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A Story

Leo Tolstoy's signature

Leo Tolstoy


This is the Bookwise complete ebook of Albert by Leo Tolstoy, 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.



Five rich young men went at three o’clock in the morning to a ball in Petersburg to have a good time.

Much champagne was drunk; a majority of the gentlemen were very young; the girls were pretty; a pianist and a fiddler played indefatigably one polka after another; there was no cease to the noise of conversation and dancing. But there was a sense of awkwardness and constraint; everyone felt somehow or other⁠—and this is not unusual⁠—that all was not as it should be.

There were several attempts made to make things more lively, but simulated liveliness is much worse than melancholy.

One of the five young men, who was more discontented than anyone else, both with himself and with the others, and who had been feeling all the evening a sense of disgust, took his hat, and went out noiselessly on purpose, intending to go home.

There was no one in the anteroom, but in the next room at the door he heard two voices disputing. The young man paused, and listened.

“It is impossible, there are guests in there,” said a woman’s voice.

“Come, let me in, please. I will not do any harm,” urged a man in a gentle voice.

“Indeed I will not without madame’s permission,” said the woman. “Where are you going? Oh, what a man you are!”

The door was flung open, and on the threshold appeared the figure of a stranger. Seeing a guest, the maid ceased to detain the man; and the stranger, timidly bowing, came into the room with a somewhat unsteady gait.

He was a man of medium stature, with a lank, crooked back, and long dishevelled hair. He wore a short paletot, and tight ragged pantaloons over coarse dirty boots. His necktie, twisted into a string, exposed his long white neck. His shirt was filthy, and the sleeves came down over his lean hands.

But, notwithstanding his thoroughly emaciated body, his face was attractive and fair; and a fresh color even mantled his cheeks under his thin dark beard and side-whiskers. His dishevelled locks, thrown back, exposed a low and remarkably pure forehead. His dark, languid eyes looked unswervingly forward with an expression of serenity, submission, and sweetness, which made a fascinating combination with the expression of his fresh, curved lips, visible under his thin moustache.

Advancing a few steps, he paused, turned to the young man, and smiled. He found it apparently rather hard to smile. But his face was so lighted up by it, that the young man, without knowing why, smiled in return.

“Who is that man?” he asked of the maid in a whisper, as the stranger walked toward the room where the dancing was going on.

“A crazy musician from the theatre,” replied the maid. “He sometimes comes to call upon madame.”

“Where are you going, Delesof?” someone at this moment called from the drawing-room.

The young man who was called Delesof returned to the drawing-room. The musician was now standing at the door; and, as his eyes fell on the dancers, he showed by his smile and by the beating of his foot how much pleasure this spectacle afforded him.

“Won’t you come, and have a dance too?” said one of the guests to him. The musician bowed, and looked at the hostess inquiringly.

“Come, come. Why not, since the gentlemen have invited you?” said the hostess. The musician’s thin, weak face suddenly assumed an expression of decision; and smiling and winking, and shuffling his feet, he awkwardly, clumsily went to join the dancers in the drawing-room.

In the midst of a quadrille a jolly officer, who was dancing very beautifully and with great liveliness, accidentally hit the musician in the back. His weak, weary legs lost their equilibrium; and the musician, making ineffectual struggles to keep his balance, measured his length on the floor.

Notwithstanding the sharp, hard sound made by his fall, almost everybody at the first moment laughed.

But the musician did not rise. The guests grew silent, even the piano ceased to sound. Delesof and the hostess were the first to reach the prostrate musician. He was lying on his elbow, and gloomily looking at the ground. When he had been lifted to his feet, and set in a chair, he threw back his hair from his forehead with a quick motion of his bony hand, and began to smile without replying to the questions that were put.

“Mr. Albert! Mr. Albert!” exclaimed the hostess. “Were you hurt? Where? Now, I told you that you had better not try to dance.⁠ ⁠… He is so weak,” she added, addressing her guests. “It takes all his strength.”

“Who is he?” someone asked the hostess.

“A poor man, an artist. A very nice young fellow; but he’s a sad case, as you can see.”

She said this without paying the least heed to the musician’s presence. He suddenly opened his eyes as though frightened at something, collected himself, and remarked to those who were standing about him, “It’s nothing at all,” said he suddenly, arising from the chair with evident effort.

And in order to show that he had suffered no injury, he went into the middle of the room, and was going to dance; but he tottered, and would have fallen again, had he not been supported.

Everybody felt constrained. All looked at him, and no one spoke. The musician’s glance again lost its vivacity; and, apparently forgetting that anyone was looking, he put his hand to his knee. Suddenly he raised his head, advanced one faltering foot, and, with the same awkward gesture as before, tossed back his hair, and went to a violin-case, and took out the instrument.

“It was nothing at all,” said he again, waving the violin. “Gentlemen, we will have a little music.”

“What a strange face!” said the guests among themselves.

“Maybe there is great talent lurking in that unhappy creature,” said one of them.

“Yes: it’s a sad case⁠—a sad case,” said another.

“What a lovely face!⁠ ⁠… There is something extraordinary about it,” said Delesof. “Let us have a look at him.⁠ ⁠…”


Albert by this time, not paying attention to anyone, had raised his violin to his shoulder, and was slowly crossing over to the piano, and tuning his instrument. His lips were drawn into an expression of indifference, his eyes were almost shut; but his lank, bony back, his long white neck, his crooked legs, and disorderly black hair presented a strange but somehow not entirely ridiculous appearance. After he had tuned his violin, he struck a quick chord, and, throwing back his head, turned to the pianist who was waiting to accompany him. “Melancholie, G sharp,” he said, turning to the pianist with a peremptory gesture. And immediately after, as though in apology for his peremptory gesture, he smiled sweetly, and with the same smile turned to his audience again.

Tossing back his hair with the hand that held the bow, Albert stood at one side of the piano, and, with a flowing motion of the bow, touched the strings. Through the room there swept a pure, harmonious sound, which instantly brought absolute silence.

At first, it was as though a ray of unexpectedly brilliant light had flashed across the inner world of each hearer’s consciousness; and the notes of the theme immediately followed, pouring forth abundant and beautiful.

Not one discordant or imperfect note distracted the attention of the listeners. All the tones were clear, beautiful, and full of meaning. All silently, with trembling expectation, followed the development of the theme. From a state of tedium, of noisy gayety, or of deep drowsiness, into which these people had fallen, they were suddenly transported to a world whose existence they had forgotten.

