My Life by Anton Chekhov
THE STORY OF A PROVINCIAL
THE director said to me: "I only keep you out of respect for your worthy
father, or you would have gone long since." I replied: "You flatter me,
your Excellency, but I suppose I am in a position to go." And then I
heard him saying: "Take the fellow away, he is getting on my nerves."
Two days later I was dismissed. Ever since I had been grown up, to the
great sorrow of my father, the municipal architect, I had changed my
position nine times, going from one department to another, but all the
departments were as like each other as drops of water; I had to sit and
write, listen to inane and rude remarks, and just wait until I was
When I told my father, he was sitting back in his chair with his eyes
shut. His thin, dry face, with a dove-coloured tinge where he shaved
(his face was like that of an old Catholic organist), wore an expression
of meek submission. Without answering my greeting or opening his eyes,
"If my dear wife, your mother, were alive, your life would be a constant
grief to her. I can see the hand of Providence in her untimely death.
Tell me, you unhappy boy," he went on, opening his eyes, "what am I to
do with you?"
When I was younger my relations and friends knew what to do with me;
some advised me to go into the army as a volunteer, others were for
pharmacy, others for the telegraph service; but now that I was
twenty-four and was going grey at the temples and had already tried the
army and pharmacy and the telegraph service, and every possibility
seemed to be exhausted, they gave me no more advice, but only sighed and
shook their heads.
"What do you think of yourself?" my father went on. "At your age other
young men have a good social position, and just look at yourself: a lazy
lout, a beggar, living on your father!"
And, as usual, he went on to say that young men were going to the dogs
through want of faith, materialism, and conceit, and that amateur
theatricals should be prohibited because they seduce young people from
religion and their duty.
"To-morrow we will go together, and you shall apologise to the director
and promise to do your work conscientiously," he concluded. "You must
not be without a position in society for a single day."
"Please listen to me," said I firmly, though I did not anticipate
gaining anything by speaking. "What you call a position in society is
the privilege of capital and education. But people who are poor and
uneducated have to earn their living by hard physical labour, and I see
no reason why I should be an exception."
"It is foolish and trivial of you to talk of physical labour," said my
father with some irritation. "Do try to understand, you idiot, and get
it into your brainless head, that in addition to physical strength you
have a divine spirit; a sacred fire, by which you are distinguished from
an ass or a reptile and bringing you nigh to God. This sacred fire has
been kept alight for thousands of years by the best of mankind. Your
great-grandfather, General Pologniev, fought at Borodino; your
grandfather was a poet, an orator, and a marshal of the nobility; your
uncle was an educationalist; and I, your father, am an architect! Have
all the Polognievs kept the sacred fire alight for you to put it out?"
"There must be justice," said I. "Millions of people have to do manual
"Let them. They can do nothing else! Even a fool or a criminal can do
manual labour. It is the mark of a slave and a barbarian, whereas the
sacred fire is given only to a few!"
It was useless to go on with the conversation. My father worshipped
himself and would not be convinced by anything unless he said it
himself. Besides, I knew quite well that the annoyance with which he
spoke of unskilled labour came not so much from any regard for the
sacred fire, as from a secret fear that I should become a working man
and the talk of the town. But the chief thing was that all my
schoolfellows had long ago gone through the University and were making
careers for themselves, and the son of the director of the State Bank
was already a collegiate assessor, while I, an only son, was nothing! It
was useless and unpleasant to go on with the conversation, but I still
sat there and raised objections in the hope of making myself understood.
The problem was simple and clear: how was I to earn my living? But he
could not see its simplicity and kept on talking with sugary rounded
phrases about Borodino and the sacred fire, and my uncle, and the
forgotten poet who wrote bad, insincere verses, and he called me a
brainless fool. But how I longed to be understood! In spite of
everything, I loved my father and my sister, and from boyhood I have had
a habit of considering them, so strongly rooted that I shall probably
never get rid of it; whether I am right or wrong I am always afraid of
hurting them, and go in terror lest my father's thin neck should go red
with anger and he should have an apoplectic fit.
"It is shameful and degrading for a man of my age to sit in a stuffy
room and compete with a typewriting-machine," I said. "What has that to
do with the sacred fire?"
"Still, it is intellectual work," said my father. "But that's enough.
Let us drop the conversation and I warn you that if you refuse to return
to your office and indulge your contemptible inclinations, then you
will lose my love and your sister's. I shall cut you out of my
will—that I swear, by God!"
With perfect sincerity, in order to show the purity of my motives, by
which I hope to be guided all through my life, I said:
"The matter of inheritance does not strike me as important. I renounce
any rights I may have."
For some unexpected reason these words greatly offended my father. He
went purple in the face.
"How dare you talk to me like that, you fool!" he cried to me in a thin,
shrill voice. "You scoundrel!" And he struck me quickly and dexterously
with a familiar movement; once—twice. "You forget yourself!"
When I was a boy and my father struck me, I used to stand bolt upright
like a soldier and look him straight in the face; and, exactly as if I
were still a boy, I stood erect, and tried to look into his eyes. My
father was old and very thin, but his spare muscles must have been as
strong as whip-cord, for he hit very hard.
I returned to the hall, but there he seized his umbrella and struck me
several times over the head and shoulders; at that moment my sister
opened the drawing-room door to see what the noise was, but immediately
drew back with an expression of pity and horror, and said not one word
in my defence.
My intention not to return to the office, but to start a new working
life, was unshakable. It only remained to choose the kind of work—and
there seemed to be no great difficulty about that, because I was strong,
patient, and willing. I was prepared to face a monotonous, laborious
life, of semi-starvation, filth, and rough surroundings, always
overshadowed with the thought of finding a job and a living. And—who
knows—returning from work in the Great Gentry Street, I might often
envy Dolyhikov, the engineer, who lives by intellectual work, but I was
happy in thinking of my coming troubles. I used to dream of intellectual
activity, and to imagine myself a teacher, a doctor, a writer, but my
dreams remained only dreams. A liking for intellectual pleasures—like
the theatre and reading—grew into a passion with me, but I did not know
whether I had any capacity for intellectual work. At school I had an
unconquerable aversion for the Greek language, so that I had to leave
when I was in the fourth class. Teachers were got to coach me up for the
fifth class, and then I went into various departments, spending most of
my time in perfect idleness, and this, I was told, was intellectual
My activity in the education department or in the municipal office
required neither mental effort, nor talent, nor personal ability, nor
creative spiritual impulse; it was purely mechanical, and such
intellectual work seemed to me lower than manual labour. I despise it
and I do not think that it for a moment justifies an idle, careless
life, because it is nothing but a swindle, and only a kind of idleness.
In all probability I have never known real intellectual work.
It was evening. We lived in Great Gentry Street—the chief street in the
town—and our rank and fashion walked up and down it in the evenings, as
there were no public gardens. The street was very charming, and was
almost as good as a garden, for it had two rows of poplar-trees, which
smelt very sweet, especially after rain, and acacias, and tall trees,
and apple-trees hung over the fences and hedges. May evenings, the scent
of the lilac, the hum of the cockchafers, the warm, still air—how new
and extraordinary it all is, though spring comes every year! I stood by
the gate and looked at the passers-by. With most of them I had grown up
and had played with them, but now my presence might upset them, because
I was poorly dressed, in unfashionable clothes, and people made fun of
my very narrow trousers and large, clumsy boots, and called them
macaroni-on-steamboats. And I had a bad reputation in the town because I
had no position and went to play billiards in low cafés, and had once
been taken up, for no particular offence, by the political police.
In a large house opposite, Dolyhikov's, the engineer's, some one was
playing the piano. It was beginning to get dark and the stars were
beginning to shine. And slowly, answering people's salutes, my father
passed with my sister on his arm. He was wearing an old top hat with a
broad curly brim.
"Look!" he said to my sister, pointing to the sky with the very umbrella
with which he had just struck me. "Look at the sky! Even the smallest
stars are worlds! How insignificant man is in comparison with the
And he said this in a tone that seemed to convey that he found it
extremely flattering and pleasant to be so insignificant. What an
untalented man he was! Unfortunately, he was the only architect in the
town, and during the last fifteen or twenty years I could not remember
one decent house being built. When he had to design a house, as a rule
he would draw first the hall and the drawing-room; as in olden days
schoolgirls could only begin to dance by the fireplace, so his artistic
ideas could only evolve from the hall and drawing-room. To them he would
add the dining-room, nursery, study, connecting them with doors, so that
in the end they were just so many passages, and each room had two or
three doors too many. His houses were obscure, extremely confused, and
limited. Every time, as though he felt something was missing, he had
recourse to various additions, plastering them one on top of the other,
and there would be various lobbies, and passages, and crooked staircases
leading to the entresol, where it was only possible to stand in a
stooping position, and where instead of a floor there would be a thin
flight of stairs like a Russian bath, and the kitchen would always be
under the house with a vaulted ceiling and a brick floor. The front of
his houses always had a hard, stubborn expression, with stiff, French
lines, low, squat roofs, and fat, pudding-like chimneys surmounted with
black cowls and squeaking weathercocks. And somehow all the houses built
by my father were like each other, and vaguely reminded me of a top hat,
and the stiff, obstinate back of his head. In the course of time the
people of the town grew used to my father's lack of talent, which took
root and became our style.
My father introduced the style into my sister's life. To begin with, he
gave her the name of Cleopatra (and he called me Misail). When she was a
little girl he used to frighten her by telling her about the stars and
our ancestors; and explained the nature of life and duty to her at great
length; and now when she was twenty-six he went on in the same way,
allowing her to take no one's arm but his own, and somehow imagining
that sooner or later an ardent young man would turn up and wish to enter
into marriage with her out of admiration for his qualities. And she
adored my father, was afraid of him, and believed in his extraordinary
It got quite dark and the street grew gradually empty. In the house
opposite the music stopped. The gate was wide open and out into the
street, careering with all its bells jingling, came a troika. It was the
engineer and his daughter going for a drive. Time to go to bed!
I had a room in the house, but I lived in the courtyard in a hut, under
the same roof as the coach-house, which had been built probably as a
harness-room—for there were big nails in the walls—but now it was not
used, and my father for thirty years had kept his newspapers there,
which for some reason he had bound half-yearly and then allowed no one
to touch. Living there I was less in touch with my father and his
guests, and I used to think that if I did not live in a proper room and
did not go to the house every day for meals, my father's reproach that I
was living on him lost some of its sting.
My sister was waiting for me. She had brought me supper unknown to my
father; a small piece of cold veal and a slice of bread. In the family
there were sayings: "Money loves an account," or "A copeck saves a
rouble," and so on, and my sister, impressed by such wisdom, did her
best to cut down expenses and made us feed rather meagrely. She put the
plate on the table, sat on my bed, and began to cry.
"Misail," she said, "what are you doing to us?"
She did not cover her face, her tears ran down her cheeks and hands, and
her expression was sorrowful. She fell on the pillow, gave way to her
tears, trembling all over and sobbing.
"You have left your work again!" she said. "How awful!"
"Do try to understand, sister!" I said, and because she cried I was
filled with despair.
As though it were deliberately arranged, the paraffin in my little lamp
ran out, and the lamp smoked and guttered, and the old hooks in the wall
looked terrible and their shadows flickered.
"Spare us!" said my sister, rising up. "Father is in an awful state, and
I am ill. I shall go mad. What will become of you?" she asked, sobbing
and holding out her hands to me. "I ask you, I implore you, in the name
of our dear mother, to go back to your work."
"I cannot, Cleopatra," I said, feeling that only a little more would
make me give in. "I cannot."
"Why?" insisted my sister, "why? If you have not made it up with your
chief, look for another place. For instance, why shouldn't you work on
the railway? I have just spoken to Aniuta Blagovo, and she assures me
you would be taken on, and she even promised to do what she could for
you. For goodness sake, Misail, think! Think it over, I implore you!"
We talked a little longer and I gave in. I said that the thought of
working on the railway had never come into my head, and that I was ready
She smiled happily through her tears and clasped my hand, and still she
cried, because she could not stop, and I went into the kitchen for
Among the supporters of amateur theatricals, charity concerts, and
tableaux vivants the leaders were the Azhoguins, who lived in their
own house in Great Gentry house the Street. They used to lend their
house and assume the necessary trouble and expense. They were a rich
landowning family, and had about three thousand urskins, with a
magnificent farm in the neighbourhood, but they did not care for village
life and lived in the town summer and winter. The family consisted of a
mother, a tall, spare, delicate lady, who had short hair, wore a blouse
and a plain skirt à l'Anglais, and three daughters, who were spoken of,
not by their names, but as the eldest, the middle, and the youngest;
they all had ugly, sharp chins, and they were short-sighted,
high-shouldered, dressed in the same style as their mother, had an
unpleasant lisp, and yet they always took part in every play and were
always doing something for charity—acting, reciting, singing. They were
very serious and never smiled, and even in burlesque operettas they
acted without gaiety and with a businesslike air, as though they were
engaged in bookkeeping.
I loved our plays, especially the rehearsals, which were frequent,
rather absurd, and noisy, and we were always given supper after them. I
had no part in the selection of the pieces and the casting of the
characters. I had to look after the stage. I used to design the scenery
and copy out the parts, and prompt and make up. And I also had to look
after the various effects such as thunder, the singing of a nightingale,
and so on. Having no social position, I had no decent clothes, and
during rehearsals had to hold aloof from the others in the darkened
wings and shyly say nothing.
I used to paint the scenery in the Azhoguins' coach-house or yard. I was
assisted by a house-painter, or, as he called himself, a decorating
contractor, named Andrey Ivanov, a man of about fifty, tall and very
thin and pale, with a narrow chest, hollow temples, and dark rings under
his eyes, he was rather awful to look at. He had some kind of wasting
disease, and every spring and autumn he was said to be on the point of
death, but he would go to bed for a while and then get up and say with
surprise: "I'm not dead this time!"
In the town he was called Radish, and people said it was his real name.
He loved the theatre as much as I, and no sooner did he hear that a play
was in hand than he gave up all his work and went to the Azhoguins' to
The day after my conversation with my sister I worked from morning till
night at the Azhoguins'. The rehearsal was fixed for seven o'clock, and
an hour before it began all the players were assembled, and the eldest,
the middle, and the youngest Miss Azhoguin were reading their parts on
the stage. Radish, in a long, brown overcoat with a scarf wound round
his neck, was standing, leaning with his head against the wall, looking
at the stage with a rapt expression. Mrs. Azhoguin went from guest to
guest saying something pleasant to every one. She had a way of gazing
into one's face and speaking in a hushed voice as though she were
telling a secret.
"It must be difficult to paint scenery," she said softly, coming up to
me. "I was just talking to Mrs. Mufke about prejudice when I saw you
come in. Mon Dieu! All my life I have struggled against prejudice. To
convince the servants that all their superstitions are nonsense I always
light three candles, and I begin all my important business on the
The daughter of Dolyhikov, the engineer, was there, a handsome, plump,
fair girl, dressed, as people said in our town, in Parisian style. She
did not act, but at rehearsals a chair was put for her on the stage, and
the plays did not begin until she appeared in the front row, to astonish
everybody with the brilliance of her clothes. As coming from the
metropolis, she was allowed to make remarks during rehearsals, and she
did so with an affable, condescending smile, and it was clear that she
regarded our plays as a childish amusement. It was said that she had
studied singing at the Petersburg conservatoire and had sung for a
winter season in opera. I liked her very much, and during rehearsals or
the performance, I never took my eyes off her.
I had taken the book and began to prompt when suddenly my sister
appeared. Without taking off her coat and hat she came up to me and
I went. Behind the stage in the doorway stood Aniuta Blagovo, also
wearing a hat with a dark veil. She was the daughter of the
vice-president of the Court, who had been appointed to our town years
ago, almost as soon as the High Court was established. She was tall and
had a good figure, and was considered indispensable for the tableaux
vivants, and when she represented a fairy or a muse, her face would
burn with shame; but she took no part in the plays, and would only look
in at rehearsals, on some business, and never enter the hall. And it was
evident now that she had only looked in for a moment.
"My father has mentioned you," she said drily, not looking at me and
blushing.... "Dolyhikov has promised to find you something to do on the
railway. If you go to his house to-morrow, he will see you."
I bowed and thanked her for her kindness.
"And you must leave this," she said, pointing to my book.
She and my sister went up to Mrs. Azhoguin and began to whisper, looking
"Indeed," said Mrs. Azhoguin, coming up to me, and gazing into my face.
"Indeed, if it takes you from your more serious business"—she took the
book out of my hands—"then you must hand it over to some one else.
Don't worry, my friend. It will be all right."
I said good-bye and left in some confusion. As I went down-stairs I saw
my sister and Aniuta Blagovo going away; they were talking animatedly, I
suppose about my going on the railway, and they hurried away. My sister
had never been to a rehearsal before, and she was probably tortured by
her conscience and by her fear of my father finding out that she had
been to the Azhoguins' without permission.
The next day I went to see Dolyhikov at one o'clock. The man servant
showed me into a charming room, which was the engineer's drawing-room
and study. Everything in it was charming and tasteful, and to a man like
myself, unused to such things, very strange. Costly carpets, huge
chairs, bronzes, pictures in gold and velvet frames; photographs on the
walls of beautiful women, clever, handsome faces, and striking
attitudes; from the drawing-room a door led straight into the garden, by
a veranda, and I saw lilac and a table laid for breakfast, rolls, and a
bunch of roses; and there was a smell of spring, and good cigars, and
happiness—and everything seemed to say, here lives a man who has worked
and won the highest happiness here on earth. At the table the engineer's
daughter was sitting reading a newspaper.
"Do you want my father?" she asked. "He is having a shower-bath. He will
be down presently. Please take a chair."
I sat down.
"I believe you live opposite?" she asked after a short silence.
"When I have nothing to do I look out of the window. You must excuse
me," she added, turning to her newspaper, "and I often see you and your
sister. She has such a kind, wistful expression."
Dolyhikov came in. He was wiping his neck with a towel.
"Papa, this is Mr. Pologniev," said his daughter.
"Yes, yes. Blagovo spoke to me." He turned quickly to me, but did not
hold out his hand. "But what do you think I can give you? I'm not
bursting with situations. You are queer people!" he went on in a loud
voice and as though he were scolding me. "I get about twenty people
every day, as though I were a Department of State. I run a railway, sir.
I employ hard labour; I need mechanics, navvies, joiners, well-sinkers,
and you can only sit and write. That's all! You are all clerks!"
And he exhaled the same air of happiness as his carpets and chairs. He
was stout, healthy, with red cheeks and a broad chest; he looked clean
in his pink shirt and wide trousers, just like a china figure of a
post-boy. He had a round, bristling beard—and not a single grey
hair—and a nose with a slight bridge, and bright, innocent, dark eyes.
"What can you do?" he went on. "Nothing! I am an engineer and
well-to-do, but before I was given this railway I worked very hard for a
long time. I was an engine-driver for two years, I worked in Belgium as
an ordinary lubricator. Now, my dear man, just think—what work can I
"I quite agree," said I, utterly abashed, not daring to meet his bright,
"Are you any good with the telegraph?" he asked after some thought.
