitch watched the lilac young lady who argued so hotly about what was unfamiliar and utterly uninteresting to her, and watched artificial smiles come and go on her face.

Von Rabbek and his family skilfully drew the officers into the discussion, and meanwhile kept a sharp lookout over their glasses and mouths, to see whether all of them were drinking, whether all had enough sugar, why some one was not eating cakes or not drinking brandy. And the longer Ryabovitch watched and listened, the more he was attracted by this insincere but splendidly disciplined family.

After tea the officers went into the drawing-room. Lieutenant Lobytko’s instinct had not deceived him. There were a great number of girls and young married ladies. The “setter” lieutenant was soon standing by a very young, fair girl in a black dress, and, bending down to her jauntily, as though leaning on an unseen sword, smiled and shrugged his shoulders coquettishly. He probably talked very interesting nonsense, for the fair girl looked at his well-fed face condescendingly and asked indifferently, “Really?” And from that uninterested “Really?” the setter, had he been intelligent, might have concluded that she would never call him to heel.

The piano struck up; the melancholy strains of a valse floated out of the wide open windows, and every one, for some reason, remembered that it was spring, a May evening. Every one was conscious of the fragrance of roses, of lilac, and of the young leaves of the poplar. Ryabovitch, in whom the brandy he had drunk made itself felt, under the influence of the music stole a glance towards the window, smiled, and began watching the movements of the women, and it seemed to him that the smell of roses, of poplars, and lilac came not from the garden, but from the ladies’ faces and dresses.

Von Rabbek’s son invited a scraggy-looking young lady to dance, and waltzed round the room twice with her. Lobytko, gliding over the parquet floor, flew up to the lilac young lady and whirled her away. Dancing began. . . . Ryabovitch stood near the door among those who were not dancing and looked on. He had never once danced in his whole life, and he had never once in his life put his arm round the waist of a respectable woman. He was highly delighted that a man should in the sight of all take a girl he did not know round the waist and offer her his shoulder to put her hand on, but he could not imagine himself in the position of such a man. There were times when he envied the boldness and swagger of his companions and was inwardly wretched; the consciousness that he was timid, that he was round-shouldered and uninteresting, that he had a long waist and lynx-like whiskers, had deeply mortified him, but with years he had grown used to this feeling, and now, looking at his comrades dancing or loudly talking, he no longer envied them, but only felt touched and mournful.

When the quadrille began, young Von Rabbek came up to those who were not dancing and invited two officers to have a game at billiards. The officers accepted and went with him out of the drawing-room. Ryabovitch, having nothing to do and wishing to take part in the general movement, slouched after them. From the big drawing-room they went into the little drawing-room, then into a narrow corridor with a glass roof, and thence into a room in which on their entrance three sleepy-looking footmen jumped up quickly from the sofa. At last, after passing through a long succession of rooms, young Von Rabbek and the officers came into a small room where there was a billiard-table. They began to play.

Ryabovitch, who had never played any game but cards, stood near the billiard-table and looked indifferently at the players, while they in unbuttoned coats, with cues in their hands, stepped about, made puns, and kept shouting out unintelligible words.

The players took no notice of him, and only now and then one of them, shoving him with his elbow or accidentally touching him with the end of his cue, would turn round and say “Pardon!” Before the first game was over he was weary of it, and began to feel he was not wanted and in the way. . . . He felt disposed to return to the drawing-room, and he went out.

On his way back he met with a little adventure. When he had gone half-way he noticed he had taken a wrong turning. He distinctly remembered that he ought to meet three sleepy footmen on his way, but he had passed five or six rooms, and those sleepy figures seemed to have vanished into the earth. Noticing his mistake, he walked back a little way and turned to the right; he found himself in a little dark room which he had not seen on his way to the billiard-room. After standing there a little while, he resolutely opened the first door that met his eyes and walked into an absolutely dark room. Straight in front could be seen the crack in the doorway through which there was a gleam of vivid light; from the other side of the door came the muffled sound of a melancholy mazurka. Here, too, as in the drawing-room, the windows were wide open and there was a smell of poplars, lilac and roses. . . .

Ryabovitch stood still in hesitation. . . . At that moment, to his surprise, he heard hurried footsteps and the rustling of a dress, a breathless feminine voice whispered “At last!” And two soft, fragrant, unmistakably feminine arms were clasped about his neck; a warm cheek was pressed to his cheek, and simultaneously there was the sound of a kiss. But at once the bestower of the kiss uttered a faint shriek and skipped back from him, as it seemed to Ryabovitch, with aversion. He, too, almost shrieked and rushed towards the gleam of light at the door. . . .

When he went back into the drawing-room his heart was beating and his hands were trembling so noticeably that he made haste to hide them behind his back. At first he was tormented by shame and dread that the whole drawing-room knew that he had just been kissed and embraced by a woman. He shrank into himself and looked uneasily about him, but as he became convinced that people were dancing and talking as calmly as ever, he gave himself up entirely to the new sensation which he had never experienced before in his life. Something strange was happening to him. . . . His neck, round which soft, fragrant arms had so lately been clasped, seemed to him to be anointed with oil; on his left cheek near his moustache where the unknown had kissed him there was a faint chilly tingling sensation as from peppermint drops, and the more he rubbed the place the more distinct was the chilly sensation; all over, from head to foot, he was full of a strange new feeling which grew stronger and stronger . . . . He wanted to dance, to talk, to run into the garden, to laugh aloud. . . . He quite forgot that he was round-shouldered and uninteresting, that he had lynx-like whiskers and an “undistinguished appearance” (that was how his appearance had been described by some ladies whose conversation he had accidentally overheard). When Von Rabbek’s wife happened to pass by him, he gave her such a broad and friendly smile that she stood still and looked at him inquiringly.

“I like your house immensely!” he said, setting his spectacles straight.

The General’s wife smiled and said that the house had belonged to her father; then she asked whether his parents were living, whether he had long been in the army, why he was so thin, and so on. . . . After receiving answers to her questions, she went on, and after his conversation with her his smiles were more friendly than ever, and he thought he was surrounded by splendid people. . . .

At supper Ryabovitch ate mechanically everything offered him, drank, and without listening to anything, tried to understand what had just happened to him. . . . The adventure was of a mysterious and romantic character, but it was not difficult to explain it. No doubt some girl or young married lady had arranged a tryst with some one in the dark room; had waited a long time, and being nervous and excited had taken Ryabovitch for her hero; this was the more probable as Ryabovitch had stood still hesitating in the dark room, so that he, too, had seemed like a person expecting something. . . . This was how Ryabovitch explained to himself the kiss he had received.

“And who is she?” he wondered, looking round at the women’s faces. “She must be young, for elderly ladies don’t give rendezvous. That she was a lady, one could tell by the rustle of her dress, her perfume, her voice. . . .”