In one instant there arose in their souls, now a sentiment as though they were contemplating the past, now of passionate remembrance of some happiness, now the boundless longing for power and glory, now the feelings of humility, of unsatisfied love, and of melancholy.

Now bittersweet, now vehemently despairing, the notes, freely intermingling, poured forth and poured forth, so sweetly, so powerfully, and so spontaneously, that it was not so much that sounds were heard, as that some sort of beautiful stream of poetry, long known, but now for the first time expressed, gushed through the soul.

At each note that he played, Albert grew taller and taller. At a little distance, he had no appearance of being either crippled or peculiar. Pressing the violin to his chin, and with an expression of listening with passionate attention to the tones that he produced, he convulsively moved his feet. Now he straightened himself up to his full height, now thoughtfully leaned forward.

His left hand, curving over spasmodically on the strings, seemed as though it had swooned in its position, while it was only the bony fingers that changed about spasmodically; the right hand moved smoothly, gracefully, without effort.

His face shone with complete, enthusiastic delight; his eyes gleamed with a radiant, steely light; his nostrils quivered, his red lips were parted in rapture.

Sometimes his head bent down closer to his violin, his eyes almost closed, and his face, half shaded by his long locks, lighted up with a smile of genuine blissfulness. Sometimes he quickly straightened himself up, changed from one leg to the other, and his pure forehead, and the radiant look which he threw around the room, were alive with pride, greatness, and the consciousness of power. Once the pianist made a mistake, and struck a false chord. Physical pain was apparent in the whole form and face of the musician. He paused for a second, and with an expression of childish anger stamped his foot, and cried, “Moll, ce moll!” The pianist corrected his mistake; Albert closed his eyes, smiled, and, again forgetting himself and everybody else, gave himself up with beatitude to his work. Everybody who was in the room while Albert was playing preserved an attentive silence, and seemed to live and breathe only in the music.

The gay officer sat motionless in a chair by the window, with his eyes fixed upon the floor, and drawing long heavy sighs. The girls, awed by the universal silence, sat along by the walls, only occasionally exchanging glances expressive of satisfaction or perplexity.

The fat smiling face of the hostess was radiant with happiness. The pianist kept his eyes fixed on Albert’s face, and while his whole figure from head to foot showed his solicitude lest he should make some mistake, he did his best to follow him. One of the guests, who had been drinking more heavily than the rest, lay at full length on the sofa, and tried not to move lest he should betray his emotion. Delesof experienced an unusual sensation. It seemed as though an icy band, now contracting, now expanding, were pressed upon his head. The roots of his hair seemed endued with consciousness; the cold shivers ran down his back, something rose higher and higher in his throat, his nose and palate were full of little needles, and the tears stole down his cheeks.

He shook himself, tried to swallow them back and wipe them away without attracting attention, but fresh tears followed and streamed down his face. By some sort of strange association of impressions, the first tones of Albert’s violin carried Delesof back to his early youth.

Old before his time, weary of life, a broken man, he suddenly felt as though he were a boy of seventeen again, self-satisfied and handsome, blissfully dull, unconsciously happy. He remembered his first love for his cousin who wore a pink dress, he remembered his first confession of it in the linden alley; he remembered the warmth and the inexpressible charm of the fortuitous kiss; he remembered the immensity and enigmatical mystery of Nature as it surrounded them then.

In his imagination as it went back in its flight, she gleamed in a mist of indefinite hopes, of incomprehensible desires, and the indubitable faith in the possibility of impossible happiness. All the priceless moments of that time, one after the other, arose before him, not like unmeaning instants of the fleeting present, but like the immutable, full-formed, reproachful images of the past.

He contemplated them with rapture, and wept⁠—wept not because the time had passed and he might have spent it more profitably (if that time had been given to him again he would not have spent it any more profitably), but he wept because it had passed and would never return. His recollections evolved themselves without effort, and Albert’s violin was their mouthpiece. It said, “They have passed, forever passed, the days of thy strength, of love, and of happiness; passed forever, and never will return. Weep for them, shed all thy tears, let thy life pass in tears for these days; this is the only and best happiness that remains to thee.”

At the end of the next variation, Albert’s face grew serene, his eyes flushed, great clear drops of sweat poured down his cheeks. The veins swelled on his forehead; his whole body swayed more and more; his pale lips were parted, and his whole figure expressed an enthusiastic craving for enjoyment. Despairingly swaying with his whole body, and throwing back his hair, he laid down his violin, and with a smile of proud satisfaction and happiness gazed at the bystanders. Then his back assumed its ordinary curve, his head sank, his lips grew set, his eyes lost their fire; and as though he were ashamed of himself, timidly glancing round, and stumbling, he went into the next room.


Something strange came over all the audience, and something strange was noticeable in the dead silence that succeeded Albert’s playing. It was as though each desired, and yet dared not, to acknowledge the meaning of it all.

What did it mean⁠—this brightly lighted, warm room, these brilliant women, the dawn just appearing at the windows, these hurrying pulses, and the pure impressions made by the fleeting tones of music? But no one ventured to acknowledge the meaning of it all; on the contrary, almost all, feeling incapable of throwing themselves completely under the influence of what the new impression concealed from them, rebelled against it.

“Well, now, he plays mighty well,” said the officer.

“Wonderfully,” replied Delesof, stealthily wiping his cheek with his sleeve.

“One thing sure, it’s time to be going, gentlemen,” said the gentleman who had been lying on the sofa, straightening himself up a little. “We’ll have to give him something, gentlemen. Let us make a collection.”

At this time, Albert was sitting alone in the next room, on the sofa. As he supported himself with his elbows on his bony knees, he smoothed his face with his dirty, sweaty hand, tossed back his hair, and smiled at his own happy thoughts.

A large collection was taken up, and Delesof was chosen to present it. Aside from this, Delesof, who had been so keenly and unwontedly affected by the music, had conceived the thought of conferring some benefit upon this man.

It came into his head to take him home with him, to feed him, to establish him somewhere⁠—in other words, to lift him from his vile position.

“Well, are you tired?” asked Delesof, approaching him. Albert replied with a smile. “You have creative talent; you ought seriously to devote yourself to music, to play in public.”

“I should like to have something to drink,” exclaimed Albert, as though suddenly waking up.