"Yes. I have been in the telegraph service."
"Hm.... Well, we'll see. Go to Dubechnia. There's a fellow there
already. But he is a scamp."
"And what will my duties be?" I asked.
"We'll see to that later. Go there now. I'll give orders. But please
don't drivel and don't bother me with petitions or I'll kick you out."
He turned away from me without even a nod. I bowed to him and his
daughter, who was reading the newspaper, and went out. I felt so
miserable that when my sister asked how the engineer had received me, I
could not utter a single word.
To go to Dubechnia I got up early in the morning at sunrise. There was
not a soul in the street, the whole town was asleep, and my footsteps
rang out with a hollow sound. The dewy poplars filled the air with a
soft scent. I was sad and had no desire to leave the town. It seemed so
nice and warm! I loved the green trees, the quiet sunny mornings, the
ringing of the bells, but the people in the town were alien to me,
tiresome and sometimes even loathsome. I neither liked nor understood
I did not understand why or for what purpose those thirty-five thousand
people lived. I knew that Kimry made a living by manufacturing boots,
that Tula made samovars and guns, that Odessa was a port; but I did not
know what our town was or what it did. The people in Great Gentry Street
and two other clean streets had independent means and salaries paid by
the Treasury, but how the people lived in the other eight streets which
stretched parallel to each other for three miles and then were lost
behind the hill—that was always an insoluble problem to me. And I am
ashamed to think of the way they lived. They had neither public gardens,
nor a theatre, nor a decent orchestra; the town and club libraries are
used only by young Jews, so that books and magazines would lie for
months uncut. The rich and the intelligentsia slept in close, stuffy
bedrooms, with wooden beds infested with bugs; the children were kept in
filthy, dirty rooms called nurseries, and the servants, even when they
were old and respectable, slept on the kitchen floor and covered
themselves with rags. Except in Lent all the houses smelt of bortsch,
and during Lent of sturgeon fried in sunflower oil. The food was
unsavoury, the water unwholesome. On the town council, at the
governor's, at the archbishop's, everywhere there had been talk for
years about there being no good, cheap water-supply and of borrowing two
hundred thousand roubles from the Treasury. Even the very rich people,
of whom there were about thirty in the town, people who would lose a
whole estate at cards, used to drink the bad water and talk
passionately about the loan—and I could never understand this, for it
seemed to me it would be simpler for them to pay up the two hundred
I did not know a single honest man in the whole town. My father took
bribes, and imagined they were given to him out of respect for his
spiritual qualities; the boys at the high school, in order to be
promoted, went to lodge with the masters and paid them large sums; the
wife of the military commandant took levies from the recruits during the
recruiting, and even allowed them to stand her drinks, and once she was
so drunk in church that she could not get up from her knees; during the
recruiting the doctors also took bribes, and the municipal doctor and
the veterinary surgeon levied taxes on the butcher shops and public
houses; the district school did a trade in certificates which gave
certain privileges in the civil service; the provosts took bribes from
the clergy and church-wardens whom they controlled, and on the town
council and various committees every one who came before them was
pursued with: "One expects thanks!"—and thereby forty copecks had to
change hands. And those who did not take bribes, like the High Court
officials, were stiff and proud, and shook hands with two fingers, and
were distinguished by their indifference and narrow-mindedness. They
drank and played cards, married rich women, and always had a bad,
insidious influence on those round them. Only the girls had any moral
purity; most of them had lofty aspirations and were pure and honest at
heart; but they knew nothing of life, and believed that bribes were
given to honour spiritual qualities; and when they married, they soon
grew old and weak, and were hopelessly lost in the mire of that vulgar,
A railway was being built in our district. On holidays and thereabouts
the town was filled with crowds of ragamuffins called "railies," of whom
the people were afraid. I used often to see a miserable wretch with a
bloody face, and without a hat, being dragged off by the police, and
behind him was the proof of his crime, a samovar or some wet, newly
washed linen. The "railies" used to collect near the public houses and
on the squares; and they drank, ate, and swore terribly, and whistled
after the town prostitutes. To amuse these ruffians our shopkeepers used
to make the cats and dogs drink vodka, or tie a kerosene-tin to a dog's
tail, and whistle to make the dog come tearing along the street with the
tin clattering after him, and making him squeal with terror and think he
had some frightful monster hard at his heels, so that he would rush out
of the town and over the fields until he could run no more. We had
several dogs in the town which were left with a permanent shiver and
used to crawl about with their tails between their legs, and people
said that they could not stand such tricks and had gone mad.
The station was being built five miles from the town. It was said that
the engineer had asked for a bribe of fifty thousand roubles to bring
the station nearer, but the municipality would only agree to forty; they
would not give in to the extra ten thousand, and now the townspeople are
sorry because they had to make a road to the station which cost them
more. Sleepers and rails were fixed all along the line, and
service-trains were running to carry building materials and labourers,
and they were only waiting for the bridges upon which Dolyhikov was at
work, and here and there the stations were not ready.
Dubechnia—the name of our first station—was seventeen versts from the
town. I went on foot. The winter and spring corn was bright green,
shining in the morning sun. The road was smooth and bright, and in the
distance I could see in outline the station, the hills, and the remote
farmhouses.... How good it was out in the open! And how I longed to be
filled with the sense of freedom, if only for that morning, to stop
thinking of what was going on in the town, or of my needs, or even of
eating! Nothing has so much prevented my living as the feeling of acute
hunger, which make my finest thoughts get mixed up with thoughts of
porridge, cutlets, and fried fish. When I stand alone in the fields and
look up at the larks hanging marvellously in the air, and bursting with
hysterical song, I think: "It would be nice to have some bread and
butter." Or when I sit in the road and shut my eyes and listen to the
wonderful sounds of a May-day, I remember how good hot potatoes smell.
Being big and of a strong constitution I never have quite enough to eat,
and so my chief sensation during the day is hunger, and so I can
understand why so many people who are working for a bare living, can
talk of nothing but food.
At Dubechnia the station was being plastered inside, and the upper story
of the water-tank was being built. It was close and smelt of lime, and
the labourers were wandering lazily over piles of chips and rubbish. The
signalman was asleep near his box with the sun pouring straight into his
face. There was not a single tree. The telephone gave a faint hum, and
here and there birds had alighted on it. I wandered over the heaps, not
knowing what to do, and remembered how when I asked the engineer what my
duties would be, he had replied: "We will see there." But what was there
to see in such a wilderness? The plasterers were talking about the
foreman and about one Fedot Vassilievich. I could not understand and was
filled with embarrassment—physical embarrassment. I felt conscious of
my arms and legs, and of the whole of my big body, and did not know what
to do with them or where to go.
After walking for at least a couple of hours I noticed that from the
station to the right of the line there were telegraph-poles which after
about one and a half or two miles ended in a white stone wall. The
labourers said it was the office, and I decided at last that I must go
It was a very old farmhouse, long unused. The wall of rough, white stone
was decayed, and in places had crumbled away, and the roof of the wing,
the blind wall of which looked toward the railway, had perished, and was
patched here and there with tin. Through the gates there was a large
yard, overgrown with tall grass, and beyond that, an old house with
Venetian blinds in the windows, and a high roof, brown with rot. On
either side of the house, to right and left, were two symmetrical wings;
the windows of one were boarded up, while by the other, the windows of
which were open, there were a number of calves grazing. The last
telegraph-pole stood in the yard, and the wire went from it to the wing
with the blind wall. The door was open and I went in. By the table at
the telegraph was sitting a man with a dark, curly head in a canvas
coat; he glared at me sternly and askance, but he immediately smiled and
"How do you do, Profit?"
It was Ivan Cheprakov, my school friend, who was expelled, when he was
in the second class, for smoking. Once, during the autumn, we were out
catching goldfinches, starlings, and hawfinches, to sell them in the
market early in the morning when our parents were still asleep.
We beat up flocks of starlings and shot at them with pellets, and then
picked up the wounded, and some died in terrible agony—I can still
remember how they moaned at night in my case—and some recovered. And we
sold them, and swore black and blue that they were male birds. Once in
the market I had only one starling left, which I hawked about and
finally sold for a copeck. "A little profit!" I said to console myself,
and from that time at school I was always known as "Little Profit," and
even now, schoolboys and the townspeople sometimes use the name to tease
me, though no one but myself remembers how it came about.
Cheprakov never was strong. He was narrow-chested, round-shouldered,
long-legged. His tie looked like a piece of string, he had no waistcoat,
and his boots were worse than mine—with the heels worn down. He blinked
with his eyes and had an eager expression as though he were trying to
catch something and he was in a constant fidget.
"You wait," he said, bustling about. "Look here!... What was I saying
We began to talk. I discovered that the estate had till recently
belonged to the Cheprakovs and only the previous autumn had passed to
Dolyhikov, who thought it more profitable to keep his money in land than
in shares, and had already bought three big estates in our district with
the transfer of all mortgages. When Cheprakov's mother sold, she
stipulated for the right to live in one of the wings for another two
years and got her son a job in the office.
"Why shouldn't he buy?" said Cheprakov of the engineer. "He gets a lot
from the contractors. He bribes them all."
Then he took me to dinner, deciding in his emphatic way that I was to
live with him in the wing and board with his mother.
"She is a screw," he said, "but she will not take much from you."
In the small rooms where his mother lived there was a queer jumble; even
the hall and the passage were stacked with furniture, which had been
taken from the house after the sale of the estate; and the furniture was
old, and of redwood. Mrs. Cheprakov, a very stout elderly lady, with
slanting, Chinese eyes, sat by the window, in a big chair, knitting a
stocking. She received me ceremoniously.
"It is Pologniev, mother," said Cheprakov, introducing me. "He is going
to work here."
"Are you a nobleman?" she asked in a strange, unpleasant voice as though
she had boiling fat in her throat.
"Yes," I answered.
The dinner was bad. It consisted only of a pie with unsweetened curds
and some milk soup. Elena Nikifirovna, my hostess, was perpetually
winking, first with one eye, then with the other. She talked and ate,
but in her whole aspect there was a deathlike quality, and one could
almost detect the smell of a corpse. Life hardly stirred in her, yet she
had the air of being the lady of the manor, who had once had her serfs,
and was the wife of a general, whose servants had to call him "Your
Excellency," and when these miserable embers of life flared up in her
for a moment, she would say to her son:
"Ivan, that is not the way to hold your knife!"
Or she would say, gasping for breath, with the preciseness of a hostess
labouring to entertain her guest:
"We have just sold our estate, you know. It is a pity, of course, we
have got so used to being here, but Dolyhikov promised to make Ivan
station-master at Dubechnia, so that we shan't have to leave. We shall
live here on the station, which is the same as living on the estate. The
engineer is such a nice man! Don't you think him very handsome?"
Until recently the Cheprakovs had been very well-to-do, but with the
general's death everything changed. Elena Nikifirovna began to quarrel
with the neighbours and to go to law, and she did not pay her bailiffs
and labourers; she was always afraid of being robbed—and in less than
ten years Dubechnia changed completely.
Behind the house there was an old garden run wild, overgrown with tall
grass and brushwood. I walked along the terrace which was still
well-kept and beautiful; through the glass door I saw a room with a
parquet floor, which must have been the drawing-room. It contained an
ancient piano, some engravings in mahogany frames on the walls—and
nothing else. There was nothing left of the flower-garden but peonies
and poppies, rearing their white and scarlet heads above the ground; on
the paths, all huddled together, were young maples and elm-trees, which
had been stripped by the cows. The growth was dense and the garden
seemed impassable, and only near the house, where there still stood
poplars, firs, and some old bricks, were there traces of the former
avenues, and further on the garden was being cleared for a hay-field,
and here it was no longer allowed to run wild, and one's mouth and eyes
were no longer filled with spiders' webs, and a pleasant air was
stirring. The further out one went, the more open it was, and there were
cherry-trees, plum-trees, wide-spreading old apple-trees, lichened and
held up with props, and the pear-trees were so tall that it was
incredible that there could be pears on them. This part of the garden
was let to the market-women of our town, and it was guarded from thieves
and starlings by a peasant—an idiot who lived in a hut.
The orchard grew thinner and became a mere meadow running down to the
river, which was overgrown with reeds and withy-beds. There was a pool
by the mill-dam, deep and full of fish, and a little mill with a straw
roof ground and roared, and the frogs croaked furiously. On the water,
which was as smooth as glass, circles appeared from time to time, and
water-lilies trembled on the impact of a darting fish. The village of
Dubechnia was on the other side of the river. The calm, azure pool was
alluring with its promise of coolness and rest. And now all this, the
pool, the mill, the comfortable banks of the river, belonged to the
And here my new work began. I received and despatched telegrams, I wrote
out various accounts and copied orders, claims, and reports, sent in to
the office by our illiterate foremen and mechanics. But most of the day
I did nothing, walking up and down the room waiting for telegrams, or I
would tell the boy to stay in the wing, and go into the garden until the
boy came to say the bell was ringing. I had dinner with Mrs. Cheprakov.
Meat was served very rarely; most of the dishes were made of milk, and
on Wednesdays and Fridays we had Lenten fare, and the food was served in
pink plates, which were called Lenten. Mrs. Cheprakov was always
blinking—the habit grew on her, and I felt awkward and embarrassed in
As there was not enough work for one, Cheprakov did nothing, but slept
or went down to the pool with his gun to shoot ducks. In the evenings he
got drunk in the village, or at the station, and before going to bed he
would look in the glass and say:
"How are you, Ivan Cheprakov?"
When he was drunk, he was very pale and used to rub his hands and
laugh, or rather neigh, He-he-he! Out of bravado he would undress
himself and run naked through the fields, and he used to eat flies and
say they were a bit sour.
Once after dinner he came running into the wing, panting, to say:
"Your sister has come to see you."
I went out and saw a fly standing by the steps of the house. My sister
had brought Aniuta Blagovo and a military gentleman in a summer uniform.
As I approached I recognised the military gentleman as Aniuta's brother,
"We've come to take you for a picnic," he said, "if you've no
My sister and Aniuta wanted to ask how I was getting on, but they were
both silent and only looked at me. They felt that I didn't like my job,
and tears came into my sister's eyes and Aniuta Blagovo blushed. We went
into the orchard, the doctor first, and he said ecstatically:
"What air! By Jove, what air!"
He was just a boy to look at. He talked and walked like an
undergraduate, and the look in his grey eyes was as lively, simple, and
frank as that of a nice boy. Compared with his tall, handsome sister he
looked weak and slight, and his little beard was thin and so was his
voice—a thin tenor, though quite pleasant. He was away somewhere with
his regiment and had come home on leave, and said that he was going to
Petersburg in the autumn to take his M.D. He already had a family—a
wife and three children; he had married young, in his second year at the
University, and people said he was unhappily married and was not living
with his wife.
"What is the time?" My sister was uneasy. "We must go back soon, for my
father would only let me have until six o'clock."
"Oh, your father," sighed the doctor.
I made tea, and we drank it sitting on a carpet in front of the terrace,
and the doctor, kneeling, drank from his saucer, and said that he was
perfectly happy. Then Cheprakov fetched the key and unlocked the glass
door and we all entered the house. It was dark and mysterious and
smelled of mushrooms, and our footsteps made a hollow sound as though
there were a vault under the floor. The doctor stopped by the piano and
touched the keys and it gave out a faint, tremulous, cracked but still
melodious sound. He raised his voice and began to sing a romance,
frowning and impatiently stamping his foot when he touched a broken key.
My sister forgot about going home, but walked agitatedly up and down the
room and said:
"I am happy! I am very, very happy!"
There was a note of surprise in her voice as though it seemed impossible
to her that she should be happy. It was the first time in my life that
I had seen her so gay. She even looked handsome. Her profile was not
good, her nose and mouth somehow protruded and made her look as if she
was always blowing, but she had beautiful, dark eyes, a pale, very
delicate complexion, and a touching expression of kindness and sadness,
and when she spoke she seemed very charming and even beautiful. Both she
and I took after our mother; we were broad-shouldered, strong, and
sturdy, but her paleness was a sign of sickness, she often coughed, and
in her eyes I often noticed the expression common to people who are ill,
but who for some reason conceal it. In her present cheerfulness there
was something childish and naïve, as though all the joy which had been
suppressed and dulled during our childhood by a strict upbringing, had
suddenly awakened in her soul and rushed out into freedom.
But when evening came and the fly was brought round, my sister became
very quiet and subdued, and sat in the fly as though it were a
Soon they were all gone. The noise of the fly died away.... I remembered
that Aniuta Blagovo had said not a single word to me all day.
"A wonderful girl!" I thought "A wonderful girl."
Lent came and every day we had Lenten dishes. I was greatly depressed by
my idleness and the uncertainty of my position, and, slothful, hungry,
dissatisfied with myself, I wandered over the estate and only waited for
an energetic mood to leave the place.
Once in the afternoon when Radish was sitting in our wing, Dolyhikov
entered unexpectedly, very sunburnt, and grey with dust. He had been out
on the line for three days and had come to Dubechnia on a locomotive and
walked over. While he waited for the carriage which he had ordered to
come out to meet him he went over the estate with his bailiff, giving
orders in a loud voice, and then for a whole hour he sat in our wing and
wrote letters. When telegrams came through for him, he himself tapped
out the answers, while we stood there stiff and silent.
"What a mess!" he said, looking angrily through the accounts. "I shall
transfer the office to the station in a fortnight and I don't know what
I shall do with you then."
"I've done my best, sir," said Cheprakov.
"Quite so. I can see what your best is. You can only draw your wages."
The engineer looked at me and went on. "You rely on getting
introductions to make a career for yourself with as little trouble as
possible. Well, I don't care about introductions. Nobody helped me.
Before I had this line, I was an engine-driver. I worked in Belgium as
an ordinary lubricator. And what are you doing here, Panteley?" he
asked, turning to Radish. "Going out drinking?"
For some reason or other he called all simple people Panteley, while he
despised men like Cheprakov and myself, and called us drunkards, beasts,
canaille. As a rule he was hard on petty officials, and paid and
dismissed them ruthlessly without any explanation.
At last the carriage came for him. When he left he promised to dismiss
us all in a fortnight; called the bailiff a fool, stretched himself out
comfortably in the carriage, and drove away.
"Andrey Ivanich," I said to Radish, "will you take me on as a labourer?"
We went together toward the town, and when the station and the farm were
far behind us, I asked:
"Andrey Ivanich, why did you come to Dubechnia?"
"Firstly because some of my men are working on the line, and secondly to
pay interest to Mrs. Cheprakov. I borrowed fifty roubles from her last
summer, and now I pay her one rouble a month."
The decorator stopped and took hold of my coat.
