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The Darling and Other Stories

Anton Chekhov

Translated by Constance Garnett

This is the Bookwise complete ebook of The Darling and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov, available to read online as an alternative to epub, mobi, kindle, pdf or text only versions. For information about the status of this work, see Copyright Notice.



THE DARLING

OLENKA, the daughter of the retired collegiate assessor, Plemyanniakov, was sitting in her back porch, lost in thought. It was hot, the flies were persistent and teasing, and it was pleasant to reflect that it would soon be evening. Dark rainclouds were gathering from the east, and bringing from time to time a breath of moisture in the air.

Kukin, who was the manager of an open-air theatre called the Tivoli, and who lived in the lodge, was standing in the middle of the garden looking at the sky.

“Again!” he observed despairingly. “It’s going to rain again! Rain every day, as though to spite me. I might as well hang myself! It’s ruin! Fearful losses every day.”

He flung up his hands, and went on, addressing Olenka:

“There! that’s the life we lead, Olga Semyonovna. It’s enough to make one cry. One works and does one’s utmost, one wears oneself out, getting no sleep at night, and racks one’s brain what to do for the best. And then what happens? To begin with, one’s public is ignorant, boorish. I give them the very best operetta, a dainty masque, first rate music-hall artists. But do you suppose that’s what they want! They don’t understand anything of that sort. They want a clown; what they ask for is vulgarity. And then look at the weather! Almost every evening it rains. It started on the tenth of May, and it’s kept it up all May and June. It’s simply awful! The public doesn’t come, but I’ve to pay the rent just the same, and pay the artists.”

The next evening the clouds would gather again, and Kukin would say with an hysterical laugh:

“Well, rain away, then! Flood the garden, drown me! Damn my luck in this world and the next! Let the artists have me up! Send me to prison!–to Siberia!–the scaffold! Ha, ha, ha!”

And next day the same thing.

Olenka listened to Kukin with silent gravity, and sometimes tears came into her eyes. In the end his misfortunes touched her; she grew to love him. He was a small thin man, with a yellow face, and curls combed forward on his forehead. He spoke in a thin tenor; as he talked his mouth worked on one side, and there was always an expression of despair on his face; yet he aroused a deep and genuine affection in her. She was always fond of some one, and could not exist without loving. In earlier days she had loved her papa, who now sat in a darkened room, breathing with difficulty; she had loved her aunt who used to come every other year from Bryansk; and before that, when she was at school, she had loved her French master. She was a gentle, soft-hearted, compassionate girl, with mild, tender eyes and very good health. At the sight of her full rosy cheeks, her soft white neck with a little dark mole on it, and the kind, naïve smile, which came into her face when she listened to anything pleasant, men thought, “Yes, not half bad,” and smiled too, while lady visitors could not refrain from seizing her hand in the middle of a conversation, exclaiming in a gush of delight, “You darling!”

The house in which she had lived from her birth upwards, and which was left her in her father’s will, was at the extreme end of the town, not far from the Tivoli. In the evenings and at night she could head the band playing, and the crackling and banging of fireworks, and it seemed to her that it was Kukin struggling with his destiny, storming the entrenchments of his chief foe, the indifferent public; there was a sweet thrill at her heart, she had no desire to sleep, and when he returned home at day-break, she tapped softly at her bedroom window, and showing him only her face and one shoulder through the curtain, she gave him a friendly smile. . . .

He proposed to her, and they were married. And when he had a closer view of her neck and her plump, fine shoulders, he threw up his hands, and said:

“You darling!”

He was happy, but as it rained on the day and night of his wedding, his face still retained an expression of despair.

They got on very well together. She used to sit in his office, to look after things in the Tivoli, to put down the accounts and pay the wages. And her rosy cheeks, her sweet, naïve, radiant smile, were to be seen now at the office window, now in the refreshment bar or behind the scenes of the theatre. And already she used to say to her acquaintances that the theatre was the chief and most important thing in life and that it was only through the drama that one could derive true enjoyment and become cultivated and humane.

“But do you suppose the public understands that?” she used to say. “What they want is a clown. Yesterday we gave ‘Faust Inside Out,’ and almost all the boxes were empty; but if Vanitchka and I had been producing some vulgar thing, I assure you the theatre would have been packed. Tomorrow Vanitchka and I are doing ‘Orpheus in Hell.’ Do come.”

And what Kukin said about the theatre and the actors she repeated. Like him she despised the public for their ignorance and their indifference to art; she took part in the rehearsals, she corrected the actors, she kept an eye on the behaviour of the musicians, and when there was an unfavourable notice in the local paper, she shed tears, and then went to the editor’s office to set things right.

The actors were fond of her and used to call her “Vanitchka and I,” and “the darling”; she was sorry for them and used to lend them small sums of money, and if they deceived her, she used to shed a few tears in private, but did not complain to her husband.

They got on well in the winter too. They took the theatre in the town for the whole winter, and let it for short terms to a Little Russian company, or to a conjurer, or to a local dramatic society. Olenka grew stouter, and was always beaming with satisfaction, while Kukin grew thinner and yellower, and continually complained of their terrible losses, although he had not done badly all the winter. He used to cough at night, and she used to give him hot raspberry tea or lime-flower water, to rub him with eau-de-Cologne and to wrap him in her warm shawls.

“You’re such a sweet pet!” she used to say with perfect sincerity, stroking his hair. “You’re such a pretty dear!”

Towards Lent he went to Moscow to collect a new troupe, and without him she could not sleep, but sat all night at her window, looking at the stars, and she compared herself with the hens, who are awake all night and uneasy when the cock is not in the hen-house. Kukin was detained in Moscow, and wrote that he would be back at Easter, adding some instructions about the Tivoli. But on the Sunday before Easter, late in the evening, came a sudden ominous knock at the gate; some one was hammering on the gate as though on a barrel– boom, boom, boom! The drowsy cook went flopping with her bare feet through the puddles, as she ran to open the gate.

“Please open,” said some one outside in a thick bass. “There is a telegram for you.”

Olenka had received telegrams from her husband before, but this time for some reason she felt numb with terror. With shaking hands she opened the telegram and read as follows:

“IVAN PETROVITCH DIED SUDDENLY TO-DAY. AWAITING IMMATE INSTRUCTIONS FUFUNERAL TUESDAY.”

That was how it was written in the telegram–“fufuneral,” and the utterly incomprehensible word “immate.” It was signed by the stage manager of the operatic company.

“My darling!” sobbed Olenka. “Vanka, my precious, my darling! Why did I ever meet you! Why did I know you and love you! Your poor heart-broken Olenka is alone without you!”

Kukin’s funeral took place on Tuesday in Moscow, Olenka returned home on Wednesday, and as soon as she got indoors, she threw herself on her bed and sobbed so loudly that it could be heard next door, and in the street.

“Poor darling!” the neighbours said, as they crossed themselves. “Olga Semyonovna, poor darling! How she does take on!”

Three months later Olenka was coming home from mass, melancholy and in deep mourning. It happened that one of her neighbours, Vassily Andreitch Pustovalov, returning home from church, walked back beside her. He was the manager at Babakayev’s, the timber merchant’s. He wore a straw hat, a white waistcoat, and a gold watch-chain, and looked more a country gentleman than a man in trade.

“Everything happens as it is ordained, Olga Semyonovna,” he said gravely, with a sympathetic note in his voice; “and if any of our dear ones die, it must be because it is the will of God, so we ought have fortitude and bear it submissively.”

After seeing Olenka to her gate, he said good-bye and went on. All day afterwards she heard his sedately dignified voice, and whenever she shut her eyes she saw his dark beard. She liked him very much. And apparently she had made an impression on him too, for not long afterwards an elderly lady, with whom she was only slightly acquainted, came to drink coffee with her, and as soon as she was seated at table began to talk about Pustovalov, saying that he was an excellent man whom one could thoroughly depend upon, and that any girl would be glad to marry him. Three days later Pustovalov came himself. He did not stay long, only about ten minutes, and he did not say much, but when he left, Olenka loved him–loved him so much that she lay awake all night in a perfect fever, and in the morning she sent for the elderly lady. The match was quickly arranged, and then came the wedding.

Pustovalov and Olenka got on very well together when they were married.

Usually he sat in the office till dinner-time, then he went out on business, while Olenka took his place, and sat in the office till evening, making up accounts and booking orders.

“Timber gets dearer every year; the price rises twenty per cent,” she would say to her customers and friends. “Only fancy we used to sell local timber, and now Vassitchka always has to go for wood to the Mogilev district. And the freight!” she would add, covering her cheeks with her hands in horror. “The freight!”

It seemed to her that she had been in the timber trade for ages and ages, and that the most important and necessary thing in life was timber; and there was something intimate and touching to her in the very sound of words such as “baulk,” “post,” “beam,” “pole,” “scantling,” “batten,” “lath,” “plank,” etc.

At night when she was asleep she dreamed of perfect mountains of planks and boards, and long strings of wagons, carting timber somewhere far away. She dreamed that a whole regiment of six-inch beams forty feet high, standing on end, was marching upon the timber-yard; that logs, beams, and boards knocked together with the resounding crash of dry wood, kept falling and getting up again, piling themselves on each other. Olenka cried out in her sleep, and Pustovalov said to her tenderly: “Olenka, what’s the matter, darling? Cross yourself!”

Her husband’s ideas were hers. If he thought the room was too hot, or that business was slack, she thought the same. Her husband did not care for entertainments, and on holidays he stayed at home. She did likewise.

“You are always at home or in the office,” her friends said to her. “You should go to the theatre, darling, or to the circus.”

“Vassitchka and I have no time to go to theatres,” she would answer sedately. “We have no time for nonsense. What’s the use of these theatres?”

On Saturdays Pustovalov and she used to go to the evening service; on holidays to early mass, and they walked side by side with softened faces as they came home from church. There was a pleasant fragrance about them both, and her silk dress rustled agreeably. At home they drank tea, with fancy bread and jams of various kinds, and afterwards they ate pie. Every day at twelve o’clock there was a savoury smell of beet-root soup and of mutton or duck in their yard, and on fast-days of fish, and no one could pass the gate without feeling hungry. In the office the samovar was always boiling, and customers were regaled with tea and cracknels. Once a week the couple went to the baths and returned side by side, both red in the face.

“Yes, we have nothing to complain of, thank God,” Olenka used to say to her acquaintances. “I wish every one were as well off as Vassitchka and I.”

When Pustovalov went away to buy wood in the Mogilev district, she missed him dreadfully, lay awake and cried. A young veterinary surgeon in the army, called Smirnin, to whom they had let their lodge, used sometimes to come in in the evening. He used to talk to her and play cards with her, and this entertained her in her husband’s absence. She was particularly interested in what he told her of his home life. He was married and had a little boy, but was separated from his wife because she had been unfaithful to him, and now he hated her and used to send her forty roubles a month for the maintenance of their son. And hearing of all this, Olenka sighed and shook her head. She was sorry for him.

“Well, God keep you,” she used to say to him at parting, as she lighted him down the stairs with a candle. “Thank you for coming to cheer me up, and may the Mother of God give you health.”

And she always expressed herself with the same sedateness and dignity, the same reasonableness, in imitation of her husband. As the veterinary surgeon was disappearing behind the door below, she would say:

“You know, Vladimir Platonitch, you’d better make it up with your wife. You should forgive her for the sake of your son. You may be sure the little fellow understands.”

And when Pustovalov came back, she told him in a low voice about the veterinary surgeon and his unhappy home life, and both sighed and shook their heads and talked about the boy, who, no doubt, missed his father, and by some strange connection of ideas, they went up to the holy ikons, bowed to the ground before them and prayed that God would give them children.

And so the Pustovalovs lived for six years quietly and peaceably in love and complete harmony.

But behold! one winter day after drinking hot tea in the office, Vassily Andreitch went out into the yard without his cap on to see about sending off some timber, caught cold and was taken ill. He had the best doctors, but he grew worse and died after four months’ illness. And Olenka was a widow once more.

“I’ve nobody, now you’ve left me, my darling,” she sobbed, after her husband’s funeral. “How can I live without you, in wretchedness and misery! Pity me, good people, all alone in the world!”

She went about dressed in black with long “weepers,” and gave up wearing hat and gloves for good. She hardly ever went out, except to church, or to her husband’s grave, and led the life of a nun. It was not till six months later that she took off the weepers and opened the shutters of the windows. She was sometimes seen in the mornings, going with her cook to market for provisions, but what went on in her house and how she lived now could only be surmised. People guessed, from seeing her drinking tea in her garden with the veterinary surgeon, who read the newspaper aloud to her, and from the fact that, meeting a lady she knew at the post-office, she said to her:

“There is no proper veterinary inspection in our town, and that’s the cause of all sorts of epidemics. One is always hearing of people’s getting infection from the milk supply, or catching diseases from horses and cows. The health of domestic animals ought to be as well cared for as the health of human beings.”

She repeated the veterinary surgeon’s words, and was of the same opinion as he about everything. It was evident that she could not live a year without some attachment, and had found new happiness in the lodge. In any one else this would have been censured, but no one could think ill of Olenka; everything she did was so natural. Neither she nor the veterinary surgeon said anything to other people of the change in their relations, and tried, indeed, to conceal it, but without success, for Olenka could not keep a secret. When he had visitors, men serving in his regiment, and she poured out tea or served the supper, she would begin talking of the cattle plague, of the foot and mouth disease, and of the municipal slaughterhouses. He was dreadfully embarrassed, and when the guests had gone, he would seize her by the hand and hiss angrily:

“I’ve asked you before not to talk about what you don’t understand. When we veterinary surgeons are talking among ourselves, please don’t put your word in. It’s really annoying.”

And she would look at him with astonishment and dismay, and ask him in alarm: “But, Voloditchka, what am I to talk about?”

And with tears in her eyes she would embrace him, begging him not to be angry, and they were both happy.

But this happiness did not last long. The veterinary surgeon departed, departed for ever with his regiment, when it was transferred to a distant place–to Siberia, it may be. And Olenka was left alone.

Now she was absolutely alone. Her father had long been dead, and his armchair lay in the attic, covered with dust and lame of one leg. She got thinner and plainer, and when people met her in the street they did not look at her as they used to, and did not smile to her; evidently her best years were over and left behind, and now a new sort of life had begun for her, which did not bear thinking about. In the evening Olenka sat in the porch, and heard the band playing and the fireworks popping in the Tivoli, but now the sound stirred no response. She looked into her yard without interest, thought of nothing, wished for nothing, and afterwards, when night came on she went to bed and dreamed of her empty yard. She ate and drank as it were unwillingly.

And what was worst of all, she had no opinions of any sort. She saw the objects about her and understood what she saw, but could not form any opinion about them, and did not know what to talk about. And how awful it is not to have any opinions! One sees a bottle, for instance, or the rain, or a peasant driving in his cart, but what the bottle is for, or the rain, or the peasant, and what is the meaning of it, one can’t say, and could not even for a thousand roubles. When she had Kukin, or Pustovalov, or the veterinary surgeon, Olenka could explain everything, and give her opinion about anything you like, but now there was the same emptiness in her brain and in her heart as there was in her yard outside. And it was as harsh and as bitter as wormwood in the mouth.

Little by little the town grew in all directions. The road became a street, and where the Tivoli and the timber-yard had been, there were new turnings and houses. How rapidly time passes! Olenka’s house grew dingy, the roof got rusty, the shed sank on one side, and the whole yard was overgrown with docks and stinging-nettles. Olenka herself had grown plain and elderly; in summer she sat in the porch, and her soul, as before, was empty and dreary and full of bitterness. In winter she sat at her window and looked at the snow. When she caught the scent of spring, or heard the chime of the church bells, a sudden rush of memories from the past came over her, there was a tender ache in her heart, and her eyes brimmed over with tears; but this was only for a minute, and then came emptiness again and the sense of the futility of life. The black kitten, Briska, rubbed against her and purred softly, but Olenka was not touched by these feline caresses. That was not what she needed. She wanted a love that would absorb her whole being, her whole soul and reason–that would give her ideas and an object in life, and would warm her old blood. And she would shake the kitten off her skirt and say with vexation:

“Get along; I don’t want you!”

And so it was, day after day and year after year, and no joy, and no opinions. Whatever Mavra, the cook, said she accepted.

One hot July day, towards evening, just as the cattle were being driven away, and the whole yard was full of dust, some one suddenly knocked at the gate. Olenka went to open it herself and was dumbfounded when she looked out: she saw Smirnin, the veterinary surgeon, grey-headed, and dressed as a civilian. She suddenly remembered everything. She could not help crying and letting her head fall on his breast without uttering a word, and in the violence of her feeling she did not notice how they both walked into the house and sat down to tea.

“My dear Vladimir Platonitch! What fate has brought you?” she muttered, trembling with joy.