His eyes rested on the lilac young lady, and he thought her very attractive; she had beautiful shoulders and arms, a clever face, and a delightful voice. Ryabovitch, looking at her, hoped that she and no one else was his unknown. . . . But she laughed somehow artificially and wrinkled up her long nose, which seemed to him to make her look old. Then he turned his eyes upon the fair girl in a black dress. She was younger, simpler, and more genuine, had a charming brow, and drank very daintily out of her wineglass. Ryabovitch now hoped that it was she. But soon he began to think her face flat, and fixed his eyes upon the one next her.

“It’s difficult to guess,” he thought, musing. “If one takes the shoulders and arms of the lilac one only, adds the brow of the fair one and the eyes of the one on the left of Lobytko, then . . .”

He made a combination of these things in his mind and so formed the image of the girl who had kissed him, the image that he wanted her to have, but could not find at the table. . . .

After supper, replete and exhilarated, the officers began to take leave and say thank you. Von Rabbek and his wife began again apologizing that they could not ask them to stay the night.

“Very, very glad to have met you, gentlemen,” said Von Rabbek, and this time sincerely (probably because people are far more sincere and good-humoured at speeding their parting guests than on meeting them). “Delighted. I hope you will come on your way back! Don’t stand on ceremony! Where are you going? Do you want to go by the upper way? No, go across the garden; it’s nearer here by the lower way.”

The officers went out into the garden. After the bright light and the noise the garden seemed very dark and quiet. They walked in silence all the way to the gate. They were a little drunk, pleased, and in good spirits, but the darkness and silence made them thoughtful for a minute. Probably the same idea occurred to each one of them as to Ryabovitch: would there ever come a time for them when, like Von Rabbek, they would have a large house, a family, a garden— when they, too, would be able to welcome people, even though insincerely, feed them, make them drunk and contented?

Going out of the garden gate, they all began talking at once and laughing loudly about nothing. They were walking now along the little path that led down to the river, and then ran along the water’s edge, winding round the bushes on the bank, the pools, and the willows that overhung the water. The bank and the path were scarcely visible, and the other bank was entirely plunged in darkness. Stars were reflected here and there on the dark water; they quivered and were broken up on the surface—and from that alone it could be seen that the river was flowing rapidly. It was still. Drowsy curlews cried plaintively on the further bank, and in one of the bushes on the nearest side a nightingale was trilling loudly, taking no notice of the crowd of officers. The officers stood round the bush, touched it, but the nightingale went on singing.

“What a fellow!” they exclaimed approvingly. “We stand beside him and he takes not a bit of notice! What a rascal!”

At the end of the way the path went uphill, and, skirting the church enclosure, turned into the road. Here the officers, tired with walking uphill, sat down and lighted their cigarettes. On the other side of the river a murky red fire came into sight, and having nothing better to do, they spent a long time in discussing whether it was a camp fire or a light in a window, or something else. . . . Ryabovitch, too, looked at the light, and he fancied that the light looked and winked at him, as though it knew about the kiss.

On reaching his quarters, Ryabovitch undressed as quickly as possible and got into bed. Lobytko and Lieutenant Merzlyakov—a peaceable, silent fellow, who was considered in his own circle a highly educated officer, and was always, whenever it was possible, reading the “Vyestnik Evropi,” which he carried about with him everywhere— were quartered in the same hut with Ryabovitch. Lobytko undressed, walked up and down the room for a long while with the air of a man who has not been satisfied, and sent his orderly for beer. Merzlyakov got into bed, put a candle by his pillow and plunged into reading the “Vyestnik Evropi.”

“Who was she?” Ryabovitch wondered, looking at the smoky ceiling.

His neck still felt as though he had been anointed with oil, and there was still the chilly sensation near his mouth as though from peppermint drops. The shoulders and arms of the young lady in lilac, the brow and the truthful eyes of the fair girl in black, waists, dresses, and brooches, floated through his imagination. He tried to fix his attention on these images, but they danced about, broke up and flickered. When these images vanished altogether from the broad dark background which every man sees when he closes his eyes, he began to hear hurried footsteps, the rustle of skirts, the sound of a kiss and—an intense groundless joy took possession of him . . . . Abandoning himself to this joy, he heard the orderly return and announce that there was no beer. Lobytko was terribly indignant, and began pacing up and down again.

“Well, isn’t he an idiot?” he kept saying, stopping first before Ryabovitch and then before Merzlyakov. “What a fool and a dummy a man must be not to get hold of any beer! Eh? Isn’t he a scoundrel?”

“Of course you can’t get beer here,” said Merzlyakov, not removing his eyes from the “Vyestnik Evropi.”

“Oh! Is that your opinion?” Lobytko persisted. “Lord have mercy upon us, if you dropped me on the moon I’d find you beer and women directly! I’ll go and find some at once. . . . You may call me an impostor if I don’t!”

He spent a long time in dressing and pulling on his high boots, then finished smoking his cigarette in silence and went out.

“Rabbek, Grabbek, Labbek,” he muttered, stopping in the outer room. “I don’t care to go alone, damn it all! Ryabovitch, wouldn’t you like to go for a walk? Eh?”

Receiving no answer, he returned, slowly undressed and got into bed. Merzlyakov sighed, put the “Vyestnik Evropi” away, and put out the light.

“H’m! . . .” muttered Lobytko, lighting a cigarette in the dark.

Ryabovitch pulled the bed-clothes over his head, curled himself up in bed, and tried to gather together the floating images in his mind and to combine them into one whole. But nothing came of it. He soon fell asleep, and his last thought was that some one had caressed him and made him happy—that something extraordinary, foolish, but joyful and delightful, had come into his life. The thought did not leave him even in his sleep.

When he woke up the sensations of oil on his neck and the chill of peppermint about his lips had gone, but joy flooded his heart just as the day before. He looked enthusiastically at the window-frames, gilded by the light of the rising sun, and listened to the movement of the passers-by in the street. People were talking loudly close to the window. Lebedetsky, the commander of Ryabovitch’s battery, who had only just overtaken the brigade, was talking to his sergeant at the top of his voice, being always accustomed to shout.

“What else?” shouted the commander.

“When they were shoeing yesterday, your high nobility, they drove a nail into Pigeon’s hoof. The vet. put on clay and vinegar; they are leading him apart now. And also, your honour, Artemyev got drunk yesterday, and the lieutenant ordered him to be put in the limber of a spare gun-carriage.”

The sergeant reported that Karpov had forgotten the new cords for the trumpets and the rings for the tents, and that their honours, the officers, had spent the previous evening visiting General Von Rabbek. In the middle of this conversation the red-bearded face of Lebedetsky appeared in the window. He screwed up his short-sighted eyes, looking at the sleepy faces of the officers, and said good-morning to them.