Delesof brought him some wine, and the musician greedily drained two glasses.

“What splendid wine!” he exclaimed.

“What a lovely thing that Melancholie is!” said Delesof.

“Oh, yes, yes,” replied Albert with a smile. “But pardon me, I do not know with whom I have the honor to be talking; maybe you are a count or a prince. Couldn’t you let me have a little money?” He paused for a moment. “I have nothing⁠—I am a poor man: I couldn’t pay it back to you.”

Delesof flushed, grew embarrassed, and hastened to hand the musician the money that had been collected for him.

“Very much obliged to you,” said Albert, seizing the money. “Now let us have some more music; I will play for you as much as you wish. Only let me have something to drink, something to drink,” he repeated, as he started to his feet.

Delesof gave him some more wine, and asked him to sit down by him.

“Pardon me if I am frank with you,” said Delesof. “Your talent has interested me so much. It seems to me that you are in a wretched position.”

Albert glanced now at Delesof, now at the hostess, who just then came into the room.

“Permit me to help you,” continued Delesof. “If you need anything, then I should be very glad if you would come and stay with me for a while. I live alone, and maybe I could be of some service to you.”

Albert smiled, and made no reply.

“Why don’t you thank him?” said the hostess. “It seems to me that this would be a capital thing for you.⁠—Only I would not advise you,” she continued, turning to Delesof, and shaking her head warningly.

“Very much obliged to you,” said Albert, seizing Delesof’s hand with both his moist ones. “Only now let us have some music, please.”

But the rest of the guests were already making their preparations to depart; and as Albert did not address them, they came out into the anteroom.

Albert bade the hostess farewell; and having taken his worn hat with wide brim, and a last summer’s alma viva, which composed his only protection against the winter, he went with Delesof down the steps.

As soon as Delesof took his seat in his carriage with his new friend, and became conscious of that unpleasant odor of intoxication and filthiness exhaled by the musician, he began to repent of the step that he had taken, and to curse himself for his childish softness of heart and lack of reason. Moreover, all that Albert said was so foolish and in such bad taste, and he seemed so near a sudden state of beastly intoxication, that Delesof was disgusted. “What shall I do with him?” he asked himself.

After they had been driving for a quarter of an hour, Albert relapsed into silence, took off his hat, and laid it on his knee, then threw himself into a corner of the carriage, and began to snore.⁠ ⁠… The wheels crunched monotonously over the frozen snow, the feeble light of dawn scarcely made its way through the frosty windows.

Delesof glanced at his companion. His long body, wrapped in his mantle, lay almost lifeless near him. It seemed to him that a long head with large black nose was swaying on his trunk; but on examining more closely he perceived that what he took to be nose and face was the man’s hair, and that his actual face was lower down.

He bent over, and studied the features of Albert’s face. Then the beauty of his brow and of his peacefully closed mouth once more charmed him. Under the influence of nervous excitement caused by the sleepless hours of the long night and the music, Delesof, as he looked at that face, was once more carried back to the blessed world of which he had caught a glimpse once before that night; again he remembered the happy and magnanimous time of his youth, and he ceased to repent of his rashness. At that moment he loved Albert truly and warmly, and firmly resolved to be a benefactor to him.


The next morning when Delesof was awakened to go to his office, he saw, with an unpleasant feeling of surprise, his old screen, his old servant, and his clock on the table.

“What did I expect to see if not the usual objects that surround me?” he asked himself.

Then he recollected the musician’s black eyes and happy smile; the motive of the Melancholie and all the strange experiences of the night came back into his consciousness. It was never his way, however, to reconsider whether he had done wisely or foolishly in taking the musician home with him. After he had dressed, he carefully laid out his plans for the day: he took some paper, wrote out some necessary directions for the house, and hastily put on his cloak and galoshes.

As he went by the dining-room he glanced in at the door. Albert, with his face buried in the pillow and lying at full length in his dirty, tattered shirt, was buried in the profoundest slumber on the saffron sofa, where in absolute unconsciousness he had been laid the night before.

Delesof felt that something was not right: it disturbed him. “Please go for me to Boriuzovsky, and borrow his violin for a day or two,” said he to his man; “and when he wakes up, bring him some coffee, and get him some clean linen and some old suit or other of mine. Fix him up as well as you can, please.”

When he returned home in the afternoon, Delesof, to his surprise, found that Albert was not there.

“Where is he?” he asked of his man.

“He went out immediately after dinner,” replied the servant. “He took the violin, and went out, saying that he would be back again in an hour; but since that time we have not seen him.”

“Ta, ta! how provoking!” said Delesof. “Why did you let him go, Zakhár?”

Zakhár was a Petersburg lackey, who had been in Delesof’s service for eight years. Delesof, as a single young bachelor, could not help entrusting him with his plans; and he liked to get his judgment in regard to each of his undertakings.

“How should I have ventured to detain him?” replied Zakhár, playing with his watch-charms. “If you had intimated, Dmitri Ivánovitch, that you wished me to keep him here, I might have kept him at home. But you only spoke of his wardrobe.”

“Ta! how vexatious! Well, what has he been doing while I was out?”

Zakhár smiled.

“Indeed, he’s a real artist, as you may say, Dmitri Ivánovitch. As soon as he woke up he asked for some madeira: then he began to keep the cook and me pretty busy. Such an absurd⁠ ⁠… However, he’s a very interesting character. I brought him some tea, got some dinner ready for him; but he would not eat alone, so he asked me to sit down with him. But when he began to play on the fiddle, then I knew that you would not find many such artists at Izler’s. One might well keep such a man. When he played ‘Down the Little Mother Volga’ for us, why, it was enough to make a man weep. It was too good for anything! The people from all the floors came down into our entry to listen.”

“Well, did you give him some clothes?” asked the bárin.

“Certainly I did: I gave him your dress-shirt, and I put on him an overcoat of mine. You want to help such a man as that, he’s a fine fellow.” Zakhár smiled. “He asked me what rank you were, and if you had had important acquaintances, and how many souls of peasantry you had.”

“Very good: but now we must send and find him; and henceforth don’t give him anything to drink, otherwise you’ll do him more harm than good.”

“That is true,” said Zakhár in assent. “He doesn’t seem in very robust health: we used to have an overseer who, like him⁠ ⁠…”

Delesof, who had already long ago heard the story of the drunken overseer, did not give Zakhár time to finish, but bade him make everything ready for the night, and then go out and bring the musician back.