“I want to settle here for good, Olga Semyonovna,” he told her. “I have resigned my post, and have come to settle down and try my luck on my own account. Besides, it’s time for my boy to go to school. He’s a big boy. I am reconciled with my wife, you know.”

“Where is she?’ asked Olenka.

“She’s at the hotel with the boy, and I’m looking for lodgings.”

“Good gracious, my dear soul! Lodgings? Why not have my house? Why shouldn’t that suit you? Why, my goodness, I wouldn’t take any rent!” cried Olenka in a flutter, beginning to cry again. “You live here, and the lodge will do nicely for me. Oh dear! how glad I am!”

Next day the roof was painted and the walls were whitewashed, and Olenka, with her arms akimbo walked about the yard giving directions. Her face was beaming with her old smile, and she was brisk and alert as though she had waked from a long sleep. The veterinary’s wife arrived–a thin, plain lady, with short hair and a peevish expression. With her was her little Sasha, a boy of ten, small for his age, blue-eyed, chubby, with dimples in his cheeks. And scarcely had the boy walked into the yard when he ran after the cat, and at once there was the sound of his gay, joyous laugh.

“Is that your puss, auntie?” he asked Olenka. “When she has little ones, do give us a kitten. Mamma is awfully afraid of mice.”

Olenka talked to him, and gave him tea. Her heart warmed and there was a sweet ache in her bosom, as though the boy had been her own child. And when he sat at the table in the evening, going over his lessons, she looked at him with deep tenderness and pity as she murmured to herself:

“You pretty pet! . . . my precious! . . . Such a fair little thing, and so clever.”

“‘An island is a piece of land which is entirely surrounded by water,’” he read aloud.

“An island is a piece of land,” she repeated, and this was the first opinion to which she gave utterance with positive conviction after so many years of silence and dearth of ideas.

Now she had opinions of her own, and at supper she talked to Sasha’s parents, saying how difficult the lessons were at the high schools, but that yet the high school was better than a commercial one, since with a high-school education all careers were open to one, such as being a doctor or an engineer.

Sasha began going to the high school. His mother departed to Harkov to her sister’s and did not return; his father used to go off every day to inspect cattle, and would often be away from home for three days together, and it seemed to Olenka as though Sasha was entirely abandoned, that he was not wanted at home, that he was being starved, and she carried him off to her lodge and gave him a little room there.

And for six months Sasha had lived in the lodge with her. Every morning Olenka came into his bedroom and found him fast asleep, sleeping noiselessly with his hand under his cheek. She was sorry to wake him.

“Sashenka,” she would say mournfully, “get up, darling. It’s time for school.”

He would get up, dress and say his prayers, and then sit down to breakfast, drink three glasses of tea, and eat two large cracknels and a half a buttered roll. All this time he was hardly awake and a little ill-humoured in consequence.

“You don’t quite know your fable, Sashenka,” Olenka would say, looking at him as though he were about to set off on a long journey. “What a lot of trouble I have with you! You must work and do your best, darling, and obey your teachers.”

“Oh, do leave me alone!” Sasha would say.

Then he would go down the street to school, a little figure, wearing a big cap and carrying a satchel on his shoulder. Olenka would follow him noiselessly.

“Sashenka!” she would call after him, and she would pop into his hand a date or a caramel. When he reached the street where the school was, he would feel ashamed of being followed by a tall, stout woman, he would turn round and say:

“You’d better go home, auntie. I can go the rest of the way alone.”

She would stand still and look after him fixedly till he had disappeared at the school-gate.

Ah, how she loved him! Of her former attachments not one had been so deep; never had her soul surrendered to any feeling so spontaneously, so disinterestedly, and so joyously as now that her maternal instincts were aroused. For this little boy with the dimple in his cheek and the big school cap, she would have given her whole life, she would have given it with joy and tears of tenderness. Why? Who can tell why?

When she had seen the last of Sasha, she returned home, contented and serene, brimming over with love; her face, which had grown younger during the last six months, smiled and beamed; people meeting her looked at her with pleasure.

“Good-morning, Olga Semyonovna, darling. How are you, darling?”

“The lessons at the high school are very difficult now,” she would relate at the market. “It’s too much; in the first class yesterday they gave him a fable to learn by heart, and a Latin translation and a problem. You know it’s too much for a little chap.”

And she would begin talking about the teachers, the lessons, and the school books, saying just what Sasha said.

At three o’clock they had dinner together: in the evening they learned their lessons together and cried. When she put him to bed, she would stay a long time making the Cross over him and murmuring a prayer; then she would go to bed and dream of that far-away misty future when Sasha would finish his studies and become a doctor or an engineer, would have a big house of his own with horses and a carriage, would get married and have children. . . . She would fall asleep still thinking of the same thing, and tears would run down her cheeks from her closed eyes, while the black cat lay purring beside her: “Mrr, mrr, mrr.”

Suddenly there would come a loud knock at the gate.

Olenka would wake up breathless with alarm, her heart throbbing. Half a minute later would come another knock.

“It must be a telegram from Harkov,” she would think, beginning to tremble from head to foot. “Sasha’s mother is sending for him from Harkov. . . . Oh, mercy on us!”

She was in despair. Her head, her hands, and her feet would turn chill, and she would feel that she was the most unhappy woman in the world. But another minute would pass, voices would be heard: it would turn out to be the veterinary surgeon coming home from the club.

“Well, thank God!” she would think.

And gradually the load in her heart would pass off, and she would feel at ease. She would go back to bed thinking of Sasha, who lay sound asleep in the next room, sometimes crying out in his sleep:

“I’ll give it you! Get away! Shut up!”


ARIADNE

ON the deck of a steamer sailing from Odessa to Sevastopol, a rather good-looking gentleman, with a little round beard, came up to me to smoke, and said:

“Notice those Germans sitting near the shelter? Whenever Germans or Englishmen get together, they talk about the crops, the price of wool, or their personal affairs. But for some reason or other when we Russians get together we never discuss anything but women and abstract subjects–but especially women.”

This gentleman’s face was familiar to me already. We had returned from abroad the evening before in the same train, and at Volotchisk when the luggage was being examined by the Customs, I saw him standing with a lady, his travelling companion, before a perfect mountain of trunks and baskets filled with ladies’ clothes, and I noticed how embarrassed and downcast he was when he had to pay duty on some piece of silk frippery, and his companion protested and threatened to make a complaint. Afterwards, on the way to Odessa, I saw him carrying little pies and oranges to the ladies’ compartment.

It was rather damp; the vessel swayed a little, and the ladies had retired to their cabins.

The gentleman with the little round beard sat down beside me and continued:

“Yes, when Russians come together they discuss nothing but abstract subjects and women. We are so intellectual, so solemn, that we utter nothing but truths and can discuss only questions of a lofty order. The Russian actor does not know how to be funny; he acts with profundity even in a farce. We’re just the same: when we have got to talk of trifles we treat them only from an exalted point of view. It comes from a lack of boldness, sincerity, and simplicity. We talk so often about women, I fancy, because we are dissatisfied. We take too ideal a view of women, and make demands out of all proportion with what reality can give us; we get something utterly different from what we want, and the result is dissatisfaction, shattered hopes, and inward suffering, and if any one is suffering, he’s bound to talk of it. It does not bore you to go on with this conversation?

“No, not in the least.”

“In that case, allow me to introduce myself,” said my companion, rising from his seat a little:

“Ivan Ilyitch Shamohin, a Moscow landowner of a sort. . . . You I know very well.”

He sat down and went on, looking at me with a genuine and friendly expression:

“A mediocre philosopher, like Max Nordau, would explain these incessant conversations about women as a form of erotic madness, or would put it down to our having been slave-owners and so on; I take quite a different view of it. I repeat, we are dissatisfied because we are idealists. We want the creatures who bear us and our children to be superior to us and to everything in the world. When we are young we adore and poeticize those with whom we are in love: love and happiness with us are synonyms. Among us in Russia marriage without love is despised, sensuality is ridiculed and inspires repulsion, and the greatest success is enjoyed by those tales and novels in which women are beautiful, poetical, and exalted; and if the Russian has been for years in ecstasies over Raphael’s Madonna, or is eager for the emancipation of women, I assure you there is no affectation about it. But the trouble is that when we have been married or been intimate with a woman for some two or three years, we begin to feel deceived and disillusioned: we pair off with others, and again–disappointment, again–repulsion, and in the long run we become convinced that women are lying, trivial, fussy, unfair, undeveloped, cruel–in fact, far from being superior, are immeasurably inferior to us men. And in our dissatisfaction and disappointment there is nothing left for us but to grumble and talk about what we’ve been so cruelly deceived in.”

While Shamohin was talking I noticed that the Russian language and our Russian surroundings gave him great pleasure. This was probably because he had been very homesick abroad. Though he praised the Russians and ascribed to them a rare idealism, he did not disparage foreigners, and that I put down to his credit. It could be seen, too, that there was some uneasiness in his soul, that he wanted to talk more of himself than of women, and that I was in for a long story in the nature of a confession. And when we had asked for a bottle of wine and had each of us drunk a glass, this was how he did in fact begin:

“I remember in a novel of Weltmann’s some one says, ‘So that’s the story!’ and some one else answers, ‘No, that’s not the story– that’s only the introduction to the story.’ In the same way what I’ve said so far is only the introduction; what I really want to tell you is my own love story. Excuse me, I must ask you again; it won’t bore you to listen?”

I told him it would not, and he went on:

The scene of my story is laid in the Moscow province in one of its northern districts. The scenery there, I must tell you, is exquisite. Our homestead is on the high bank of a rapid stream, where the water chatters noisily day and night: imagine a big old garden, neat flower-beds, beehives, a kitchen-garden, and below it a river with leafy willows, which, when there is a heavy dew on them, have a lustreless look as though they had turned grey; and on the other side a meadow, and beyond the meadow on the upland a terrible, dark pine forest. In that forest delicious, reddish agarics grow in endless profusion, and elks still live in its deepest recesses. When I am nailed up in my coffin I believe I shall still dream of those early mornings, you know, when the sun hurts your eyes: or the wonderful spring evenings when the nightingales and the landrails call in the garden and beyond the garden, and sounds of the harmonica float across from the village, while they play the piano indoors and the stream babbles . . . when there is such music, in fact, that one wants at the same time to cry and to sing aloud.

We have not much arable land, but our pasture makes up for it, and with the forest yields about two thousand roubles a year. I am the only son of my father; we are both modest persons, and with my father’s pension that sum was amply sufficient for us.

The first three years after finishing at the university I spent in the country, looking after the estate and constantly expecting to be elected on some local assembly; but what was most important, I was violently in love with an extraordinarily beautiful and fascinating girl. She was the sister of our neighbour, Kotlovitch, a ruined landowner who had on his estate pine-apples, marvellous peaches, lightning conductors, a fountain in the courtyard, and at the same time not a farthing in his pocket. He did nothing and knew how to do nothing. He was as flabby as though he had been made of boiled turnip; he used to doctor the peasants by homeopathy and was interested in spiritualism. He was, however, a man of great delicacy and mildness, and by no means a fool, but I have no fondness for these gentlemen who converse with spirits and cure peasant women by magnetism. In the first place, the ideas of people who are not intellectually free are always in a muddle, and it’s extremely difficult to talk to them; and, secondly, they usually love no one, and have nothing to do with women, and their mysticism has an unpleasant effect on sensitive people. I did not care for his appearance either. He was tall, stout, white-skinned, with a little head, little shining eyes, and chubby white fingers. He did not shake hands, but kneaded one’s hands in his. And he was always apologising. If he asked for anything it was “Excuse me”; if he gave you anything it was “Excuse me” too.

As for his sister, she was a character out of a different opera. I must explain that I had not been acquainted with the Kotlovitches in my childhood and early youth, for my father had been a professor at N., and we had for many years lived away. When I did make their acquaintance the girl was twenty-two, had left school long before, and had spent two or three years in Moscow with a wealthy aunt who brought her out into society. When I was introduced and first had to talk to her, what struck me most of all was her rare and beautiful name–Ariadne. It suited her so wonderfully! She was a brunette, very thin, very slender, supple, elegant, and extremely graceful, with refined and exceedingly noble features. Her eyes were shining, too, but her brother’s shone with a cold sweetness, mawkish as sugar-candy, while hers had the glow of youth, proud and beautiful. She conquered me on the first day of our acquaintance, and indeed it was inevitable. My first impression was so overwhelming that to this day I cannot get rid of my illusions; I am still tempted to imagine that nature had some grand, marvellous design when she created that girl.

Ariadne’s voice, her walk, her hat, even her footprints on the sandy bank where she used to angle for gudgeon, filled me with delight and a passionate hunger for life. I judged of her spiritual being from her lovely face and lovely figure, and every word, every smile of Ariadne’s bewitched me, conquered me and forced me to believe in the loftiness of her soul. She was friendly, ready to talk, gay and simple in her manners. She had a poetic belief in God, made poetic reflections about death, and there was such a wealth of varying shades in her spiritual organisation that even her faults seemed in her to carry with them peculiar, charming qualities. Suppose she wanted a new horse and had no money–what did that matter? Something might be sold or pawned, or if the steward swore that nothing could possibly be sold or pawned, the iron roofs might be torn off the lodges and taken to the factory, or at the very busiest time the farm-horses might be driven to the market and sold there for next to nothing. These unbridled desires reduced the whole household to despair at times, but she expressed them with such refinement that everything was forgiven her; all things were permitted her as to a goddess or to Cæsar’s wife. My love was pathetic and was soon noticed by every one–my father, the neighbours, and the peasants–and they all sympathised with me. When I stood the workmen vodka, they would bow and say: “May the Kotlovitch young lady be your bride, please God!”

And Ariadne herself knew that I loved her. She would often ride over on horseback or drive in the char-à-banc to see us, and would spend whole days with me and my father. She made great friends with the old man, and he even taught her to bicycle, which was his favourite amusement.

I remember helping her to get on the bicycle one evening, and she looked so lovely that I felt as though I were burning my hands when I touched her. I shuddered with rapture, and when the two of them, my old father and she, both looking so handsome and elegant, bicycled side by side along the main road, a black horse ridden by the steward dashed aside on meeting them, and it seemed to me that it dashed aside because it too was overcome by her beauty. My love, my worship, touched Ariadne and softened her; she had a passionate longing to be captivated like me and to respond with the same love. It was so poetical!

But she was incapable of really loving as I did, for she was cold and already somewhat corrupted. There was a demon in her, whispering to her day and night that she was enchanting, adorable; and, having no definite idea for what object she was created, or for what purpose life had been given her, she never pictured herself in the future except as very wealthy and distinguished, she had visions of balls, races, liveries, of sumptuous drawing-rooms, of a salon of her own, and of a perfect swarm of counts, princes, ambassadors, celebrated painters and artists, all of them adoring her and in ecstasies over her beauty and her dresses. . . .

This thirst for personal success, and this continual concentration of the mind in one direction, makes people cold, and Ariadne was cold–to me, to nature, and to music. Meanwhile time was passing, and still there were no ambassadors on the scene. Ariadne went on living with her brother, the spiritualist: things went from bad to worse, so that she had nothing to buy hats and dresses with, and had to resort to all sorts of tricks and dodges to conceal her poverty.

As luck would have it, a certain Prince Maktuev, a wealthy man but an utterly insignificant person, had paid his addresses to her when she was living at her aunt’s in Moscow. She had refused him, point-blank. But now she was fretted by the worm of repentance that she had refused him; just as a peasant pouts with repulsion at a mug of kvass with cockroaches in it but yet drinks it, so she frowned disdainfully at the recollection of the prince, and yet she would say to me: “Say what you like, there is something inexplicable, fascinating, in a title. . . .”

She dreamed of a title, of a brilliant position, and at the same time she did not want to let me go. However one may dream of ambassadors one’s heart is not a stone, and one has wistful feelings for one’s youth. Ariadne tried to fall in love, made a show of being in love, and even swore that she loved me. But I am a highly strung and sensitive man; when I am loved I feel it even at a distance, without vows and assurances; at once I felt as it were a coldness in the air, and when she talked to me of love, it seemed to me as though I were listening to the singing of a metal nightingale. Ariadne was herself aware that she was lacking in something. She was vexed and more than once I saw her cry. Another time–can you imagine it?–all of a sudden she embraced me and kissed me. It happened in the evening on the river-bank, and I saw by her eyes that she did not love me, but was embracing me from curiosity, to test herself and to see what came of it. And I felt dreadful. I took her hands and said to her in despair: “These caresses without love cause me suffering!”

“What a queer fellow you are!” she said with annoyance, and walked away.