"Misail Alereich, my friend," he went on, "I take it that if a common
man or a gentleman takes interest, he is a wrong-doer. The truth is not
Radish, looking thin, pale, and rather terrible, shut his eyes, shook
his head, and muttered in a philosophic tone:
"The grub eats grass, rust eats iron, lies devour the soul. God save us
Radish was unpractical and he was no business man; he undertook more
work than he could do, and when he came to payment he always lost his
reckoning and so was always out on the wrong side. He was a painter, a
glazier, a paper-hanger, and would even take on tiling, and I remember
how he used to run about for days looking for tiles to make an
insignificant profit. He was an excellent workman and would sometimes
earn ten roubles a day, and but for his desire to be a master and to
call himself a contractor, he would probably have made quite a lot of
He himself was paid by contract and paid me and the others by the day,
between seventy-five copecks and a rouble per day. When the weather was
hot and dry he did various outside jobs, chiefly painting roofs. Not
being used to it, my feet got hot, as though I were walking over a
red-hot oven, and when I wore felt boots my feet swelled. But this was
only at the beginning. Later on I got used to it and everything went all
right. I lived among the people, to whom work was obligatory and
unavoidable, people who worked like dray-horses, and knew nothing of the
moral value of labour, and never even used the word "labour" in their
talk. Among them I also felt like a dray-horse, more and more imbued
with the necessity and inevitability of what I was doing, and this made
my life easier, and saved me from doubt.
At first everything amused me, everything was new. It was like being
born again. I could sleep on the ground and go barefoot—and found it
exceedingly pleasant. I could stand in a crowd of simple folks, without
embarrassing them, and when a cab-horse fell down in the street, I used
to run and help it up without being afraid of soiling my clothes. But,
best of all, I was living independently and was not a burden on any one.
The painting of roofs, especially when we mixed our own paint, was
considered a very profitable business, and, therefore, even such good
workmen as Radish did not shun this rough and tiresome work. In short
trousers, showing his lean, muscular legs, he used to prowl over the
roof like a stork, and I used to hear him sigh wearily as he worked his
"Woe, woe to us, miserable sinners!"
He could walk as easily on a roof as on the ground. In spite of his
looking so ill and pale and corpse-like, his agility was extraordinary;
like any young man he would paint the cupola and the top of the church
without scaffolding, using only ladders and a rope, and it was queer and
strange when, standing there, far above the ground, he would rise to his
full height and cry to the world at large:
"Grubs eat grass, rust eats iron, lies devour the soul!"
Or, thinking of something, he would suddenly answer his own thought:
"Anything may happen! Anything may happen!"
When I went home from work all the people sitting outside their doors,
the shop assistants, dogs, and their masters, used to shout after me and
jeer spitefully, and at first it seemed monstrous and distressed me
"Little Profit," they used to shout. "House-painter! Yellow ochre!"
And no one treated me so unmercifully as those who had only just risen
above the people and had quite recently had to work for their living.
Once in the market-place as I passed the ironmonger's a can of water was
spilled over me as if by accident, and once a stick was thrown at me.
And once a fishmonger, a grey-haired old man, stood in my way and looked
at me morosely and said:
"It isn't you I'm sorry for, you fool, it's your father."
And when my acquaintances met me they got confused. Some regarded me as
a queer fish and a fool, and they were sorry for me; others did not know
how to treat me and it was difficult to understand them. Once, in the
daytime, in one of the streets off Great Gentry Street, I met Aniuta
Blagovo. I was on my way to my work and was carrying two long brushes
and a pot of paint. When she recognised me, Aniuta blushed.
"Please do not acknowledge me in the street," she said nervously,
sternly, in a trembling voice, without offering to shake hands with me,
and tears suddenly gleamed in her eyes. "If you must be like this, then,
so—so be it, but please avoid me in public!"
I had left Great Gentry Street and was living in a suburb called
Makarikha with my nurse Karpovna, a good-natured but gloomy old woman
who was always looking for evil, and was frightened by her dreams, and
saw omens and ill in the bees and wasps which flew into her room. And in
her opinion my having become a working man boded no good.
"You are lost!" she said mournfully, shaking her head. "Lost!"
With her in her little house lived her adopted son, Prokofyi, a butcher,
a huge, clumsy fellow, of about thirty, with ginger hair and scrubby
moustache. When he met me in the hall, he would silently and
respectfully make way for me, and when he was drunk he would salute me
with his whole hand. In the evenings he used to have supper, and through
the wooden partition I could hear him snorting and snuffling as he drank
glass after glass.
"Mother," he would say in an undertone.
"Well," Karpovna would reply. She was passionately fond of him. "What is
it, my son?"
"I'll do you a favour, mother. I'll feed you in your old age in this
vale of tears, and when you die I'll bury you at my own expense. So I
say and so I'll do."
I used to get up every day before sunrise and go to bed early. We
painters ate heavily and slept soundly, and only during the night would
we have any excitement. I never quarrelled with my comrades. All day
long there was a ceaseless stream of abuse, cursing and hearty good
wishes, as, for instance, that one's eyes should burst, or that one
might be carried off by cholera, but, all the same, among ourselves we
were very friendly. The men suspected me of being a religious crank and
used to laugh at me good-naturedly, saying that even my own father
denounced me, and they used to say that they very seldom went to church
and that many of them had not been to confession for ten years, and they
justified their laxness by saying that a decorator is among men like a
jackdaw among birds.
My mates respected me and regarded me with esteem; they evidently liked
my not drinking or smoking, and leading a quiet, steady life. They were
only rather disagreeably surprised at my not stealing the oil, or going
with them to ask our employers for a drink. The stealing of the
employers' oil and paint was a custom with house-painters, and was not
regarded as theft, and it was remarkable that even so honest a man as
Radish would always come away from work with some white lead and oil.
And even respectable old men who had their own houses in Makarikha were
not ashamed to ask for tips, and when the men, at the beginning or end
of a job, made up to some vulgar fool and thanked him humbly for a few
pence, I used to feel sick and sorry.
With the customers they behaved like sly courtiers, and almost every day
I was reminded of Shakespeare's Polonius.
"There will probably be rain," a customer would say, staring at the sky.
"It is sure to rain," the painters would agree.
"But the clouds aren't rain-clouds. Perhaps it won't rain."
"No, sir. It won't rain. It won't rain, sure."
Behind their backs they generally regarded the customers ironically, and
when, for instance, they saw a gentleman sitting on his balcony with a
newspaper, they would say:
"He reads newspapers, but he has nothing to eat."
I never visited my people. When I returned from work I often found
short, disturbing notes from my sister about my father; how he was very
absent-minded at dinner, and then slipped away and locked himself in his
study and did not come out for a long time. Such news upset me. I could
not sleep, and I would go sometimes at night and walk along Great Gentry
Street by our house, and look up at the dark windows, and try to guess
if all was well within. On Sundays my sister would come to see me, but
by stealth, as though she came not to see me, but my nurse. And if she
came into my room she would look pale, with her eyes red, and at once
she would begin to weep.
"Father cannot bear it much longer," she would say. "If, as God forbid,
something were to happen to him, it would be on your conscience all your
life. It is awful, Misail! For mother's sake I implore you to mend your
"My dear sister," I replied. "How can I reform when I am convinced that
I am acting according to my conscience? Do try to understand me!"
"I know you are obeying your conscience, but it ought to be possible to
do so without hurting anybody."
"Oh, saints above!" the old woman would sigh behind the door. "You are
lost. There will be a misfortune, my dear. It is bound to come."
On Sunday, Doctor Blagovo came to see me unexpectedly. He was wearing a
white summer uniform over a silk shirt, and high glacé boots.
"I came to see you!" he began, gripping my hand in his hearty,
undergraduate fashion. "I hear of you every day and I have long intended
to go and see you to have a heart-to-heart, as they say. Things are
awfully boring in the town; there is not a living soul worth talking to.
How hot it is, by Jove!" he went on, taking off his tunic and standing
in his silk shirt. "My dear fellow, let us have a talk."
I was feeling bored and longing for other society than that of the
decorators. I was really glad to see him.
"To begin with," he said, sitting on my bed, "I sympathise with you
heartily, and I have a profound respect for your present way of living.
In the town you are misunderstood and there is nobody to understand you,
because, as you know, it is full of Gogolian pig-faces. But I guessed
what you were at the picnic. You are a noble soul, an honest,
high-minded man! I respect you and think it an honour to shake hands
with you. To change your life so abruptly and suddenly as you did, you
must have passed through a most trying spiritual process, and to go on
with it now, to live scrupulously by your convictions, you must have to
toil incessantly both in mind and in heart. Now, please tell me, don't
you think that if you spent all this force of will, intensity, and power
on something else, like trying to be a great scholar or an artist, that
your life would be both wider and deeper, and altogether more
We talked and when we came to speak of physical labour, I expressed this
idea: that it was necessary that the strong should not enslave the weak,
and that the minority should not be a parasite on the majority, always
sucking up the finest sap, i. e., it was necessary that all without
exception—the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor—should share
equally in the struggle for existence, every man for himself, and in
that respect there was no better means of levelling than physical labour
and compulsory service for all.
"You think, then," said the doctor, "that all, without, exception,
should be employed in physical labour?"
"But don't you think that if everybody, including the best people,
thinkers and men of science, were to take part in the struggle for
existence, each man for himself, and took to breaking stones and
painting roofs, it would be a serious menace to progress?"
"Where is the danger?" I asked. "Progress consists in deeds of love, in
the fulfilment of the moral law. If you enslave no one, and are a burden
upon no one, what further progress do you want?"
"But look here!" said Blagovo, suddenly losing his temper and getting
up. "I say! If a snail in its shell is engaged in self-perfection in
obedience to the moral law—would you call that progress?"
"But why?" I was nettled. "If you make your neighbours feed you, clothe
you, carry you, defend you from your enemies, their life is built up on
slavery, and that is not progress. My view is that that is the most real
and, perhaps, the only possible, the only progress necessary."
"The limits of universal progress, which is common to all men, are in
infinity, and it seems to me strange to talk of a 'possible' progress
limited by our needs and temporal conceptions."
"If the limits of peoples are in infinity, as you say, then it means
that its goal is indefinite," I said. "Think of living without knowing
definitely what for!"
"Why not? Your 'not knowing' is not so boring as your 'knowing.' I am
walking up a ladder which is called progress, civilisation, culture. I
go on and on, not knowing definitely where I am going to, but surely it
is worth while living for the sake of the wonderful ladder alone. And
you know exactly what you are living for—that some should not enslave
others, that the artist and the man who mixes his colours for him should
dine together. But that is the bourgeois, kitchen side of life, and
isn't it disgusting only to live for that? If some insects devour
others, devil take them, let them! We need not think of them, they will
perish and rot, however you save them from slavery—we must think of
that great Cross which awaits all mankind in the distant future."
Blagovo argued hotly with me, but it was noticeable that he was
disturbed by some outside thought.
"Your sister is not coming," he said, consulting his watch. "Yesterday
she was at our house and said she was going to see you. You go on
talking about slavery, slavery," he went on, "but it is a special
question, and all these questions are solved by mankind gradually."
We began to talk of evolution. I said that every man decides the
question of good and evil for himself, and does not wait for mankind to
solve the question by virtue of gradual development. Besides, evolution
is a stick with two ends. Side by side with the gradual development of
humanitarian ideas, there is the gradual growth of ideas of a different
kind. Serfdom is past, and capitalism is growing. And with ideas of
liberation at their height the majority, just as in the days of Baty,
feeds, clothes, and defends the minority; and is left hungry, naked, and
defenceless. The state of things harmonises beautifully with all your
tendencies and movements, because the art of enslaving is also being
gradually developed. We no longer flog our servants in the stables, but
we give slavery more refined forms; at any rate, we are able to justify
it in each separate case. Ideas remain ideas with us, but if we could,
now, at the end of the nineteenth century, throw upon the working
classes all our most unpleasant physiological functions, we should do
so, and, of course, we should justify ourselves by saying that if the
best people, thinkers and great scholars, had to waste their time on
such functions, progress would be in serious jeopardy.
Just then my sister entered. When she saw the doctor, she was flurried
and excited, and at once began to say that it was time for her to go
home to her father.
"Cleopatra Alexeyevna," said Blagovo earnestly, laying his hands on his
heart, "what will happen to your father if you spend half an hour with
your brother and me?"
He was a simple kind of man and could communicate his cheerfulness to
others. My sister thought for a minute and began to laugh, and suddenly
got very happy, suddenly, unexpectedly, just as she did at the picnic.
We went out into the fields and lay on the grass, and went on with our
conversation and looked at the town, where all the windows facing the
west looked golden in the setting sun.
After that Blagovo appeared every time my sister came to see me, and
they always greeted each other as though their meeting was unexpected.
My sister used to listen while the doctor and I argued, and her face was
always joyful and rapturous, admiring and curious, and it seemed to me
that a new world was slowly being discovered before her eyes, a world
which she had not seen before even in her dreams, which now she was
trying to divine; when the doctor was not there she was quiet and sad,
and if, as she sat on my bed, she sometimes wept, it was for reasons of
which she did not speak.
In August Radish gave us orders to go to the railway. A couple of days
before we were "driven" out of town, my father came to see me. He sat
down and, without looking at me, slowly wiped his red face, then took
out of his pocket our local paper and read out with deliberate emphasis
on each word that a schoolfellow of my own age, the son of the director
of the State Bank, had been appointed chief clerk of the Court of the
"And now, look at yourself," he said, folding up the newspaper. "You are
a beggar, a vagabond, a scoundrel! Even the bourgeoisie and other
peasants get education to make themselves decent people, while you, a
Pologniev, with famous, noble ancestors, go wallowing in the mire! But I
did not come here to talk to you. I have given you up already." He went
on in a choking voice, as he stood up: "I came here to find out where
your sister is, you scoundrel! She left me after dinner. It is now past
seven o'clock and she is not in. She has been going out lately without
telling me, and she has been disrespectful—and I see your filthy,
abominable influence at work. Where is she?"
He had in his hands the familiar umbrella, and I was already taken
aback, and I stood stiff and erect, like a schoolboy, waiting for my
father to thrash me, but he saw the glance I cast at the umbrella and
this probably checked him.
"Live as you like!" he said. "My blessing is gone from you."
"Good God!" muttered my old nurse behind the door. "You are lost. Oh! my
heart feels some misfortune coming. I can feel it."
I went to work on the railway. During the whole of August there was wind
and rain. It was damp and cold; the corn had now been gathered in the
fields, and on the big farms where the reaping was done with machines,
the wheat lay not in stacks, but in heaps; and I remember how those
melancholy heaps grew darker and darker every day, and the grain
sprouted. It was hard work; the pouring rain spoiled everything that we
succeeded in finishing. We were not allowed either to live or to sleep
in the station buildings and had to take shelter in dirty, damp, mud
huts where the "railies" had lived during the summer, and at night I
could not sleep from the cold and the bugs crawling over my face and
hands. And when we were working near the bridges, then the "railies"
used to come out in a crowd to fight the painters—which they regarded
as sport. They used to thrash us, steal our trousers, and to infuriate
us and provoke us to a fight; they used to spoil our work, as when they
smeared the signal-boxes with green paint. To add to all our miseries
Radish began to pay us very irregularly. All the painting on the line
was given to one contractor, who subcontracted with another, and he
again with Radish, stipulating for twenty per cent commission. The job
itself was unprofitable; then came the rains; time was wasted; we did no
work and Radish had to pay his men every day. The starving painters
nearly came to blows with him, called him a swindler, a bloodsucker, a
Judas, and he, poor man, sighed and in despair raised his hands to the
heavens and was continually going to Mrs. Cheprakov to borrow money.
Came the rainy, muddy, dark autumn, bringing a slack time, and I used to
sit at home three days in the week without work, or did various jobs
outside painting; such as digging earth for ballast for twenty copecks a
day. Doctor Blagovo had gone to Petersburg. My sister did not come to
see me. Radish lay at home ill, expecting to die every day.
And my mood was also autumnal; perhaps because when I became a working
man I saw only the seamy side of the life of our town, and every day
made fresh discoveries which brought me to despair. My fellow townsmen,
both those of whom I had had a low opinion before, and those whom I had
thought fairly decent, now seemed to me base, cruel, and up to any dirty
trick. We poor people were tricked and cheated in the accounts, kept
waiting for hours in cold passages or in the kitchen, and we were
insulted and uncivilly treated. In the autumn I had to paper the library
and two rooms at the club. I was paid seven copecks a piece, but was
told to give a receipt for twelve copecks, and when I refused to do it,
a respectable gentleman in gold spectacles, one of the stewards of the
club, said to me:
"If you say another word, you scoundrel, I'll knock you down."
And when a servant whispered to him that I was the son of Pologniev,
the architect, then I got flustered and blushed, but he recovered
himself at once and said:
In the shops we working men were sold bad meat, musty flour, and coarse
tea. In church we were jostled by the police, and in the hospitals we
were mulcted by the assistants and nurses, and if we could not give them
bribes through poverty, we were given food in dirty dishes. In the
post-office the lowest official considered it his duty to treat us as
animals and to shout rudely and insolently: "Wait! Don't you come
pushing your way in here!" Even the dogs, even they were hostile to us
and hurled themselves at us with a peculiar malignancy. But what struck
me most of all in my new position was the entire lack of justice, what
the people call "forgetting God." Rarely a day went by without some
swindle. The shopkeeper, who sold us oil, the contractor, the workmen,
the customers themselves, all cheated. It was an understood thing that
our rights were never considered, and we always had to pay for the money
we had earned, going with our hats off to the back door.
I was paper-hanging in one of the club-rooms, next the library, when,
one evening as I was on the point of leaving, Dolyhikov's daughter came
into the room carrying a bundle of books.
I bowed to her.
"Ah! How are you?" she said, recognising me at once and holding out her
hand. "I am very glad to see you."
She smiled and looked with a curious puzzled expression at my blouse and
the pail of paste and the papers lying on the floor; I was embarrassed
and she also felt awkward.
"Excuse my staring at you," she said. "I have heard so much about you.
Especially from Doctor Blagovo. He is enthusiastic about you. I have met
your sister; she is a dear, sympathetic girl, but I could not make her
see that there is nothing awful in your simple life. On the contrary,
you are the most interesting man in the town."
Once more she glanced at the pail of paste and the paper and said:
"I asked Doctor Blagovo to bring us together, but he either forgot or
had no time. However, we have met now. I should be very pleased if you
would call on me. I do so want to have a talk. I am a simple person,"
she said, holding out her hand, "and I hope you will come and see me
without ceremony. My father is away, in Petersburg."
She went into the reading-room, with her dress rustling, and for a long
time after I got home I could not sleep.
During that autumn some kind soul, wishing to relieve my existence, sent
me from time to time presents of tea and lemons, or biscuits, or roast
pigeons. Karpovna said the presents were brought by a soldier, though
from whom she did not know; and the soldier used to ask if I was well,
if I had dinner every day, and if I had warm clothes. When the frost
began the soldier came while I was out and brought a soft knitted scarf,
which gave out a soft, hardly perceptible scent, and I guessed who my
good fairy had been. For the scarf smelled of lily-of-the-valley, Aniuta
Blagovo's favourite scent.
Toward winter there was more work and things became more cheerful.