He threw himself down on his bed, and put out the candle; but it was long before he fell asleep, for thinking about Albert.

“This may seem strange to some of my friends,” said Delesof to himself, “but how seldom it is that I can do anything for anyone beside myself! and I ought to thank God for a chance when one presents itself. I will not send him away. I will do everything, at least everything that I can, to help him. Maybe he is not absolutely crazy, but only inclined to get drunk. It certainly will not cost me very much. Where one is, there is always enough to satisfy two. Let him live with me awhile, and then we will find him a place, or get him up a concert; we’ll help him off the shoals, and then there will be time enough to see what will come of it.” An agreeable sense of self-satisfaction came over him after making this resolution.

“Certainly I am not a bad man: I might say I am far from being a bad man,” he thought. “I might go so far as to say that I am a good man, when I compare myself with others.”

He was just dropping off to sleep when the sound of opening doors, and steps in the anteroom, roused him again. “Well, shall I treat him rather severely?” he asked himself; “I suppose that is best, and I ought to do it.”

He rang.

“Well, did you find him?” he asked of Zakhár, who answered his call.

“He’s a poor, wretched fellow, Dmitri Ivánovitch,” said Zakhár, shaking his head significantly, and closing his eyes.

“What! is he drunk?”

“Very weak.”

“Had he the violin with him?”

“I brought it: the lady gave it to me.”

“All right. Now please don’t bring him to me tonight: let him sleep it off; and tomorrow don’t under any circumstances let him out of the house.”

But before Zakhár had time to leave the room, Albert came in.


“You don’t mean to say that you’ve gone to bed at this time,” said Albert with a smile. “I was there again, at Anna Ivánovna’s. I spent a very pleasant evening. We had music, told stories; there was a very pleasant company there. Please let me have a glass of something to drink,” he added, seizing a carafe of water that stood on the table, “only not water.”

Albert was just as he had been the night before⁠—the same lovely smiling eyes and lips, the same fresh inspired brow, and weak features. Zakhár’s overcoat fitted him as though it had been made for him, and the clean, tall, stiffly-starched collar of the dress-shirt picturesquely fitted around his delicate white neck, giving him a peculiarly childlike and innocent appearance.

He sat down on Delesof’s bed, smiling with pleasure and gratitude, and looked at him without speaking. Delesof gazed into Albert’s eyes, and suddenly felt himself once under the sway of that smile. All desire for sleep vanished from him, he forgot his resolution to be stern: on the contrary, he felt like having a gay time, to hear some music, and to talk confidentially with Albert till morning. Delesof bade Zakhár bring a bottle of wine, cigarettes, and the violin.

“This is excellent,” said Albert. “It’s early yet, we’ll have a little music. I will play whatever you like.”

Zakhár, with evident satisfaction, brought a bottle of Lafitte, two glasses, some mild cigarettes such as Albert smoked, and the violin. But, instead of going off to bed as his bárin bade him, he lighted a cigar, and sat down in the next room.

“Let us talk instead,” said Delesof to the musician, who was beginning to tune the violin.

Albert sat down submissively on the bed, and smiled pleasantly.

“Oh, yes!” said he, suddenly striking his forehead with his hand, and putting on an expression of anxious curiosity. The expression of his face always foretold what he was going to say. “I wanted to ask you,”⁠—he hesitated a little⁠—“that gentleman who was there with you last evening.⁠ ⁠… You called him N⁠⸺. Was he the son of the celebrated N⁠⸺?”

“His own son,” replied Delesof, not understanding at all what Albert could find of interest in him.

“Indeed!” he exclaimed, smiling with satisfaction. “I instantly noticed that there was something peculiarly aristocratic in his manners. I love aristocrats. There is something splendid and elegant about an aristocrat. And that officer who danced so beautifully,” he went on to ask. “He also pleased me very much, he was so gay and noble looking. It seems he is called Adjutant N⁠⸺ N⁠⸺.”

“Who?” asked Delesof.

“The one who ran into me when we were dancing. He must be a splendid man.”

“No, he is a silly fellow,” replied Delesof.

“Oh, no! it can’t be,” rejoined Albert hotly. “There’s something very, very pleasant about him. And he’s a fine musician,” added Albert. “He played something from an opera. It’s a long time since I have seen anyone who pleased me so much.”

“Yes, he plays very well; but I don’t like his playing,” said Delesof, anxious to bring his companion to talk about music. “He does not understand classic music, but only Donizetti and Bellini; and that’s no music, you know. You agree with me, don’t you?”

“Oh, no, no! Pardon me,” replied Albert with a gentle expression of vindication. “The old music is music; but modern music is music too. And in the modern music there are extraordinarily beautiful things. Now, Somnambula, and the finale of Lucia, and Chopin, and Robert! I often think,”⁠—he hesitated, apparently collecting his thoughts⁠—“that if Beethoven were alive, he would weep tears of joy to hear Somnambula. It’s so beautiful all through. I heard Somnambula first when Viardot and Rubini were here. That was something worthwhile,” he said, with shining eyes, and making a gesture with both hands, as though he were casting something from his breast. “I’d give a good deal, but it would be impossible, to bring it back.”

“Well, but how do you like the opera nowadays?” asked Delesof.

“Bosio is good, very good,” was his reply, “exquisite beyond words; but she does not touch me here,” he said, pointing to his sunken chest. “A singer must have passion, and she hasn’t any. She is enjoyable, but she doesn’t torture you.”

“Well, how about Lablache?”

“I heard him in Paris, in The Barber of Seville. Then he was the only one, but now he is old. He can’t be an artist, he is old.”

“Well, supposing he is old, still he is fine in morceaux d’ensemble,” said Delesof, still speaking of Lablache.

“Who said that he was old?” said Albert severely. “He can’t be old. The artist can never be old. Much is needed in an artist, but fire most of all,” he declared with glistening eyes, and raising both hands in the air. And, indeed, a terrible inner fire seemed to glow throughout his whole frame. “Ah, my God!” he exclaimed suddenly. “You don’t know Petrof, do you⁠—Petrof, the artist?”

“No, I don’t know him,” replied Delesof with a smile.

“How I wish that you and he might become acquainted! You would enjoy talking with him. How he does understand art! He and I often used to meet at Anna Ivánovna’s, but now she is vexed with him for some reason or other. But I really wish that you might make his acquaintance. He has great, great talent.”