Another year or two might have passed, and in all probability I should have married her, and so my story would have ended, but fate was pleased to arrange our romance differently. It happened that a new personage appeared on our horizon. Ariadne’s brother had a visit from an old university friend called Mihail Ivanitch Lubkov, a charming man of whom coachmen and footmen used to say: “An entertaining gentleman.” He was a man of medium height, lean and bald, with a face like a good-natured bourgeois, not interesting, but pale and presentable, with a stiff, well-kept moustache, with a neck like gooseskin, and a big Adam’s apple. He used to wear pince-nez on a wide black ribbon, lisped, and could not pronounce either r or l. He was always in good spirits, everything amused him.

He had made an exceedingly foolish marriage at twenty, and had acquired two houses in Moscow as part of his wife’s dowry. He began doing them up and building a bath-house, and was completely ruined. Now his wife and four children lodged in Oriental Buildings in great poverty, and he had to support them–and this amused him. He was thirty-six and his wife was by now forty-two, and that, too, amused him. His mother, a conceited, sulky personage, with aristocratic pretensions, despised his wife and lived apart with a perfect menagerie of cats and dogs, and he had to allow her seventy-five roubles a month also; he was, too, a man of taste, liked lunching at the Slavyansky Bazaar and dining at the Hermitage; he needed a great deal of money, but his uncle only allowed him two thousand roubles a year, which was not enough, and for days together he would run about Moscow with his tongue out, as the saying is, looking for some one to borrow from–and this, too, amused him. He had come to Kotlovitch to find in the lap of nature, as he said, a rest from family life. At dinner, at supper, and on our walks, he talked about his wife, about his mother, about his creditors, about the bailiffs, and laughed at them; he laughed at himself and assured us that, thanks to his talent for borrowing, he had made a great number of agreeable acquaintances. He laughed without ceasing and we laughed too. Moreover, in his company we spent our time differently. I was more inclined to quiet, so to say idyllic pleasures; I liked fishing, evening walks, gathering mushrooms; Lubkov preferred picnics, fireworks, hunting. He used to get up picnics three times a week, and Ariadne, with an earnest and inspired face, used to write a list of oysters, champagne, sweets, and used to send me into Moscow to get them, without inquiring, of course, whether I had money. And at the picnics there were toasts and laughter, and again mirthful descriptions of how old his wife was, what fat lap-dogs his mother had, and what charming people his creditors were.

Lubkov was fond of nature, but he regarded it as something long familiar and at the same time, in reality, infinitely beneath himself and created for his pleasure. He would sometimes stand still before some magnificent landscape and say: “It would be nice to have tea here.”

One day, seeing Ariadne walking in the distance with a parasol, he nodded towards her and said:

“She’s thin, and that’s what I like; I don’t like fat women.”

This made me wince. I asked him not to speak like that about women before me. He looked at me in surprise and said:

“What is there amiss in my liking thin women and not caring for fat ones?”

I made no answer. Afterwards, being in very good spirits and a trifle elevated, he said:

“I’ve noticed Ariadne Grigoryevna likes you. I can’t understand why you don’t go in and win.”

His words made me feel uncomfortable, and with some embarrassment I told him how I looked at love and women.

“I don’t know,” he sighed; “to my thinking, a woman’s a woman and a man’s a man. Ariadne Grigoryevna may be poetical and exalted, as you say, but it doesn’t follow that she must be superior to the laws of nature. You see for yourself that she has reached the age when she must have a husband or a lover. I respect women as much as you do, but I don’t think certain relations exclude poetry. Poetry’s one thing and love is another. It’s just the same as it is in farming. The beauty of nature is one thing and the income from your forests or fields is quite another.”

When Ariadne and I were fishing, Lubkov would lie on the sand close by and make fun of me, or lecture me on the conduct of life.

“I wonder, my dear sir, how you can live without a love affair,” he would say. “You are young, handsome, interesting–in fact, you’re a man not to be sniffed at, yet you live like a monk. Och! I can’t stand these fellows who are old at twenty-eight! I’m nearly ten years older than you are, and yet which of us is the younger? Ariadne Grigoryevna, which?”

“You, of course,” Ariadne answered him.

And when he was bored with our silence and the attention with which we stared at our floats he went home, and she said, looking at me angrily:

“You’re really not a man, but a mush, God forgive me! A man ought to be able to be carried away by his feelings, he ought to be able to be mad, to make mistakes, to suffer! A woman will forgive you audacity and insolence, but she will never forgive your reasonableness!”

She was angry in earnest, and went on:

“To succeed, a man must be resolute and bold. Lubkov is not so handsome as you are, but he is more interesting. He will always succeed with women because he’s not like you; he’s a man. . . .”

And there was actually a note of exasperation in her voice.

One day at supper she began saying, not addressing me, that if she were a man she would not stagnate in the country, but would travel, would spend the winter somewhere aboard–in Italy, for instance. Oh, Italy! At this point my father unconsciously poured oil on the flames; he began telling us at length about Italy, how splendid it was there, the exquisite scenery, the museums. Ariadne suddenly conceived a burning desire to go to Italy. She positively brought her fist down on the table and her eyes flashed as she said: “I must go!”

After that came conversations every day about Italy: how splendid it would be in Italy–ah, Italy!–oh, Italy! And when Ariadne looked at me over her shoulder, from her cold and obstinate expression I saw that in her dreams she had already conquered Italy with all its salons, celebrated foreigners and tourists, and there was no holding her back now. I advised her to wait a little, to put off her tour for a year or two, but she frowned disdainfully and said:

“You’re as prudent as an old woman!”

Lubkov was in favour of the tour. He said it could be done very cheaply, and he, too, would go to Italy and have a rest there from family life.

I behaved, I confess, as naïvely as a schoolboy.

Not from jealousy, but from a foreboding of something terrible and extraordinary, I tried as far as possible not to leave them alone together, and they made fun of me. For instance, when I went in they would pretend they had just been kissing one another, and so on. But lo and behold, one fine morning, her plump, white-skinned brother, the spiritualist, made his appearance and expressed his desire to speak to me alone.

He was a man without will; in spite of his education and his delicacy he could never resist reading another person’s letter, if it lay before him on the table. And now he admitted that he had by chance read a letter of Lubkov’s to Ariadne.

“From that letter I learned that she is very shortly going abroad. My dear fellow, I am very much upset! Explain it to me for goodness’ sake. I can make nothing of it!”

As he said this he breathed hard, breathing straight in my face and smelling of boiled beef.

“Excuse me for revealing the secret of this letter to you, but you are Ariadne’s friend, she respects you. Perhaps you know something of it. She wants to go away, but with whom? Mr. Lubkov is proposing to go with her. Excuse me, but this is very strange of Mr. Lubkov; he is a married man, he has children, and yet he is making a declaration of love; he is writing to Ariadne ‘darling.’ Excuse me, but it is so strange!”

I turned cold all over; my hands and feet went numb and I felt an ache in my chest, as if a three-cornered stone had been driven into it. Kotlovitch sank helplessly into an easy-chair, and his hands fell limply at his sides.

“What can I do?” I inquired.

“Persuade her. . . . Impress her mind. . . . Just consider, what is Lubkov to her? Is he a match for her? Oh, good God! How awful it is, how awful it is!” he went on, clutching his head. “She has had such splendid offers–Prince Maktuev and . . . and others. The prince adores her, and only last Wednesday week his late grandfather, Ilarion, declared positively that Ariadne would be his wife–positively! His grandfather Ilarion is dead, but he is a wonderfully intelligent person; we call up his spirit every day.”

After this conversation I lay awake all night and thought of shooting myself. In the morning I wrote five letters and tore them all up. Then I sobbed in the barn. Then I took a sum of money from my father and set off for the Caucasus without saying good-bye.

Of course, a woman’s a woman and a man’s a man, but can all that be as simple in our day as it was before the Flood, and can it be that I, a cultivated man endowed with a complex spiritual organisation, ought to explain the intense attraction I feel towards a woman simply by the fact that her bodily formation is different from mine? Oh, how awful that would be! I want to believe that in his struggle with nature the genius of man has struggled with physical love too, as with an enemy, and that, if he has not conquered it, he has at least succeeded in tangling it in a net-work of illusions of brotherhood and love; and for me, at any rate, it is no longer a simple instinct of my animal nature as with a dog or a toad, but is real love, and every embrace is spiritualised by a pure impulse of the heart and respect for the woman. In reality, a disgust for the animal instinct has been trained for ages in hundreds of generations; it is inherited by me in my blood and forms part of my nature, and if I poetize love, is not that as natural and inevitable in our day as my ears’ not being able to move and my not being covered with fur? I fancy that’s how the majority of civilised people look at it, so that the absence of the moral, poetical element in love is treated in these days as a phenomenon, as a sign of atavism; they say it is a symptom of degeneracy, of many forms of insanity. It is true that, in poetizing love, we assume in those we love qualities that are lacking in them, and that is a source of continual mistakes and continual miseries for us. But to my thinking it is better, even so; that is, it is better to suffer than to find complacency on the basis of woman being woman and man being man.

In Tiflis I received a letter from my father. He wrote that Ariadne Grigoryevna had on such a day gone abroad, intending to spend the whole winter away. A month later I returned home. It was by now autumn. Every week Ariadne sent my father extremely interesting letters on scented paper, written in an excellent literary style. It is my opinion that every woman can be a writer. Ariadne described in great detail how it had not been easy for her to make it up with her aunt and induce the latter to give her a thousand roubles for the journey, and what a long time she had spent in Moscow trying to find an old lady, a distant relation, in order to persuade her to go with her. Such a profusion of detail suggested fiction, and I realised, of course, that she had no chaperon with her.

Soon afterwards I, too, had a letter from her, also scented and literary. She wrote that she had missed me, missed my beautiful, intelligent, loving eyes. She reproached me affectionately for wasting my youth, for stagnating in the country when I might, like her, be living in paradise under the palms, breathing the fragrance of the orange-trees. And she signed herself “Your forsaken Ariadne.” Two days later came another letter in the same style, signed “Your forgotten Ariadne.” My mind was confused. I loved her passionately, I dreamed of her every night, and then this “your forsaken,” “your forgotten”–what did it mean? What was it for? And then the dreariness of the country, the long evenings, the disquieting thoughts of Lubkov. . . . The uncertainty tortured me, and poisoned my days and nights; it became unendurable. I could not bear it and went abroad.

Ariadne summoned me to Abbazzia. I arrived there on a bright warm day after rain; the rain-drops were still hanging on the trees and glistening on the huge, barrack-like dépendance where Ariadne and Lubkov were living.

They were not at home. I went into the park; wandered about the avenues, then sat down. An Austrian General, with his hands behind him, walked past me, with red stripes on his trousers such as our generals wear. A baby was wheeled by in a perambulator and the wheels squeaked on the damp sand. A decrepit old man with jaundice passed, then a crowd of Englishwomen, a Catholic priest, then the Austrian General again. A military band, only just arrived from Fiume, with glittering brass instruments, sauntered by to the bandstand–they began playing.

Have you ever been at Abbazzia? It’s a filthy little Slav town with only one street, which stinks, and in which one can’t walk after rain without goloshes. I had read so much and always with such intense feeling about this earthly paradise that when afterwards, holding up my trousers, I cautiously crossed the narrow street, and in my ennui bought some hard pears from an old peasant woman who, recognising me as a Russian, said: “Tcheeteery” for “tchetyry” (four)–“davadtsat” for “dvadtsat” (twenty), and when I wondered in perplexity where to go and what to do here, and when I inevitably met Russians as disappointed as I was, I began to feel vexed and ashamed. There is a calm bay there full of steamers and boats with coloured sails. From there I could see Fiume and the distant islands covered with lilac mist, and it would have been picturesque if the view over the bay had not been hemmed in by the hotels and their dépendances–buildings in an absurd, trivial style of architecture, with which the whole of that green shore has been covered by greedy money grubbers, so that for the most part you see nothing in this little paradise but windows, terraces, and little squares with tables and waiters’ black coats. There is a park such as you find now in every watering-place abroad. And the dark, motionless, silent foliage of the palms, and the bright yellow sand in the avenue, and the bright green seats, and the glitter of the braying military horns–all this sickened me in ten minutes! And yet one is obliged for some reason to spend ten days, ten weeks, there!

Having been dragged reluctantly from one of these watering-places to another, I have been more and more struck by the inconvenient and niggardly life led by the wealthy and well-fed, the dulness and feebleness of their imagination, the lack of boldness in their tastes and desires. And how much happier are those tourists, old and young, who, not having the money to stay in hotels, live where they can, admire the view of the sea from the tops of the mountains, lying on the green grass, walk instead of riding, see the forests and villages at close quarters, observe the customs of the country, listen to its songs, fall in love with its women. . . .

While I was sitting in the park, it began to get dark, and in the twilight my Ariadne appeared, elegant and dressed like a princess; after her walked Lubkov, wearing a new loose-fitting suit, bought probably in Vienna.

“Why are you cross with me?” he was saying. “What have I done to you?”

Seeing me, she uttered a cry of joy, and probably, if we had not been in the park, would have thrown herself on my neck. She pressed my hands warmly and laughed; and I laughed too and almost cried with emotion. Questions followed, of the village, of my father, whether I had seen her brother, and so on. She insisted on my looking her straight in the face, and asked if I remembered the gudgeon, our little quarrels, the picnics. . . .

“How nice it all was really!” she sighed. “But we’re not having a slow time here either. We have a great many acquaintances, my dear, my best of friends! To-morrow I will introduce you to a Russian family here, but please buy yourself another hat.” She scrutinised me and frowned. “Abbazzia is not the country,” she said; “here one must be comme il faut.”

Then we went to the restaurant. Ariadne was laughing and mischievous all the time; she kept calling me “dear,” “good,” “clever,” and seemed as though she could not believe her eyes that I was with her. We sat on till eleven o’clock, and parted very well satisfied both with the supper and with each other.

Next day Ariadne presented me to the Russian family as: “The son of a distinguished professor whose estate is next to ours.”

She talked to this family about nothing but estates and crops, and kept appealing to me. She wanted to appear to be a very wealthy landowner, and did, in fact, succeed in doing so. Her manner was superb like that of a real aristocrat, which indeed she was by birth.

“But what a person my aunt is!” she said suddenly, looking at me with a smile. “We had a slight tiff, and she has bolted off to Meran. What do you say to that?”

Afterwards when we were walking in the park I asked her:

“What aunt were you talking of just now? What aunt is that?”

“That was a saving lie,” laughed Ariadne. “They must not know I’m without a chaperon.”

After a moment’s silence she came closer to me and said:

“My dear, my dear, do be friends with Lubkov. He is so unhappy! His wife and mother are simply awful.”

She used the formal mode of address in speaking to Lubkov, and when she was going up to bed she said good-night to him exactly as she did to me, and their rooms were on different floors. All this made me hope that it was all nonsense, and that there was no sort of love affair between them, and I felt at ease when I met him. And when one day he asked me for the loan of three hundred roubles, I gave it to him with the greatest pleasure.

Every day we spent in enjoying ourselves and in nothing but enjoying ourselves; we strolled in the park, we ate, we drank. Every day there were conversations with the Russian family. By degrees I got used to the fact that if I went into the park I should be sure to meet the old man with jaundice, the Catholic priest, and the Austrian General, who always carried a pack of little cards, and wherever it was possible sat down and played patience, nervously twitching his shoulders. And the band played the same thing over and over again.

At home in the country I used to feel ashamed to meet the peasants when I was fishing or on a picnic party on a working day; here too I was ashamed at the sight of the footmen, the coachmen, and the workmen who met us. It always seemed to me they were looking at me and thinking: “Why are you doing nothing?” And I was conscious of this feeling of shame every day from morning to night. It was a strange, unpleasant, monotonous time; it was only varied by Lubkov’s borrowing from me now a hundred, now fifty guldens, and being suddenly revived by the money as a morphia-maniac is by morphia, beginning to laugh loudly at his wife, at himself, at his creditors.

At last it began to be rainy and cold. We went to Italy, and I telegraphed to my father begging him for mercy’s sake to send me eight hundred roubles to Rome. We stayed in Venice, in Bologna, in Florence, and in every town invariably put up at an expensive hotel, where we were charged separately for lights, and for service, and for heating, and for bread at lunch, and for the right of having dinner by ourselves. We ate enormously. In the morning they gave us café complet; at one o’clock lunch: meat, fish, some sort of omelette, cheese, fruits, and wine. At six o’clock dinner of eight courses with long intervals, during which we drank beer and wine. At nine o’clock tea. At midnight Ariadne would declare she was hungry, and ask for ham and boiled eggs. We would eat to keep her company.

In the intervals between meals we used to rush about the museums and exhibitions in continual anxiety for fear we should be late for dinner or lunch. I was bored at the sight of the pictures; I longed to be at home to rest; I was exhausted, looked about for a chair and hypocritically repeated after other people: “How exquisite, what atmosphere!” Like overfed boa constrictors, we noticed only the most glaring objects. The shop windows hypnotised us; we went into ecstasies over imitation brooches and bought a mass of useless trumpery.