Radish came to life again and we worked together in the cemetery church,
where we scraped the holy shrine for gilding. It was a clean, quiet,
and, as our mates said, a specially good job. We could do a great deal
in one day, and so time passed quickly, imperceptibly. There was no
swearing, nor laughing, nor loud altercations. The place compelled quiet
and decency, and disposed one for tranquil, serious thoughts. Absorbed
in our work, we stood or sat immovably, like statues; there was a dead
silence, very proper to a cemetery, so that if a tool fell down, or the
oil in the lamp spluttered, the sound would be loud and startling, and
we would turn to see what it was. After a long silence one could hear a
humming like that of a swarm of bees; in the porch, in an undertone, the
funeral service was being read over a dead baby; or a painter painting a
moon surrounded with stars on the cupola would begin to whistle quietly,
and remembering suddenly that he was in a church, would stop; or Radish
would sigh at his own thoughts: "Anything may happen! Anything may
happen!" or above our heads there would be the slow, mournful tolling of
a bell, and the painters would say it must be a rich man being brought
to the church....
The days I spent in the peace of the little church, and during the
evenings I played billiards, or went to the gallery of the theatre in
the new serge suit I had bought with my own hard-earned money. They were
already beginning plays and concerts at the Azhoguins', and Radish did
the scenery by himself. He told me about the plays and tableaux vivants
at the Azhoguins', and I listened to him enviously. I had a great
longing to take part in the rehearsals, but I dared not go to the
A week before Christmas Doctor Blagovo arrived, and we resumed our
arguments and played billiards in the evenings. When he played billiards
he used to take off his coat, and unfasten his shirt at the neck, and
generally try to look like a debauchee. He drank a little, but rowdily,
and managed to spend in a cheap tavern like the Volga as much as twenty
roubles in an evening.
Once more my sister came to see me, and when they met they expressed
surprise, but I could see by her happy, guilty face that these meetings
were not accidental. One evening when we were playing billiards the
doctor said to me:
"I say, why don't you call on Miss Dolyhikov? You don't know Maria
Victorovna. She is a clever, charming, simple creature."
I told him how the engineer had received me in the spring.
"Nonsense!" laughed the doctor. "The engineer is one thing and she is
another. Really, my good fellow, you mustn't offend her. Go and see her
some time. Let us go to-morrow evening. Will you?"
He persuaded me. Next evening I donned my serge suit and with some
perturbation set out to call on Miss Dolyhikov. The footman did not seem
to me so haughty and formidable, or the furniture so oppressive, as on
the morning when I had come to ask for work. Maria Victorovna was
expecting me and greeted me as an old friend and gave my hand a warm,
friendly grip. She was wearing a grey dress with wide sleeves, and had
her hair done in the style which when it became the fashion a year later
in our town, was called "dog's ears." The hair was combed back over the
ears, and it made Maria Victorovna's face look broader, and she looked
very like her father, whose face was broad and red and rather like a
coachman's. She was handsome and elegant, but not young; about thirty to
judge by her appearance, though she was not more than twenty-five.
"Dear doctor!" she said, making me sit down. "How grateful I am to him.
But for him, you would not have come. I am bored to death! My father has
gone and left me alone, and I do not know what to do with myself."
Then she began to ask where I was working, how much I got, and where I
"Do you only spend what you earn on yourself?" she asked.
"You are a happy man," she replied. "All the evil in life, it seems to
me, comes from boredom and idleness, and spiritual emptiness, which are
inevitable when one lives at other people's expense. Don't think I'm
showing off. I mean it sincerely. It is dull and unpleasant to be rich.
Win friends by just riches, they say, because as a rule there is and can
be no such thing as just riches."
She looked at the furniture with a serious, cold expression, as though
she was making an inventory of it, and went on:
"Ease and comfort possess a magic power. Little by little they seduce
even strong-willed people. Father and I used to live poorly and simply,
and now you see how we live. Isn't it strange?" she said with a shrug.
"We spend twenty thousand roubles a year! In the provinces!"
"Ease and comfort must not be regarded as the inevitable privilege of
capital and education," I said. "It seems to me possible to unite the
comforts of life with work, however hard and dirty it may be. Your
father is rich, but, as he says, he used to be a mechanic, and just a
She smiled and shook her head thoughtfully.
"Papa sometimes eats tiurya," she said, "but only out of caprice."
A bell rang and she got up.
"The rich and the educated ought to work like the rest," she went on,
"and if there is to be any comfort, it should be accessible to all.
There should be no privileges. However, that's enough philosophy. Tell
me something cheerful. Tell me about the painters. What are they like?
The doctor came. I began to talk about the painters, but, being unused
to it, I felt awkward and talked solemnly and ponderously like an
ethnographist. The doctor also told a few stories about working people.
He rocked to and fro and cried, and fell on his knees, and when he was
depicting a drunkard, lay flat on the floor. It was as good as a play,
and Maria Victorovna laughed until she cried. Then he played the piano
and sang in his high-pitched tenor, and Maria Victorovna stood by him
and told him what to sing and corrected him when he made a mistake.
"I hear you sing, too," said I.
"Too?" cried the doctor. "She is a wonderful singer, an artist, and you
say—too! Careful, careful!"
"I used to study seriously," she replied, "but I have given it up now."
She sat on a low stool and told us about her life in Petersburg, and
imitated famous singers, mimicking their voices and mannerisms; then she
sketched the doctor and myself in her album, not very well, but both
were good likenesses. She laughed and made jokes and funny faces, and
this suited her better than talking about unjust riches, and it seemed
to me that what she had said about "riches and comfort" came not from
herself, but was just mimicry. She was an admirable comedian. I compared
her mentally with the girls of our town, and not even the beautiful,
serious Aniuta Blagovo could stand up against her; the difference was as
vast as that between a wild and a garden rose.
We stayed to supper. The doctor and Maria Victorovna drank red wine,
champagne, and coffee with cognac; they touched glasses and drank to
friendship, to wit, to progress, to freedom, and never got drunk, but
went rather red and laughed for no reason until they cried. To avoid
being out of it I, too, drank red wine.
"People with talent and with gifted natures," said Miss Dolyhikov, "know
how to live and go their own way; but ordinary people like myself know
nothing and can do nothing by themselves; there is nothing for them but
to find some deep social current and let themselves be borne along by
"Is it possible to find that which does not exist?" asked the doctor.
"It doesn't exist because we don't see it."
"Is that so? Social currents are the invention of modern literature.
They don't exist here."
A discussion began.
"We have no profound social movements; nor have we had them," said the
doctor. "Modern literature has invented a lot of things, and modern
literature invented intellectual working men in village life, but go
through all our villages and you will only find Mr. Cheeky Snout in a
jacket or black frock coat, who will make four mistakes in the word
'one.' Civilised life has not begun with us yet. We have the same
savagery, the same slavery, the same nullity as we had five hundred
years ago. Movements, currents—all that is so wretched and puerile
mixed up with such vulgar, catch-penny interests—and one cannot take it
seriously. You may think you have discovered a large social movement,
and you may follow it and devote your life in the modern fashion to such
problems as the liberation of vermin from slavery, or the abolition of
meat cutlets—and I congratulate you, madam. But we have to learn,
learn, learn, and there will be plenty of time for social movements; we
are not up to them yet, and upon my soul, we don't understand anything
at all about them."
"You don't understand, but I do," said Maria Victorovna. "Good Heavens!
What a bore you are to-night."
"It is our business to learn and learn, to try and accumulate as much
knowledge as possible, because serious social movements come where there
is knowledge, and the future happiness of mankind lies in science.
Here's to science!"
"One thing is certain. Life must somehow be arranged differently," said
Maria Victorovna, after some silence and deep thought, "and life as it
has been up to now is worthless. Don't let us talk about it."
When we left her the Cathedral clock struck two.
"Did you like her?" asked the doctor. "Isn't she a dear girl?"
We had dinner at Maria Victorovna's on Christmas Day, and then we went
to see her every day during the holidays. There was nobody besides
ourselves, and she was right when she said she had no friends in the
town but the doctor and me. We spent most of the time talking, and
sometimes the doctor would bring a book or a magazine and read aloud.
After all, he was the first cultivated man I had met. I could not tell
if he knew much, but he was always generous with his knowledge because
he wished others to know too. When he talked about medicine, he was not
like any of our local doctors, but he made a new and singular
impression, and it seemed to me that if he had wished he could have
become a genuine scientist. And perhaps he was the only person at that
time who had any real influence over me. Meeting him and reading the
books he gave me, I began gradually to feel a need for knowledge to
inspire the tedium of my work. It seemed strange to me that I had not
known before such things as that the whole world consisted of sixty
elements. I did not know what oil or paint was, and I could do without
knowing. My acquaintance with the doctor raised me morally too. I used
to argue with him, and though I usually stuck to my opinion, yet,
through him, I came gradually to perceive that everything was not clear
to me, and I tried to cultivate convictions as definite as possible so
that the promptings of my conscience should be precise and have nothing
vague about them. Nevertheless, educated and fine as he was, far and
away the best man in the town, he was by no means perfect. There was
something rather rude and priggish in his ways and in his trick of
dragging talk down to discussion, and when he took off his coat and sat
in his shirt and gave the footman a tip, it always seemed to me that
culture was just a part of him, with the rest untamed Tartar.
After the holidays he left once more for Petersburg. He went in the
morning and after dinner my sister came to see me. Without taking off
her furs, she sat silent, very pale, staring in front of her. She began
to shiver and seemed to be fighting against some illness.
"You must have caught a cold," I said.
Her eyes filled with tears. She rose and went to Karpovna without a word
to me, as though I had offended her. And a little later I heard her
speaking in a tone of bitter reproach.
"Nurse, what have I been living for, up to now? What for? Tell me;
haven't I wasted my youth? During the last years I have had nothing but
making up accounts, pouring out tea, counting the copecks, entertaining
guests, without a thought that there was anything better in the world!
Nurse, try to understand me, I too have human desires and I want to live
and they have made a housekeeper of me. It is awful, awful!"
She flung her keys against the door and they fell with a clatter in my
room. They were the keys of the side-board, the larder, the cellar, and
the tea-chest—the keys my mother used to carry.
"Oh! Oh! Saints above!" cried my old nurse in terror. "The blessed
When she left, my sister came into my room for her keys and said:
"Forgive me. Something strange has been going on in me lately."
One evening when I came home late from Maria Victorovna's I found a
young policeman in a new uniform in my room; he was sitting by the table
"At last!" he said getting up and stretching himself. "This is the third
time I have been to see you. The governor has ordered you to go and see
him to-morrow at nine o'clock sharp. Don't be late."
He made me give him a written promise to comply with his Excellency's
orders and went away. This policeman's visit and the unexpected
invitation to see the governor had a most depressing effect on me. From
my early childhood I have had a dread of gendarmes, police, legal
officials, and I was tormented with anxiety as though I had really
committed a crime and I could not sleep. Nurse and Prokofyi were also
upset and could not sleep. And, to make things worse, nurse had an
earache, and moaned and more than once screamed out. Hearing that I
could not sleep Prokofyi came quietly into my room with a little lamp
and sat by the table.
"You should have a drop of pepper-brandy...." he said after some
thought. "In this vale of tears things go on all right when you take a
drop. And if mother had some pepper-brandy poured into her ear she would
be much better."
About three he got ready to go to the slaughter-house to fetch some
meat. I knew I should not sleep until morning, and to use up the time
until nine, I went with him. We walked with a lantern, and his boy,
Nicolka, who was about thirteen, and had blue spots on his face and an
expression like a murderer's, drove behind us in a sledge, urging the
horse on with hoarse cries.
"You will probably be punished at the governor's," said Prokofyi as we
walked. "There is a governor's rank, and an archimandrite's rank, and an
officer's rank, and a doctor's rank, and every profession has its own
rank. You don't keep to yours and they won't allow it."
The slaughter-house stood behind the cemetery, and till then I had only
seen it at a distance. It consisted of three dark sheds surrounded by a
grey fence, from which, when the wind was in that direction in summer,
there came an overpowering stench. Now, as I entered the yard, I could
not see the sheds in the darkness; I groped through horses and sledges,
both empty and laden with meat; and there were men walking about with
lanterns and swearing disgustingly. Prokofyi and Nicolka swore as
filthily and there was a continuous hum from the swearing and coughing
and the neighing of the horses.
The place smelled of corpses and offal, the snow was thawing and already
mixed with mud, and in the darkness it seemed to me that I was walking
through a pool of blood.
When we had filled the sledge with meat, we went to the butcher's shop
in the market-place. Day was beginning to dawn. One after another the
cooks came with baskets and old women in mantles. With an axe in his
hand, wearing a white, blood-stained apron, Prokofyi swore terrifically
and crossed himself, turning toward the church, and shouted so loud that
he could be heard all over the market, avowing that he sold his meat at
cost price and even at a loss. He cheated in weighing and reckoning, the
cooks saw it, but, dazed by his shouting, they did not protest, but only
called him a gallows-bird.
Raising and dropping his formidable axe, he assumed picturesque
attitudes and constantly uttered the sound "Hak!" with a furious
expression, and I was really afraid of his cutting off some one's head
I stayed in the butcher's shop the whole morning, and when at last I
went to the governor's my fur coat smelled of meat and blood. My state
of mind would have been appropriate for an encounter with a bear armed
with no more than a staff. I remember a long staircase with a striped
carpet, and a young official in a frock coat with shining buttons, who
silently indicated the door with both hands and went in to announce me.
I entered the hall, where the furniture was most luxurious, but cold and
tasteless, forming a most unpleasant impression—the tall, narrow
pier-glasses, and the bright, yellow hangings over the windows; one
could see that, though governors changed, the furniture remained the
same. The young official again pointed with both hands to the door and
went toward a large, green table, by which stood a general with the
Order of Vladimir at his neck.
"Mr. Pologniev," he began, holding a letter in his hand and opening his
mouth wide so that it made a round O. "I asked you to come to say this
to you: 'Your esteemed father has applied verbally and in writing to the
provincial marshal of nobility, to have you summoned and made to see the
incongruity of your conduct with the title of nobleman which you have
the honour to bear. His Excellency Alexander Pavlovich, justly thinking
that your conduct may be subversive, and finding that persuasion may
not be sufficient, without serious intervention on the part of the
authorities, has given me his decision as to your case, and I agree with
He said this quietly, respectfully, standing erect as if I was his
superior, and his expression was not at all severe. He had a flabby,
tired face, covered with wrinkles, with pouches under his eyes; his hair
was dyed, and it was hard to guess his age from his appearance—fifty or
"I hope," he went on, "that you will appreciate Alexander Pavlovich's
delicacy in applying to me, not officially, but privately. I have
invited you unofficially not as a governor, but as a sincere admirer of
your father's. And I ask you to change your conduct and to return to the
duties proper to your rank, or, to avoid the evil effects of your
example, to go to some other place where you are not known and where you
may do what you like. Otherwise I shall have to resort to extreme
For half a minute he stood in silence staring at me open-mouthed.
"Are you a vegetarian?" he asked.
"No, your Excellency, I eat meat."
He sat down and took up a document, and I bowed and left.
It was not worth while going to work before dinner. I went home and
tried to sleep, but could not because of the unpleasant, sickly feeling
from the slaughter-house and my conversation with the governor. And so
I dragged through till the evening and then, feeling gloomy and out of
sorts, I went to see Maria Victorovna. I told her about my visit to the
governor and she looked at me in bewilderment, as if she did not believe
me, and suddenly she began to laugh merrily, heartily, stridently, as
only good-natured, light-hearted people can.
"If I were to tell this in Petersburg!" she cried, nearly dropping with
laughter, bending over the table. "If I could tell them in Petersburg!"
Now we saw each other often, sometimes twice a day. Almost every day,
after dinner, she drove up to the cemetery and, as she waited for me,
read the inscriptions on the crosses and monuments. Sometimes she came
into the church and stood by my side and watched me working. The
silence, the simple industry of the painters and gilders, Radish's good
sense, and the fact that outwardly I was no different from the other
artisans and worked as they did, in a waistcoat and old shoes, and that
they addressed me familiarly—were new to her, and she was moved by it
all. Once in her presence a painter who was working, at a door on the
roof, called down to me:
"Misail, fetch me the white lead."
I fetched him the white lead and as I came down the scaffolding she was
moved to tears and looked at me and smiled:
"What a dear you are!" she said.
I have always remembered how when I was a child a green parrot got out
of its cage in one of the rich people's houses and wandered about the
town for a whole month, flying from one garden to another, homeless and
lonely. And Maria Victorovna reminded me of the bird.
"Except to the cemetery," she said with a laugh, "I have absolutely
nowhere to go. The town bores me to tears. People read, sing, and
twitter at the Azhoguins', but I cannot bear them lately. Your sister is
shy, Miss Blagovo for some reason hates me. I don't like the theatre.
What can I do with myself?"
When I was at her house I smelled of paint and turpentine, and my hands
were stained. She liked that. She wanted me to come to her in my
ordinary working-clothes; but I felt awkward in them in her
drawing-room, and as if I were in uniform, and so I always wore my new
serge suit. She did not like that.
"You must confess," she said once, "that you have not got used to your
new rôle. A working-man's suit makes you feel awkward and embarrassed.
Tell me, isn't it because you are not sure of yourself and are
unsatisfied? Does this work you have chosen, this painting of yours,
really satisfy you?" she asked merrily. "I know paint makes things look
nicer and wear better, but the things themselves belong to the rich and
after all they are a luxury. Besides you have said more than once that
everybody should earn his living with his own hands and you earn money,
not bread. Why don't you keep to the exact meaning of what you say? You
must earn bread, real bread, you must plough, sow, reap, thrash, or do
something which has to do directly with agriculture, such as keeping
cows, digging, or building houses...."
She opened a handsome bookcase which stood by the writing-table and
"I'm telling you all this because I'm going to let you into my secret.
Voilà. This is my agricultural library. Here are books on arable land,
vegetable-gardens, orchard-keeping, cattle-keeping, bee-keeping: I read
them eagerly and have studied the theory of everything thoroughly. It is
my dream to go to Dubechnia as soon as March begins. It is wonderful
there, amazing; isn't it? The first year I shall only be learning the
work and getting used to it, and in the second year I shall begin to
work thoroughly, without sparing myself. My father promised to give me
Dubechnia as a present, and I am to do anything I like with it."
She blushed and with mingled laughter and tears she dreamed aloud of her
life at Dubechnia and how absorbing it would be. And I envied her. March
would soon be here. The days were drawing out, and in the bright sunny
afternoons the snow dripped from the roofs, and the smell of spring was
in the air. I too longed for the country.
And when she said she was going to live at Dubechnia, I saw at once that
I should be left alone in the town, and I felt jealous of the bookcase
with her books about farming. I knew and cared nothing about farming and
I was on the point of telling her that agriculture was work for slaves,
but I recollected that my father had once said something of the sort and
I held my peace.