“Oh! Does he paint pictures?” asked Delesof.

“I don’t know. No, I think not; but he was an artist of the Academy. What thoughts he had! Whenever he talks, it is wonderful. Oh, Petrof has great talent, only he leads a very gay life!⁠ ⁠… It’s too bad,” said Albert with a smile. The next moment he got up from the bed, took the violin, and began to play.

“Have you been at the opera lately?” asked Delesof.

Albert looked round, and sighed.

“Ah, I have not been able to!” he said, clutching his head. Again he sat down by Delesof. “I will tell you,” he went on to say, almost in a whisper. “I can’t go: I can’t play there. I have nothing, nothing at all⁠—no clothes, no home, no violin. It’s a wretched life⁠—a wretched life!” he repeated the phrase. “Yes, and why have I got into such a state? Why, indeed? It ought not to have been,” said he, smiling. “Akh! Don Juan.”

And he struck his head.

“Now let us have something to eat,” said Delesof.

Albert, without replying, sprang up, seized the violin, and began to play the finale of the first act of Don Juan, accompanying it with a description of the scene in the opera.

Delesof felt the hair stand up on his head, when he played the voice of the dying commander.

“No, I cannot play tonight,” said Albert, laying down the instrument. “I have been drinking too much.” But immediately after he went to the table, poured out a brimming glass of wine, drank it at one gulp, and again sat down on the bed near Delesof.

Delesof looked steadily at Albert. The latter occasionally smiled, and Delesof returned his smile. Neither of them spoke, but the glance and smile brought them close together into a reciprocity of affection. Delesof felt that he was growing constantly fonder and fonder of this man, and he experienced an inexpressible pleasure.

“Were you ever in love?” he asked suddenly. Albert remained sunk in thought for a few seconds, then his face lighted up with a melancholy smile. He bent over toward Delesof, and gazed straight into his eyes.

“Why did you ask me that question?” he whispered. “But I will tell you all about it. I like you,” he added, after a few moments of thought, and glancing around. “I will not deceive you, I will tell you all, just as it was, from the beginning.” He paused, and his eyes took on a strange wild appearance. “You know that I am weak in judgment,” he said suddenly. “Yes, yes,” he continued. “Anna Ivánovna has told you about it. She tells everybody that I am crazy. It isn’t true, she says it for a joke; she is a good woman, but I really have not been quite well for some time.” Albert paused again, and stood up, gazing with wide-opened eyes at the dark door. “You asked me if I had ever been in love. Yes, I have been in love,” he whispered, raising his brows. “That happened long ago; it was at a time when I still had a place at the theatre. I went to play second violin at the opera, and she came into a parquet box at the left.”

Albert stood up, and bent over to Delesof’s ear. “But no,” said he, “why should I mention her name? You probably know her, everybody knows her. I said nothing, but simply looked at her: I knew that I was a poor artist, and she an aristocratic lady. I knew that very well. I only looked at her, and had no thoughts.”

Albert paused for a moment, as though making sure of his recollections.

“How it happened I know not, but I was invited once to accompany her on my violin.⁠ ⁠… Now I was only a poor artist!” he repeated, shaking his head and smiling. “But no, I cannot tell you, I cannot!” he exclaimed, again clutching his head. “How happy I was!”

“What? did you go to her house often?” asked Delesof.

“Once, only once.⁠ ⁠… But it was my own fault; I wasn’t in my right mind. I was a poor artist, and she an aristocratic lady. I ought not to have spoken to her. But I lost my senses, I committed a folly. Petrof told me the truth: ‘It would have been better only to have seen her at the theatre.’ ”

“What did you do?” asked Delesof.

“Ah! wait, wait, I cannot tell you that.”

And, hiding his face in his hands, he said nothing for some time.

“I was late at the orchestra. Petrof and I had been drinking that evening, and I was excited. She was sitting in her box, and talking with some general. I don’t know who that general was. She was sitting at the very edge of the box, with her arm resting on the rim. She wore a white dress, with pearls on her neck. She was talking with him, but she looked at me. Twice she looked at me. She had arranged her hair in such a becoming way! I stopped playing, and stood near the bass, and gazed at her. Then, for the first time, something strange took place in me. She smiled on the general, but she looked at me. I felt certain that she was talking about me; and suddenly I seemed to be not in my place in the orchestra, but was standing in her box, and seizing her hand in that place. What was the meaning of that?” asked Albert, after a moment’s silence.

“A powerful imagination,” said Delesof.

“No, no⁠ ⁠… I cannot tell,” said Albert frowning. “Even then I was poor. I hadn’t any room; and when I went to the theatre, I sometimes used to sleep there.”

“What, in the theatre?” asked Delesof.

“Ah! I am not afraid of these stupid things. Ah! just wait a moment. As soon as everybody was gone, I went to that box where she had been sitting, and slept there. That was my only pleasure. How many nights I spent there! Only once again did I have that experience. At night many things seemed to come to me. But I cannot tell you much about them.” Albert contracted his brows, and looked at Delesof. “What did it mean?” he asked.

“It was strange,” replied the other.

“No, wait, wait!” he bent over to his ear, and said in a whisper⁠—

“I kissed her hand, wept there before her, and said many things to her. I heard the fragrance of her sighs, I heard her voice. She said many things to me that one night. Then I took my violin, and began to play softly. And I played beautifully. But it became terrible to me. I am not afraid of such stupid things, and I don’t believe in them, but my head felt terribly,” he said, smiling sweetly, and moving his hand over his forehead. “It seemed terrible to me on account of my poor mind; something happened in my head. Maybe it was nothing; what do you think?”

Neither spoke for several minutes.

“Und wenn die Wolken sie verhüllen,
Die Sonne bleibt doch ewig klar.”176

hummed Albert, smiling gently. “That is true, isn’t it?” he asked.

“Ich auch habe gelebt und genossen.”177

“Ah, old man Petrof! how this would have made things clear to you!”

Delesof, in silence and with dismay, looked at his companion’s excited and colorless face.

“Do you know the Juristen waltzes?” suddenly asked Albert in a loud voice, and without waiting for an answer, jumped up, seized the violin, and began to play the waltz. In absolute self-forgetfulness, and evidently imagining that a whole orchestra was playing for him, Albert smiled, began to dance, to shuffle his feet, and to play admirably.