The same thing happened in Rome, where it rained and there was a cold wind. After a heavy lunch we went to look at St. Peter’s, and thanks to our replete condition and perhaps the bad weather, it made no sort of impression on us, and detecting in each other an indifference to art, we almost quarrelled.

The money came from my father. I went to get it, I remember, in the morning. Lubkov went with me.

“The present cannot be full and happy when one has a past,” said he. “I have heavy burdens left on me by the past. However, if only I get the money, it’s no great matter, but if not, I’m in a fix. Would you believe it, I have only eight francs left, yet I must send my wife a hundred and my mother another. And we must live here too. Ariadne’s like a child; she won’t enter into the position, and flings away money like a duchess. Why did she buy a watch yesterday? And, tell me, what object is there in our going on playing at being good children? Why, our hiding our relations from the servants and our friends costs us from ten to fifteen francs a day, as I have to have a separate room. What’s the object of it?”

I felt as though a sharp stone had been turned round in my chest. There was no uncertainty now; it was all clear to me. I turned cold all over, and at once made a resolution to give up seeing them, to run away from them, to go home at once. . . .

“To get on terms with a woman is easy enough,” Lubkov went on. “You have only to undress her; but afterwards what a bore it is, what a silly business!”

When I counted over the money I received he said:

“If you don’t lend me a thousand francs, I am faced with complete ruin. Your money is the only resource left to me.”

I gave him the money, and he at once revived and began laughing about his uncle, a queer fish, who could never keep his address secret from his wife. When I reached the hotel I packed and paid my bill. I had still to say good-bye to Ariadne.

I knocked at the door.

“Entrez!”

In her room was the usual morning disorder: tea-things on the table, an unfinished roll, an eggshell; a strong overpowering reek of scent. The bed had not been made, and it was evident that two had slept in it.

Ariadne herself had only just got out of bed and was now with her hair down in a flannel dressing-jacket.

I said good-morning to her, and then sat in silence for a minute while she tried to put her hair tidy, and then I asked her, trembling all over:

“Why . . . why . . . did you send for me here?”

Evidently she guessed what I was thinking; she took me by the hand and said:

“I want you to be here, you are so pure.”

I felt ashamed of my emotion, of my trembling. And I was afraid I might begin sobbing, too! I went out without saying another word, and within an hour I was sitting in the train. All the journey, for some reason, I imagined Ariadne with child, and she seemed disgusting to me, and all the women I saw in the trains and at the stations looked to me, for some reason, as if they too were with child, and they too seemed disgusting and pitiable. I was in the position of a greedy, passionate miser who should suddenly discover that all his gold coins were false. The pure, gracious images which my imagination, warmed by love, had cherished for so long, my plans, my hopes, my memories, my ideas of love and of woman–all now were jeering and putting out their tongues at me. “Ariadne,” I kept asking with horror, “that young, intellectual, extraordinarily beautiful girl, the daughter of a senator, carrying on an intrigue with such an ordinary, uninteresting vulgarian? But why should she not love Lubkov?” I answered myself. “In what is he inferior to me? Oh, let her love any one she likes, but why lie to me? But why is she bound to be open with me?” And so I went on over and over again till I was stupefied.

It was cold in the train; I was travelling first class, but even so there were three on a side, there were no double windows, the outer door opened straight into the compartment, and I felt as though I were in the stocks, cramped, abandoned, pitiful, and my legs were fearfully numb, and at the same time I kept recalling how fascinating she had been that morning in her dressing-jacket and with her hair down, and I was suddenly overcome by such acute jealousy that I leapt up in anguish, so that my neighbours stared at me in wonder and positive alarm.

At home I found deep snow and twenty degrees of frost. I’m fond of the winter; I’m fond of it because at that time, even in the hardest frosts, it’s particularly snug at home. It’s pleasant to put on one’s fur jacket and felt overboots on a clear frosty day, to do something in the garden or in the yard, or to read in a well warmed room, to sit in my father’s study before the open fire, to wash in my country bath-house. . . . Only if there is no mother in the house, no sister and no children, it is somehow dreary on winter evenings, and they seem extraordinarily long and quiet. And the warmer and snugger it is, the more acutely is this lack felt. In the winter when I came back from abroad, the evenings were endlessly long, I was intensely depressed, so depressed that I could not even read; in the daytime I was coming and going, clearing away the snow in the garden or feeding the chickens and the calves, but in the evening it was all up with me.

I had never cared for visitors before, but now I was glad of them, for I knew there was sure to be talk of Ariadne. Kotlovitch, the spiritualist, used often to come to talk about his sister, and sometimes he brought with him his friend Prince Maktuev, who was as much in love with Ariadne as I was. To sit in Ariadne’s room, to finger the keys of her piano, to look at her music was a necessity for the prince–he could not live without it; and the spirit of his grandfather Ilarion was still predicting that sooner or later she would be his wife. The prince usually stayed a long time with us, from lunch to midnight, saying nothing all the time; in silence he would drink two or three bottles of beer, and from time to time, to show that he too was taking part in the conversation, he would laugh an abrupt, melancholy, foolish laugh. Before going home he would always take me aside and ask me in an undertone: “When did you see Ariadne Grigoryevna last? Was she quite well? I suppose she’s not tired of being out there?”

Spring came on. There was the harrowing to do and then the sowing of spring corn and clover. I was sad, but there was the feeling of spring. One longed to accept the inevitable. Working in the fields and listening to the larks, I asked myself: “Couldn’t I have done with this question of personal happiness once and for all? Couldn’t I lay aside my fancy and marry a simple peasant girl?”

Suddenly when we were at our very busiest, I got a letter with the Italian stamp, and the clover and the beehives and the calves and the peasant girl all floated away like smoke. This time Ariadne wrote that she was profoundly, infinitely unhappy. She reproached me for not holding out a helping hand to her, for looking down upon her from the heights of my virtue and deserting her at the moment of danger. All this was written in a large, nervous handwriting with blots and smudges, and it was evident that she wrote in haste and distress. In conclusion she besought me to come and save her. Again my anchor was hauled up and I was carried away. Ariadne was in Rome. I arrived late in the evening, and when she saw me, she sobbed and threw herself on my neck. She had not changed at all that winter, and was just as young and charming. We had supper together and afterwards drove about Rome until dawn, and all the time she kept telling me about her doings. I asked where Lubkov was.

“Don’t remind me of that creature!” she cried. “He is loathsome and disgusting to me!”

“But I thought you loved him,” I said.

“Never,” she said. “At first he struck me as original and aroused my pity, that was all. He is insolent and takes a woman by storm. And that’s attractive. But we won’t talk about him. That is a melancholy page in my life. He has gone to Russia to get money. Serve him right! I told him not to dare to come back.”

She was living then, not at an hotel, but in a private lodging of two rooms which she had decorated in her own taste, frigidly and luxuriously.

After Lubkov had gone away she had borrowed from her acquaintances about five thousand francs, and my arrival certainly was the one salvation for her.

I had reckoned on taking her back to the country, but I did not succeed in that. She was homesick for her native place, but her recollections of the poverty she had been through there, of privations, of the rusty roof on her brother’s house, roused a shudder of disgust, and when I suggested going home to her, she squeezed my hands convulsively and said:

“No, no, I shall die of boredom there!”

Then my love entered upon its final phase.

“Be the darling that you used to be; love me a little,” said Ariadne, bending over to me. “You’re sulky and prudent, you’re afraid to yield to impulse, and keep thinking of consequences, and that’s dull. Come, I beg you, I beseech you, be nice to me! . . . My pure one, my holy one, my dear one, I love you so!”

I became her lover. For a month anyway I was like a madman, conscious of nothing but rapture. To hold in one’s arms a young and lovely body, with bliss to feel her warmth every time one waked up from sleep, and to remember that she was there–she, my Ariadne!– oh, it was not easy to get used to that! But yet I did get used to it, and by degrees became capable of reflecting on my new position. First of all, I realised, as before, that Ariadne did not love me. But she wanted to be really in love, she was afraid of solitude, and, above all, I was healthy, young, vigorous; she was sensual, like all cold people, as a rule–and we both made a show of being united by a passionate, mutual love. Afterwards I realised something else, too.

We stayed in Rome, in Naples, in Florence; we went to Paris, but there we thought it cold and went back to Italy. We introduced ourselves everywhere as husband and wife, wealthy landowners. People readily made our acquaintance and Ariadne had great social success everywhere. As she took lessons in painting, she was called an artist, and only imagine, that quite suited her, though she had not the slightest trace of talent.

She would sleep every day till two or three o’clock; she had her coffee and lunch in bed. At dinner she would eat soup, lobster, fish, meat, asparagus, game, and after she had gone to bed I used to bring up something, for instance roast beef, and she would eat it with a melancholy, careworn expression, and if she waked in the night she would eat apples and oranges.

The chief, so to say fundamental, characteristic of the woman was an amazing duplicity. She was continually deceitful every minute, apparently apart from any necessity, as it were by instinct, by an impulse such as makes the sparrow chirrup and the cockroach waggle its antennæ. She was deceitful with me, with the footman, with the porter, with the tradesmen in the shops, with her acquaintances; not one conversation, not one meeting, took place without affectation and pretence. A man had only to come into our room–whoever it might be, a waiter, or a baron–for her eyes, her expression, her voice to change, even the contour of her figure was transformed. At the very first glance at her then, you would have said there were no more wealthy and fashionable people in Italy than we. She never met an artist or a musician without telling him all sorts of lies about his remarkable talent.

“You have such a talent!” she would say, in honeyed cadences, “I’m really afraid of you. I think you must see right through people.”

And all this simply in order to please, to be successful, to be fascinating! She waked up every morning with the one thought of “pleasing”! It was the aim and object of her life. If I had told her that in such a house, in such a street, there lived a man who was not attracted by her, it would have caused her real suffering. She wanted every day to enchant, to captivate, to drive men crazy. The fact that I was in her power and reduced to a complete nonentity before her charms gave her the same sort of satisfaction that visitors used to feel in tournaments. My subjection was not enough, and at nights, stretched out like a tigress, uncovered–she was always too hot–she would read the letters sent her by Lubkov; he besought her to return to Russia, vowing if she did not he would rob or murder some one to get the money to come to her. She hated him, but his passionate, slavish letters excited her. She had an extraordinary opinion of her own charms; she imagined that if somewhere, in some great assembly, men could have seen how beautifully she was made and the colour of her skin, she would have vanquished all Italy, the whole world. Her talk of her figure, of her skin, offended me, and observing this, she would, when she was angry, to vex me, say all sorts of vulgar things, taunting me. One day when we were at the summer villa of a lady of our acquaintance, and she lost her temper, she even went so far as to say: “If you don’t leave off boring me with your sermons, I’ll undress this minute and lie naked here on these flowers.”

Often looking at her asleep, or eating, or trying to assume a naïve expression, I wondered why that extraordinary beauty, grace, and intelligence had been given her by God. Could it simply be for lolling in bed, eating and lying, lying endlessly? And was she intelligent really? She was afraid of three candles in a row, of the number thirteen, was terrified of spells and bad dreams. She argued about free love and freedom in general like a bigoted old woman, declared that Boleslav Markevitch was a better writer than Turgenev. But she was diabolically cunning and sharp, and knew how to seem a highly educated, advanced person in company.

Even at a good-humoured moment, she could always insult a servant or kill an insect without a pang; she liked bull-fights, liked to read about murders, and was angry when prisoners were acquitted.

For the life Ariadne and I were leading, we had to have a great deal of money. My poor father sent me his pension, all the little sums he received, borrowed for me wherever he could, and when one day he answered me: “Non habeo,” I sent him a desperate telegram in which I besought him to mortgage the estate. A little later I begged him to get money somehow on a second mortgage. He did this too without a murmur and sent me every farthing. Ariadne despised the practical side of life; all this was no concern of hers, and when flinging away thousands of francs to satisfy her mad desires I groaned like an old tree, she would be singing “Addio bella Napoli” with a light heart.

Little by little I grew cold to her and began to be ashamed of our tie. I am not fond of pregnancy and confinements, but now I sometimes dreamed of a child who would have been at least a formal justification of our life. That I might not be completely disgusted with myself, I began reading and visiting museums and galleries, gave up drinking and took to eating very little. If one keeps oneself well in hand from morning to night, one’s heart seems lighter. I began to bore Ariadne too. The people with whom she won her triumphs were, by the way, all of the middling sort; as before, there were no ambassadors, there was no salon, the money did not run to it, and this mortified her and made her sob, and she announced to me at last that perhaps she would not be against our returning to Russia.

And here we are on our way. For the last few months she has been zealously corresponding with her brother; she evidently has some secret projects, but what they are–God knows! I am sick of trying to fathom her underhand schemes! But we’re going, not to the country, but to Yalta and afterwards to the Caucasus. She can only exist now at watering-places, and if you knew how I hate all these watering-places, how suffocated and ashamed I am in them. If I could be in the country now! If I could only be working now, earning my bread by the sweat of my brow, atoning for my follies. I am conscious of a superabundance of energy and I believe that if I were to put that energy to work I could redeem my estate in five years. But now, as you see, there is a complication. Here we’re not abroad, but in mother Russia; we shall have to think of lawful wedlock. Of course, all attraction is over; there is no trace left of my old love, but, however that may be, I am bound in honour to marry her.


Shamohin, excited by his story, went below with me and we continued talking about women. It was late. It appeared that he and I were in the same cabin.

“So far it is only in the village that woman has not fallen behind man,” said Shamohin. “There she thinks and feels just as man does, and struggles with nature in the name of culture as zealously as he. In the towns the woman of the bourgeois or intellectual class has long since fallen behind, and is returning to her primitive condition. She is half a human beast already, and, thanks to her, a great deal of what had been won by human genius has been lost again; the woman gradually disappears and in her place is the primitive female. This dropping-back on the part of the educated woman is a real danger to culture; in her retrogressive movement she tries to drag man after her and prevents him from moving forward. That is incontestable.”

I asked: “Why generalise? Why judge of all women from Ariadne alone? The very struggle of women for education and sexual equality, which I look upon as a struggle for justice, precludes any hypothesis of a retrograde movement.”

But Shamohin scarcely listened to me and he smiled distrustfully. He was a passionate, convinced misogynist, and it was impossible to alter his convictions.

“Oh, nonsense!” he interrupted. “When once a woman sees in me, not a man, not an equal, but a male, and her one anxiety all her life is to attract me–that is, to take possession of me–how can one talk of their rights? Oh, don’t you believe them; they are very, very cunning! We men make a great stir about their emancipation, but they don’t care about their emancipation at all, they only pretend to care about it; they are horribly cunning things, horribly cunning!”

I began to feel sleepy and weary of discussion. I turned over with my face to the wall.

“Yes,” I heard as I fell asleep–“yes, and it’s our education that’s at fault, sir. In our towns, the whole education and bringing up of women in its essence tends to develop her into the human beast –that is, to make her attractive to the male and able to vanquish him. Yes, indeed”–Shamohiri sighed–“little girls ought to be taught and brought up with boys, so that they might be always together. A woman ought to be trained so that she may be able, like a man, to recognise when she’s wrong, or she always thinks she’s in the right. Instil into a little girl from her cradle that a man is not first of all a cavalier or a possible lover, but her neighbour, her equal in everything. Train her to think logically, to generalise, and do not assure her that her brain weighs less than a man’s and that therefore she can be indifferent to the sciences, to the arts, to the tasks of culture in general. The apprentice to the shoemaker or the house painter has a brain of smaller size than the grown-up man too, yet he works, suffers, takes his part in the general struggle for existence. We must give up our attitude to the physiological aspect, too–to pregnancy and childbirth, seeing that in the first place women don’t have babies every month; secondly, not all women have babies; and, thirdly, a normal countrywoman works in the fields up to the day of her confinement and it does her no harm. Then there ought to be absolute equality in everyday life. If a man gives a lady his chair or picks up the handkerchief she has dropped, let her repay him in the same way. I have no objection if a girl of good family helps me to put on my coat or hands me a glass of water–“

I heard no more, for I fell asleep.

Next morning when we were approaching Sevastopol, it was damp, unpleasant weather; the ship rocked. Shamohin sat on deck with me, brooding and silent. When the bell rang for tea, men with their coat-collars turned up and ladies with pale, sleepy faces began going below; a young and very beautiful lady, the one who had been so angry with the Customs officers at Volotchisk, stopped before Shamohin and said with the expression of a naughty, fretful child:

“Jean, your birdie’s been sea-sick.”

Afterwards when I was at Yalta I saw the same beautiful lady dashing about on horseback with a couple of officers hardly able to keep up with her. And one morning I saw her in an overall and a Phrygian cap, sketching on the sea-front with a great crowd admiring her a little way off. I too was introduced to her. She pressed my hand with great warmth, and looking at me ecstatically, thanked me in honeyed cadences for the pleasure I had given her by my writings.