Lent began. The engineer, Victor Ivanich, came home from Petersburg. I
had begun to forget his existence. He came unexpectedly, not even
sending a telegram. When I went there as usual in the evening, he was
walking up and down the drawing-room, after a bath, with his hair cut,
looking ten years younger, and talking. His daughter was kneeling by his
trunks and taking out boxes, bottles, books, and handing them to Pavel
the footman. When I saw the engineer, I involuntarily stepped back and
he held out both his hands and smiled and showed his strong, white,
"Here he is! Here he is! I'm very pleased to see you, Mr. House-painter!
Maria told me all about you and sang your praises. I quite understand
you and heartily approve." He took me by the arm and went on: "It is
much cleverer and more honest to be a decent workman than to spoil State
paper and to wear a cockade. I myself worked with my hands in Belgium. I
was an engine-driver for five years...."
He was wearing a short jacket and comfortable slippers, and he shuffled
along like a gouty man waving and rubbing his hands; humming and
buzzing and shrugging with pleasure at being at home again with his
"There's no denying," he said at supper, "there's no denying that you
are kind, sympathetic people, but somehow as soon as you gentlefolk take
on manual labour or try to spare the peasants, you reduce it all to
sectarianism. You are a sectarian. You don't drink vodka. What is that
To please him I drank vodka. I drank wine, too. We ate cheese, sausages,
pastries, pickles, and all kinds of dainties that the engineer had
brought with him, and we sampled wines sent from abroad during his
absence. They were excellent. For some reason the engineer had wines and
cigars sent from abroad—duty free; somebody sent him caviare and
baliki gratis; he did not pay rent for his house because his landlord
supplied the railway with kerosene, and generally he and his daughter
gave me the impression of having all the best things in the world at
their service free of charge.
I went on visiting them, but with less pleasure than before. The
engineer oppressed me and I felt cramped in his presence. I could not
endure his clear, innocent eyes; his opinions bored me and were
offensive to me, and I was distressed by the recollection that I had so
recently been subordinate to this ruddy, well-fed man, and that he had
been mercilessly rude to me. True he would put his arm round my waist
and clap me kindly on the shoulder and approve of my way of living, but
I felt that he despised my nullity just as much as before and only
suffered me to please his daughter, but I could no longer laugh and talk
easily, and I thought myself ill-mannered, and all the time was
expecting him to call me Panteley as he did his footman Pavel. How my
provincial, bourgeois pride rode up against him! I, a working man, a
painter, going every day to the house of rich strangers, whom the whole
town regarded as foreigners, and drinking their expensive wines and
outlandish dishes! I could not reconcile this with my conscience. When I
went to see them I sternly avoided those whom I met on the way, and
looked askance at them like a real sectarian, and when I left the
engineer's house I was ashamed of feeling so well-fed.
But chiefly I was afraid of falling in love. Whether walking in the
street, or working, or talking to my mates, I thought all the time of
going to Maria Victorovna's in the evening, and always had her voice,
her laughter, her movements with me. And always as I got ready to go to
her, I would stand for a long time in front of the cracked mirror tying
my necktie; my serge suit seemed horrible to me, and I suffered, but at
the same time, despised myself for feeling so small. When she called to
me from another room to say that she was not dressed yet and to ask me
to wait a bit, and I could hear her dressing, I was agitated and felt as
though the floor was sinking under me. And when I saw a woman in the
street, even at a distance, I fell to comparing her figure with hers,
and it seemed to me that all our women and girls were vulgar, absurdly
dressed, and without manners; and such comparisons roused in me a
feeling of pride; Maria Victorovna was better than all of them. And at
night I dreamed of her and myself.
Once at supper the engineer and I ate a whole lobster. When I reached
home I remember that the engineer had twice called me "my dear fellow,"
and I thought that they treated me as they might have done a big,
unhappy dog, separated from his master, and that they were amusing
themselves with me, and that they would order me away like a dog when
they were bored with me. I began to feel ashamed and hurt; went to the
point of tears, as though I had been insulted, and, raising my eyes to
the heavens, I vowed to put an end to it all.
Next day I did not go to the Dolyhikovs'. Late at night, when it was
quite dark and pouring with rain, I walked up and down Great Gentry
Street, looking at the windows. At the Azhoguins' everybody was asleep
and the only light was in one of the top windows; old Mrs. Azhoguin was
sitting in her room embroidering by candle-light and imagining herself
to be fighting against prejudice. It was dark in our house and opposite,
at the Dolyhikovs' the windows were lit up, but it was impossible to see
anything through the flowers and curtains. I kept on walking up and
down the street; I was soaked through with the cold March rain. I heard
my father come home from the club; he knocked at the door; in a minute a
light appeared at a window and I saw my sister walking quickly with her
lamp and hurriedly arranging her thick hair. Then my father paced up and
down the drawing-room, talking and rubbing his hands, and my sister sat
still in a corner, lost in thought, not listening to him....
But soon they left the room and the light was put out.... I looked at
the engineer's house and that too was now dark. In the darkness and the
rain I felt desperately lonely. Cast out at the mercy of Fate, and I
felt how, compared with my loneliness, and my suffering, actual and to
come, all my work and all my desires and all that I had hitherto thought
and read, were vain and futile. Alas! The activities and thoughts of
human beings are not nearly so important as their sorrows! And not
knowing exactly what I was doing I pulled with all my might at the bell
at the Dolyhikovs' gate, broke it, and ran away down the street like a
little boy, full of fear, thinking they would rush out at once and
recognise me. When I stopped to take breath at the end of the street, I
could hear nothing but the falling rain and far away a night-watchman
knocking on a sheet of iron.
For a whole week I did not go to the Dolyhikovs'. I sold my serge suit.
I had no work and I was once more half-starved, earning ten or twenty
copecks a day, when possible, by disagreeable work. Floundering
knee-deep in the mire, putting out all my strength, I tried to drown my
memories and to punish myself for all the cheeses and pickles to which I
had been treated at the engineer's. Still, no sooner did I go to bed,
wet and hungry, than my untamed imagination set to work to evolve
wonderful, alluring pictures, and to my amazement I confessed that I was
in love, passionately in love, and I fell sound asleep feeling that the
hard life had only made my body stronger and younger.
One evening it began, most unseasonably, to snow, and the wind blew from
the north, exactly as if winter had begun again. When I got home from
work I found Maria Victorovna in my room. She was in her furs with her
hands in her muff.
"Why don't you come to see me?" she asked, looking at me with her bright
sagacious eyes, and I was overcome with joy and stood stiffly in front
of her, just as I had done with my father when he was going to thrash
me; she looked straight into my face and I could see by her eyes that
she understood why I was overcome.
"Why don't you come to see me?" she repeated. "You don't want to come? I
had to come to you."
She got up and came close to me.
"Don't leave me," she said, and her eyes filled with tears. "I am
lonely, utterly lonely."
She began to cry and said, covering her face with her muff:
"Alone! Life is hard, very hard, and in the whole world I have no one
but you. Don't leave me!"
Looking for her handkerchief to dry her tears, she gave a smile; we were
silent for some time, then I embraced and kissed her, and the pin in her
hat scratched my face and drew blood.
And we began to talk as though we had been dear to each other for a
long, long time.
In a couple of days she sent me to Dubechnia and I was beyond words
delighted with it. As I walked to the station, and as I sat in the
train, I laughed for no reason and people thought me drunk. There were
snow and frost in the mornings still, but the roads were getting dark,
and there were rooks cawing above them.
At first I thought of arranging the side wing opposite Mrs. Cheprakov's
for myself and Masha, but it appeared that doves and pigeons had taken
up their abode there and it would be impossible to cleanse it without
destroying a great number of nests. We would have to live willy-nilly in
the uncomfortable rooms with Venetian blinds in the big house. The
peasants called it a palace; there were more than twenty rooms in it,
and the only furniture was a piano and a child's chair, lying in the
attic, and even if Masha brought all her furniture from town we should
not succeed in removing the impression of frigid emptiness and coldness.
I chose three small rooms with windows looking on to the garden, and
from early morning till late at night I was at work in them, glazing the
windows, hanging paper, blocking up the chinks and holes in the floor.
It was an easy, pleasant job. Every now and then I would run to the
river to see if the ice was breaking and all the while I dreamed of the
starlings returning. And at night when I thought of Masha I would be
filled with an inexpressibly sweet feeling of an all-embracing joy to
listen to the rats and the wind rattling and knocking above the ceiling;
it was like an old hobgoblin coughing in the attic.
The snow was deep; there was a heavy fall at the end of March, but it
thawed rapidly, as if by magic, and the spring floods rushed down so
that by the beginning of April the starlings were already chattering and
yellow butterflies fluttered in the garden. The weather was wonderful.
Every day toward evening I walked toward the town to meet Masha, and how
delightful it was to walk along the soft, drying road with bare feet!
Half-way I would sit down and look at the town, not daring to go nearer.
The sight of it upset me, I was always wondering how my acquaintances
would behave toward me when they heard of my love. What would my father
say? I was particularly worried by the idea that my life was becoming
more complicated, and that I had entirely lost control of it, and that
she was carrying me off like a balloon, God knows whither. I had already
given up thinking how to make a living, and I thought—indeed, I cannot
remember what I thought.
Masha used to come in a carriage. I would take a seat beside her and
together, happy and free, we used to drive to Dubechnia. Or, having
waited till sunset, I would return home, weary and disconsolate,
wondering why Masha had not come, and then by the gate or in the garden
I would find my darling. She would come by the railway and walk over
from the station. What a triumph she had then! In her plain, woollen
dress, with a simple umbrella, but keeping a trim, fashionable figure
and expensive, Parisian boots—she was a gifted actress playing the
country girl. We used to go over the house, and plan out the rooms, and
the paths, and the vegetable-garden, and the beehives. We already had
chickens and ducks and geese which we loved because they were ours. We
had oats, clover, buckwheat, and vegetable seeds all ready for sowing,
and we used to examine them all and wonder what the crops would be like,
and everything Masha said to me seemed extraordinarily clever and fine.
This was the happiest time of my life.
Soon after Easter we were married in the parish church in the village of
Kurilovka three miles from Dubechnia. Masha wanted everything to be
simple; by her wish our bridesmen were peasant boys, only one deacon
sang, and we returned from the church in a little, shaky cart which she
drove herself. My sister was the only guest from the town. Masha had
sent her a note a couple of days before the wedding. My sister wore a
white dress and white gloves.... During the ceremony she cried softly
for joy and emotion, and her face had a maternal expression of infinite
goodness. She was intoxicated with our happiness and smiled as though
she were breathing a sweet perfume, and when I looked at her I
understood that there was nothing in the world higher in her eyes than
love, earthly love, and that she was always dreaming of love, secretly,
timidly, yet passionately. She embraced Masha and kissed her, and, not
knowing how to express her ecstasy, she said to her of me:
"He is a good man! A very good man."
Before she left us, she put on her ordinary clothes, and took me into
the garden to have a quiet talk.
"Father is very hurt that you have not written to him," she said. "You
should have asked for his blessing. But, at heart, he is very pleased.
He says that this marriage will raise you in the eyes of society, and
that under Maria Victorovna's influence you will begin to adopt a more
serious attitude toward life. In the evening now we talk about nothing
but you; and yesterday he even said, 'our Misail.' I was delighted. He
has evidently thought of a plan and I believe he wants to set you an
example of magnanimity, and that he will be the first to talk of
reconciliation. It is quite possible that one of these days he will
come and see you here."
She made the sign of the cross over me and said:
"Well, God bless you. Be happy. Aniuta Blagovo is a very clever girl.
She says of your marriage that God has sent you a new ordeal. Well?
Married life is not made up only of joy but of suffering as well. It is
impossible to avoid it."
Masha and I walked about three miles with her, and then walked home
quietly and silently, as though it were a rest for both of us. Masha had
her hand on my arm. We were at peace and there was no need to talk of
love; after the wedding we grew closer to each other and dearer, and it
seemed as though nothing could part us.
"Your sister is a dear, lovable creature," said Masha, "but looks as
though she had lived in torture. Your father must be a terrible man."
I began to tell her how my sister and I had been brought up and how
absurd and full of torture our childhood had been. When she heard that
my father had thrashed me quite recently she shuddered and clung to me:
"Don't tell me any more," she said. "It is too horrible."
And now she did not leave me. We lived in the big house, in three rooms,
and in the evenings we bolted the door that led to the empty part of the
house, as though some one lived there whom we did not know and feared.
I used to get up early, at dawn, and begin working. I repaired the
carts; made paths in the garden, dug the beds, painted the roofs. When
the time came to sow oats, I tried to plough and harrow, and sow and did
it all conscientiously, and did not leave it all to the labourer. I used
to get tired, and my face and feet used to burn with the rain and the
sharp cold wind. But work in the fields did not attract me. I knew
nothing about agriculture and did not like it; perhaps because my
ancestors were not tillers of the soil and pure town blood ran in my
veins. I loved nature dearly; I loved the fields and the meadows and the
garden, but the peasant who turns the earth with his plough, shouting at
his miserable horse, ragged and wet, with bowed shoulders, was to me an
expression of wild, rude, ugly force, and as I watched his clumsy
movements I could not help thinking of the long-passed legendary life,
when men did not yet know the use of fire. The fierce bull which led the
herd, and the horses that stampeded through the village, filled me with
terror, and all the large creatures, strong and hostile, a ram with
horns, a gander, or a watch-dog seemed to me to be symbolical of some
rough, wild force. These prejudices used to be particularly strong in me
in bad weather, when heavy clouds hung over the black plough-lands. But
worst of all was that when I was ploughing or sowing, and a few peasants
stood and watched how I did it, I no longer felt the inevitability and
necessity of the work and it seemed to me that I was trifling my time
I used to go through the gardens and the meadow to the mill. It was
leased by Stiepan, a Kurilovka peasant; handsome, swarthy, with a black
beard—an athletic appearance. He did not care for mill work and thought
it tiresome and unprofitable, and he only lived at the mill to escape
from home. He was a saddler and always smelled of tan and leather. He
did not like talking, was slow and immovable, and used to hum
"U-lu-lu-lu," sitting on the bank or in the doorway of the mill.
Sometimes his wife and mother-in-law used to come from Kurilovka to see
him; they were both fair, languid, soft, and they used to bow to him
humbly and call him Stiepan Petrovich. And he would not answer their
greeting with a word or a sign, but would turn where he sat on the bank
and hum quietly: "U-lu-lu-lu." There would be a silence for an hour or
two. His mother-in-law and his wife would whisper to each other, get up
and look expectantly at him for some time, waiting for him to look at
them, and then they would bow humbly and say in sweet, soft voices:
"Good-bye, Stiepan Petrovich."
And they would go away. After that, Stiepan would put away the bundle of
cracknels or the shirt they had left for him and sigh and give a wink in
their direction and say:
"The female sex!"
The mill was worked with both wheels day and night. I used to help
Stiepan, I liked it, and when he went away I was glad to take his
After a spell of warm bright weather we had a season of bad roads. It
rained and was cold all through May. The grinding of the millstones and
the drip of the rain induced idleness and sleep. The floor shook, the
whole place smelled of flour, and this too made one drowsy. My wife in a
short fur coat and high rubber boots used to appear twice a day and she
always said the same thing:
"Call this summer! It is worse than October!"
We used to have tea together and cook porridge, or sit together for
hours in silence thinking the rain would never stop. Once when Stiepan
went away to a fair, Masha stayed the night in the mill. When we got up
we could not tell what time it was for the sky was overcast; the sleepy
cocks at Dubechnia were crowing, and the corncrakes were trilling in the
meadow; it was very, very early.... My wife and I walked down to the
pool and drew up the bow-net that Stiepan had put out in our presence
the day before. There was one large perch in it and a crayfish angrily
stretched out his claws.
"Let them go," said Masha. "Let them be happy too."
Because we got up very early and had nothing to do, the day seemed very
long, the longest in my life. Stiepan returned before dusk and I went
back to the farmhouse.
"Your father came here to-day," said Masha.
"Where is he?"
"He has gone. I did not receive him."
Seeing my silence and feeling that I was sorry for my father, she said:
"We must be logical. I did not receive him and sent a message to ask him
not to trouble us again and not to come and see us."
In a moment I was outside the gates, striding toward the town to make it
up with my father. It was muddy, slippery, cold. For the first time
since our marriage I suddenly felt sad, and through my brain, tired with
the long day, there flashed the thought that perhaps I was not living as
I ought; I got more and more tired and was gradually overcome with
weakness, inertia; I had no desire to move or to think, and after
walking for some time, I waved my hand and went home.
In the middle of the yard stood the engineer in a leather coat with a
hood. He was shouting:
"Where's the furniture? There was some good Empire furniture, pictures,
vases. There's nothing left! Damn it, I bought the place with the
Near him stood Moissey, Mrs. Cheprakov's bailiff, fumbling with his cap;
a lank fellow of about twenty-five, with a spotty face and little,
impudent eyes; one side of his face was larger than the other as though
he had been lain on.
"Yes, Right Honourable Sir, you bought it without the furniture," he
said sheepishly. "I remember that clearly."
"Silence!" shouted the engineer, going red in the face, and beginning to
shake, and his shout echoed through the garden.
When I was busy in the garden or the yard, Moissey would stand with his
hands behind his back and stare at me impertinently with his little
eyes. And this used to irritate me to such an extent that I would put
aside my work and go away.
We learned from Stiepan that Moissey had been Mrs. Cheprakov's lover. I
noticed that when people went to her for money they used to apply to
Moissey first, and once I saw a peasant, a charcoal-burner, black all
over, grovel at his feet. Sometimes after a whispered conversation
Moissey would hand over the money himself without saying anything to his
mistress, from which I concluded that the transaction was settled on his
He used to shoot in our garden, under our very windows, steal food from
our larder, borrow our horses without leave, and we were furious,
feeling that Dubechnia was no longer ours, and Masha used to go pale and
"Have we to live another year and a half with these creatures?"
Ivan Cheprakov, the son, was a guard on the railway. During the winter
he got very thin and weak, so that he got drunk on one glass of vodka,
and felt cold out of the sun. He hated wearing his guard's uniform and
was ashamed of it, but found his job profitable because he could steal
candles and sell them. My new position gave him a mixed feeling of
astonishment, envy, and vague hope that something of the sort might
happen to him. He used to follow Masha with admiring eyes, and to ask me
what I had for dinner nowadays, and his ugly, emaciated face used to
wear a sweet, sad expression, and he used to twitch his fingers as
though he could feel my happiness with them.
"I say, Little Profit," he would say excitedly, lighting and relighting
his cigarette; he always made a mess wherever he stood because he used
to waste a whole box of matches on one cigarette. "I say, my life is
about as beastly as it could be. Every little squirt of a soldier can
shout: 'Here guard! Here!' I have such a lot in the trains and you know,
mine's a rotten life! My mother has ruined me! I heard a doctor say in
the train, if the parents are loose, their children become drunkards or
criminals. That's it."
Once he came staggering into the yard. His eyes wandered aimlessly and
he breathed heavily; he laughed and cried, and said something in a kind
of frenzy, and through his thickly uttered words I could only hear: "My
mother? Where is my mother?" and he wailed like a child crying, because
it has lost its mother in a crowd. I led him away into the garden and
laid him down under a tree, and all that day and through the night Masha
and I took it in turns to stay with him. He was sick and Masha looked
with disgust at his pale, wet face and said:
"Are we to have these creatures on the place for another year and a
half? It is awful! Awful!"