“Hey, we will have a good time!” he exclaimed, as he ended, and waved his violin. “I am going,” said he, after sitting down in silence for a little. “Won’t you come along too?”

“Where?” asked Delesof in surprise.

“Let us go to Anna Ivánovna’s again. It’s gay there⁠—bustle, people, music.”

Delesof for a moment was almost persuaded. However, coming to his senses, he promised Albert that he would go with him the next day.

“I should like to go this minute.”

“Indeed, I wouldn’t go.”

Albert sighed, and laid down the violin.

“Shall I stay, then?” He looked over at the table, but the wine was gone; and so, wishing him a good night, he left the room.

Delesof rang. “Look here,” said he to Zakhár, “don’t let Mr. Albert go anywhere without asking me about it first.”


The next day was a holiday. Delesof, on waking, sat in his parlor, drinking his coffee and reading a book. Albert, who was in the next room, had not yet moved. Zakhár discreetly opened the door, and looked into the dining-room.

“Would you believe it, Dmitri Ivánovitch, there he lies asleep on the bare sofa. I would not send him away for anything, God knows. He’s like a little child. Indeed, he’s an artist!”

At twelve o’clock, there was a sound of yawning and coughing on the other side of the door.

Zakhár again crept into the dining-room; and the bárin heard his wheedling voice, and Albert’s gentle, beseeching voice.

“Well, how is he?” asked Delesof, when Zakhár came out.

“He feels blue, Dmitri Ivánovitch. He doesn’t want to get dressed. He’s so cross. All he asks for is something to drink.”

“Now, if we are to get hold of him, we must strengthen his character,” said Delesof to himself. And, forbidding Zakhár to give him any wine, he again devoted himself to his book; in spite of himself, however, listening all the time for developments in the dining-room.

But there was no movement there, only occasionally were heard a heavy chest cough and spitting. Two hours passed. Delesof, after dressing to go out, resolved to look in upon his guest. Albert was sitting motionless at the window, leaning his head on his hands.

He looked round. His face was sallow, morose, and not only melancholy but deeply unhappy. He tried to welcome his host with a smile, but his face assumed a still more woebegone expression. It seemed as though he were on the point of tears.

With effort he stood up and bowed. “If I might have just a little glass of simple vodka,” he exclaimed with a supplicating expression. “I am so weak. If you please!”

“Coffee will be more strengthening, I would advise you.”

Albert’s face lost its childish expression; he gazed coldly, sadly, out of the window, and fell back into the chair.

“Wouldn’t you like some breakfast?”

“No, thank you, I haven’t any appetite.”

“If you want to play on the violin, you will not disturb me,” said Delesof, laying the instrument on the table. Albert looked at the violin with a contemptuous smile.

“No, I am too weak, I cannot play,” he said, and pushed the instrument from him.

After that, in reply to all Delesof’s propositions to go to walk, to go to the theatre in the evening, or anything else, he only shook his head mournfully, and refused to speak.

Delesof went out, made a few calls, dined out, and before the theatre hour, he returned to his rooms to change his attire and find out how the musician was getting along.

Albert was sitting in the dark anteroom, and, with his head resting on his hand, was gazing at the heated stove. He was neatly dressed, washed and combed; but his eyes were sad and vacant, and his whole form expressed even more weakness and debility than in the morning.

“Well, have you had dinner, Mr. Albert?” asked Delesof.

Albert nodded his head, and, after looking with a terrified expression at Delesof, dropped his eyes. It made Delesof feel uncomfortable.

“I have been talking today with a manager,” said he, also dropping his eyes. “He would be very glad to make terms with you, if you would like to accept an engagement.”

“I thank you, but I cannot play,” said Albert, almost in a whisper; and he went into his room, and closed the door as softly as possible. After a few minutes, lifting the latch as softly as possible, he came out of the room, bringing the violin. Casting a sharp, angry look at Delesof, he laid the instrument on the table, and again disappeared.

Delesof shrugged his shoulders, and smiled.

“What am I to do now? Wherein am I to blame?” he asked himself.

“Well, how is the musician?” was his first question when he returned home late that evening.

“Bad,” was Zakhár’s short and ringing reply. “He sighs all the time, and coughs, and says nothing at all, only he has asked for vodka four or five times, and once I gave him some. How can we avoid killing him this way, Dmitri Ivánovitch? That was the way the overseer⁠ ⁠…”

“Well, hasn’t he played on the fiddle?”

“Didn’t even touch it. I took it to him, twice⁠—Well, he took it up slowly, and carried it out,” said Zakhár with a smile. “Do you still bid me refuse him something to drink?”

“Don’t give him anything today; we’ll see what’ll come of it. What is he doing now?”

“He has shut himself into the parlor.”

Delesof went into his library, took down a few French books, and the Testament in German. “Put these books tomorrow in his room; and look out, don’t let him get away,” said he to Zakhár.

The next morning Zakhár informed his bárin that the musician had not slept a wink all night. “He kept walking up and down his rooms, and going to the sideboard to try to open the cupboard and door; but everything, in spite of his efforts, remained locked.”

Zakhár told how, while he was going to sleep, he heard Albert muttering to himself in the darkness and gesticulating.

Each day Albert grew more gloomy and taciturn. It seemed as though he were afraid of Delesof, and his face expressed painful terror whenever their eyes met. He did not touch either book or violin, and made no replies to the questions put to him.

On the third day after the musician came to stay with him, Delesof returned home late in the evening, tired and worried. He had been on the go all day, attending to his duties. Though they had seemed very simple and easy, yet, as is often the case, he had not made any progress at all, in spite of his strenuous endeavors. Afterwards he had stopped at the club, and lost at whist. He was out of spirits.

“Well, God be with him,” he replied to Zakhár, who had been telling him of Albert’s pitiable state. “Tomorrow I shall be really worried about him. Is he willing or not to stay with me, and follow my advice? No? Then it’s idle. I have done the best that I could.”

“That’s what comes of trying to be a benefactor to people,” said he to himself. “I am putting myself to inconvenience for him. I have taken this filthy creature into my rooms, which keeps me from receiving strangers in the morning; I work and trot; and yet he looks upon me as some enemy who, against his will, would keep him in pound. But the worst is, that he is not willing to take a step in his own behalf. That’s the way with them all.”