“Don’t you believe her,” Shamohin whispered to me, “she has never read a word of them.”

When I was walking on the sea-front in the early evening Shamohin met me with his arms full of big parcels of fruits and dainties.

“Prince Maktuev is here!” he said joyfully. “He came yesterday with her brother, the spiritualist! Now I understand what she was writing to him about! Oh, Lord!” he went on, gazing up to heaven, and pressing his parcels to his bosom. “If she hits it off with the prince, it means freedom, then I can go back to the country with my father!”

And he ran on.

“I begin to believe in spirits,” he called to me, looking back. “The spirit of grandfather Ilarion seems to have prophesied the truth! Oh, if only it is so!”


The day after this meeting I left Yalta and how Shamohin’s story ended I don’t know.


POLINKA

IT is one o’clock in the afternoon. Shopping is at its height at the “Nouveauté’s de Paris,” a drapery establishment in one of the Arcades. There is a monotonous hum of shopmen’s voices, the hum one hears at school when the teacher sets the boys to learn something by heart. This regular sound is not interrupted by the laughter of lady customers nor the slam of the glass door, nor the scurrying of the boys.

Polinka, a thin fair little person whose mother is the head of a dressmaking establishment, is standing in the middle of the shop looking about for some one. A dark-browed boy runs up to her and asks, looking at her very gravely:

“What is your pleasure, madam?”

“Nikolay Timofeitch always takes my order,” answers Polinka.

Nikolay Timofeitch, a graceful dark young man, fashionably dressed, with frizzled hair and a big pin in his cravat, has already cleared a place on the counter and is craning forward, looking at Polinka with a smile.

“Morning, Pelagea Sergeevna!” he cries in a pleasant, hearty baritone voice. “What can I do for you?”

“Good-morning!” says Polinka, going up to him. “You see, I’m back again. . . . Show me some gimp, please.”

“Gimp–for what purpose?”

“For a bodice trimming–to trim a whole dress, in fact.”

“Certainly.”

Nickolay Timofeitch lays several kinds of gimp before Polinka; she looks at the trimmings languidly and begins bargaining over them.

“Oh, come, a rouble’s not dear,” says the shopman persuasively, with a condescending smile. “It’s a French trimming, pure silk. . . . We have a commoner sort, if you like, heavier. That’s forty-five kopecks a yard; of course, it’s nothing like the same quality.”

“I want a bead corselet, too, with gimp buttons,” says Polinka, bending over the gimp and sighing for some reason. “And have you any bead motifs to match?”

“Yes.”

Polinka bends still lower over the counter and asks softly:

“And why did you leave us so early on Thursday, Nikolay Timofeitch?”

“Hm! It’s queer you noticed it,” says the shopman, with a smirk. “You were so taken up with that fine student that . . . it’s queer you noticed it!”

Polinka flushes crimson and remains mute. With a nervous quiver in his fingers the shopman closes the boxes, and for no sort of object piles them one on the top of another. A moment of silence follows.

“I want some bead lace, too,” says Polinka, lifting her eyes guiltily to the shopman.

“What sort? Black or coloured? Bead lace on tulle is the most fashionable trimming.”

“And how much is it?”

“The black’s from eighty kopecks and the coloured from two and a half roubles. I shall never come and see you again,” Nikolay Timofeitch adds in an undertone.

“Why?”

“Why? It’s very simple. You must understand that yourself. Why should I distress myself? It’s a queer business! Do you suppose it’s a pleasure to me to see that student carrying on with you? I see it all and I understand. Ever since autumn he’s been hanging about you and you go for a walk with him almost every day; and when he is with you, you gaze at him as though he were an angel. You are in love with him; there’s no one to beat him in your eyes. Well, all right, then, it’s no good talking.”

Polinka remains dumb and moves her finger on the counter in embarrassment.

“I see it all,” the shopman goes on. “What inducement have I to come and see you? I’ve got some pride. It’s not every one likes to play gooseberry. What was it you asked for?”

“Mamma told me to get a lot of things, but I’ve forgotten. I want some feather trimming too.”

“What kind would you like?”

“The best, something fashionable.”

“The most fashionable now are real bird feathers. If you want the most fashionable colour, it’s heliotrope or kanak–that is, claret with a yellow shade in it. We have an immense choice. And what all this affair is going to lead to, I really don’t understand. Here you are in love, and how is it to end?”

Patches of red come into Nikolay Timofeitch’s face round his eyes. He crushes the soft feather trimming in his hand and goes on muttering:

“Do you imagine he’ll marry you–is that it? You’d better drop any such fancies. Students are forbidden to marry. And do you suppose he comes to see you with honourable intentions? A likely idea! Why, these fine students don’t look on us as human beings . . . they only go to see shopkeepers and dressmakers to laugh at their ignorance and to drink. They’re ashamed to drink at home and in good houses, but with simple uneducated people like us they don’t care what any one thinks; they’d be ready to stand on their heads. Yes! Well, which feather trimming will you take? And if he hangs about and carries on with you, we know what he is after. . . . When he’s a doctor or a lawyer he’ll remember you: ‘Ah,’ he’ll say, ‘I used to have a pretty fair little thing! I wonder where she is now?’ Even now I bet you he boasts among his friends that he’s got his eye on a little dressmaker.”

Polinka sits down and gazes pensively at the pile of white boxes.

“No, I won’t take the feather trimming,” she sighs. “Mamma had better choose it for herself; I may get the wrong one. I want six yards of fringe for an overcoat, at forty kopecks the yard. For the same coat I want cocoa-nut buttons, perforated, so they can be sown on firmly. . . .”

Nikolay Timofeitch wraps up the fringe and the buttons. She looks at him guiltily and evidently expects him to go on talking, but he remains sullenly silent while he tidies up the feather trimming.

“I mustn’t forget some buttons for a dressing-gown . . .” she says after an interval of silence, wiping her pale lips with a handkerchief.

“What kind?”

“It’s for a shopkeeper’s wife, so give me something rather striking.”

“Yes, if it’s for a shopkeeper’s wife, you’d better have something bright. Here are some buttons. A combination of colours–red, blue, and the fashionable gold shade. Very glaring. The more refined prefer dull black with a bright border. But I don’t understand. Can’t you see for yourself? What can these . . . walks lead to?”

“I don’t know,” whispers Polinka, and she bends over the buttons; “I don’t know myself what’s come to me, Nikolay Timofeitch.”

A solid shopman with whiskers forces his way behind Nikolay Timofeitch’s back, squeezing him to the counter, and beaming with the choicest gallantry, shouts:

“Be so kind, madam, as to step into this department. We have three kinds of jerseys: plain, braided, and trimmed with beads! Which may I have the pleasure of showing you?”

At the same time a stout lady passes by Polinka, pronouncing in a rich, deep voice, almost a bass:

“They must be seamless, with the trade mark stamped in them, please.”

“Pretend to be looking at the things,” Nikolay Timofeitch whispers, bending down to Polinka with a forced smile. “Dear me, you do look pale and ill; you are quite changed. He’ll throw you over, Pelagea Sergeevna! Or if he does marry you, it won’t be for love but from hunger; he’ll be tempted by your money. He’ll furnish himself a nice home with your dowry, and then be ashamed of you. He’ll keep you out of sight of his friends and visitors, because you’re uneducated. He’ll call you ‘my dummy of a wife.’ You wouldn’t know how to behave in a doctor’s or lawyer’s circle. To them you’re a dressmaker, an ignorant creature.”

“Nikolay Timofeitch!” somebody shouts from the other end of the shop. “The young lady here wants three yards of ribbon with a metal stripe. Have we any?”

Nikolay Timofeitch turns in that direction, smirks and shouts:

“Yes, we have! Ribbon with a metal stripe, ottoman with a satin stripe, and satin with a moiré stripe!”

“Oh, by the way, I mustn’t forget, Olga asked me to get her a pair of stays!” says Polinka.

“There are tears in your eyes,” says Nikolay Timofeitch in dismay. “What’s that for? Come to the corset department, I’ll screen you –it looks awkward.”

With a forced smile and exaggeratedly free and easy manner, the shopman rapidly conducts Polinka to the corset department and conceals her from the public eye behind a high pyramid of boxes.

“What sort of corset may I show you?” he asks aloud, whispering immediately: “Wipe your eyes!”

“I want . . . I want . . . size forty-eight centimetres. Only she wanted one, lined . . . with real whalebone . . . I must talk to you, Nikolay Timofeitch. Come to-day!”

“Talk? What about? There’s nothing to talk about.”

“You are the only person who . . . cares about me, and I’ve no one to talk to but you.”

“These are not reed or steel, but real whalebone. . . . What is there for us to talk about? It’s no use talking. . . . You are going for a walk with him to-day, I suppose?”

“Yes; I . . . I am.”

“Then what’s the use of talking? Talk won’t help. . . . You are in love, aren’t you?”

“Yes . . .” Polinka whispers hesitatingly, and big tears gush from her eyes.

“What is there to say?” mutters Nikolay Timofeitch, shrugging his shoulders nervously and turning pale. “There’s no need of talk. . . . Wipe your eyes, that’s all. I . . . I ask for nothing.”

At that moment a tall, lanky shopman comes up to the pyramid of boxes, and says to his customer:

“Let me show you some good elastic garters that do not impede the circulation, certified by medical authority . . .”

Nikolay Timofeitch screens Polinka, and, trying to conceal her emotion and his own, wrinkles his face into a smile and says aloud:

“There are two kinds of lace, madam: cotton and silk! Oriental, English, Valenciennes, crochet, torchon, are cotton. And rococo, soutache, Cambray, are silk. . . . For God’s sake, wipe your eyes! They’re coming this way!”

And seeing that her tears are still gushing he goes on louder than ever:

“Spanish, Rococo, soutache, Cambray . . . stockings, thread, cotton, silk . . .”


ANYUTA

IN the cheapest room of a big block of furnished apartments Stepan Klotchkov, a medical student in his third year, was walking to and fro, zealously conning his anatomy. His mouth was dry and his forehead perspiring from the unceasing effort to learn it by heart.

In the window, covered by patterns of frost, sat on a stool the girl who shared his room–Anyuta, a thin little brunette of five-and-twenty, very pale with mild grey eyes. Sitting with bent back she was busy embroidering with red thread the collar of a man’s shirt. She was working against time. . . . The clock in the passage struck two drowsily, yet the little room had not been put to rights for the morning. Crumpled bed-clothes, pillows thrown about, books, clothes, a big filthy slop-pail filled with soap-suds in which cigarette ends were swimming, and the litter on the floor–all seemed as though purposely jumbled together in one confusion. . . .

“The right lung consists of three parts . . .” Klotchkov repeated. “Boundaries! Upper part on anterior wall of thorax reaches the fourth or fifth rib, on the lateral surface, the fourth rib . . . behind to the spina scapulæ. . .”

Klotchkov raised his eyes to the ceiling, striving to visualise what he had just read. Unable to form a clear picture of it, he began feeling his upper ribs through his waistcoat.

“These ribs are like the keys of a piano,” he said. “One must familiarise oneself with them somehow, if one is not to get muddled over them. One must study them in the skeleton and the living body . . . . I say, Anyuta, let me pick them out.”

Anyuta put down her sewing, took off her blouse, and straightened herself up. Klotchkov sat down facing her, frowned, and began counting her ribs.

“H’m! . . . One can’t feel the first rib; it’s behind the shoulder-blade . . . . This must be the second rib. . . . Yes . . . this is the third . . . this is the fourth. . . . H’m! . . . yes. . . . Why are you wriggling?”

“Your fingers are cold!”

“Come, come . . . it won’t kill you. Don’t twist about. That must be the third rib, then . . . this is the fourth. . . . You look such a skinny thing, and yet one can hardly feel your ribs. That’s the second . . . that’s the third. . . . Oh, this is muddling, and one can’t see it clearly. . . . I must draw it. . . . Where’s my crayon?”

Klotchkov took his crayon and drew on Anyuta’s chest several parallel lines corresponding with the ribs.

“First-rate. That’s all straightforward. . . . Well, now I can sound you. Stand up!”

Anyuta stood up and raised her chin. Klotchkov began sounding her, and was so absorbed in this occupation that he did not notice how Anyuta’s lips, nose, and fingers turned blue with cold. Anyuta shivered, and was afraid the student, noticing it, would leave off drawing and sounding her, and then, perhaps, might fail in his exam.

“Now it’s all clear,” said Klotchkov when he had finished. “You sit like that and don’t rub off the crayon, and meanwhile I’ll learn up a little more.”

And the student again began walking to and fro, repeating to himself. Anyuta, with black stripes across her chest, looking as though she had been tattooed, sat thinking, huddled up and shivering with cold. She said very little as a rule; she was always silent, thinking and thinking. . . .

In the six or seven years of her wanderings from one furnished room to another, she had known five students like Klotchkov. Now they had all finished their studies, had gone out into the world, and, of course, like respectable people, had long ago forgotten her. One of them was living in Paris, two were doctors, the fourth was an artist, and the fifth was said to be already a professor. Klotchkov was the sixth. . . . Soon he, too, would finish his studies and go out into the world. There was a fine future before him, no doubt, and Klotchkov probably would become a great man, but the present was anything but bright; Klotchkov had no tobacco and no tea, and there were only four lumps of sugar left. She must make haste and finish her embroidery, take it to the woman who had ordered it, and with the quarter rouble she would get for it, buy tea and tobacco.

“Can I come in?” asked a voice at the door.

Anyuta quickly threw a woollen shawl over her shoulders. Fetisov, the artist, walked in.

“I have come to ask you a favour,” he began, addressing Klotchkov, and glaring like a wild beast from under the long locks that hung over his brow. “Do me a favour; lend me your young lady just for a couple of hours! I’m painting a picture, you see, and I can’t get on without a model.”

“Oh, with pleasure,” Klotchkov agreed. “Go along, Anyuta.”

“The things I’ve had to put up with there,” Anyuta murmured softly.

“Rubbish! The man’s asking you for the sake of art, and not for any sort of nonsense. Why not help him if you can?”

Anyuta began dressing.

“And what are you painting?” asked Klotchkov.

“Psyche; it’s a fine subject. But it won’t go, somehow. I have to keep painting from different models. Yesterday I was painting one with blue legs. ‘Why are your legs blue?’ I asked her. ‘It’s my stockings stain them,’ she said. And you’re still grinding! Lucky fellow! You have patience.”

“Medicine’s a job one can’t get on with without grinding.”

“H’m! . . . Excuse me, Klotchkov, but you do live like a pig! It’s awful the way you live!”

“How do you mean? I can’t help it. . . . I only get twelve roubles a month from my father, and it’s hard to live decently on that.”

“Yes . . . yes . . .” said the artist, frowning with an air of disgust; “but, still, you might live better. . . . An educated man is in duty bound to have taste, isn’t he? And goodness knows what it’s like here! The bed not made, the slops, the dirt . . . yesterday’s porridge in the plates. . . Tfoo!”

“That’s true,” said the student in confusion; “but Anyuta has had no time to-day to tidy up; she’s been busy all the while.”

When Anyuta and the artist had gone out Klotchkov lay down on the sofa and began learning, lying down; then he accidentally dropped asleep, and waking up an hour later, propped his head on his fists and sank into gloomy reflection. He recalled the artist’s words that an educated man was in duty bound to have taste, and his surroundings actually struck him now as loathsome and revolting. He saw, as it were in his mind’s eye, his own future, when he would see his patients in his consulting-room, drink tea in a large dining-room in the company of his wife, a real lady. And now that slop-pail in which the cigarette ends were swimming looked incredibly disgusting. Anyuta, too, rose before his imagination–a plain, slovenly, pitiful figure . . . and he made up his mind to part with her at once, at all costs.

When, on coming back from the artist’s, she took off her coat, he got up and said to her seriously:

“Look here, my good girl . . . sit down and listen. We must part! The fact is, I don’t want to live with you any longer.”

Anyuta had come back from the artist’s worn out and exhausted. Standing so long as a model had made her face look thin and sunken, and her chin sharper than ever. She said nothing in answer to the student’s words, only her lips began to tremble.

“You know we should have to part sooner or later, anyway,” said the student. “You’re a nice, good girl, and not a fool; you’ll understand. . . .”

Anyuta put on her coat again, in silence wrapped up her embroidery in paper, gathered together her needles and thread: she found the screw of paper with the four lumps of sugar in the window, and laid it on the table by the books.

“That’s . . . your sugar . . .” she said softly, and turned away to conceal her tears.

“Why are you crying?” asked Klotchkov.

He walked about the room in confusion, and said:

“You are a strange girl, really. . . . Why, you know we shall have to part. We can’t stay together for ever.”

She had gathered together all her belongings, and turned to say good-bye to him, and he felt sorry for her.