And what a lot of trouble the peasants gave us! How many disappointments
we had at the outset, in the spring, when we so longed to be happy! My
wife built a school. I designed the school for sixty boys, and the
Zemstvo Council approved the design, but recommended our building the
school at Kurilovka, the big village, only three miles away; besides the
Kurilovka school, where the children of four villages, including that of
Dubechnia, were taught, was old and inadequate and the floor was so
rotten that the children were afraid to walk on it. At the end of March
Masha, by her own desire, was appointed trustee of the Kurilovka school,
and at the beginning of April we called three parish meetings and
persuaded the peasants that the school was old and inadequate, and that
it was necessary to build a new one. A member of the Zemstvo Council and
the elementary school inspector came down too and addressed them. After
each meeting we were mobbed and asked for a pail of vodka; we felt
stifled in the crowd and soon got tired and returned home dissatisfied
and rather abashed. At last the peasants allotted a site for the school
and undertook to cart the materials from the town. And as soon as the
spring corn was sown, on the very first Sunday, carts set out from
Kurilovka and Dubechnia to fetch the bricks for the foundations. They
went at dawn and returned late in the evening. The peasants were drunk
and said they were tired out.
The rain and the cold continued, as though deliberately, all through
May. The roads were spoiled and deep in mud. When the carts came from
town they usually drove to our horror, into our yard! A horse would
appear in the gate, straddling its fore legs, with its big belly
heaving; before it came into the yard it would strain and heave and
after it would come a ten-yard beam in a four-wheeled wagon, wet and
slimy; alongside it, wrapped up to keep the rain out, never looking
where he was going and splashing through the puddles, a peasant would
walk with the skirt of his coat tucked up in his belt. Another cart
would appear with planks; then a third with a beam; then a fourth ...
and the yard in front of the house would gradually be blocked up with
horses, beams, planks. Peasants, men and women with their heads wrapped
up and their skirts tucked up, would stare morosely at our windows, kick
up a row and insist on the lady of the house coming out to them; and
they would curse and swear. And in a corner Moissey would stand, and it
seemed to us that he delighted in our discomfiture.
"We won't cart any more!" the peasants shouted. "We are tired to death!
Let her go and cart it herself!"
Pale and scared, thinking they would any minute break into the house,
Masha would send them money for a pail of vodka; after which the noise
would die down and the long beams would go jolting out of the yard.
When I went to look at the building my wife would get agitated and say:
"The peasants are furious. They might do something to you. No. Wait.
I'll go with you."
We used to drive over to Kurilovka together and then the carpenters
would ask for tips. The framework was ready for the foundations to be
laid, but the masons never came and when at last the masons did come it
was apparent that there was no sand; somehow it had been forgotten that
sand was wanted. Taking advantage of our helplessness, the peasants
asked thirty copecks a load, although it was less than a quarter of a
mile from the building to the river where the sand was to be fetched,
and more than five hundred loads were needed. There were endless
misunderstandings, wrangles, and continual begging. My wife was
indignant and the building contractor, Petrov, an old man of seventy,
took her by the hand and said:
"You look here! Look here! Just get me sand and I'll find ten men and
have the work done in two days. Look here!"
Sand was brought, but two, four days, a week passed and still there
yawned a ditch where the foundations were to be.
"I shall go mad," cried my wife furiously. "What wretches they are! What
During these disturbances Victor Ivanich used to come and see us. He
used to bring hampers of wine and dainties, and eat for a long time, and
then go to sleep on the terrace and snore so that the labourers shook
their heads and said:
"He's all right!"
Masha took no pleasure in his visits. She did not believe in him, and
yet she used to ask his advice; when, after a sound sleep after dinner,
he got up out of humour, and spoke disparagingly of our domestic
arrangements, and said he was sorry he had ever bought Dubechnia which
had cost him so much, and poor Masha looked miserably anxious and
complained to him, he would yawn and say the peasants ought to be
He called our marriage and the life we were living a comedy, and used to
say it was a caprice, a whimsy.
"She did the same sort of thing once before," he told me. "She fancied
herself as an opera singer, and ran away from me. It took me two months
to find her, and my dear fellow, I wasted a thousand roubles on
He had dropped calling me a sectarian or the House-painter; and no
longer approved of my life as a working man, but he used to say:
"You are a queer fish! An abnormality. I don't venture to prophesy, but
you will end badly!"
Masha slept poorly at nights and would sit by the window of our bedroom
thinking. She no longer laughed and made faces at supper. I suffered,
and when it rained, every drop cut into my heart like a bullet, and I
could have gone on my knees to Masha and apologised for the weather.
When the peasants made a row in the yard, I felt that it was my fault. I
would sit for hours in one place, thinking only how splendid and how
wonderful Masha was. I loved her passionately, and I was enraptured by
everything she did and said. Her taste was for quiet indoor occupation;
she loved to read for hours and to study; she who knew about farm-work
only from books, surprised us all by her knowledge and the advice she
gave was always useful, and when applied was never in vain. And in
addition she had the fineness, the taste, and the good sense, the very
sound sense which only very well-bred people possess!
To such a woman, with her healthy, orderly mind, the chaotic environment
with its petty cares and dirty tittle-tattle, in which we lived, was
very painful. I could see that, and I, too, could not sleep at night. My
brain whirled and I could hardly choke back my tears. I tossed about,
not knowing what to do.
I used to rush to town and bring Masha books, newspapers, sweets,
flowers, and I used to go fishing with Stiepan, dragging for hours,
neck-deep in cold water, in the rain, to catch an eel by way of varying
our fare. I used humbly to ask the peasants not to shout, and I gave
them vodka, bribed them, promised them anything they asked. And what a
lot of other foolish things I did!
At last the rain stopped. The earth dried up. I used to get up in the
morning and go into the garden—dew shining on the flowers, birds and
insects shrilling, not a cloud in the sky, and the garden, the meadow,
the river were so beautiful, perfect but for the memory of the peasants
and the carts and the engineer. Masha and I used to drive out in a car
to see how the oats were coming on. She drove and I sat behind; her
shoulders were always a little hunched, and the wind would play with her
"Keep to the right!" she shouted to the passers-by.
"You are like a coachman!" I once said to her.
"Perhaps. My grandfather, my father's father, was a coachman. Didn't you
know?" she asked, turning round, and immediately she began to mimic the
way the coachmen shout and sing.
"Thank God!" I thought, as I listened to her. "Thank God!"
And again I remember the peasants, the carts, the engineer....
Doctor Blagovo came over on a bicycle. My sister began to come often.
Once more we talked of manual labour and progress, and the mysterious
Cross awaiting humanity in the remote future. The doctor did not like
our life, because it interfered with our discussions and he said it was
unworthy of a free man to plough, and reap, and breed cattle, and that
in time all such elementary forms of the struggle for existence would be
left to animals and machines, while men would devote themselves
exclusively to scientific investigation. And my sister always asked me
to let her go home earlier, and if she stayed late, or for the night,
she was greatly distressed.
"Good gracious, what a baby you are," Masha used to say reproachfully.
"It is quite ridiculous."
"Yes, it is absurd," my sister would agree. "I admit it is absurd, but
what can I do if I have not the power to control myself. It always seems
to me that I am doing wrong."
During the haymaking my body, not being used to it, ached all over;
sitting on the terrace in the evening, I would suddenly fall asleep and
they would all laugh at me. They would wake me up and make me sit down
to supper. I would be overcome with drowsiness and in a stupor saw
lights, faces, plates, and heard voices without understanding what they
were saying. And I used to get up early in the morning and take my
scythe, or go to the school and work there all day.
When I was at home on holidays I noticed that my wife and sister were
hiding something from me and even seemed to be avoiding me. My wife was
tender with me as always, but she had some new thought of her own which
she did not communicate to me. Certainly her exasperation with the
peasants had increased and life was growing harder and harder for her,
but she no longer complained to me. She talked more readily to the
doctor than to me, and I could not understand why.
It was the custom in our province for the labourers to come to the farm
in the evenings to be treated to vodka, even the girls having a glass.
We did not keep the custom; the haymakers and the women used to come
into the yard and stay until late in the evening, waiting for vodka, and
then they went away cursing. And then Masha used to frown and relapse
into silence or whisper irritably to the doctor:
Newcomers to the villages were received ungraciously, almost with
hostility; like new arrivals at a school. At first we were looked upon
as foolish, soft-headed people who had bought the estate because we did
not know what to do with our money. We were laughed at. The peasants
grazed their cattle in our pasture and even in our garden, drove our
cows and horses into the village and then came and asked for
compensation. The whole village used to come into our yard and declare
loudly that in mowing we had cut the border of common land which did not
belong to us; and as we did not know our boundaries exactly we used to
take their word for it and pay a fine. But afterward it appeared that we
had been in the right. They used to bark the young lime-trees in our
woods. A Dubechnia peasant, a money-lender, who sold vodka without a
licence, bribed our labourers to help him cheat us in the most
treacherous way; he substituted old wheels for the new on our wagons,
stole our ploughing yokes and sold them back to us, and so on. But worst
of all was the building at Kurilovka. There the women at night stole
planks, bricks, tiles, iron; the bailiff and his assistants made a
search; the women were each fined two roubles by the village council,
and then the whole lot of them got drunk on the money.
When Masha found out, she would say to the doctor and my sister:
"What beasts! It is horrible! Horrible!"
And more than once I heard her say she was sorry she had decided to
build the school.
"You must understand," the doctor tried to point out, "that if you build
a school or undertake any good work, it is not for the peasants, but for
the sake of culture and the future. The worse the peasants are the more
reason there is for building a school. Do understand!"
There was a loss of confidence in his voice, and it seemed to me that he
hated the peasants as much as Masha.
Masha used often to go to the mill with my sister and they would say
jokingly that they were going to have a look at Stiepan because he was
so handsome. Stiepan it appeared was reserved and silent only with men,
and in the company of women was free and talkative. Once when I went
down to the river to bathe I involuntarily overheard a conversation.
Masha and Cleopatra, both in white, were sitting on the bank under the
broad shade of a willow and Stiepan was standing near with his hands
behind his back, saying:
"But are peasants human beings? Not they; they are, excuse me, brutes,
beasts, and thieves. What does a peasant's life consist of? Eating and
drinking, crying for cheaper food, bawling in taverns, without decent
conversation, or behaviour or manners. Just an ignorant beast! He lives
in filth, his wife and children live in filth; he sleeps in his clothes;
takes the potatoes out of the soup with his fingers, drinks down a black
beetle with his kvass—because he won't trouble to fish it out!"
"It is because of their poverty!" protested my sister.
"What poverty? Of course there is want, but there are different kinds of
necessity. If a man is in prison, or is blind, say, or has lost his
legs, then he is in a bad way and God help him; but if he is at liberty
and in command of his senses, if he has eyes and hands and strength,
then, good God, what more does he want? It is lamentable, my lady,
ignorance, but not poverty. If you kind people, with your education, out
of charity try to help him, then he will spend your money in drink, like
the swine he is, or worse still, he will open a tavern and begin to rob
the people on the strength of your money. You say—poverty. But does a
rich peasant live any better? He lives like a pig, too, excuse me, a
clodhopper, a blusterer, a big-bellied blockhead, with a swollen red
mug—makes me want to hit him in the eye, the blackguard. Look at Larion
of Dubechnia—he is rich, but all the same he barks the trees in your
woods just like the poor; and he is a foul-mouthed brute, and his
children are foul-mouthed, and when he is drunk he falls flat in the mud
and goes to sleep. They are all worthless, my lady. It is just hell to
live with them in the village. The village sticks in my gizzard, and I
thank God, the King of heaven, that I am well fed and clothed, and that
I am a free man; I can live where I like, I don't want to live in the
village and nobody can force me to do it. They say: 'You have a wife.'
They say: 'You are obliged to live at home with your wife.' Why? I have
not sold myself to her."
"Tell me, Stiepan. Did you marry for love?" asked Masha.
"What love is there in a village?" Stiepan answered with a smile. "If
you want to know, my lady, it is my second marriage. I do not come from
Kurilovka, but from Zalegosch, and I went to Kurilovka when I married.
My father did not want to divide the land up between us—there are five
of us. So I bowed to it and cut adrift and went to another village to my
wife's family. My first wife died when she was young."
"What did she die of?"
"Foolishness. She used to sit and cry. She was always crying for no
reason at all and so she wasted away. She used to drink herbs to make
herself prettier and it must have ruined her inside. And my second wife
at Kurilovka—what about her? A village woman, a peasant; that's all.
When the match was being made I was nicely had; I thought she was young,
nice to look at and clean. Her mother was clean enough, drank coffee
and, chiefly because they were a clean lot, I got married. Next day we
sat down to dinner and I told my mother-in-law to fetch me a spoon. She
brought me a spoon and I saw her wipe it with her finger. So that,
thought I, is their cleanliness! I lived with them for a year and went
away. Perhaps I ought to have married a town girl"—he went on after a
silence. "They say a wife is a helpmate to her husband. What do I want
with a helpmate? I can look after myself. But you talk to me sensibly
and soberly, without giggling all the while. He—he—he! What is life
without a good talk?"
Stiepan suddenly stopped and relapsed into his dreary, monotonous
"U-lu-lu-lu." That meant that he had noticed me.
Masha used often to visit the mill, she evidently took pleasure in her
talks with Stiepan; he abused the peasants so sincerely and
convincingly—and this attracted her to him. When she returned from the
mill the idiot who looked after the garden used to shout after her:
"Paloshka! Hullo, Paloshka!" And he would bark at her like a dog: "Bow,
And she would stop and stare at him as if she found in the idiot's
barking an answer to her thought, and perhaps he attracted her as much
as Stiepan's abuse. And at home she would find some unpleasant news
awaiting her, as that the village geese had ruined the cabbages in the
kitchen-garden, or that Larion had stolen the reins, and she would shrug
her shoulders with a smile and say:
"What can you expect of such people?"
She was exasperated and a fury was gathering in her soul, and I, on the
other hand, was getting used to the peasants and more and more attracted
to them. For the most part, they were nervous, irritable, absurd people;
they were people with suppressed imaginations, ignorant, with a bare,
dull outlook, always dazed by the same thought of the grey earth, grey
days, black bread; they were people driven to cunning, but, like birds,
they only hid their heads behind the trees—they could not reason. They
did not come to us for the twenty roubles earned by haymaking, but for
the half-pail of vodka, though they could buy four pails of vodka for
the twenty roubles. Indeed they were dirty, drunken, and dishonest, but
for all that one felt that the peasant life as a whole was sound at the
core. However clumsy and brutal the peasant might look as he followed
his antiquated plough, and however he might fuddle himself with vodka,
still, looking at him more closely, one felt that there was something
vital and important in him, something that was lacking in Masha and the
doctor, for instance, namely, that he believes that the chief thing on
earth is truth, that his and everybody's salvation lies in truth, and
therefore above all else on earth he loves justice. I used to say to my
wife that she was seeing the stain on the window, but not the glass
itself; and she would be silent or, like Stiepan, she would hum,
"U-lu-lu-lu...." When she, good, clever actress that she was, went pale
with fury and then harangued the doctor in a trembling voice about
drunkenness and dishonesty; her blindness confounded and appalled me.
How could she forget that her father, the engineer, drank, drank
heavily, and that the money with which he bought Dubechnia was acquired
by means of a whole series of impudent, dishonest swindles? How could
And my sister, too, was living with her own private thoughts which she
hid from me. She used often to sit whispering with Masha. When I went up
to her, she would shrink away, and her eyes would look guilty and full
of entreaty. Evidently there was something going on in her soul of which
she was afraid or ashamed. To avoid meeting me in the garden or being
left alone with me she clung to Masha and I hardly ever had a chance to
talk to her except at dinner.
One evening, on my way home from the school, I came quietly through the
garden. It had already begun to grow dark. Without noticing me or
hearing footsteps, my sister walked round an old wide-spreading
apple-tree, perfectly noiselessly like a ghost. She was in black, and
walked very quickly, up and down, up and down, with her eyes on the
ground. An apple fell from the tree, she started at the noise, stopped
and pressed her hands to her temples. At that moment I went up to her.
In an impulse of tenderness, which suddenly came rushing to my heart,
with tears in my eyes, somehow remembering our mother and our childhood,
I took hold of her shoulders and kissed her.
"What is the matter?" I asked. "You are suffering. I have seen it for a
long time now. Tell me, what is the matter?"
"I am afraid...." she murmured, with a shiver.
"What's the matter with you?" I inquired. "For God's sake, be frank!"
"I will, I will be frank. I will tell you the whole truth. It is so
hard, so painful to conceal anything from you!... Misail, I am in love."
She went on in a whisper. "Love, love.... I am happy, but I am afraid."
I heard footsteps and Doctor Blagovo appeared among the trees. He was
wearing a silk shirt and high boots. Clearly they had arranged a
rendezvous by the apple-tree. When she saw him she flung herself
impulsively into his arms with a cry of anguish, as though he was being
taken away from her:
She clung to him, and gazed eagerly at him and only then I noticed how
thin and pale she had become. It was especially noticeable through her
lace collar, which I had known for years, for it now hung loosely about
her slim neck. The doctor was taken aback, but controlled himself at
once, and said, as he stroked her hair:
"That's enough. Enough!... Why are you so nervous? You see, I have
We were silent for a time, bashfully glancing at each other. Then we all
moved away and I heard the doctor saying to me:
"Civilised life has not yet begun with us. The old console themselves
with saying that, if there is nothing now, there was something in the
forties and the sixties; that is all right for the old ones, but we are
young and our brains are not yet touched with senile decay. We cannot
console ourselves with such illusions. The beginning of Russia was in
862, and civilised Russia, as I understand it, has not yet begun."
But I could not bother about what he was saying. It was very strange,
but I could not believe that my sister was in love, that she had just
been walking with her hand on the arm of a stranger and gazing at him
tenderly. My sister, poor, frightened, timid, downtrodden creature as
she was, loved a man who was already married and had children! I was
full of pity without knowing why; the doctor's presence was distasteful
to me and I could not make out what was to come of such a love.
Masha and I drove over to Kurilovka for the opening of the school.
"Autumn, autumn, autumn...." said Masha, looking about her. Summer had
passed. There were no birds and only the willows were green.
Yes. Summer had passed. The days were bright and warm, but it was fresh
in the mornings; the shepherds went out in their sheepskins, and the dew
never dried all day on the asters in the garden. There were continual
mournful sounds and it was impossible to tell whether it was a shutter
creaking on its rusty hinges or the cranes flying—and one felt so well
and so full of the desire for life!
"Summer has passed...." said Masha. "Now we can both make up our
accounts. We have worked hard and thought a great deal and we are the
better for it—all honour and praise to us; we have improved ourselves;
but have our successes had any perceptible influence on the life around
us, have they been of any use to a single person? No! Ignorance, dirt,
drunkenness, a terribly high rate of infant mortality—everything is
just as it was, and no one is any the better for your having ploughed
and sown and my having spent money and read books. Evidently we have
only worked and broadened our minds for ourselves."