“Is everything all right?” he asked.

“One of the horses has a sore neck from the new collar,” answered Lobytko, yawning.

The commander sighed, thought a moment, and said in a loud voice:

“I am thinking of going to see Alexandra Yevgrafovna. I must call on her. Well, good-bye. I shall catch you up in the evening.”

A quarter of an hour later the brigade set off on its way. When it was moving along the road by the granaries, Ryabovitch looked at the house on the right. The blinds were down in all the windows. Evidently the household was still asleep. The one who had kissed Ryabovitch the day before was asleep, too. He tried to imagine her asleep. The wide-open windows of the bedroom, the green branches peeping in, the morning freshness, the scent of the poplars, lilac, and roses, the bed, a chair, and on it the skirts that had rustled the day before, the little slippers, the little watch on the table —all this he pictured to himself clearly and distinctly, but the features of the face, the sweet sleepy smile, just what was characteristic and important, slipped through his imagination like quicksilver through the fingers. When he had ridden on half a mile, he looked back: the yellow church, the house, and the river, were all bathed in light; the river with its bright green banks, with the blue sky reflected in it and glints of silver in the sunshine here and there, was very beautiful. Ryabovitch gazed for the last time at Myestetchki, and he felt as sad as though he were parting with something very near and dear to him.

And before him on the road lay nothing but long familiar, uninteresting pictures. . . . To right and to left, fields of young rye and buckwheat with rooks hopping about in them. If one looked ahead, one saw dust and the backs of men’s heads; if one looked back, one saw the same dust and faces. . . . Foremost of all marched four men with sabres—this was the vanguard. Next, behind, the crowd of singers, and behind them the trumpeters on horseback. The vanguard and the chorus of singers, like torch-bearers in a funeral procession, often forgot to keep the regulation distance and pushed a long way ahead. . . . Ryabovitch was with the first cannon of the fifth battery. He could see all the four batteries moving in front of him. For any one not a military man this long tedious procession of a moving brigade seems an intricate and unintelligible muddle; one cannot understand why there are so many people round one cannon, and why it is drawn by so many horses in such a strange network of harness, as though it really were so terrible and heavy. To Ryabovitch it was all perfectly comprehensible and therefore uninteresting. He had known for ever so long why at the head of each battery there rode a stalwart bombardier, and why he was called a bombardier; immediately behind this bombardier could be seen the horsemen of the first and then of the middle units. Ryabovitch knew that the horses on which they rode, those on the left, were called one name, while those on the right were called another—it was extremely uninteresting. Behind the horsemen came two shaft-horses. On one of them sat a rider with the dust of yesterday on his back and a clumsy and funny-looking piece of wood on his leg. Ryabovitch knew the object of this piece of wood, and did not think it funny. All the riders waved their whips mechanically and shouted from time to time. The cannon itself was ugly. On the fore part lay sacks of oats covered with canvas, and the cannon itself was hung all over with kettles, soldiers’ knapsacks, bags, and looked like some small harmless animal surrounded for some unknown reason by men and horses. To the leeward of it marched six men, the gunners, swinging their arms. After the cannon there came again more bombardiers, riders, shaft-horses, and behind them another cannon, as ugly and unimpressive as the first. After the second followed a third, a fourth; near the fourth an officer, and so on. There were six batteries in all in the brigade, and four cannons in each battery. The procession covered half a mile; it ended in a string of wagons near which an extremely attractive creature—the ass, Magar, brought by a battery commander from Turkey—paced pensively with his long-eared head drooping.

Ryabovitch looked indifferently before and behind, at the backs of heads and at faces; at any other time he would have been half asleep, but now he was entirely absorbed in his new agreeable thoughts. At first when the brigade was setting off on the march he tried to persuade himself that the incident of the kiss could only be interesting as a mysterious little adventure, that it was in reality trivial, and to think of it seriously, to say the least of it, was stupid; but now he bade farewell to logic and gave himself up to dreams. . . . At one moment he imagined himself in Von Rabbek’s drawing-room beside a girl who was like the young lady in lilac and the fair girl in black; then he would close his eyes and see himself with another, entirely unknown girl, whose features were very vague. In his imagination he talked, caressed her, leaned on her shoulder, pictured war, separation, then meeting again, supper with his wife, children. . . .

“Brakes on!” the word of command rang out every time they went downhill.

He, too, shouted “Brakes on!” and was afraid this shout would disturb his reverie and bring him back to reality. . . .

As they passed by some landowner’s estate Ryabovitch looked over the fence into the garden. A long avenue, straight as a ruler, strewn with yellow sand and bordered with young birch-trees, met his eyes. . . . With the eagerness of a man given up to dreaming, he pictured to himself little feminine feet tripping along yellow sand, and quite unexpectedly had a clear vision in his imagination of the girl who had kissed him and whom he had succeeded in picturing to himself the evening before at supper. This image remained in his brain and did not desert him again.

At midday there was a shout in the rear near the string of wagons:

“Easy! Eyes to the left! Officers!”

The general of the brigade drove by in a carriage with a pair of white horses. He stopped near the second battery, and shouted something which no one understood. Several officers, among them Ryabovitch, galloped up to them.

“Well?” asked the general, blinking his red eyes. “Are there any sick?”

Receiving an answer, the general, a little skinny man, chewed, thought for a moment and said, addressing one of the officers:

“One of your drivers of the third cannon has taken off his leg-guard and hung it on the fore part of the cannon, the rascal. Reprimand him.”

He raised his eyes to Ryabovitch and went on:

“It seems to me your front strap is too long.”

Making a few other tedious remarks, the general looked at Lobytko and grinned.

“You look very melancholy today, Lieutenant Lobytko,” he said. “Are you pining for Madame Lopuhov? Eh? Gentlemen, he is pining for Madame Lopuhov.”

The lady in question was a very stout and tall person who had long passed her fortieth year. The general, who had a predilection for solid ladies, whatever their ages, suspected a similar taste in his officers. The officers smiled respectfully. The general, delighted at having said something very amusing and biting, laughed loudly, touched his coachman’s back, and saluted. The carriage rolled on. . . .

“All I am dreaming about now which seems to me so impossible and unearthly is really quite an ordinary thing,” thought Ryabovitch, looking at the clouds of dust racing after the general’s carriage. “It’s all very ordinary, and every one goes through it. . . . That general, for instance, has once been in love; now he is married and has children. Captain Vahter, too, is married and beloved, though the nape of his neck is very red and ugly and he has no waist. . . . Salrnanov is coarse and very Tatar, but he has had a love affair that has ended in marriage. . . . I am the same as every one else, and I, too, shall have the same experience as every one else, sooner or later. . . .”