“Shall I let her stay on here another week?” he thought. “She really may as well stay, and I’ll tell her to go in a week;” and vexed at his own weakness, he shouted to her roughly:

“Come, why are you standing there? If you are going, go; and if you don’t want to, take off your coat and stay! You can stay!”

Anyuta took off her coat, silently, stealthily, then blew her nose also stealthily, sighed, and noiselessly returned to her invariable position on her stool by the window.

The student drew his textbook to him and began again pacing from corner to corner. “The right lung consists of three parts,” he repeated; “the upper part, on anterior wall of thorax, reaches the fourth or fifth rib . . . .”

In the passage some one shouted at the top of his voice: “Grigory! The samovar!”


THE TWO VOLODYAS

“LET me; I want to drive myself! I’ll sit by the driver!” Sofya Lvovna said in a loud voice. “Wait a minute, driver; I’ll get up on the box beside you.”

She stood up in the sledge, and her husband, Vladimir Nikititch, and the friend of her childhood, Vladimir Mihalovitch, held her arms to prevent her falling. The three horses were galloping fast.

“I said you ought not to have given her brandy,” Vladimir Nikititch whispered to his companion with vexation. “What a fellow you are, really!”

The Colonel knew by experience that in women like his wife, Sofya Lvovna, after a little too much wine, turbulent gaiety was followed by hysterical laughter and then tears. He was afraid that when they got home, instead of being able to sleep, he would have to be administering compresses and drops.

“Wo!” cried Sofya Lvovna. “I want to drive myself!”

She felt genuinely gay and triumphant. For the last two months, ever since her wedding, she had been tortured by the thought that she had married Colonel Yagitch from worldly motives and, as it is said, par dépit; but that evening, at the restaurant, she had suddenly become convinced that she loved him passionately. In spite of his fifty-four years, he was so slim, agile, supple, he made puns and hummed to the gipsies’ tunes so charmingly. Really, the older men were nowadays a thousand times more interesting than the young. It seemed as though age and youth had changed parts. The Colonel was two years older than her father, but could there be any importance in that if, honestly speaking, there were infinitely more vitality, go, and freshness in him than in herself, though she was only twenty-three?

“Oh, my darling!” she thought. “You are wonderful!”

She had become convinced in the restaurant, too, that not a spark of her old feeling remained. For the friend of her childhood, Vladimir Mihalovitch, or simply Volodya, with whom only the day before she had been madly, miserably in love, she now felt nothing but complete indifference. All that evening he had seemed to her spiritless, torpid, uninteresting, and insignificant, and the sangfroid with which he habitually avoided paying at restaurants on this occasion revolted her, and she had hardly been able to resist saying, “If you are poor, you should stay at home.” The Colonel paid for all.

Perhaps because trees, telegraph posts, and drifts of snow kept flitting past her eyes, all sorts of disconnected ideas came rushing into her mind. She reflected: the bill at the restaurant had been a hundred and twenty roubles, and a hundred had gone to the gipsies, and to-morrow she could fling away a thousand roubles if she liked; and only two months ago, before her wedding, she had not had three roubles of her own, and had to ask her father for every trifle. What a change in her life!

Her thoughts were in a tangle. She recalled, how, when she was a child of ten, Colonel Yagitch, now her husband, used to make love to her aunt, and every one in the house said that he had ruined her. And her aunt had, in fact, often come down to dinner with her eyes red from crying, and was always going off somewhere; and people used to say of her that the poor thing could find no peace anywhere. He had been very handsome in those days, and had an extraordinary reputation as a lady-killer. So much so that he was known all over the town, and it was said of him that he paid a round of visits to his adorers every day like a doctor visiting his patients. And even now, in spite of his grey hair, his wrinkles, and his spectacles, his thin face looked handsome, especially in profile.

Sofya Lvovna’s father was an army doctor, and had at one time served in the same regiment with Colonel Yagitch. Volodya’s father was an army doctor too, and he, too, had once been in the same regiment as her father and Colonel Yagitch. In spite of many amatory adventures, often very complicated and disturbing, Volodya had done splendidly at the university, and had taken a very good degree. Now he was specialising in foreign literature, and was said to be writing a thesis. He lived with his father, the army doctor, in the barracks, and had no means of his own, though he was thirty. As children Sofya and he had lived under the same roof, though in different flats. He often came to play with her, and they had dancing and French lessons together. But when he grew up into a graceful, remarkably handsome young man, she began to feel shy of him, and then fell madly in love with him, and had loved him right up to the time when she was married to Yagitch. He, too, had been renowned for his success with women almost from the age of fourteen, and the ladies who deceived their husbands on his account excused themselves by saying that he was only a boy. Some one had told a story of him lately that when he was a student living in lodgings so as to be near the university, it always happened if one knocked at his door, that one heard his footstep, and then a whispered apology: “Pardon, je ne suis pas setul.“ Yagitch was delighted with him, and blessed him as a worthy successor, as Derchavin blessed Pushkin; he appeared to be fond of him. They would play billiards or picquet by the hour together without uttering a word, if Yagitch drove out on any expedition he always took Volodya with him, and Yagitch was the only person Volodya initiated into the mysteries of his thesis. In earlier days, when Yagitch was rather younger, they had often been in the position of rivals, but they had never been jealous of one another. In the circle in which they moved Yagitch was nicknamed Big Volodya, and his friend Little Volodya.

Besides Big Volodya, Little Volodya, and Sofya Lvovna, there was a fourth person in the sledge–Margarita Alexandrovna, or, as every one called her, Rita, a cousin of Madame Yagitch–a very pale girl over thirty, with black eyebrows and a pince-nez, who was for ever smoking cigarettes, even in the bitterest frost, and who always had her knees and the front of her blouse covered with cigarette ash. She spoke through her nose, drawling every word, was of a cold temperament, could drink any amount of wine and liquor without being drunk, and used to tell scandalous anecdotes in a languid and tasteless way. At home she spent her days reading thick magazines, covering them with cigarette ash, or eating frozen apples.

“Sonia, give over fooling,” she said, drawling. “It’s really silly.”

As they drew near the city gates they went more slowly, and began to pass people and houses. Sofya Lvovna subsided, nestled up to her husband, and gave herself up to her thoughts. Little Volodya sat opposite. By now her light-hearted and cheerful thoughts were mingled with gloomy ones. She thought that the man sitting opposite knew that she loved him, and no doubt he believed the gossip that she married the Colonel par dépit. She had never told him of her love; she had not wanted him to know, and had done her best to hide her feeling, but from her face she knew that he understood her perfectly –and her pride suffered. But what was most humiliating in her position was that, since her wedding, Volodya had suddenly begun to pay her attention, which he had never done before, spending hours with her, sitting silent or chattering about trifles; and even now in the sledge, though he did not talk to her, he touched her foot with his and pressed her hand a little. Evidently that was all he wanted, that she should be married; and it was evident that he despised her and that she only excited in him an interest of a special kind as though she were an immoral and disreputable woman. And when the feeling of triumph and love for her husband were mingled in her soul with humiliation and wounded pride, she was overcome by a spirit of defiance, and longed to sit on the box, to shout and whistle to the horses.

Just as they passed the nunnery the huge hundred-ton bell rang out. Rita crossed herself.

“Our Olga is in that nunnery,” said Sofya Lvovna, and she, too, crossed herself and shuddered.

“Why did she go into the nunnery?” said the Colonel.

Par dépit,” Rita answered crossly, with obvious allusion to Sofya’s marrying Yagitch. “Par dépit is all the fashion nowadays. Defiance of all the world. She was always laughing, a desperate flirt, fond of nothing but balls and young men, and all of a sudden off she went–to surprise every one!”

“That’s not true,” said Volodya, turning down the collar of his fur coat and showing his handsome face. “It wasn’t a case of par dépit; it was simply horrible, if you like. Her brother Dmitri was sent to penal servitude, and they don’t know where he is now. And her mother died of grief.”

He turned up his collar again.

“Olga did well,” he added in a muffled voice. “Living as an adopted child, and with such a paragon as Sofya Lvovna,–one must take that into consideration too!”

Sofya Lvovna heard a tone of contempt in his voice, and longed to say something rude to him, but she said nothing. The spirit of defiance came over her again; she stood up again and shouted in a tearful voice:

“I want to go to the early service! Driver, back! I want to see Olga.”

They turned back. The nunnery bell had a deep note, and Sofya Lvovna fancied there was something in it that reminded her of Olga and her life. The other church bells began ringing too. When the driver stopped the horses, Sofya Lvovna jumped out of the sledge and, unescorted and alone, went quickly up to the gate.

“Make haste, please!” her husband called to her. “It’s late already.”

She went in at the dark gateway, then by the avenue that led from the gate to the chief church. The snow crunched under her feet, and the ringing was just above her head, and seemed to vibrate through her whole being. Here was the church door, then three steps down, and an ante-room with ikons of the saints on both sides, a fragrance of juniper and incense, another door, and a dark figure opening it and bowing very low. The service had not yet begun. One nun was walking by the ikon-screen and lighting the candles on the tall standard candlesticks, another was lighting the chandelier. Here and there, by the columns and the side chapels, there stood black, motionless figures. “I suppose they must remain standing as they are now till the morning,” thought Sofya Lvovna, and it seemed to her dark, cold, and dreary–drearier than a graveyard. She looked with a feeling of dreariness at the still, motionless figures and suddenly felt a pang at her heart. For some reason, in one short nun, with thin shoulders and a black kerchief on her head, she recognised Olga, though when Olga went into the nunnery she had been plump and had looked taller. Hesitating and extremely agitated, Sofya Lvovna went up to the nun, and looking over her shoulder into her face, recognised her as Olga.

“Olga!” she cried, throwing up her hands, and could not speak from emotion. “Olga!”

The nun knew her at once; she raised her eyebrows in surprise, and her pale, freshly washed face, and even, it seemed, the white headcloth that she wore under her wimple, beamed with pleasure.

“What a miracle from God!” she said, and she, too, threw up her thin, pale little hands.

Sofya Lvovna hugged her and kissed her warmly, and was afraid as she did so that she might smell of spirits.

“We were just driving past, and we thought of you,” she said, breathing hard, as though she had been running. “Dear me! How pale you are! I . . . I’m very glad to see you. Well, tell me how are you? Are you dull?”

Sofya Lvovna looked round at the other nuns, and went on in a subdued voice:

“There’ve been so many changes at home . . . you know, I’m married to Colonel Yagitch. You remember him, no doubt. . . . I am very happy with him.”

“Well, thank God for that. And is your father quite well?”

“Yes, he is quite well. He often speaks of you. You must come and see us during the holidays, Olga, won’t you?”

“I will come,” said Olga, and she smiled. “I’ll come on the second day.”

Sofya Lvovna began crying, she did not know why, and for a minute she shed tears in silence, then she wiped her eyes and said:

“Rita will be very sorry not to have seen you. She is with us too. And Volodya’s here. They are close to the gate. How pleased they’d be if you’d come out and see them. Let’s go out to them; the service hasn’t begun yet.”

“Let us,” Olga agreed. She crossed herself three times and went out with Sofya Lvovna to the entrance.

“So you say you’re happy, Sonitchka?” she asked when they came out at the gate.

“Very.”

“Well, thank God for that.”

The two Volodyas, seeing the nun, got out of the sledge and greeted her respectfully. Both were visibly touched by her pale face and her black monastic dress, and both were pleased that she had remembered them and come to greet them. That she might not be cold, Sofya Lvovna wrapped her up in a rug and put one half of her fur coat round her. Her tears had relieved and purified her heart, and she was glad that this noisy, restless, and, in reality, impure night should unexpectedly end so purely and serenely. And to keep Olga by her a little longer she suggested:

“Let us take her for a drive! Get in, Olga; we’ll go a little way.”

The men expected the nun to refuse–saints don’t dash about in three-horse sledges; but to their surprise, she consented and got into the sledge. And while the horses were galloping to the city gate all were silent, and only tried to make her warm and comfortable, and each of them was thinking of what she had been in the past and what she was now. Her face was now passionless, inexpressive, cold, pale, and transparent, as though there were water, not blood, in her veins. And two or three years ago she had been plump and rosy, talking about her suitors and laughing at every trifle.

Near the city gate the sledge turned back; when it stopped ten minutes later near the nunnery, Olga got out of the sledge. The bell had begun to ring more rapidly.

“The Lord save you,” said Olga, and she bowed low as nuns do.

“Mind you come, Olga.”

“I will, I will.”

She went and quickly disappeared through the gateway. And when after that they drove on again, Sofya Lvovna felt very sad. Every one was silent. She felt dispirited and weak all over. That she should have made a nun get into a sledge and drive in a company hardly sober seemed to her now stupid, tactless, and almost sacrilegious. As the intoxication passed off, the desire to deceive herself passed away also. It was clear to her now that she did not love her husband, and never could love him, and that it all had been foolishness and nonsense. She had married him from interested motives, because, in the words of her school friends, he was madly rich, and because she was afraid of becoming an old maid like Rita, and because she was sick of her father, the doctor, and wanted to annoy Volodya.

If she could have imagined when she got married, that it would be so oppressive, so dreadful, and so hideous, she would not have consented to the marriage for all the wealth in the world. But now there was no setting it right. She must make up her mind to it.

They reached home. Getting into her warm, soft bed, and pulling the bed-clothes over her, Sofya Lvovna recalled the dark church, the smell of incense, and the figures by the columns, and she felt frightened at the thought that these figures would be standing there all the while she was asleep. The early service would be very, very long; then there would be “the hours,” then the mass, then the service of the day.

“But of course there is a God–there certainly is a God; and I shall have to die, so that sooner or later one must think of one’s soul, of eternal life, like Olga. Olga is saved now; she has settled all questions for herself. . . . But if there is no God? Then her life is wasted. But how is it wasted? Why is it wasted?”

And a minute later the thought came into her mind again:

“There is a God; death must come; one must think of one’s soul. If Olga were to see death before her this minute she would not be afraid. She is prepared. And the great thing is that she has already solved the problem of life for herself. There is a God . . . yes . . . . But is there no other solution except going into a monastery? To go into the monastery means to renounce life, to spoil it . . . .”

Sofya Lvovna began to feel rather frightened; she hid her head under her pillow.

“I mustn’t think about it,” she whispered. “I mustn’t. . . .”

Yagitch was walking about on the carpet in the next room with a soft jingle of spurs, thinking about something. The thought occurred to Sofya Lvovna that this man was near and dear to her only for one reason–that his name, too, was Vladimir. She sat up in bed and called tenderly:

“Volodya!”

“What is it?” her husband responded.

“Nothing.”

She lay down again. She heard a bell, perhaps the same nunnery bell. Again she thought of the vestibule and the dark figures, and thoughts of God and of inevitable death strayed through her mind, and she covered her ears that she might not hear the bell. She thought that before old age and death there would be a long, long life before her, and that day by day she would have to put up with being close to a man she did not love, who had just now come into the bedroom and was getting into bed, and would have to stifle in her heart her hopeless love for the other young, fascinating, and, as she thought, exceptional man. She looked at her husband and tried to say good-night to him, but suddenly burst out crying instead. She was vexed with herself.

“Well, now then for the music!” said Yagitch.

She was not pacified till ten o’clock in the morning. She left off crying and trembling all over, but she began to have a splitting headache. Yagitch was in haste to go to the late mass, and in the next room was grumbling at his orderly, who was helping him to dress. He came into the bedroom once with the soft jingle of his spurs to fetch something, and then a second time wearing his epaulettes, and his orders on his breast, limping slightly from rheumatism; and it struck Sofya Lvovna that he looked and walked like a bird of prey.

She heard Yagitch ring the telephone bell.

“Be so good as to put me on to the Vassilevsky barracks,” he said; and a minute later: “Vassilevsky barracks? Please ask Doctor Salimovitch to come to the telephone . . .” And a minute later: “With whom am I speaking? Is it you, Volodya? Delighted. Ask your father to come to us at once, dear boy; my wife is rather shattered after yesterday. Not at home, you say? H’m! . . . Thank you. Very good. I shall be much obliged . . . Merci.”

Yagitch came into the bedroom for the third time, bent down to his wife, made the sign of the cross over her, gave her his hand to kiss (the women who had been in love with him used to kiss his hand and he had got into the habit of it), and saying that he should be back to dinner, went out.

At twelve o’clock the maid came in to announce that Vladimir Mihalovitch had arrived. Sofya Lvovna, staggering with fatigue and headache, hurriedly put on her marvellous new lilac dressing-gown trimmed with fur, and hastily did up her hair after a fashion. She was conscious of an inexpressible tenderness in her heart, and was trembling with joy and with fear that he might go away. She wanted nothing but to look at him.

Volodya came dressed correctly for calling, in a swallow-tail coat and white tie. When Sofya Lvovna came in he kissed her hand and expressed his genuine regret that she was ill. Then when they had sat down, he admired her dressing-gown.