I was abashed by such arguments and did not know what to think.
"From beginning to end we have been sincere," I said, "and if a man is
sincere, he is right."
"Who denies that? We have been right but we have been wrong in our way
of setting about it. First of all, are not our very ways of living
wrong? You want to be useful to people, but by the mere fact of buying
an estate you make it impossible to be so. Further, if you work, dress,
and eat like a peasant you lend your authority and approval to the
clumsy clothes, and their dreadful houses and their dirty beards.... On
the other hand, suppose you work for a long, long time, all you life,
and in the end obtain some practical results—what will your results
amount to, what can they do against such elemental forces as wholesale
ignorance, hunger, cold, and degeneracy? A drop in the ocean! Other
methods of fighting are necessary, strong, bold, quick! If you want to
be useful then you must leave the narrow circle of common activity and
try to act directly on the masses! First of all, you need vigorous,
noisy, propaganda. Why are art and music, for instance, so much alive
and so popular and so powerful? Because the musician or the singer
influences thousands directly. Art, wonderful art!" She looked wistfully
at the sky and went on: "Art gives wings and carries you far, far away.
If you are bored with dirt and pettifogging interests, if you are
exasperated and outraged and indignant, rest and satisfaction are only
to be found in beauty."
As we approached Kurilovka the weather was fine, clear, and joyous. In
the yards the peasants were thrashing and there was a smell of corn and
straw. Behind the wattled hedges the fruit-trees were reddening and all
around the trees were red or golden. In the church-tower the bells were
ringing, the children were carrying ikons to the school and singing the
Litany of the Virgin. And how clear the air was, and how high the doves
The Te Deum was sung in the schoolroom. Then the Kurilovka peasants
presented Masha with an ikon, and the Dubechnia peasants gave her a
large cracknel and a gilt salt-cellar. And Masha began to weep.
"And if we have said anything out of the way or have been discontented,
please forgive us," said an old peasant, bowing to us both.
As we drove home Masha looked back at the school. The green roof which
I had painted glistened in the sun, and we could see it for a long time.
And I felt that Masha's glances were glances of farewell.
In the evening she got ready to go to town.
She had often been to town lately to stay the night. In her absence I
could not work, and felt listless and disheartened; our big yard seemed
dreary, disgusting, and deserted; there were ominous noises in the
garden, and without her the house, the trees, the horses were no longer
I never went out but sat all the time at her writing-table among her
books on farming and agriculture, those deposed favourites, wanted no
more, which looked out at me so shamefacedly from the bookcase. For
hours together, while it struck seven, eight, nine, and the autumn night
crept up as black as soot to the windows, I sat brooding over an old
glove of hers, or the pen she always used, and her little scissors. I
did nothing and saw clearly that everything I had done before,
ploughing, sowing, and felling trees, had only been because she wanted
it. And if she told me to clean out a well, when I had to stand
waist-deep in water, I would go and do it, without trying to find out
whether the well wanted cleaning or not. And now, when she was away,
Dubechnia with its squalor, its litter, its slamming shutters, with
thieves prowling about it day and night, seemed to me like a chaos in
which work was entirely useless. And why should I work, then? Why
trouble and worry about the future, when I felt that the ground was
slipping away from under me, that my position at Dubechnia was hollow,
that, in a word, the same fate awaited me as had befallen the books on
agriculture? Oh! what anguish it was at night, in the lonely hours, when
I lay listening uneasily, as though I expected some one any minute to
call out that it was time for me to go away. I was not sorry to leave
Dubechnia, my sorrow was for my love, for which it seemed that autumn
had already begun. What a tremendous happiness it is to love and to be
loved, and what a horror it is to feel that you are beginning to topple
down from that lofty tower!
Masha returned from town toward evening on the following day. She was
dissatisfied with something, but concealed it and said only: "Why have
the winter windows been put in? It will be stifling." I opened two of
the windows. We did not feel like eating, but we sat down and had
"Go and wash your hands," she said. "You smell of putty."
She had brought some new illustrated magazines from town and we both
read them after supper. They had supplements with fashion-plates and
patterns. Masha just glanced at them and put them aside to look at them
carefully later on; but one dress, with a wide, bell-shaped skirt and
big sleeves interested her, and for a moment she looked at it seriously
"That's not bad," she said.
"Yes, it would suit you very well," said I. "Very well."
And I admired the dress, only because she liked it, and went on
"A wonderful, lovely dress! Lovely, wonderful, Masha. My dear Masha!"
And tears began to drop on the fashion-plate.
"Wonderful Masha...." I murmured. "Dear, darling Masha...."
She went and lay down and I sat still for an hour and looked at the
"You should not have opened the windows," she called from the bedroom.
"I'm afraid it will be cold. Look how the wind is blowing in!"
I read the miscellany, about the preparation of cheap fish, and the size
of the largest diamond in the world. Then I chanced on the picture of
the dress she had liked and I imagined her at a ball, with a fan, and
bare shoulders, a brilliant, dazzling figure, well up in music and
painting and literature, and how insignificant and brief my share in her
life seemed to be!
Our coming together, our marriage, was only an episode, one of many in
the life of this lively, highly gifted creature. All the best things in
the world, as I have said, were at her service, and she had them for
nothing; even ideas and fashionable intellectual movements served her
pleasure, a diversion in her existence, and I was only the coachman who
drove her from one infatuation to another. Now I was no longer necessary
to her; she would fly away and I should be left alone.
As if in answer to my thoughts a desperate scream suddenly came from the
It was a shrill female voice, and exactly as though it were trying to
imitate it, the wind also howled dismally in the chimney. Half a minute
passed and again it came through the sound of the wind, but as though
from the other end of the yard:
"Misail, did you hear that?" said my wife in a hushed voice. "Did you
She came out of the bedroom in her nightgown, with her hair down, and
stood listening and staring out of the dark window.
"Somebody is being murdered!" she muttered. "It only wanted that!"
I took my gun and went out; it was very dark outside; a violent wind was
blowing so that it was hard to stand up. I walked to the gate and
listened; the trees were moaning; the wind went whistling through them,
and in the garden the idiot's dog was howling. Beyond the gate it was
pitch dark; there was not a light on the railway. And just by the wing,
where the offices used to be, I suddenly heard a choking cry:
"Who is there?" I called.
Two men were locked in a struggle. One had nearly thrown the other, who
was resisting with all his might. And both were breathing heavily.
"Let go!" said one of them and I recognised Ivan Cheprakov. It was he
who had cried out in a thin, falsetto voice. "Let go, damn you, or I'll
bite your hands!"
The other man I recognised as Moissey. I parted them and could not
resist hitting Moissey in the face twice. He fell down, then got up, and
I struck him again.
"He tried to kill me," he muttered. "I caught him creeping to his
mother's drawer.... I tried to shut him up in the wing for safety."
Cheprakov was drunk and did not recognise me. He stood gasping for
breath as though trying to get enough wind to shriek again.
I left them and went back to the house. My wife was lying on the bed,
fully dressed. I told her what had happened in the yard and did not keep
back the fact that I had struck Moissey.
"Living in the country is horrible," she said. "And what a long night it
"Mur-der!" we heard again, a little later.
"I'll go and part them," I said.
"No. Let them kill each other," she said with an expression of disgust.
She lay staring at the ceiling, listening, and I sat near her, not
daring to speak and feeling that it was my fault that screams of
"murder" came from the yard and the night was so long.
We were silent and I waited impatiently for the light to peep in at the
window. And Masha looked as though she had wakened from a long sleep and
was astonished to find herself, so clever, so educated, so refined, cast
away in this miserable provincial hole, among a lot of petty, shallow
people, and to think that she could have so far forgotten herself as to
have been carried away by one of them and to have been his wife for more
than half a year. It seemed to me that we were all the same to
her—myself, Moissey, Cheprakov; all swept together into the drunken,
wild scream of "murder"—myself, our marriage, our work, and the muddy
roads of autumn; and when she breathed or stirred to make herself more
comfortable I could read in her eyes: "Oh, if the morning would come
In the morning she went away.
I stayed at Dubechnia for another three days, waiting for her; then I
moved all our things into one room, locked it, and went to town. When I
rang the bell at the engineer's, it was evening, and the lamps were
alight in Great Gentry Street. Pavel told me that nobody was at home;
Victor Ivanich had gone to Petersburg and Maria Victorovna must be at a
rehearsal at the Azhoguins'. I remember the excitement with which I
went to the Azhoguins', and how my heart thumped and sank within me, as
I went up-stairs and stood for a long while on the landing, not daring
to enter that temple of the Muses! In the hall, on the table, on the
piano, on the stage, there were candles burning; all in threes, for the
first performance was fixed for the thirteenth, and the dress rehearsal
was on Monday—the unlucky day. A fight against prejudice! All the
lovers of dramatic art were assembled; the eldest, the middle, and the
youngest Miss Azhoguin were walking about the stage, reading their
parts. Radish was standing still in a corner all by himself, with his
head against the wall, looking at the stage with adoring eyes, waiting
for the beginning of the rehearsal. Everything was just the same!
I went toward my hostess to greet her, when suddenly everybody began to
say "Ssh" and to wave their hands to tell me not to make such a noise.
There was a silence. The top of the piano was raised, a lady sat down,
screwing up her short-sighted eyes at the music, and Masha stood by the
piano, dressed up, beautiful, but beautiful in an odd new way, not at
all like the Masha who used to come to see me at the mill in the spring.
She began to sing:
"Why do I love thee, straight night?"
It was the first time since I had known her that I had heard her sing.
She had a fine, rich, powerful voice, and to hear her sing was like
eating a ripe, sweet-scented melon. She finished the song and was
applauded. She smiled and looked pleased, made play with her eyes,
stared at the music, plucked at her dress exactly like a bird which has
broken out of its cage and preens its wings at liberty. Her hair was
combed back over her ears, and she had a sly defiant expression on her
face, as though she wished to challenge us all, or to shout at us, as
though we were horses: "Gee up, old things!"
And at that moment she must have looked very like her grandfather, the
"You here, too?" she asked, giving me her hand. "Did you hear me sing?
How did you like it?" And, without waiting for me to answer she went on:
"You arrived very opportunely. I'm going to Petersburg for a short time
to-night. May I?"
At midnight I took her to the station. She embraced me tenderly,
probably out of gratitude, because I did not pester her with useless
questions, and she promised to write to me, and I held her hands for a
long time and kissed them, finding it hard to keep back my tears, and
not saying a word.
And when the train moved, I stood looking at the receding lights, kissed
her in my imagination and whispered:
"Masha dear, wonderful Masha!..."
I spent the night at Mikhokhov, at Karpovna's, and in the morning I
worked with Radish, upholstering the furniture at a rich merchant's,
who had married his daughter to a doctor.
On Sunday afternoon my sister came to see me and had tea with me.
"I read a great deal now," she said, showing me the books she had got
out of the town library on her way. "Thanks to your wife and Vladimir.
They awakened my self-consciousness. They saved me and have made me feel
that I am a human being. I used not to sleep at night for worrying:
'What a lot of sugar has been wasted during the week.' 'The cucumbers
must not be oversalted!' I don't sleep now, but I have quite different
thoughts. I am tormented with the thought that half my life has passed
so foolishly and half-heartedly. I despise my old life. I am ashamed of
it. And I regard my father now as an enemy. Oh, how grateful I am to
your wife! And Vladimir. He is such a wonderful man! They opened my
"It is not good that you can't sleep," I said.
"You think I am ill? Not a bit. Vladimir sounded me and says I am
perfectly healthy. But health is not the point. That doesn't matter so
much.... Tell me, am I right?"
She needed moral support. That was obvious. Masha had gone, Doctor
Blagovo was in Petersburg, and there was no one except myself in the
town, who could tell her that she was right. She fixed her eyes on me,
trying to read my inmost thoughts, and if I were sad in her presence,
she always took it upon herself and was depressed. I had to be
continually on my guard, and when she asked me if she was right, I
hastened to assure her that she was right and that I had a profound
respect for her.
"You know, they have given me a part at the Azhoguins'," she went on. "I
wanted to act. I want to live. I want to drink deep of life; I have no
talent whatever, and my part is only ten lines, but it is immeasurably
finer and nobler than pouring out tea five times a day and watching to
see that the cook does not eat the sugar left over. And most of all I
want to let father see that I too can protest."
After tea she lay down on my bed and stayed there for some time, with
her eyes closed, and her face very pale.
"Just weakness!" she said, as she got up. "Vladimir said all town girls
and women are anæmic from lack of work. What a clever man Vladimir is!
He is right; wonderfully right! We do need work!"
Two days later she came to rehearsal at the Azhoguins' with her part in
her hand. She was in black, with a garnet necklace, and a brooch that
looked at a distance like a pasty, and she had enormous earrings, in
each of which sparkled a diamond. I felt uneasy when I saw her; I was
shocked by her lack of taste. The others noticed too that she was
unsuitably dressed and that her earrings and diamonds were out of
place. I saw their smiles and heard some one say jokingly:
"Cleopatra of Egypt!"
She was trying to be fashionable, and easy, and assured, and she seemed
affected and odd. She lost her simplicity and her charm.
"I just told father that I was going to a rehearsal," she began, coming
up to me, "and he shouted that he would take his blessing from me, and
he nearly struck me. Fancy," she added, glancing at her part, "I don't
know my part. I'm sure to make a mistake. Well, the die is cast," she
said excitedly; "the die is cast."
She felt that all the people were looking at her and were all amazed at
the important step she had taken and that they were all expecting
something remarkable from her, and it was impossible to convince her
that nobody took any notice of such small uninteresting persons as she
She had nothing to do until the third act, and her part, a guest, a
country gossip, consisted only in standing by the door, as if she were
overhearing something, and then speaking a short monologue. For at least
an hour and a half before her cue, while the others were walking,
reading, having tea, quarrelling, she never left me and kept on mumbling
her part, and dropping her written copy, imagining that everybody was
looking at her, and waiting for her to come on, and she patted her hair
with a trembling hand and said:
"I'm sure to make a mistake.... You don't know how awful I feel! I am as
terrified as if I were going to the scaffold."
At last her cue came.
"Cleopatra Alexeyevna—your cue!" said the manager.
She walked on to the middle of the stage with an expression of terror on
her face; she looked ugly and stiff, and for half a minute was
speechless, perfectly motionless, except for her large earrings which
wabbled on either side of her face.
"You can read your part, the first time," said some one.
I could see that she was trembling so that she could neither speak nor
open her part, and that she had entirely forgotten the words and I had
just made up my mind to go up and say something to her when she suddenly
dropped down on her knees in the middle of the stage and sobbed loudly.
There was a general stir and uproar. And I stood quite still by the
wings, shocked by what had happened, not understanding at all, not
knowing what to do. I saw them lift her up and lead her away. I saw
Aniuta Blagovo come up to me. I had not seen her in the hall before and
she seemed to have sprung up from the floor. She was wearing a hat and
veil, and as usual looked as if she had only dropped in for a minute.
"I told her not to try to act," she said angrily, biting out each word,
with her cheeks blushing. "It is folly! You ought to have stopped her!"
Mrs. Azhoguin came up in a short jacket with short sleeves. She had
tobacco ash on her thin, flat bosom.
"My dear, it is too awful!" she said, wringing her hands, and as usual,
staring into my face. "It is too awful!... Your sister is in a
condition.... She is going to have a baby! You must take her away at
In her agitation she breathed heavily. And behind her, stood her three
daughters, all thin and flat-chested like herself, and all huddled
together in their dismay. They were frightened, overwhelmed just as if a
convict had been caught in the house. What a shame! How awful! And this
was the family that had been fighting the prejudices and superstitions
of mankind all their lives; evidently they thought that all the
prejudices and superstitions of mankind were to be found in burning
three candles and in the number thirteen, or the unlucky day—Monday.
"I must request ... request ..." Mrs. Azhoguin kept on saying,
compressing her lips and accentuating the quest. "I must request you
to take her away."
A little later my sister and I were walking along the street. I covered
her with the skirt of my overcoat; we hurried along through by-streets,
where there were no lamps, avoiding the passers-by, and it was like a
flight. She did not weep any more, but stared at me with dry eyes. It
was about twenty minutes' walk to Mikhokhov, whither I was taking her,
and in that short time we went over the whole of our lives, and talked
over everything, and considered the position and pondered....
We decided that we could not stay in the town, and that when I could get
some money, we would go to some other place. In some of the houses the
people were asleep already, and in others they were playing cards; we
hated those houses, were afraid of them, and we talked of the
fanaticism, callousness, and nullity of these respectable families,
these lovers of dramatic art whom we had frightened so much, and I
wondered how those stupid, cruel, slothful, dishonest people were better
than the drunken and superstitious peasants of Kurilovka, or how they
were better than animals, which also lose their heads when some accident
breaks the monotony of their lives, which are limited by their
instincts. What would happen to my sister if she stayed at home? What
moral torture would she have to undergo, talking to my father and
meeting acquaintances every day? I imagined it all and there came into
my memory people I had known who had been gradually dropped by their
friends and relations, and I remember the tortured dogs which had gone
mad, and sparrows plucked alive and thrown into the water—and a whole
long series of dull, protracted sufferings which I had seen going on in
the town since my childhood; and I could not conceive what the sixty
thousand inhabitants lived for, why they read the Bible, why they
prayed, why they skimmed books and magazines. What good was all that had
been written and said, if they were in the same spiritual darkness and
had the same hatred of freedom, as if they were living hundreds and
hundreds of years ago? The builder spends his time putting up houses all
over the town, and yet would go down to his grave saying "galdary" for
"gallery." And the sixty thousand inhabitants had read and heard of
truth and mercy and freedom for generations, but to the bitter end they
would go on lying from morning to night, tormenting one another, fearing
and hating freedom as a deadly enemy.
"And so, my fate is decided," said my sister when we reached home.
"After what has happened I can never go there again. My God, how good
it is! I feel at peace."
She lay down at once. Tears shone on her eyelashes, but her expression
was happy. She slept soundly and softly, and it was clear that her heart
was easy and that she was at rest. For a long, long time she had not
slept so well.
So we began to live together. She was always singing and said she felt
very well, and I took back the books we had borrowed from the library
unread, because she gave up reading; she only wanted to dream and to
talk of the future. She would hum as she mended my clothes or helped
Karpovna with the cooking, or talk of her Vladimir, of his mind, and his
goodness, and his fine manners, and his extraordinary learning. And I
agreed with her, though I no longer liked the doctor. She wanted to
work, to be independent, and to live by herself, and she said she would
become a school-teacher or a nurse as soon as her health allowed, and
she would scrub the floors and do her own washing. She loved her unborn
baby passionately, and she knew already the colour of his eyes and the
shape of his hands and how he laughed. She liked to talk of his
upbringing, and since the best man on earth was Vladimir, all her ideas
were reduced to making the boy as charming as his father. There was no
end to her chatter, and everything she talked about filled her with a
lively joy. Sometimes I, too, rejoiced, though I knew not why.