That word all referred to people in general, and especially to those with whom he had been associated in business that day. “But what is to be done for him now? What is he contemplating? Why is he melancholy? Is he melancholy on account of the debauch from which I rescued him? on account of the degradation in which he has been? the humiliation from which I saved him? Can it be that he has fallen so low that it is a burden for him to look on a pure life?⁠ ⁠…

“No, this was a childish action,” reasoned Delesof. “Why should I undertake to direct others, when it is as much as I can do to manage my own affairs?”

The impulse came over him to let him go immediately, but after a little deliberation he postponed it till the morning.

During the night Delesof was aroused by the noise of a falling table in the anteroom, and the sound of voices and stamping feet.

“Just wait a little, I will tell Dmitri Ivánovitch,” said Zakhár’s voice; Albert’s voice replied passionately and incoherently.

Delesof leaped up, and went with a candle into the anteroom. Zakhár in his nightdress was standing against the door; Albert in cap and alma viva was trying to pull him away, and was screaming at him in a pathetic voice.

“You have no right to detain me; I have a passport; I have not stolen anything from you. You must let me go. I will go to the police.”

“I beg of you, Dmitri Ivánovitch,” said Zakhár, turning to his bárin, and continuing to stand guard at the door. “He got up in the night, found the key in my overcoat-pocket, and he has drunk up the whole decanter of sweet vodka. Was that good? And now he wants to go. You didn’t give me orders, and so I could not let him out.”

Albert, seeing Delesof, began to pull still more violently on Zakhár. “No one has the right to detain me! He cannot do it,” he screamed, raising his voice more and more.

“Let him go, Zakhár,” said Delesof. “I do not wish to detain you, and I have no right to, but I advise you to stay till tomorrow,” he added, addressing Albert.

“No one has the right to detain me. I am going to the police,” screamed Albert more and more furiously, addressing only Zakhár, and not heeding Delesof. “Guard!” he suddenly shouted at the top of his voice.

“Now, what are you screaming like that for? You see you are free to go,” said Zakhár, opening the door.

Albert ceased screaming. “How did they dare? They were going to murder me! No!” he muttered to himself as he put on his galoshes. Not offering to say goodbye, and still muttering something unintelligible, he went out of the door. Zakhár accompanied him to the gate, and came back.

“Thank the Lord, Dmitri Ivánovitch! Any longer would have been a sin,” said he to his bárin. “And now we must count the silver.”

Delesof only shook his head, and made no reply. There came over him a lively recollection of the first two evenings which he and the musician had spent together; he remembered the last wretched days which Albert had spent there; and above all he remembered the sweet but absurd sentiment of wonder, of love, and of sympathy, which had been aroused in him by the very first sight of this strange man; and he began to pity him.

“What will become of him now?” he asked himself. “Without money, without warm clothing, alone at midnight!” He thought of sending Zakhár after him, but now it was too late.

“Is it cold outdoors?” he asked.

“A healthy frost, Dmitri Ivánovitch,” replied the man. “I forgot to tell you that you will have to buy some more firewood to last till spring.”

“But what did you mean by saying that it would last?”


Out of doors it was really cold; but Albert did not feel it, he was so excited by the wine that he had taken and by the quarrel.

As he entered the street, he looked around him, and rubbed his hands with pleasure. The street was empty, but the long lines of lights were still brilliantly gleaming; the sky was clear and beautiful. “What!” he cried, addressing the lighted window in Delesof’s apartments; and then thrusting his hands in his trousers pockets under his coat, and looking straight ahead, he walked with heavy and uncertain steps straight up the street.

He felt an absolute weight in his legs and abdomen, something hummed in his head, some invisible power seemed to hurl him from side to side; but he still plunged ahead in the direction of where Anna Ivánovna lived.

Strange, disconnected thoughts rushed through his head. Now he remembered his quarrel with Zakhár, now something recalled the sea and his first voyage in the steamboat to Russia; now the merry night that he had spent with some friend in the wine-shop by which he was passing; then suddenly there came to him a familiar air singing itself in his recollections, and he seemed to see the object of his passion and the terrible night in the theatre.

But notwithstanding their incoherence, all these recollections presented themselves before his imaginations with such distinctness that when he closed his eyes he could not tell which was nearer to the reality: what he was doing, or what he was thinking. He did not realize and he did not feel how his legs moved, how he staggered and hit against a wall, how he looked around him, and how he made his way from street to street.

As he went along the Little Morskaya, Albert tripped and fell. Collecting himself in a moment, he saw before him some huge and magnificent edifice, and he went toward it.

In the sky not a star was to be seen, nor sign of dawn, nor moon, neither were there any streetlights there; but all objects were perfectly distinguishable. The windows of the edifice, which loomed up at the corner of the street, were brilliantly lighted, but the lights wavered like reflections. The building kept coming nearer and nearer, clearer and clearer, to Albert.

But the lights vanished the moment that Albert entered the wide portals. Inside it was dark. He took a few steps under the vaulted ceiling, and something like shades glided by and fled at his approach.

“Why did I come here?” wondered Albert; but some irresistible power dragged him forward into the depths of the immense hall.

There stood some lofty platform, and around it in silence stood what seemed like little men. “Who is going to speak?” asked Albert. No one answered, but someone pointed to the platform. There stood now on the platform a tall, thin man, with bushy hair and dressed in a variegated gown. Albert immediately recognized his friend Petrof.

“How strange! what is he doing here?” said Albert to himself.

“No, brethren,” said Petrof, pointing to something, “you did not appreciate the man while he was living among you; you did not appreciate him! He was not a cheap artist, not a merely mechanical performer, not a crazy, ruined man. He was a genius, a great musical genius, who perished among you unknown and unvalued.”

Albert immediately understood of whom his friend was speaking; but not wishing to interrupt him, he hung his head modestly. “He, like a sheaf of straw, was wholly consumed by the sacred fire which we all serve,” continued the voice. “But he has completely fulfilled all that God gave him; therefore he ought to be considered a great man. You may despise him, torture him, humiliate him,” continued the voice, more and more energetically, “but he has been, is, and will be immeasurably higher than you all. He is happy, he is good. He loved you all alike, or cared for you, it is all the same; but he has served only that with which he was so highly endowed. He loved one thing⁠—beauty, the only infinite good in the world. Oh, yes, what a man he is! Fall all of you before him. On your knees!” cried Petrof in a thundering voice.