And the thought that he was an ordinary person, and that his life was ordinary, delighted him and gave him courage. He pictured her and his happiness as he pleased, and put no rein on his imagination.

When the brigade reached their halting-place in the evening, and the officers were resting in their tents, Ryabovitch, Merzlyakov, and Lobytko were sitting round a box having supper. Merzlyakov ate without haste, and, as he munched deliberately, read the “Vyestnik Evropi,” which he held on his knees. Lobytko talked incessantly and kept filling up his glass with beer, and Ryabovitch, whose head was confused from dreaming all day long, drank and said nothing. After three glasses he got a little drunk, felt weak, and had an irresistible desire to impart his new sensations to his comrades.

“A strange thing happened to me at those Von Rabbeks’,” he began, trying to put an indifferent and ironical tone into his voice. “You know I went into the billiard-room. . . .”

He began describing very minutely the incident of the kiss, and a moment later relapsed into silence. . . . In the course of that moment he had told everything, and it surprised him dreadfully to find how short a time it took him to tell it. He had imagined that he could have been telling the story of the kiss till next morning. Listening to him, Lobytko, who was a great liar and consequently believed no one, looked at him sceptically and laughed. Merzlyakov twitched his eyebrows and, without removing his eyes from the “Vyestnik Evropi,” said:

“That’s an odd thing! How strange! . . . throws herself on a man’s neck, without addressing him by name. .. . She must be some sort of hysterical neurotic.”

“Yes, she must,” Ryabovitch agreed.

“A similar thing once happened to me,” said Lobytko, assuming a scared expression. “I was going last year to Kovno. . . . I took a second-class ticket. The train was crammed, and it was impossible to sleep. I gave the guard half a rouble; he took my luggage and led me to another compartment. . . . I lay down and covered myself with a rug. . . . It was dark, you understand. Suddenly I felt some one touch me on the shoulder and breathe in my face. I made a movement with my hand and felt somebody’s elbow. . . . I opened my eyes and only imagine—a woman. Black eyes, lips red as a prime salmon, nostrils breathing passionately—a bosom like a buffer. . . .”

“Excuse me,” Merzlyakov interrupted calmly, “I understand about the bosom, but how could you see the lips if it was dark?”

Lobytko began trying to put himself right and laughing at Merzlyakov’s unimaginativeness. It made Ryabovitch wince. He walked away from the box, got into bed, and vowed never to confide again.

Camp life began. . . . The days flowed by, one very much like another. All those days Ryabovitch felt, thought, and behaved as though he were in love. Every morning when his orderly handed him water to wash with, and he sluiced his head with cold water, he thought there was something warm and delightful in his life.

In the evenings when his comrades began talking of love and women, he would listen, and draw up closer; and he wore the expression of a soldier when he hears the description of a battle in which he has taken part. And on the evenings when the officers, out on the spree with the setter—Lobytko—at their head, made Don Juan excursions to the “suburb,” and Ryabovitch took part in such excursions, he always was sad, felt profoundly guilty, and inwardly begged her forgiveness. . . . In hours of leisure or on sleepless nights, when he felt moved to recall his childhood, his father and mother— everything near and dear, in fact, he invariably thought of Myestetchki, the strange horse, Von Rabbek, his wife who was like the Empress Eugénie, the dark room, the crack of light at the door. . . .

On the thirty-first of August he went back from the camp, not with the whole brigade, but with only two batteries of it. He was dreaming and excited all the way, as though he were going back to his native place. He had an intense longing to see again the strange horse, the church, the insincere family of the Von Rabbeks, the dark room. The “inner voice,” which so often deceives lovers, whispered to him for some reason that he would be sure to see her . . . and he was tortured by the questions, How he should meet her? What he would talk to her about? Whether she had forgotten the kiss? If the worst came to the worst, he thought, even if he did not meet her, it would be a pleasure to him merely to go through the dark room and recall the past. . . .

Towards evening there appeared on the horizon the familiar church and white granaries. Ryabovitch’s heart beat. . . . He did not hear the officer who was riding beside him and saying something to him, he forgot everything, and looked eagerly at the river shining in the distance, at the roof of the house, at the dovecote round which the pigeons were circling in the light of the setting sun.

When they reached the church and were listening to the billeting orders, he expected every second that a man on horseback would come round the church enclosure and invite the officers to tea, but . . . the billeting orders were read, the officers were in haste to go on to the village, and the man on horseback did not appear.

“Von Rabbek will hear at once from the peasants that we have come and will send for us,” thought Ryabovitch, as he went into the hut, unable to understand why a comrade was lighting a candle and why the orderlies were hurriedly setting samovars. . . .

A painful uneasiness took possession of him. He lay down, then got up and looked out of the window to see whether the messenger were coming. But there was no sign of him.

He lay down again, but half an hour later he got up, and, unable to restrain his uneasiness, went into the street and strode towards the church. It was dark and deserted in the square near the church . . . . Three soldiers were standing silent in a row where the road began to go downhill. Seeing Ryabovitch, they roused themselves and saluted. He returned the salute and began to go down the familiar path.

On the further side of the river the whole sky was flooded with crimson: the moon was rising; two peasant women, talking loudly, were picking cabbage in the kitchen garden; behind the kitchen garden there were some dark huts. . . . And everything on the near side of the river was just as it had been in May: the path, the bushes, the willows overhanging the water . . . but there was no sound of the brave nightingale, and no scent of poplar and fresh grass.

Reaching the garden, Ryabovitch looked in at the gate. The garden was dark and still. . . . He could see nothing but the white stems of the nearest birch-trees and a little bit of the avenue; all the rest melted together into a dark blur. Ryabovitch looked and listened eagerly, but after waiting for a quarter of an hour without hearing a sound or catching a glimpse of a light, he trudged back. . . .

He went down to the river. The General’s bath-house and the bath-sheets on the rail of the little bridge showed white before him. . . . He went on to the bridge, stood a little, and, quite unnecessarily, touched the sheets. They felt rough and cold. He looked down at the water. . . . The river ran rapidly and with a faintly audible gurgle round the piles of the bath-house. The red moon was reflected near the left bank; little ripples ran over the reflection, stretching it out, breaking it into bits, and seemed trying to carry it away.

“How stupid, how stupid!” thought Ryabovitch, looking at the running water. “How unintelligent it all is!”

Now that he expected nothing, the incident of the kiss, his impatience, his vague hopes and disappointment, presented themselves in a clear light. It no longer seemed to him strange that he had not seen the General’s messenger, and that he would never see the girl who had accidentally kissed him instead of some one else; on the contrary, it would have been strange if he had seen her. . . .