She must have infected me with her dreaminess, for I, too, read nothing
and just dreamed. In the evenings, in spite of being tired, I used to
pace up and down the room with my hands in my pockets, talking about
"When do you think she will return?" I used to ask my sister. "I think
she'll be back at Christmas. Not later. What is she doing there?"
"If she doesn't write to you, it means she must be coming soon."
"True," I would agree, though I knew very well that there was nothing
to make Masha return to our town.
I missed her very much, but I could not help deceiving myself and wanted
others to deceive me. My sister was longing for her doctor, I for Masha,
and we both laughed and talked and never saw that we were keeping
Karpovna from sleeping. She would lie on the stove and murmur:
"The samovar tinkled this morning. Tink-led! That bodes nobody any good,
my merry friends!"
Nobody came to the house except the postman who brought my sister
letters from the doctor, and Prokofyi, who used to come in sometimes in
the evening and glance secretly at my sister, and then go into the
kitchen and say:
"Every class has its ways, and if you're too proud to understand that,
the worse for you in this vale of tears."
He loved the expression—vale of tears. And—about Christmas time—when
I was going through the market, he called me into his shop, and without
giving me his hand, declared that he had some important business to
discuss. He was red in the face with the frost and with vodka; near him
by the counter stood Nicolka of the murderous face, holding a bloody
knife in his hand.
"I want to be blunt with you," began Prokofyi. "This business must not
happen because, as you know, people will neither forgive you nor us for
such a vale of tears. Mother, of course, is too dutiful to say anything
unpleasant to you herself, and tell you that your sister must go
somewhere else because of her condition, but I don't want it either,
because I do not approve of her behaviour."
I understood and left the shop. That very day my sister and I went to
Radish's. We had no money for a cab, so we went on foot; I carried a
bundle with all our belongings on my back, my sister had nothing in her
hands, and she was breathless and kept coughing and asking if we would
soon be there.
At last there came a letter from Masha.
"My dear, kind M. A.," she wrote, "my brave, sweet angel, as the old
painter calls you, good-bye. I am going to America with my father for
the exhibition. In a few days I shall be on the ocean—so far from
Dubechnia. It is awful to think of! It is vast and open like the sky and
I long for it and freedom. I rejoice and dance about and you see how
incoherent my letter is. My dear Misail, give me my freedom. Quick, tear
the thread which still holds and binds us. My meeting and knowing you
was a ray from heaven, which brightened my existence. But, you know, my
becoming your wife was a mistake, and the knowledge of the mistake
weighs me down, and I implore you on my knees, my dear, generous friend,
quick—quick—before I go over the sea—wire that you will agree to
correct our mutual mistake, remove then the only burden on my wings, and
my father, who will be responsible for the whole business, has promised
me not to overwhelm you with formalities. So, then, I am free of the
whole world? Yes?
"Be happy. God bless you. Forgive my wickedness.
"I am alive and well. I am squandering money on all sorts of follies,
and every minute I thank God that such a wicked woman as I am has no
children. I am singing and I am a success, but it is not a passing whim.
No. It is my haven, my convent cell where I go for rest. King David had
a ring with an inscription: 'Everything passes.' When one is sad, these
words make one cheerful; and when one is cheerful, they make one sad.
And I have got a ring with the words written in Hebrew, and this
talisman will keep me from losing my heart and head. Or does one need
nothing but consciousness of freedom, because, when one is free, one
wants nothing, nothing, nothing. Snap the thread then. I embrace you and
your sister warmly. Forgive and forget your M."
My sister had one room. Radish, who had been ill and was recovering, was
in the other. Just as I received this letter, my sister went into the
painter's room and sat by his side and began to read to him. She read
Ostrovsky or Gogol to him every day, and he used to listen, staring
straight in front of him, never laughing, shaking his head, and every
now and then muttering to himself:
"Anything may happen! Anything may happen!"
If there was anything ugly in what she read, he would say vehemently,
pointing to the book:
"There it is! Lies! That's what lies do!"
Stories used to attract him by their contents as well as by their moral
and their skilfully complicated plot, and he used to marvel at him,
though he never called him by his name.
"How well he has managed it."
Now my sister read a page quickly and then stopped, because her breath
failed her. Radish held her hand, and moving his dry lips he said in a
hoarse, hardly audible voice:
"The soul of the righteous is white and smooth as chalk; and the soul of
the sinner is as a pumice-stone. The soul of the righteous is clear oil,
and the soul of the sinner is coal-tar. We must work and sorrow and
pity," he went on. "And if a man does not work and sorrow he will not
enter the kingdom of heaven. Woe, woe to the well fed, woe to the
strong, woe to the rich, woe to the usurers! They will not see the
kingdom of heaven. Grubs eat grass, rust eats iron...."
"And lies devour the soul," said my sister, laughing.
I read the letter once more. At that moment the soldier came into the
kitchen who had brought in twice a week, without saying from whom, tea,
French bread, and pigeons, all smelling of scent. I had no work and
used to sit at home for days together, and probably the person who sent
us the bread knew that we were in want.
I heard my sister talking to the soldier and laughing merrily. Then she
lay down and ate some bread and said to me:
"When you wanted to get away from the office and become a house-painter,
Aniuta Blagovo and I knew from the very beginning that you were right,
but we were afraid to say so. Tell me what power is it that keeps us
from saying what we feel? There's Aniuta Blagovo. She loves you, adores
you, and she knows that you are right. She loves me, too, like a sister,
and she knows that I am right, and in her heart she envies me, but some
power prevents her coming to see us. She avoids us. She is afraid."
My sister folded her hands across her bosom and said rapturously:
"If you only knew how she loves you! She confessed it to me and to no
one else, very hesitatingly, in the dark. She used to take me out into
the garden, into the dark, and begin to tell me in a whisper how dear
you were to her. You will see that she will never marry because she
loves you. Are you sorry for her?"
"It was she sent the bread. She is funny. Why should she hide herself? I
used to be silly and stupid, but I left all that and I am not afraid of
any one, and I think and say aloud what I like—and I am happy. When I
lived at home I had no notion of happiness, and now I would not change
places with a queen."
Doctor Blagovo came. He had got his diploma and was now living in the
town, at his father's, taking a rest. After which he said he would go
back to Petersburg. He wanted to devote himself to vaccination against
typhus, and, I believe, cholera; he wanted to go abroad to increase his
knowledge and then to become a University professor. He had already left
the army and wore serge clothes, with well-cut coats, wide trousers, and
expensive ties. My sister was enraptured with his pins and studs and his
red-silk handkerchief, which, out of swagger, he wore in his outside
breast-pocket. Once, when we had nothing to do, she and I fell to
counting up his suits and came to the conclusion that he must have at
least ten. It was clear that he still loved my sister, but never once,
even in joke, did he talk of taking her to Petersburg or abroad with
him, and I could not imagine what would happen to her if she lived, or
what was to become of her child. But she was happy in her dreams and
would not think seriously of the future. She said he could go wherever
he liked and even cast her aside, if only he were happy himself, and
what had been was enough for her.
Usually when he came to see us he would sound her very carefully, and
ask her to drink some milk with some medicine in it. He did so now. He
sounded her and made her drink a glass of milk, and the room began to
smell of creosote.
"That's a good girl," he said, taking the glass from her. "You must not
talk much, and you have been chattering like a magpie lately. Please, be
She began to laugh and he came into Radish's room, where I was sitting,
and tapped me affectionately on the shoulder.
"Well, old man, how are you?" he asked, bending over the patient.
"Sir," said Radish, only just moving his lips. "Sir, I make so bold....
We are all in the hands of God, and we must all die.... Let me tell you
the truth, sir.... You will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
And suddenly I lost consciousness and was caught up into a dream: it was
winter, at night, and I was standing in the yard of the slaughter-house
with Prokofyi by my side, smelling of pepper-brandy; I pulled myself
together and rubbed my eyes and then I seemed to be going to the
governor's for an explanation. Nothing of the kind ever happened to me,
before or after, and I can only explain these strange dreams like
memories, by ascribing them to overstrain of the nerves. I lived again
through the scene in the slaughter-house and the conversation with the
governor, and at the same time I was conscious of its unreality.
When I came to myself I saw that I was not at home, but standing with
the doctor by a lamp in the street.
"It is sad, sad," he was saying with tears running down his cheeks. "She
is happy and always laughing and full of hope. But, poor darling, her
condition is hopeless. Old Radish hates me and keeps trying to make me
understand that I have wronged her. In his way he is right, but I have
my point of view, too, and I do not repent of what has happened. It is
necessary to love. We must all love. That's true, isn't it? Without love
there would be no life, and a man who avoids and fears love is not
We gradually passed to other subjects. He began to speak of science and
his dissertation which had been very well received in Petersburg. He
spoke enthusiastically and thought no more of my sister, or of his
going, or of myself. Life was carrying him away. She has America and a
ring with an inscription, I thought, and he has his medical degree and
his scientific career, and my sister and I are left with the past.
When we parted I stood beneath the lamp and read my letter again. And I
remembered vividly how she came to me at the mill that spring morning
and lay down and covered herself with my fur coat—pretending to be just
a peasant woman. And another time—also in the early morning—when we
pulled the bow-net out of the water, and the willows on the bank
showered great drops of water on us and we laughed....
All was dark in our house in Great Gentry Street. I climbed the fence,
and, as I used to do in old days, I went into the kitchen by the back
door to get a little lamp. There was nobody in the kitchen. On the stove
the samovar was singing merrily, all ready for my father. "Who pours out
my father's tea now?" I thought. I took the lamp and went on to the shed
and made a bed of old newspapers and lay down. The nails in the wall
looked ominous as before and their shadows flickered. It was cold. I
thought I saw my sister coming in with my supper, but I remembered at
once that she was ill at Radish's, and it seemed strange to me that I
should have climbed the fence and be lying in the cold shed. My mind was
blurred and filled with fantastic imaginations.
A bell rang; sounds familiar from childhood; first the wire rustled
along the wall, and then there was a short, melancholy tinkle in the
kitchen. It was my father returning from the club. I got up and went
into the kitchen. Akhsinya, the cook, clapped her hands when she saw me
and began to cry:
"Oh, my dear," she said in a whisper. "Oh, my dear! My God!"
And in her agitation she began to pluck at her apron. On the window-sill
were two large bottles of berries soaking in vodka. I poured out a cup
and gulped it down, for I was very thirsty. Akhsinya had just scrubbed
the table and the chairs, and the kitchen had the good smell which
kitchens always have when the cook is clean and tidy. This smell and the
trilling of the cricket used to entice us into the kitchen when we were
children, and there we used to be told fairy-tales, and we played at
kings and queens....
"And where is Cleopatra?" asked Akhsinya hurriedly, breathlessly. "And
where is your hat, sir? And they say your wife has gone to Petersburg."
She had been with us in my mother's time and used to bathe Cleopatra and
me in a tub, and we were still children to her, and it was her duty to
correct us. In a quarter of an hour or so she laid bare all her
thoughts, which she had been storing up in her quiet kitchen all the
time I had been away. She said the doctor ought to be made to marry
Cleopatra—we would only have to frighten him a bit and make him send in
a nicely written application, and then the archbishop would dissolve his
first marriage, and it would be a good thing to sell Dubechnia without
saying anything to my wife, and to bank the money in my own name; and if
my sister and I went on our knees to our father and asked him nicely,
then perhaps he would forgive us; and we ought to pray to the Holy
Mother to intercede for us....
"Now, sir, go and talk to him," she said, when we heard my father's
cough. "Go, speak to him, and beg his pardon. He won't bite your head
I went in. My father was sitting at his desk working on the plan of a
bungalow with Gothic windows and a stumpy tower like the lookout of a
fire-station—an immensely stiff and inartistic design. As I entered the
study I stood so that I could not help seeing the plan. I did not know
why I had come to my father, but I remember that when I saw his thin
face, red neck, and his shadow on the wall, I wanted to throw my arms
round him and, as Akhsinya had bid me, to beg his pardon humbly; but the
sight of the bungalow with the Gothic windows and the stumpy tower
"Good evening," I said.
He glanced at me and at once cast his eyes down on his plan.
"What do you want?" he asked after a while.
"I came to tell you that my sister is very ill. She is dying," I said
"Well?" My father sighed, took off his spectacles and laid them on the
table. "As you have sown, so you must reap. I want you to remember how
you came to me two years ago, and on this very spot I asked you to give
up your delusions, and I reminded you of your honour, your duty, your
obligations to your ancestors, whose traditions must be kept sacred. Did
you listen to me? You spurned my advice and clung to your wicked
opinions; furthermore, you dragged your sister into your abominable
delusions and brought about her downfall and her shame. Now you are both
suffering for it. As you have sown, so you must reap."
He paced up and down the study as he spoke. Probably he thought that I
had come to him to admit that I was wrong, and probably he was waiting
for me to ask his help for my sister and myself. I was cold, but I
shook as though I were in a fever, and I spoke with difficulty in a
"And I must ask you to remember," I said, "that on this very spot I
implored you to try to understand me, to reflect, and to think what we
were living for and to what end, and your answer was to talk about my
ancestors and my grandfather who wrote verses. Now you are told that
your only daughter is in a hopeless condition and you talk of ancestors
and traditions!... And you can maintain such frivolity when death is
near and you have only five or ten years left to live!"
"Why did you come here?" asked my father sternly, evidently affronted at
my reproaching him with frivolity.
"I don't know. I love you. I am more sorry than I can say that we are so
far apart. That is why I came. I still love you, but my sister has
finally broken with you. She does not forgive you and will never forgive
you. Your very name fills her with hatred of her past life."
"And who is to blame?" cried my father. "You, you scoundrel!"
"Yes. Say that I am to blame," I said. "I admit that I am to blame for
many things, but why is your life, which you have tried to force on us,
so tedious and frigid, and ungracious, why are there no people in any of
the houses you have built during the last thirty years from whom I could
learn how to live and how to avoid such suffering? These houses of
yours are infernal dungeons in which mothers and daughters are
persecuted, children are tortured.... My poor mother! My unhappy sister!
One needs to drug oneself with vodka, cards, scandal; cringe, play the
hypocrite, and go on year after year designing rotten houses, not to see
the horror that lurks in them. Our town has been in existence for
hundreds of years, and during the whole of that time it has not given
the country one useful man—not one! You have strangled in embryo
everything that was alive and joyous! A town of shopkeepers, publicans,
clerks, and hypocrites, an aimless, futile town, and not a soul would be
the worse if it were suddenly razed to the ground."
"I don't want to hear you, you scoundrel," said my father, taking a
ruler from his desk. "You are drunk! You dare come into your father's
presence in such a state! I tell you for the last time, and you can tell
this to your strumpet of a sister, that you will get nothing from me. I
have torn my disobedient children out of my heart, and if they suffer
through their disobedience and obstinacy I have no pity for them. You
may go back where you came from! God has been pleased to punish me
through you. I will humbly bear my punishment and, like Job, I find
consolation in suffering and unceasing toil. You shall not cross my
threshold until you have mended your ways. I am a just man, and
everything I say is practical good sense, and if you had any regard for
yourself, you would remember what I have said, and what I am saying
I threw up my hands and went out; I do not remember what happened that
night or next day.
They say that I went staggering through the street without a hat,
singing aloud, with crowds of little boys shouting after me:
"Little Profit! Little Profit!"
If I wanted to order a ring, I would have it inscribed: "Nothing
passes." I believe that nothing passes without leaving some trace, and
that every little step has some meaning for the present and the future
What I lived through was not in vain. My great misfortunes, my patience,
moved the hearts of the people of the town and they no longer call me
"Little Profit," they no longer laugh at me and throw water over me as I
walk through the market. They got used to my being a working man and see
nothing strange in my carrying paint-pots and glazing windows; on the
contrary, they give me orders, and I am considered a good workman and
the best contractor, after Radish, who, though he recovered and still
paints the cupolas of the church without scaffolding, is not strong
enough to manage the men, and I have taken his place and go about the
town touting for orders, and take on and sack the men, and lend money
at exorbitant interest. And now that I am a contractor I can understand
how it is possible to spend several days hunting through the town for
slaters to carry out a trifling order. People are polite to me, and
address me respectfully and give me tea in the houses where I work, and
send the servant to ask me if I would like dinner. Children and girls
often come and watch me with curious, sad eyes.
Once I was working in the governor's garden, painting the summer-house
marble. The governor came into the summer-house, and having nothing
better to do, began to talk to me, and I reminded him how he had once
sent for me to caution me. For a moment he stared at my face, opened his
mouth like a round O, waved his hands, and said:
"I don't remember."
I am growing old, taciturn, crotchety, strict; I seldom laugh, and
people say I am growing like Radish, and, like him, I bore the men with
my aimless moralising.
Maria Victorovna, my late wife, lives abroad, and her father is making a
railway somewhere in the Eastern provinces and buying land there. Doctor
Blagovo is also abroad. Dubechnia has passed to Mrs. Cheprakov, who
bought it from the engineer after haggling him into a twenty-per-cent
reduction in the price. Moissey walks about in a bowler hat; he often
drives into town in a trap and stops outside the bank. People say he has
already bought an estate on a mortgage, and is always inquiring at the
bank about Dubechnia, which he also intends to buy. Poor Ivan Cheprakov
used to hang about the town, doing nothing and drinking. I tried to give
him a job in our business, and for a time he worked with us painting
roofs and glazing, and he rather took to it, and, like a regular
house-painter, he stole the oil, and asked for tips, and got drunk. But
it soon bored him. He got tired of it and went back to Dubechnia, and
some time later I was told by the peasants that he had been inciting
them to kill Moissey one night and rob Mrs. Cheprakov.
My father has got very old and bent, and just takes a little walk in the
evening near his house.
When we had the cholera, Prokofyi cured the shopkeepers with
pepper-brandy and tar and took money for it, and as I read in the
newspaper, he was flogged for libelling the doctors as he sat in his
shop. His boy Nicolka died of cholera. Karpovna is still alive, and
still loves and fears her Prokofyi. Whenever she sees me she sadly
shakes her head and says with a sigh:
"Poor thing. You are lost!"
On week-days I am busy from early morning till late at night. And on
Sundays and holidays I take my little niece (my sister expected a boy,
but a girl was born) and go with her to the cemetery, where I stand or
sit and look at the grave of my dear one, and tell the child that her
mother is lying there.
Sometimes I find Aniuta Blagovo by the grave. We greet each other and
stand silently, or we talk of Cleopatra, and the child, and the sadness
of this life. Then we leave the cemetery and walk in silence and she
lags behind—on purpose, to avoid staying with me. The little girl,
joyful, happy, with her eyes half-closed against the brilliant sunlight,
laughs and holds out her little hands to her, and we stop and together
we fondle the darling child.
And when we reach the town, Aniuta Blagovo, blushing and agitated, says
good-bye, and walks on alone, serious and circumspect.... And, to look
at her, none of the passers-by could imagine that she had just been
walking by my side and even fondling the child.