“I was upset by seeing Olga yesterday,” she said. “At first I felt it dreadful, but now I envy her. She is like a rock that cannot be shattered; there is no moving her. But was there no other solution for her, Volodya? Is burying oneself alive the only solution of the problem of life? Why, it’s death, not life!”

At the thought of Olga, Volodya’s face softened.

“Here, you are a clever man, Volodya,” said Sofya Lvovna. “Show me how to do what Olga has done. Of course, I am not a believer and should not go into a nunnery, but one can do something equivalent. Life isn’t easy for me,” she added after a brief pause. “Tell me what to do. . . . Tell me something I can believe in. Tell me something, if it’s only one word.”

“One word? By all means: tararaboomdeeay.”

“Volodya, why do you despise me?” she asked hotly. “You talk to me in a special, fatuous way, if you’ll excuse me, not as one talks to one’s friends and women one respects. You are so good at your work, you are fond of science; why do you never talk of it to me? Why is it? Am I not good enough?”

Volodya frowned with annoyance and said:

“Why do you want science all of a sudden? Don’t you perhaps want constitutional government? Or sturgeon and horse-radish?”

“Very well, I am a worthless, trivial, silly woman with no convictions. I have a mass, a mass of defects. I am neurotic, corrupt, and I ought to be despised for it. But you, Volodya, are ten years older than I am, and my husband is thirty years older. I’ve grown up before your eyes, and if you would, you could have made anything you liked of me–an angel. But you”–her voice quivered– “treat me horribly. Yagitch has married me in his old age, and you . . .”

“Come, come,” said Volodya, sitting nearer her and kissing both her hands. “Let the Schopenhauers philosophise and prove whatever they like, while we’ll kiss these little hands.”

“You despise me, and if only you knew how miserable it makes me,” she said uncertainly, knowing beforehand that he would not believe her. “And if you only knew how I want to change, to begin another life! I think of it with enthusiasm!” and tears of enthusiasm actually came into her eyes. “To be good, honest, pure, not to be lying; to have an object in life.”

“Come, come, come, please don’t be affected! I don’t like it!” said Volodya, and an ill-humoured expression came into his face. “Upon my word, you might be on the stage. Let us behave like simple people.”

To prevent him from getting cross and going away, she began defending herself, and forced herself to smile to please him; and again she began talking of Olga, and of how she longed to solve the problem of her life and to become something real.

“Ta-ra-ra-boomdee-ay,” he hummed. “Ta-ra-ra-boom-dee-ay!”

And all at once he put his arm round her waist, while she, without knowing what she was doing, laid her hands on his shoulders and for a minute gazed with ecstasy, almost intoxication, at his clever, ironical face, his brow, his eyes, his handsome beard.

“You have known that I love you for ever so long,” she confessed to him, and she blushed painfully, and felt that her lips were twitching with shame. “I love you. Why do you torture me?”

She shut her eyes and kissed him passionately on the lips, and for a long while, a full minute, could not take her lips away, though she knew it was unseemly, that he might be thinking the worse of her, that a servant might come in.

“Oh, how you torture me!” she repeated.

When half an hour later, having got all that he wanted, he was sitting at lunch in the dining-room, she was kneeling before him, gazing greedily into his face, and he told her that she was like a little dog waiting for a bit of ham to be thrown to it. Then he sat her on his knee, and dancing her up and down like a child, hummed:

“Tara-raboom-dee-ay. . . . Tara-raboom-dee-ay.” And when he was getting ready to go she asked him in a passionate whisper:

“When? To-day? Where?” And held out both hands to his mouth as though she wanted to seize his answer in them.

“To-day it will hardly be convenient,” he said after a minute’s thought. “To-morrow, perhaps.”

And they parted. Before dinner Sofya Lvovna went to the nunnery to see Olga, but there she was told that Olga was reading the psalter somewhere over the dead. From the nunnery she went to her father’s and found that he, too, was out. Then she took another sledge and drove aimlessly about the streets till evening. And for some reason she kept thinking of the aunt whose eyes were red with crying, and who could find no peace anywhere.

And at night they drove out again with three horses to a restaurant out of town and listened to the gipsies. And driving back past the nunnery again, Sofya Lvovna thought of Olga, and she felt aghast at the thought that for the girls and women of her class there was no solution but to go on driving about and telling lies, or going into a nunnery to mortify the flesh. . . . And next day she met her lover, and again Sofya Lvovna drove about the town alone in a hired sledge thinking about her aunt.

A week later Volodya threw her over. And after that life went on as before, uninteresting, miserable, and sometimes even agonising. The Colonel and Volodya spent hours playing billiards and picquet, Rita told anecdotes in the same languid, tasteless way, and Sofya Lvovna went about alone in hired sledges and kept begging her husband to take her for a good drive with three horses.

Going almost every day to the nunnery, she wearied Olga, complaining of her unbearable misery, weeping, and feeling as she did so that she brought with her into the cell something impure, pitiful, shabby. And Olga repeated to her mechanically as though a lesson learnt by rote, that all this was of no consequence, that it would all pass and God would forgive her.


THE TROUSSEAU

I HAVE seen a great many houses in my time, little and big, new and old, built of stone and of wood, but of one house I have kept a very vivid memory. It was, properly speaking, rather a cottage than a house–a tiny cottage of one story, with three windows, looking extraordinarily like a little old hunchback woman with a cap on. Its white stucco walls, its tiled roof, and dilapidated chimney, were all drowned in a perfect sea of green. The cottage was lost to sight among the mulberry-trees, acacias, and poplars planted by the grandfathers and great-grandfathers of its present occupants. And yet it is a town house. Its wide courtyard stands in a row with other similar green courtyards, and forms part of a street. Nothing ever drives down that street, and very few persons are ever seen walking through it.

The shutters of the little house are always closed; its occupants do not care for sunlight–the light is no use to them. The windows are never opened, for they are not fond of fresh air. People who spend their lives in the midst of acacias, mulberries, and nettles have no passion for nature. It is only to the summer visitor that God has vouchsafed an eye for the beauties of nature. The rest of mankind remain steeped in profound ignorance of the existence of such beauties. People never prize what they have always had in abundance. “What we have, we do not treasure,” and what’s more we do not even love it.

The little house stands in an earthly paradise of green trees with happy birds nesting in them. But inside . . . alas . . . ! In summer, it is close and stifling within; in winter, hot as a Turkish bath, not one breath of air, and the dreariness! . . .

The first time I visited the little house was many years ago on business. I brought a message from the Colonel who was the owner of the house to his wife and daughter. That first visit I remember very distinctly. It would be impossible, indeed, to forget it.

Imagine a limp little woman of forty, gazing at you with alarm and astonishment while you walk from the passage into the parlour. You are a stranger, a visitor, “a young man”; that’s enough to reduce her to a state of terror and bewilderment. Though you have no dagger, axe, or revolver in your hand, and though you smile affably, you are met with alarm.

“Whom have I the honour and pleasure of addressing?” the little lady asks in a trembling voice.

I introduced myself and explained why I had come. The alarm and amazement were at once succeeded by a shrill, joyful “Ach!” and she turned her eyes upwards to the ceiling. This “Ach!” was caught up like an echo and repeated from the hall to the parlour, from the parlour to the kitchen, and so on down to the cellar. Soon the whole house was resounding with “Ach!” in various voices.

Five minutes later I was sitting on a big, soft, warm lounge in the drawing-room listening to the “Ach!” echoing all down the street. There was a smell of moth powder, and of goatskin shoes, a pair of which lay on a chair beside me wrapped in a handkerchief. In the windows were geraniums, and muslin curtains, and on the curtains were torpid flies. On the wall hung the portrait of some bishop, painted in oils, with the glass broken at one corner, and next to the bishop a row of ancestors with lemon-coloured faces of a gipsy type. On the table lay a thimble, a reel of cotton, and a half-knitted stocking, and paper patterns and a black blouse, tacked together, were lying on the floor. In the next room two alarmed and fluttered old women were hurriedly picking up similar patterns and pieces of tailor’s chalk from the floor.

“You must, please, excuse us; we are dreadfully untidy,” said the little lady.

While she talked to me, she stole embarrassed glances towards the other room where the patterns were still being picked up. The door, too, seemed embarrassed, opening an inch or two and then shutting again.

“What’s the matter?” said the little lady, addressing the door.

“Où est mon cravatte lequel mon père m’avait envoyé de Koursk?” asked a female voice at the door.

“Ah, est-ce que, Marie . . . que. . . Really, it’s impossible . . . . Nous avons donc chez nous un homme peu connu de nous. Ask Lukerya.”

“How well we speak French, though!” I read in the eyes of the little lady, who was flushing with pleasure.

Soon afterwards the door opened and I saw a tall, thin girl of nineteen, in a long muslin dress with a gilt belt from which, I remember, hung a mother-of-pearl fan. She came in, dropped a curtsy, and flushed crimson. Her long nose, which was slightly pitted with smallpox, turned red first, and then the flush passed up to her eyes and her forehead.

“My daughter,” chanted the little lady, “and, Manetchka, this is a young gentleman who has come,” etc.

I was introduced, and expressed my surprise at the number of paper patterns. Mother and daughter dropped their eyes.

“We had a fair here at Ascension,” said the mother; “we always buy materials at the fair, and then it keeps us busy with sewing till the next year’s fair comes around again. We never put things out to be made. My husband’s pay is not very ample, and we are not able to permit ourselves luxuries. So we have to make up everything ourselves.”

“But who will ever wear such a number of things? There are only two of you?”

“Oh . . . as though we were thinking of wearing them! They are not to be worn; they are for the trousseau!”

“Ah, mamam, what are you saying?” said the daughter, and she crimsoned again. “Our visitor might suppose it was true. I don’t intend to be married. Never!”

She said this, but at the very word “married” her eyes glowed.

Tea, biscuits, butter, and jam were brought in, followed by raspberries and cream. At seven o’clock, we had supper, consisting of six courses, and while we were at supper I heard a loud yawn from the next room. I looked with surprise towards the door: it was a yawn that could only come from a man.

“That’s my husband’s brother, Yegor Semyonitch,” the little lady explained, noticing my surprise. “He’s been living with us for the last year. Please excuse him; he cannot come in to see you. He is such an unsociable person, he is shy with strangers. He is going into a monastery. He was unfairly treated in the service, and the disappointment has preyed on his mind.”

After supper the little lady showed the vestment which Yegor Semyonitch was embroidering with his own hands as an offering for the Church. Manetchka threw off her shyness for a moment and showed me the tobacco-pouch she was embroidering for her father. When I pretended to be greatly struck by her work, she flushed crimson and whispered something in her mother’s ear. The latter beamed all over, and invited me to go with her to the store-room. There I was shown five large trunks, and a number of smaller trunks and boxes.

“This is her trousseau,” her mother whispered; “we made it all ourselves.”

After looking at these forbidding trunks I took leave of my hospitable hostesses. They made me promise to come and see them again some day.

It happened that I was able to keep this promise. Seven years after my first visit, I was sent down to the little town to give expert evidence in a case that was being tried there.

As I entered the little house I heard the same “Ach!” echo through it. They recognised me at once. . . . Well they might! My first visit had been an event in their lives, and when events are few they are long remembered.

I walked into the drawing-room: the mother, who had grown stouter and was already getting grey, was creeping about on the floor, cutting out some blue material. The daughter was sitting on the sofa, embroidering.

There was the same smell of moth powder; there were the same patterns, the same portrait with the broken glass. But yet there was a change. Beside the portrait of the bishop hung a portrait of the Colonel, and the ladies were in mourning. The Colonel’s death had occurred a week after his promotion to be a general.

Reminiscences began. . . . The widow shed tears.

“We have had a terrible loss,” she said. “My husband, you know, is dead. We are alone in the world now, and have no one but ourselves to look to. Yegor Semyonitch is alive, but I have no good news to tell of him. They would not have him in the monastery on account of–of intoxicating beverages. And now in his disappointment he drinks more than ever. I am thinking of going to the Marshal of Nobility to lodge a complaint. Would you believe it, he has more than once broken open the trunks and . . . taken Manetchka’s trousseau and given it to beggars. He has taken everything out of two of the trunks! If he goes on like this, my Manetchka will be left without a trousseau at all.”

“What are you saying, mamam?” said Manetchka, embarrassed. “Our visitor might suppose . . . there’s no knowing what he might suppose . . . . I shall never–never marry.”

Manetchka cast her eyes up to the ceiling with a look of hope and aspiration, evidently not for a moment believing what she said.

A little bald-headed masculine figure in a brown coat and goloshes instead of boots darted like a mouse across the passage and disappeared. “Yegor Semyonitch, I suppose,” I thought.

I looked at the mother and daughter together. They both looked much older and terribly changed. The mother’s hair was silvered, but the daughter was so faded and withered that her mother might have been taken for her elder sister, not more than five years her senior.

“I have made up my mind to go to the Marshal,” the mother said to me, forgetting she had told me this already. “I mean to make a complaint. Yegor Semyonitch lays his hands on everything we make, and offers it up for the sake of his soul. My Manetchka is left without a trousseau.”

Manetchka flushed again, but this time she said nothing.

“We have to make them all over again. And God knows we are not so well off. We are all alone in the world now.”

“We are alone in the world,” repeated Manetchka.

A year ago fate brought me once more to the little house.

Walking into the drawing-room, I saw the old lady. Dressed all in black with heavy crape pleureuses, she was sitting on the sofa sewing. Beside her sat the little old man in the brown coat and the goloshes instead of boots. On seeing me, he jumped up and ran out of the room.

In response to my greeting, the old lady smiled and said:

“Je suis charmée de vous revoir, monsieur.”

“What are you making?” I asked, a little later.

“It’s a blouse. When it’s finished I shall take it to the priest’s to be put away, or else Yegor Semyonitch would carry it off. I store everything at the priest’s now,” she added in a whisper.

And looking at the portrait of her daughter which stood before her on the table, she sighed and said:

“We are all alone in the world.”

And where was the daughter? Where was Manetchka? I did not ask. I did not dare to ask the old mother dressed in her new deep mourning. And while I was in the room, and when I got up to go, no Manetchka came out to greet me. I did not hear her voice, nor her soft, timid footstep. . . .

I understood, and my heart was heavy.


THE HELPMATE

“I’VE asked you not to tidy my table,” said Nikolay Yevgrafitch. “There’s no finding anything when you’ve tidied up. Where’s the telegram? Where have you thrown it? Be so good as to look for it. It’s from Kazan, dated yesterday.”

The maid–a pale, very slim girl with an indifferent expression –found several telegrams in the basket under the table, and handed them to the doctor without a word; but all these were telegrams from patients. Then they looked in the drawing-room, and in Olga Dmitrievna’s room.

It was past midnight. Nikolay Yevgrafitch knew his wife would not be home very soon, not till five o’clock at least. He did not trust her, and when she was long away he could not sleep, was worried, and at the same time he despised his wife, and her bed, and her looking-glass, and her boxes of sweets, and the hyacinths, and the lilies of the valley which were sent her every day by some one or other, and which diffused the sickly fragrance of a florist’s shop all over the house. On such nights he became petty, ill-humoured, irritable, and he fancied now that it was very necessary for him to have the telegram he had received the day before from his brother, though it contained nothing but Christmas greetings.

On the table of his wife’s room under the box of stationery he found a telegram, and glanced at it casually. It was addressed to his wife, care of his mother-in-law, from Monte Carlo, and signed Michel . . . . The doctor did not understand one word of it, as it was in some foreign language, apparently English.

“Who is this Michel? Why Monte Carlo? Why directed care of her mother?”

During the seven years of his married life he had grown used to being suspicious, guessing, catching at clues, and it had several times occurred to him, that his exercise at home had qualified him to become an excellent detective. Going into his study and beginning to reflect, he recalled at once how he had been with his wife in Petersburg a year and a half ago, and had lunched with an old school-fellow, a civil engineer, and how that engineer had introduced to him and his wife a young man of two or three and twenty, called Mihail Ivanovitch, with rather a curious short surname–Riss. Two months later the doctor had seen the young man’s photograph in his wife’s album, with an inscription in French: “In remembrance of the present and in hope of the future.” Later on he had met the young man himself at his mother-in-law’s. And that was at the time when his wife had taken to being very often absent and coming home at four or five o’clock in the morning, and was constantly asking him to get her a passport for abroad, which he kept refusing to do; and a continual feud went on in the house which made him feel ashamed to face the servants.

Six months before, his colleagues had decided that he was going into consumption, and advised him to throw up everything and go to the Crimea. When she heard of this, Olga Dmitrievna affected to be very much alarmed; she began to be affectionate to her husband, and kept assuring him that it would be cold and dull in the Crimea, and that he had much better go to Nice, and that she would go with him, and there would nurse him, look after him, take care of him.