The water was running, he knew not where or why, just as it did in May. In May it had flowed into the great river, from the great river into the sea; then it had risen in vapour, turned into rain, and perhaps the very same water was running now before Ryabovitch’s eyes again. . . . What for? Why?

And the whole world, the whole of life, seemed to Ryabovitch an unintelligible, aimless jest. . . . And turning his eyes from the water and looking at the sky, he remembered again how fate in the person of an unknown woman had by chance caressed him, he remembered his summer dreams and fancies, and his life struck him as extraordinarily meagre, poverty-stricken, and colourless. . . .

When he went back to his hut he did not find one of his comrades. The orderly informed him that they had all gone to “General von Rabbek’s, who had sent a messenger on horseback to invite them. . . .”

For an instant there was a flash of joy in Ryabovitch’s heart, but he quenched it at once, got into bed, and in his wrath with his fate, as though to spite it, did not go to the General’s.


‘ANNA ON THE NECK’

I

AFTER the wedding they had not even light refreshments; the happy pair simply drank a glass of champagne, changed into their travelling things, and drove to the station. Instead of a gay wedding ball and supper, instead of music and dancing, they went on a journey to pray at a shrine a hundred and fifty miles away. Many people commended this, saying that Modest Alexeitch was a man high up in the service and no longer young, and that a noisy wedding might not have seemed quite suitable; and music is apt to sound dreary when a government official of fifty-two marries a girl who is only just eighteen. People said, too, that Modest Alexeitch, being a man of principle, had arranged this visit to the monastery expressly in order to make his young bride realize that even in marriage he put religion and morality above everything.

The happy pair were seen off at the station. The crowd of relations and colleagues in the service stood, with glasses in their hands, waiting for the train to start to shout “Hurrah!” and the bride’s father, Pyotr Leontyitch, wearing a top-hat and the uniform of a teacher, already drunk and very pale, kept craning towards the window, glass in hand and saying in an imploring voice:

“Anyuta! Anya, Anya! one word!”

Anna bent out of the window to him, and he whispered something to her, enveloping her in a stale smell of alcohol, blew into her ear —she could make out nothing—and made the sign of the cross over her face, her bosom, and her hands; meanwhile he was breathing in gasps and tears were shining in his eyes. And the schoolboys, Anna’s brothers, Petya and Andrusha, pulled at his coat from behind, whispering in confusion:

“Father, hush! . . . Father, that’s enough. . . .”

When the train started, Anna saw her father run a little way after the train, staggering and spilling his wine, and what a kind, guilty, pitiful face he had:

“Hurra—ah!” he shouted.

The happy pair were left alone. Modest Alexeitch looked about the compartment, arranged their things on the shelves, and sat down, smiling, opposite his young wife. He was an official of medium height, rather stout and puffy, who looked exceedingly well nourished, with long whiskers and no moustache. His clean-shaven, round, sharply defined chin looked like the heel of a foot. The most characteristic point in his face was the absence of moustache, the bare, freshly shaven place, which gradually passed into the fat cheeks, quivering like jelly. His deportment was dignified, his movements were deliberate, his manner was soft.

“I cannot help remembering now one circumstance,” he said, smiling. “When, five years ago, Kosorotov received the order of St. Anna of the second grade, and went to thank His Excellency, His Excellency expressed himself as follows: ‘So now you have three Annas: one in your buttonhole and two on your neck.’ And it must be explained that at that time Kosorotov’s wife, a quarrelsome and frivolous person, had just returned to him, and that her name was Anna. I trust that when I receive the Anna of the second grade His Excellency will not have occasion to say the same thing to me.”

He smiled with his little eyes. And she, too, smiled, troubled at the thought that at any moment this man might kiss her with his thick damp lips, and that she had no right to prevent his doing so. The soft movements of his fat person frightened her; she felt both fear and disgust. He got up, without haste took off the order from his neck, took off his coat and waistcoat, and put on his dressing-gown.

“That’s better,” he said, sitting down beside Anna.

Anna remembered what agony the wedding had been, when it had seemed to her that the priest, and the guests, and every one in church had been looking at her sorrowfully and asking why, why was she, such a sweet, nice girl, marrying such an elderly, uninteresting gentleman. Only that morning she was delighted that everything had been satisfactorily arranged, but at the time of the wedding, and now in the railway carriage, she felt cheated, guilty, and ridiculous. Here she had married a rich man and yet she had no money, her wedding-dress had been bought on credit, and when her father and brothers had been saying good-bye, she could see from their faces that they had not a farthing. Would they have any supper that day? And tomorrow? And for some reason it seemed to her that her father and the boys were sitting tonight hungry without her, and feeling the same misery as they had the day after their mother’s funeral.

“Oh, how unhappy I am!” she thought. “Why am I so unhappy?”

With the awkwardness of a man with settled habits, unaccustomed to deal with women, Modest Alexeitch touched her on the waist and patted her on the shoulder, while she went on thinking about money, about her mother and her mother’s death. When her mother died, her father, Pyotr Leontyitch, a teacher of drawing and writing in the high school, had taken to drink, impoverishment had followed, the boys had not had boots or goloshes, their father had been hauled up before the magistrate, the warrant officer had come and made an inventory of the furniture. . . . What a disgrace! Anna had had to look after her drunken father, darn her brothers’ stockings, go to market, and when she was complimented on her youth, her beauty, and her elegant manners, it seemed to her that every one was looking at her cheap hat and the holes in her boots that were inked over. And at night there had been tears and a haunting dread that her father would soon, very soon, be dismissed from the school for his weakness, and that he would not survive it, but would die, too, like their mother. But ladies of their acquaintance had taken the matter in hand and looked about for a good match for Anna. This Modest Alexevitch, who was neither young nor good-looking but had money, was soon found. He had a hundred thousand in the bank and the family estate, which he had let on lease. He was a man of principle and stood well with His Excellency; it would be nothing to him, so they told Anna, to get a note from His Excellency to the directors of the high school, or even to the Education Commissioner, to prevent Pyotr Leontyitch from being dismissed.

While she was recalling these details, she suddenly heard strains of music which floated in at the window, together with the sound of voices. The train was stopping at a station. In the crowd beyond the platform an accordion and a cheap squeaky fiddle were being briskly played, and the sound of a military band came from beyond the villas and the tall birches and poplars that lay bathed in the moonlight; there must have been a dance in the place. Summer visitors and townspeople, who used to come out here by train in fine weather for a breath of fresh air, were parading up and down on the platform. Among them was the wealthy owner of all the summer villas—a tall, stout, dark man called Artynov. He had prominent eyes and looked like an Armenian. He wore a strange costume; his shirt was unbuttoned, showing his chest; he wore high boots with spurs, and a black cloak hung from his shoulders and dragged on the ground like a train. Two boar-hounds followed him with their sharp noses to the ground.