But another voice mildly answered from another corner of the hall. “I do not wish to bow my knee before him,” said the voice.

Albert instantly recognized Delesof.

“Why is he great? And why should we bow before him? Has he conducted himself in an honorable and righteous manner? Has he brought society any advantage? Do we not know how he borrowed money, and never returned it; how he carried off a violin that belonged to a brother artist, and pawned it?”

“My God! how did he know all that?” said Albert to himself, drooping his head still lower.

“Do we not know,” the voice went on, “how he pandered to the lowest of the low, pandered to them for money? Do we not know how he was driven out of the theatre? How Anna Ivánovna threatened to hand him over to the police?”

“My God! that is all true, but protect me,” cried Albert. “You are the only one who knows why I did so.”

“Stop, for shame!” cried Petrof’s voice again. “What right have you to accuse him? Have you lived his life? Have you experienced his enthusiasms?”

“Right! right!” whispered Albert.

“Art is the highest manifestation of power in man. It is given only to the favored few, and it lifts the chosen to such an eminence that the head swims, and it is hard to preserve its integrity. In art, as in every struggle, there are heroes who bring all under subjection to them, and perish if they do not attain their ends.”

Petrof ceased speaking; and Albert lifted his head, and tried to shout in a loud voice, “Right! right!” but his voice died without a sound.

“That is not the case with you. This does not concern you,” sternly said the artist Petrof, addressing Delesof. “Yes, humble him, despise him,” he continued, “for he is better and happier than all the rest of you.”

Albert, with rapture in his heart at hearing these words, could not contain himself, but went up to his friend, and was about to kiss him.

“Get thee gone, I do not know you,” replied Petrof. “Go your own way, you cannot come here.”

“Here, you drunken fellow, you cannot come here,” cried a policeman at the crossing.

Albert hesitated, then collected all his forces, and, endeavoring not to stumble, crossed over to the next street.

It was only a few steps to Anna Ivánovna’s. From the hall of her house a stream of light fell on the snowy dvor, and at the gate stood sledges and carriages.

Clinging with both hands to the balustrade, he made his way up the steps, and rang the bell.

The maid’s sleepy face appeared at the open door, and looked angrily at Albert.

“It is impossible,” she cried; “I have been forbidden to let you in,” and she slammed the door. The sounds of music and women’s voices floated down to him.

Albert sat down on the ground, and leaned his head against the wall, and shut his eyes. At that very instant a throng of indistinct but correlated visions took possession of him with fresh force, mastered him, and carried him off into the beautiful and free domain of fancy.

“Yes! he is better and happier,” involuntarily the voice repeated in his imagination.

From the door were heard the sounds of a polka. These sounds also told him that he was better and happier. In a neighboring church was heard the sound of a prayer-bell; and the prayer-bell also told him that he was better and happier.

“Now I will go back to that hall again,” said Albert to himself. “Petrof must have many things still to tell me.”

There seemed to be no one now in the hall; and in the place of the artist Petrof, Albert himself stood on the platform, and was playing on his violin all that the voice had said before.

But his violin was of strange make: it was composed of nothing but glass, and he had to hold it with both hands, and slowly rub it on his breast to make it give out sounds. The sounds were so sweet and delicious, that Albert felt he had never before heard anything like them. The more tightly he pressed the violin to his breast, the more sweet and consoling they became. The louder the sounds, the more swiftly the shadows vanished, and the more brilliantly the walls of the hall were illuminated. But it was necessary to play very cautiously on the violin, lest it should break.

Albert played on the instrument of glass cautiously and well. He played things the like of which he felt no one would ever hear again.

He was growing tired, when a heavy distant sound began to annoy him. It was the sound of a bell, but this sound seemed to have a language.

“Yes,” said the bell, with its notes coming from somewhere far off and high up, “yes, he seems to you wretched; you despise him, but he is better and happier than you. No one ever will play more on that instrument!”

These words which he understood seemed suddenly so wise, so novel, and so true, to Albert, that he stopped playing, and, while trying not to move, lifted his eyes and his arms toward heaven. He felt that he was beautiful and happy. Although no one was in the hall, Albert expanded his chest, and proudly lifted his head, and stood on the platform so that all might see him.

Suddenly someone’s hand was gently laid on his shoulder; he turned around, and in the half light saw a woman. She looked pityingly at him, and shook her head. He immediately became conscious that what he was doing was wrong, and a sense of shame came over him.

“Where shall I go?” he asked her. Once more she gazed long and fixedly at him, and bent her head pityingly. She was the one, the very one whom he loved, and her dress was the same; on her round white neck was the pearl necklace, and her lovely arms were bare above the elbows.

She took him in her arms, and bore him away through the hall. At the entrance of the hall, Albert saw the moon and water. But the water was not below as is usually the case, and the moon was not above; there was a white circle in one place as sometimes happens. The moon and the water were together⁠—everywhere, above and below, and on all sides and around them both. Albert and his love darted off toward the moon and the water, and he now realized that she whom he loved more than all in the world was in his arms: he embraced her, and felt inexpressible felicity.

“Is not this a dream?” he asked himself. But no, it was the reality, it was more than reality: it was reality and recollection combined.

Then he felt that the indescribable pleasure which he had felt during the last moment was gone, and would never be renewed.

“Why am I weeping?” he asked of her. She looked at him in silence, with pitying eyes. Albert understood what she desired to say in reply. “Just as when I was alive,” he went on to say. She, without replying, looked straight forward.

“This is terrible! How can I explain to her that I am alive?” he asked himself in horror. “My God, I am alive! Do understand me,” he whispered.

“He is better and happier,” said a voice.

But something kept oppressing Albert ever more powerfully. Whether it was the moon or the water, or her embrace or his tears, he could not tell, but he was conscious that he could not say all that it was his duty to say, and that all would be quickly over.

Two guests coming out from Anna Ivánovna’s rooms stumbled against Albert lying on the threshold. One of them went back to Anna Ivánovna, and called her. “That was heartless,” he said. “You might let a man freeze to death that way.”

Akh! why, that is my Albert. See where he was lying!” exclaimed the hostess. “Annushka, have him brought into the room; find a place for him somewhere,” she added, addressing the maid.

“Oh! I am alive, why do you bury me?” muttered Albert, as they brought him unconscious into the room.





E’en though the clouds may veil it,
The sun shines ever clear.




I also have lived and rejoiced.


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