Now, he understood why his wife was so particularly anxious to go to Nice: her Michel lived at Monte Carlo.

He took an English dictionary, and translating the words, and guessing their meaning, by degrees he put together the following sentence: “I drink to the health of my beloved darling, and kiss her little foot a thousand times, and am impatiently expecting her arrival.” He pictured the pitiable, ludicrous part he would play if he had agreed to go to Nice with his wife. He felt so mortified that he almost shed tears and began pacing to and fro through all the rooms of the flat in great agitation. His pride, his plebeian fastidiousness, was revolted. Clenching his fists and scowling with disgust, he wondered how he, the son of a village priest, brought up in a clerical school, a plain, straightforward man, a surgeon by profession–how could he have let himself be enslaved, have sunk into such shameful bondage to this weak, worthless, mercenary, low creature.

“‘Little foot’!” he muttered to himself, crumpling up the telegram; “‘little foot’!”

Of the time when he fell in love and proposed to her, and the seven years that he had been living with her, all that remained in his memory was her long, fragrant hair, a mass of soft lace, and her little feet, which certainly were very small, beautiful feet; and even now it seemed as though he still had from those old embraces the feeling of lace and silk upon his hands and face–and nothing more. Nothing more–that is, not counting hysterics, shrieks, reproaches, threats, and lies–brazen, treacherous lies. He remembered how in his father’s house in the village a bird would sometimes chance to fly in from the open air into the house and would struggle desperately against the window-panes and upset things; so this woman from a class utterly alien to him had flown into his life and made complete havoc of it. The best years of his life had been spent as though in hell, his hopes for happiness shattered and turned into a mockery, his health gone, his rooms as vulgar in their atmosphere as a cocotte’s, and of the ten thousand he earned every year he could never save ten roubles to send his old mother in the village, and his debts were already about fifteen thousand. It seemed that if a band of brigands had been living in his rooms his life would not have been so hopelessly, so irremediably ruined as by the presence of this woman.

He began coughing and gasping for breath. He ought to have gone to bed and got warm, but he could not. He kept walking about the rooms, or sat down to the table, nervously fidgeting with a pencil and scribbling mechanically on a paper.

“Trying a pen. . . . A little foot.”

By five o’clock he grew weaker and threw all the blame on himself. It seemed to him now that if Olga Dmitrievna had married some one else who might have had a good influence over her–who knows?– she might after all have become a good, straightforward woman. He was a poor psychologist, and knew nothing of the female heart; besides, he was churlish, uninteresting. . . .

“I haven’t long to live now,” he thought. “I am a dead man, and ought not to stand in the way of the living. It would be strange and stupid to insist upon one’s rights now. I’ll have it out with her; let her go to the man she loves. . . . I’ll give her a divorce. I’ll take the blame on myself.”

Olga Dmitrievna came in at last, and she walked into the study and sank into a chair just as she was in her white cloak, hat, and overboots.

“The nasty, fat boy,” she said with a sob, breathing hard. “It’s really dishonest; it’s disgusting.” She stamped. “I can’t put up with it; I can’t, I can’t!”

“What’s the matter?” asked Nikolay Yevgrafitch, going up to her.

“That student, Azarbekov, was seeing me home, and he lost my bag, and there was fifteen roubles in it. I borrowed it from mamma.”

She was crying in a most genuine way, like a little girl, and not only her handkerchief, but even her gloves, were wet with tears.

“It can’t be helped!” said the doctor. “If he’s lost it, he’s lost it, and it’s no good worrying over it. Calm yourself; I want to talk to you.”

“I am not a millionaire to lose money like that. He says he’ll pay it back, but I don’t believe him; he’s poor . . .”

Her husband begged her to calm herself and to listen to him, but she kept on talking of the student and of the fifteen roubles she had lost.

“Ach! I’ll give you twenty-five roubles to-morrow if you’ll only hold your tongue!” he said irritably.

“I must take off my things!” she said, crying. “I can’t talk seriously in my fur coat! How strange you are!”

He helped her off with her coat and overboots, detecting as he did so the smell of the white wine she liked to drink with oysters (in spite of her etherealness she ate and drank a great deal). She went into her room and came back soon after, having changed her things and powdered her face, though her eyes still showed traces of tears. She sat down, retreating into her light, lacy dressing-gown, and in the mass of billowy pink her husband could see nothing but her hair, which she had let down, and her little foot wearing a slipper.

“What do you want to talk about?” she asked, swinging herself in a rocking-chair.

“I happened to see this;” and he handed her the telegram.

She read it and shrugged her shoulders.

“Well?” she said, rocking herself faster. “That’s the usual New Year’s greeting and nothing else. There are no secrets in it.”

“You are reckoning on my not knowing English. No, I don’t know it; but I have a dictionary. That telegram is from Riss; he drinks to the health of his beloved and sends you a thousand kisses. But let us leave that,” the doctor went on hurriedly. “I don’t in the least want to reproach you or make a scene. We’ve had scenes and reproaches enough; it’s time to make an end of them. . . . This is what I want to say to you: you are free, and can live as you like.”

There was a silence. She began crying quietly.

“I set you free from the necessity of lying and keeping up pretences,” Nikolay Yevgrafitch continued. “If you love that young man, love him; if you want to go abroad to him, go. You are young, healthy, and I am a wreck, and haven’t long to live. In short . . . you understand me.”

He was agitated and could not go on. Olga Dmitrievna, crying and speaking in a voice of self-pity, acknowledged that she loved Riss, and used to drive out of town with him and see him in his rooms, and now she really did long to go abroad.

“You see, I hide nothing from you,” she added, with a sigh. “My whole soul lies open before you. And I beg you again, be generous, get me a passport.”

“I repeat, you are free.”

She moved to another seat nearer him to look at the expression of his face. She did not believe him and wanted now to understand his secret meaning. She never did believe any one, and however generous were their intentions, she always suspected some petty or ignoble motive or selfish object in them. And when she looked searchingly into his face, it seemed to him that there was a gleam of green light in her eyes as in a cat’s.

“When shall I get the passport?” she asked softly.

He suddenly had an impulse to say “Never”; but he restrained himself and said:

“When you like.”

“I shall only go for a month.”

“You’ll go to Riss for good. I’ll get you a divorce, take the blame on myself, and Riss can marry you.”

“But I don’t want a divorce!” Olga Dmitrievna retorted quickly, with an astonished face. “I am not asking you for a divorce! Get me a passport, that’s all.”

“But why don’t you want the divorce?” asked the doctor, beginning to feel irritated. “You are a strange woman. How strange you are! If you are fond of him in earnest and he loves you too, in your position you can do nothing better than get married. Can you really hesitate between marriage and adultery?”

“I understand you,” she said, walking away from him, and a spiteful, vindictive expression came into her face. “I understand you perfectly. You are sick of me, and you simply want to get rid of me, to force this divorce on me. Thank you very much; I am not such a fool as you think. I won’t accept the divorce and I won’t leave you–I won’t, I won’t! To begin with, I don’t want to lose my position in society,” she continued quickly, as though afraid of being prevented from speaking. “Secondly, I am twenty-seven and Riss is only twenty-three; he’ll be tired of me in a year and throw me over. And what’s more, if you care to know, I’m not certain that my feeling will last long . . . so there! I’m not going to leave you.”

“Then I’ll turn you out of the house!” shouted Nikolay Yevgrafitch, stamping. “I shall turn you out, you vile, loathsome woman!”

“We shall see!” she said, and went out.

It was broad daylight outside, but the doctor still sat at the table moving the pencil over the paper and writing mechanically.

“My dear Sir. . . . Little foot.”

Or he walked about and stopped in the drawing-room before a photograph taken seven years ago, soon after his marriage, and looked at it for a long time. It was a family group: his father-in-law, his mother-in-law, his wife Olga Dmitrievna when she was twenty, and himself in the rôle of a happy young husband. His father-in-law, a clean-shaven, dropsical privy councillor, crafty and avaricious; his mother-in-law, a stout lady with small predatory features like a weasel, who loved her daughter to distraction and helped her in everything; if her daughter were strangling some one, the mother would not have protested, but would only have screened her with her skirts. Olga Dmitrievna, too, had small predatory-looking features, but more expressive and bolder than her mother’s; she was not a weasel, but a beast on a bigger scale! And Nikolay Yevgrafitch himself in the photograph looked such a guileless soul, such a kindly, good fellow, so open and simple-hearted; his whole face was relaxed in the naïve, good-natured smile of a divinity student, and he had had the simplicity to believe that that company of beasts of prey into which destiny had chanced to thrust him would give him romance and happiness and all he had dreamed of when as a student he used to sing the song “Youth is wasted, life is nought, when the heart is cold and loveless.”

And once more he asked himself in perplexity how he, the son of a village priest, with his democratic bringing up–a plain, blunt, straightforward man–could have so helplessly surrendered to the power of this worthless, false, vulgar, petty creature, whose nature was so utterly alien to him.

When at eleven o’clock he put on his coat to go to the hospital the servant came into his study.

“What is it?” he asked.

“The mistress has got up and asks you for the twenty-five roubles you promised her yesterday.”


TALENT

AN artist called Yegor Savvitch, who was spending his summer holidays at the house of an officer’s widow, was sitting on his bed, given up to the depression of morning. It was beginning to look like autumn out of doors. Heavy, clumsy clouds covered the sky in thick layers; there was a cold, piercing wind, and with a plaintive wail the trees were all bending on one side. He could see the yellow leaves whirling round in the air and on the earth. Farewell, summer! This melancholy of nature is beautiful and poetical in its own way, when it is looked at with the eyes of an artist, but Yegor Savvitch was in no humour to see beauty. He was devoured by ennui and his only consolation was the thought that by to-morrow he would not be there. The bed, the chairs, the tables, the floor, were all heaped up with cushions, crumpled bed-clothes, boxes. The floor had not been swept, the cotton curtains had been taken down from the windows. Next day he was moving, to town.

His landlady, the widow, was out. She had gone off somewhere to hire horses and carts to move next day to town. Profiting by the absence of her severe mamma, her daughter Katya, aged twenty, had for a long time been sitting in the young man’s room. Next day the painter was going away, and she had a great deal to say to him. She kept talking, talking, and yet she felt that she had not said a tenth of what she wanted to say. With her eyes full of tears, she gazed at his shaggy head, gazed at it with rapture and sadness. And Yegor Savvitch was shaggy to a hideous extent, so that he looked like a wild animal. His hair hung down to his shoulder-blades, his beard grew from his neck, from his nostrils, from his ears; his eyes were lost under his thick overhanging brows. It was all so thick, so matted, that if a fly or a beetle had been caught in his hair, it would never have found its way out of this enchanted thicket. Yegor Savvitch listened to Katya, yawning. He was tired. When Katya began whimpering, he looked severely at her from his overhanging eyebrows, frowned, and said in a heavy, deep bass:

“I cannot marry.”

“Why not?” Katya asked softly.

“Because for a painter, and in fact any man who lives for art, marriage is out of the question. An artist must be free.”

“But in what way should I hinder you, Yegor Savvitch?”

“I am not speaking of myself, I am speaking in general. . . . Famous authors and painters have never married.”

“And you, too, will be famous–I understand that perfectly. But put yourself in my place. I am afraid of my mother. She is stern and irritable. When she knows that you won’t marry me, and that it’s all nothing . . . she’ll begin to give it to me. Oh, how wretched I am! And you haven’t paid for your rooms, either! . . . .”

“Damn her! I’ll pay.”

Yegor Savvitch got up and began walking to and fro.

“I ought to be abroad!” he said. And the artist told her that nothing was easier than to go abroad. One need do nothing but paint a picture and sell it.

“Of course!” Katya assented. “Why haven’t you painted one in the summer?”

“Do you suppose I can work in a barn like this?” the artist said ill-humouredly. “And where should I get models?”

Some one banged the door viciously in the storey below. Katya, who was expecting her mother’s return from minute to minute, jumped up and ran away. The artist was left alone. For a long time he walked to and fro, threading his way between the chairs and the piles of untidy objects of all sorts. He heard the widow rattling the crockery and loudly abusing the peasants who had asked her two roubles for each cart. In his disgust Yegor Savvitch stopped before the cupboard and stared for a long while, frowning at the decanter of vodka.

“Ah, blast you!” he heard the widow railing at Katya. “Damnation take you!”

The artist drank a glass of vodka, and the dark cloud in his soul gradually disappeared, and he felt as though all his inside was smiling within him. He began dreaming. . . . His fancy pictured how he would become great. He could not imagine his future works but he could see distinctly how the papers would talk of him, how the shops would sell his photographs, with what envy his friends would look after him. He tried to picture himself in a magnificent drawing-room surrounded by pretty and adoring women; but the picture was misty, vague, as he had never in his life seen a drawing-room. The pretty and adoring women were not a success either, for, except Katya, he knew no adoring woman, not even one respectable girl. People who know nothing about life usually picture life from books, but Yegor Savvitch knew no books either. He had tried to read Gogol, but had fallen asleep on the second page.

“It won’t burn, drat the thing!” the widow bawled down below, as she set the samovar. “Katya, give me some charcoal!”

The dreamy artist felt a longing to share his hopes and dreams with some one. He went downstairs into the kitchen, where the stout widow and Katya were busy about a dirty stove in the midst of charcoal fumes from the samovar. There he sat down on a bench close to a big pot and began:

“It’s a fine thing to be an artist! I can go just where I like, do what I like. One has not to work in an office or in the fields. I’ve no superiors or officers over me. . . . I’m my own superior. And with all that I’m doing good to humanity!”

And after dinner he composed himself for a “rest.” He usually slept till the twilight of evening. But this time soon after dinner he felt that some one was pulling at his leg. Some one kept laughing and shouting his name. He opened his eyes and saw his friend Ukleikin, the landscape painter, who had been away all the summer in the Kostroma district.

“Bah!” he cried, delighted. “What do I see?”

There followed handshakes, questions.

“Well, have you brought anything? I suppose you’ve knocked off hundreds of sketches?” said Yegor Savvitch, watching Ukleikin taking his belongings out of his trunk.

“H’m! . . . Yes. I have done something. And how are you getting on? Have you been painting anything?”

Yegor Savvitch dived behind the bed, and crimson in the face, extracted a canvas in a frame covered with dust and spider webs.

“See here. . . . A girl at the window after parting from her betrothed. In three sittings. Not nearly finished yet.”

The picture represented Katya faintly outlined sitting at an open window, from which could be seen a garden and lilac distance. Ukleikin did not like the picture.

“H’m! . . . There is air and . . . and there is expression,” he said. “There’s a feeling of distance, but . . . but that bush is screaming . . . screaming horribly!”

The decanter was brought on to the scene.

Towards evening Kostyliov, also a promising beginner, an historical painter, came in to see Yegor Savvitch. He was a friend staying at the next villa, and was a man of five-and-thirty. He had long hair, and wore a blouse with a Shakespeare collar, and had a dignified manner. Seeing the vodka, he frowned, complained of his chest, but yielding to his friends’ entreaties, drank a glass.

“I’ve thought of a subject, my friends,” he began, getting drunk. “I want to paint some new . . . Herod or Clepentian, or some blackguard of that description, you understand, and to contrast with him the idea of Christianity. On the one side Rome, you understand, and on the other Christianity. . . . I want to represent the spirit, you understand? The spirit!”

And the widow downstairs shouted continually:

“Katya, give me the cucumbers! Go to Sidorov’s and get some kvass, you jade!”

Like wolves in a cage, the three friends kept pacing to and fro from one end of the room to the other. They talked without ceasing, talked, hotly and genuinely; all three were excited, carried away. To listen to them it would seem they had the future, fame, money, in their hands. And it never occurred to either of them that time was passing, that every day life was nearing its close, that they had lived at other people’s expense a great deal and nothing yet was accomplished; that they were all bound by the inexorable law by which of a hundred promising beginners only two or three rise to any position and all the others draw blanks in the lottery, perish playing the part of flesh for the cannon. . . . They were gay and happy, and looked the future boldly in the face!

At one o’clock in the morning Kostyliov said good-bye, and smoothing out his Shakespeare collar, went home. The landscape painter remained to sleep at Yegor Savvitch’s. Before going to bed, Yegor Savvitch took a candle and made his way into the kitchen to get a drink of water. In the dark, narrow passage Katya was sitting, on a box, and, with her hands clasped on her knees, was looking upwards. A blissful smile was straying on her pale, exhausted face, and her eyes were beaming.

“Is that you? What are you thinking about?” Yegor Savvitch asked her.

“I am thinking of how you’ll be famous,” she said in a half-whisper. “I keep fancying how you’ll become a famous man. . . . I overheard all your talk. . . . I keep dreaming and dreaming. . . .”

Katya went off into a happy laugh, cried, and laid her hands reverently on her idol’s shoulders.


AN ARTIST’S STORY


THREE YEARS

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