Tears were still shining in Anna’s eyes, but she was not thinking now of her mother, nor of money, nor of her marriage; but shaking hands with schoolboys and officers she knew, she laughed gaily and said quickly:

“How do you do? How are you?”

She went out on to the platform between the carriages into the moonlight, and stood so that they could all see her in her new splendid dress and hat.

“Why are we stopping here?” she asked.

“This is a junction. They are waiting for the mail train to pass.”

Seeing that Artynov was looking at her, she screwed up her eyes coquettishly and began talking aloud in French; and because her voice sounded so pleasant, and because she heard music and the moon was reflected in the pond, and because Artynov, the notorious Don Juan and spoiled child of fortune, was looking at her eagerly and with curiosity, and because every one was in good spirits—she suddenly felt joyful, and when the train started and the officers of her acquaintance saluted her, she was humming the polka the strains of which reached her from the military band playing beyond the trees; and she returned to her compartment feeling as though it had been proved to her at the station that she would certainly be happy in spite of everything.

The happy pair spent two days at the monastery, then went back to town. They lived in a rent-free flat. When Modest Alexevitch had gone to the office, Anna played the piano, or shed tears of depression, or lay down on a couch and read novels or looked through fashion papers. At dinner Modest Alexevitch ate a great deal and talked about politics, about appointments, transfers, and promotions in the service, about the necessity of hard work, and said that, family life not being a pleasure but a duty, if you took care of the kopecks the roubles would take care of themselves, and that he put religion and morality before everything else in the world. And holding his knife in his fist as though it were a sword, he would say:

“Every one ought to have his duties!”

And Anna listened to him, was frightened, and could not eat, and she usually got up from the table hungry. After dinner her husband lay down for a nap and snored loudly, while Anna went to see her own people. Her father and the boys looked at her in a peculiar way, as though just before she came in they had been blaming her for having married for money a tedious, wearisome man she did not love; her rustling skirts, her bracelets, and her general air of a married lady, offended them and made them uncomfortable. In her presence they felt a little embarrassed and did not know what to talk to her about; but yet they still loved her as before, and were not used to having dinner without her. She sat down with them to cabbage soup, porridge, and fried potatoes, smelling of mutton dripping. Pyotr Leontyitch filled his glass from the decanter with a trembling hand and drank it off hurriedly, greedily, with repulsion, then poured out a second glass and then a third. Petya and Andrusha, thin, pale boys with big eyes, would take the decanter and say desperately:

“You mustn’t, father. . . . Enough, father. . . .”

And Anna, too, was troubled and entreated him to drink no more; and he would suddenly fly into a rage and beat the table with his fists:

“I won’t allow any one to dictate to me!” he would shout. “Wretched boys! wretched girl! I’ll turn you all out!”

But there was a note of weakness, of good-nature in his voice, and no one was afraid of him. After dinner he usually dressed in his best. Pale, with a cut on his chin from shaving, craning his thin neck, he would stand for half an hour before the glass, prinking, combing his hair, twisting his black moustache, sprinkling himself with scent, tying his cravat in a bow; then he would put on his gloves and his top-hat, and go off to give his private lessons. Or if it was a holiday he would stay at home and paint, or play the harmonium, which wheezed and growled; he would try to wrest from it pure harmonious sounds and would sing to it; or would storm at the boys:

“Wretches! Good-for-nothing boys! You have spoiled the instrument!”

In the evening Anna’s husband played cards with his colleagues, who lived under the same roof in the government quarters. The wives of these gentlemen would come in—ugly, tastelessly dressed women, as coarse as cooks—and gossip would begin in the flat as tasteless and unattractive as the ladies themselves. Sometimes Modest Alexevitch would take Anna to the theatre. In the intervals he would never let her stir a step from his side, but walked about arm in arm with her through the corridors and the foyer. When he bowed to some one, he immediately whispered to Anna: “A civil councillor . . . visits at His Excellency’s”; or, “A man of means . . . has a house of his own.” When they passed the buffet Anna had a great longing for something sweet; she was fond of chocolate and apple cakes, but she had no money, and she did not like to ask her husband. He would take a pear, pinch it with his fingers, and ask uncertainly:

“How much?”

“Twenty-five kopecks!”

“I say!” he would reply, and put it down; but as it was awkward to leave the buffet without buying anything, he would order some seltzer-water and drink the whole bottle himself, and tears would come into his eyes. And Anna hated him at such times.

And suddenly flushing crimson, he would say to her rapidly:

“Bow to that old lady!”

“But I don’t know her.”

“No matter. That’s the wife of the director of the local treasury! Bow, I tell you,” he would grumble insistently. “Your head won’t drop off.”

Anna bowed and her head certainly did not drop off, but it was agonizing. She did everything her husband wanted her to, and was furious with herself for having let him deceive her like the veriest idiot. She had only married him for his money, and yet she had less money now than before her marriage. In old days her father would sometimes give her twenty kopecks, but now she had not a farthing.

To take money by stealth or ask for it, she could not; she was afraid of her husband, she trembled before him. She felt as though she had been afraid of him for years. In her childhood the director of the high school had always seemed the most impressive and terrifying force in the world, sweeping down like a thunderstorm or a steam-engine ready to crush her; another similar force of which the whole family talked, and of which they were for some reason afraid, was His Excellency; then there were a dozen others, less formidable, and among them the teachers at the high school, with shaven upper lips, stern, implacable; and now finally, there was Modest Alexeitch, a man of principle, who even resembled the director in the face. And in Anna’s imagination all these forces blended together into one, and, in the form of a terrible, huge white bear, menaced the weak and erring such as her father. And she was afraid to say anything in opposition to her husband, and gave a forced smile, and tried to make a show of pleasure when she was coarsely caressed and defiled by embraces that excited her terror. Only once Pyotr Leontyitch had the temerity to ask for a loan of fifty roubles in order to pay some very irksome debt, but what an agony it had been!

“Very good; I’ll give it to you,” said Modest Alexeitch after a moment’s thought; “but I warn you I won’t help you again till you give up drinking. Such a failing is disgraceful in a man in the government service! I must remind you of the well-known fact that many capable people have been ruined by that passion, though they might possibly, with temperance, have risen in time to a very high position.”

And long-winded phrases followed: “inasmuch as . . .”, “following upon which proposition . . .”, “in view of the aforesaid contention . . .”; and Pyotr Leontyitch was in agonies of humiliation and felt an intense craving for alcohol.

And when the boys came to visit Anna, generally in broken boots and threadbare trousers, they, too, had to listen to sermons.

“Every man ought to have his duties!” Modest Alexeitch would say to them.

And he did not give them money. But he did give Anna bracelets, rings, and brooches, saying that these things would come in useful for a rainy day. And he often unlocked her drawer and made an inspection to see whether they were all safe.

II

Meanwhile winter came on. Long before Christmas there was an announcement in the local papers that the usual winter ball would take place on the twenty-ninth of December in the Hall of Nobility. Every evening after cards Modest Alexeitch was excitedly whispering with his colleagues’ wives and glancing at Anna, and then paced up and down the room for a long while, thinking. At last, late one evening, he stood still, facing Anna, and said:

“You ought to get yourself a ball dress. Do you understand? Only please consult Marya Grigoryevna and Natalya Kuzminishna.”

And he gave her a hundred roubles. She took the money, but she did not consult any one when she ordered the ball dress; she spoke to no one but her father, and tried to imagine how her mother would have dressed for a ball. Her mother had always dressed in the latest fashion and had always taken trouble over Anna, dressing her elegantly like a doll, and had taught her to speak French and dance the mazurka superbly (she had been a governess for five years before her marriage). Like her mother, Anna could make a new dress out of an old one, clean gloves with benzine, hire jewels; and, like her mother, she knew how to screw up her eyes, lisp, assume graceful attitudes, fly into raptures when necessary, and throw a mournful and enigmatic look into her eyes. And from her father she had inherited the dark colour of her hair and eyes, her highly-strung nerves, and the habit of always making herself look her best.

When, half an hour before setting off for the ball, Modest Alexeitch went into her room without his coat on, to put his order round his neck before her pier-glass, dazzled by her beauty and the splendour of her fresh, ethereal dress, he combed his whiskers complacently and said:

“So that’s what my wife can look like . . . so that’s what you can look like! Anyuta!” he went on, dropping into a tone of solemnity, “I have made your fortune, and now I beg you to do something for mine. I beg you to get introduced to the wife of His Excellency! For God’s sake, do! Through her I may get the post of senior reporting clerk!”

They went to the ball. They reached the Hall of Nobility, the entrance with the hall porter. They came to the vestibule with the hat-stands, the fur coats; footmen scurrying about, and ladies with low necks putting up their fans to screen themselves from the draughts. There was a smell of gas and of soldiers. When Anna, walking upstairs on her husband’s arm, heard the music and saw herself full length in the looking-glass in the full glow of the lights, there was a rush of joy in her heart, and she felt the same presentiment of happiness as in the moonlight at the station. She walked in proudly, confidently, for the first time feeling herself not a girl but a lady, and unconsciously imitating her mother in her walk and in her manner. And for the first time in her life she felt rich and free. Even her husband’s presence did not oppress her, for as she crossed the threshold of the hall she had guessed instinctively that the proximity of an old husband did not detract from her in the least, but, on the contrary, gave her that shade of piquant mystery that is so attractive to men. The orchestra was already playing and the dances had begun. After their flat Anna was overwhelmed by the lights, the bright colours, the music, the noise, and looking round the room, thought, “Oh, how lovely!” She at once distinguished in the crowd all her acquaintances, every one she had met before at parties or on picnics—all the officers, the teachers, the lawyers, the officials, the landowners, His Excellency, Artynov, and the ladies of the highest standing, dressed up and very décollettées, handsome and ugly, who had already taken up their positions in the stalls and pavilions of the charity bazaar, to begin selling things for the benefit of the poor. A huge officer in epaulettes—she had been introduced to him in Staro-Kievsky Street when she was a schoolgirl, but now she could not remember his name—seemed to spring from out of the ground, begging her for a waltz, and she flew away from her husband, feeling as though she were floating away in a sailing-boat in a violent storm, while her husband was left far away on the shore. She danced passionately, with fervour, a waltz, then a polka and a quadrille, being snatched by one partner as soon as she was left by another, dizzy with music and the noise, mixing Russian with French, lisping, laughing, and with no thought of her husband or anything else. She excited great admiration among the men—that was evident, and indeed it could not have been otherwise; she was breathless with excitement, felt thirsty, and convulsively clutched her fan. Pyotr Leontyitch, her father, in a crumpled dress-coat that smelt of benzine, came up to her, offering her a plate of pink ice.

“You are enchanting this evening,” he said, looking at her rapturously, “and I have never so much regretted that you were in such a hurry to get married. . . . What was it for? I know you did it for our sake, but . . .” With a shaking hand he drew out a roll of notes and said: “I got the money for my lessons today, and can pay your husband what I owe him.”

She put the plate back into his hand, and was pounced upon by some one and borne off to a distance. She caught a glimpse over her partner’s shoulder of her father gliding over the floor, putting his arm round a lady and whirling down the ball-room with her.

“How sweet he is when he is sober!” she thought.

She danced the mazurka with the same huge officer; he moved gravely, as heavily as a dead carcase in a uniform, twitched his shoulders and his chest, stamped his feet very languidly—he felt fearfully disinclined to dance. She fluttered round him, provoking him by her beauty, her bare neck; her eyes glowed defiantly, her movements were passionate, while he became more and more indifferent, and held out his hands to her as graciously as a king.

“Bravo, bravo!” said people watching them.

But little by little the huge officer, too, broke out; he grew lively, excited, and, overcome by her fascination, was carried away and danced lightly, youthfully, while she merely moved her shoulders and looked slyly at him as though she were now the queen and he were her slave; and at that moment it seemed to her that the whole room was looking at them, and that everybody was thrilled and envied them. The huge officer had hardly had time to thank her for the dance, when the crowd suddenly parted and the men drew themselves up in a strange way, with their hands at their sides.

His Excellency, with two stars on his dress-coat, was walking up to her. Yes, His Excellency was walking straight towards her, for he was staring directly at her with a sugary smile, while he licked his lips as he always did when he saw a pretty woman.

“Delighted, delighted . . .” he began. “I shall order your husband to be clapped in a lock-up for keeping such a treasure hidden from us till now. I’ve come to you with a message from my wife,” he went on, offering her his arm. “You must help us. . . . M-m-yes. . . . We ought to give you the prize for beauty as they do in America . . . . M-m-yes. . . . The Americans. . . . My wife is expecting you impatiently.”

He led her to a stall and presented her to a middle-aged lady, the lower part of whose face was disproportionately large, so that she looked as though she were holding a big stone in her mouth.

“You must help us,” she said through her nose in a sing-song voice. “All the pretty women are working for our charity bazaar, and you are the only one enjoying yourself. Why won’t you help us?”

She went away, and Anna took her place by the cups and the silver samovar. She was soon doing a lively trade. Anna asked no less than a rouble for a cup of tea, and made the huge officer drink three cups. Artynov, the rich man with prominent eyes, who suffered from asthma, came up, too; he was not dressed in the strange costume in which Anna had seen him in the summer at the station, but wore a dress-coat like every one else. Keeping his eyes fixed on Anna, he drank a glass of champagne and paid a hundred roubles for it, then drank some tea and gave another hundred—all this without saying a word, as he was short of breath through asthma. . . . Anna invited purchasers and got money out of them, firmly convinced by now that her smiles and glances could not fail to afford these people great pleasure. She realized now that she was created exclusively for this noisy, brilliant, laughing life, with its music, its dancers, its adorers, and her old terror of a force that was sweeping down upon her and menacing to crush her seemed to her ridiculous: she was afraid of no one now, and only regretted that her mother could not be there to rejoice at her success.

Pyotr Leontyitch, pale by now but still steady on his legs, came up to the stall and asked for a glass of brandy. Anna turned crimson, expecting him to say something inappropriate (she was already ashamed of having such a poor and ordinary father); but he emptied his glass, took ten roubles out of his roll of notes, flung it down, and walked away with dignity without uttering a word. A little later she saw him dancing in the grand chain, and by now he was staggering and kept shouting something, to the great confusion of his partner; and Anna remembered how at the ball three years before he had staggered and shouted in the same way, and it had ended in the police-sergeant’s taking him home to bed, and next day the director had threatened to dismiss him from his post. How inappropriate that memory was!

When the samovars were put out in the stalls and the exhausted ladies handed over their takings to the middle-aged lady with the stone in her mouth, Artynov took Anna on his arm to the hall where supper was served to all who had assisted at the bazaar. There were some twenty people at supper, not more, but it was very noisy. His Excellency proposed a toast:

“In this magnificent dining-room it will be appropriate to drink to the success of the cheap dining-rooms, which are the object of today’s bazaar.”

The brigadier-general proposed the toast: “To the power by which even the artillery is vanquished,” and all the company clinked glasses with the ladies. It was very, very gay.

When Anna was escorted home it was daylight and the cooks were going to market. Joyful, intoxicated, full of new sensations, exhausted, she undressed, dropped into bed, and at once fell asleep. . . .

It was past one in the afternoon when the servant waked her and announced that M. Artynov had called. She dressed quickly and went down into the drawing-room. Soon after Artynov, His Excellency called to thank her for her assistance in the bazaar. With a sugary smile, chewing his lips, he kissed her hand, and asking her permission to come again, took his leave, while she remained standing in the middle of the drawing-room, amazed, enchanted, unable to believe that this change in her life, this marvellous change, had taken place so quickly; and at that moment Modest Alexeitch walked in . . . and he, too, stood before her now with the same ingratiating, sugary, cringingly respectful expression which she was accustomed to see on his face in the presence of the great and powerful; and with rapture, with indignation, with contempt, convinced that no harm would come to her from it, she said, articulating distinctly each word:

“Be off, you blockhead!”

From this time forward Anna never had one day free, as she was always taking part in picnics, expeditions, performances. She returned home every day after midnight, and went to bed on the floor in the drawing-room, and afterwards used to tell every one, touchingly, how she slept under flowers. She needed a very great deal of money, but she was no longer afraid of Modest Alexeitch, and spent his money as though it were her own; and she did not ask, did not demand it, simply sent him in the bills. “Give bearer two hundred roubles,” or “Pay one hundred roubles at once.”

At Easter Modest Alexeitch received the Anna of the second grade. When he went to offer his thanks, His Excellency put aside the paper he was reading and settled himself more comfortably in his chair.

“So now you have three Annas,” he said, scrutinizing his white hands and pink nails—“one on your buttonhole and two on your neck.”

Modest Alexeitch put two fingers to his lips as a precaution against laughing too loud and said:

“Now I have only to look forward to the arrival of a little Vladimir. I make bold to beg your Excellency to stand godfather.”

He was alluding to Vladimir of the fourth grade, and was already imagining how he would tell everywhere the story of this pun, so happy in its readiness and audacity, and he wanted to say something equally happy, but His Excellency was buried again in his newspaper, and merely gave him a nod.

And Anna went on driving about with three horses, going out hunting with Artynov, playing in one-act dramas, going out to supper, and was more and more rarely with her own family; they dined now alone. Pyotr Leontyitch was drinking more heavily than ever; there was no money, and the harmonium had been sold long ago for debt. The boys did not let him go out alone in the street now, but looked after him for fear he might fall down; and whenever they met Anna driving in Staro-Kievsky Street with a pair of horses and Artynov on the box instead of a coachman, Pyotr Leontyitch took off his top-hat, and was about to shout to her, but Petya and Andrusha took him by the arm, and said imploringly:

“You mustn’t, father. Hush, father!”


THE TEACHER OF LITERATURE

I

THERE was the thud of horses’ hoofs on the wooden floor; they brought out of the stable the black horse, Count Nulin; then the white, Giant; then his sister Maika. They were all magnificent, expensive horses. Old Shelestov saddled Giant and said, addressing his daughter Masha:

“Well, Marie Godefroi, come, get on! Hopla!”

Masha Shelestov was the youngest of the family; she was eighteen, but her family could not get used to thinking that she was not a little girl, and so they still called her Manya and Manyusa; and after there had been a circus in the town which she had eagerly visited, every one began to call her Marie Godefroi.

“Hop-la!” she cried, mounting Giant. Her sister Varya got on Maika, Nikitin on Count Nulin, the officers on their horses, and the long picturesque cavalcade, with the officers in white tunics and the ladies in their riding habits, moved at a walking pace out of the yard.

Nikitin noticed that when they were mounting the horses and afterwards riding out into the street, Masha for some reason paid attention to no one but himself. She looked anxiously at him and at Count Nulin and said:

“You must hold him all the time on the curb, Sergey Vassilitch. Don’t let him shy. He’s pretending.”

And either because her Giant was very friendly with Count Nulin, or perhaps by chance, she rode all the time beside Nikitin, as she had done the day before, and the day before that. And he looked at her graceful little figure sitting on the proud white beast, at her delicate profile, at the chimney-pot hat, which did not suit her at all and made her look older than her age—looked at her with joy, with tenderness, with rapture; listened to her, taking in little of what she said, and thought:

“I promise on my honour, I swear to God, I won’t be afraid and I’ll speak to her today.”

It was seven o’clock in the evening—the time when the scent of white acacia and lilac is so strong that the air and the very trees seem heavy with the fragrance. The band was already playing in the town gardens. The horses made a resounding thud on the pavement, on all sides there were sounds of laughter, talk, and the banging of gates. The soldiers they met saluted the officers, the schoolboys bowed to Nikitin, and all the people who were hurrying to the gardens to hear the band were pleased at the sight of the party. And how warm it was! How soft-looking were the clo