An Unhappy Girl by Ivan Turgenev
Yes, yes, began Piotr Gavrilovitch; those were painful
days... and I would rather not recall them.... But I have
made you a promise; I shall have to tell you the whole story.
I was living at that time (the winter of 1835) in Moscow, in
the house of my aunt, the sister of my dead mother. I was
eighteen; I had only just passed from the second into the
third course in the faculty 'of Language' (that was what it
was called in those days) in the Moscow University. My aunt
was a gentle, quiet woman—a widow. She lived in a big,
wooden house in Ostozhonka, one of those warm, cosy houses
such as, I fancy, one can find nowhere else but in Moscow.
She saw hardly any one, sat from morning till night in the
drawing-room with two companions, drank the choicest tea,
played patience, and was continually requesting that the room
should be fumigated. Thereupon her companions ran into the
hall; a few minutes later an old servant in livery would
bring in a copper pan with a bunch of mint on a hot brick,
and stepping hurriedly upon the narrow strips of carpet, he
would sprinkle the mint with vinegar. White fumes always
puffed up about his wrinkled face, and he frowned and turned
away, while the canaries in the dining-room chirped their
hardest, exasperated by the hissing of the smouldering mint.
I was fatherless and motherless, and my aunt spoiled me. She
placed the whole of the ground floor at my complete disposal.
My rooms were furnished very elegantly, not at all like a
student's rooms in fact: there were pink curtains in the
bedroom, and a muslin canopy, adorned with blue rosettes,
towered over my bed. Those rosettes were, I'll own, rather an
annoyance to me; to my thinking, such 'effeminacies' were
calculated to lower me in the eyes of my companions. As it
was, they nicknamed me 'the boarding-school miss.' I could
never succeed in forcing myself to smoke. I studied—why
conceal my shortcomings?—very lazily, especially at the
beginning of the course. I went out a great deal. My aunt had
bestowed on me a wide sledge, fit for a general, with a pair
of sleek horses. At the houses of 'the gentry' my visits were
rare, but at the theatre I was quite at home, and I consumed
masses of tarts at the restaurants. For all that, I permitted
myself no breach of decorum, and behaved very discreetly,
en jeune homme de bonne maison. I would not for
anything in the world have pained my kind aunt; and besides I
was naturally of a rather cool temperament.
From my earliest years I had been fond of chess; I had no
idea of the science of the game, but I didn't play badly. One
day in a café, I was the spectator of a prolonged
contest at chess, between two players, of whom one, a
fair-haired young man of about five-and-twenty, struck me as
playing well. The game ended in his favour; I offered to play
a match with him. He agreed,... and in the course of an hour,
beat me easily, three times running.
'You have a natural gift for the game,' he pronounced in a
courteous tone, noticing probably that my vanity was
suffering; 'but you don't know the openings. You ought to
study a chess-book—Allgacir or Petrov.'
'Do you think so? But where can I get such a book?'
'Come to me; I will give you one.'
He gave me his name, and told me where he was living. Next
day I went to see him, and a week later we were almost
My new acquaintance was called Alexander Davidovitch Fustov.
He lived with his mother, a rather wealthy woman, the widow
of a privy councillor, but he occupied a little lodge apart
and lived quite independently, just as I did at my aunt's. He
had a post in the department of Court affairs. I became
genuinely attached to him. I had never in my life met a young
man more 'sympathetic.' Everything about him was charming and
attractive: his graceful figure, his bearing, his voice, and
especially his small, delicate face with the golden-blue
eyes, the elegant, as it were coquettishly moulded little
nose, the unchanging amiable smile on the crimson lips, the
light curls of soft hair over the rather narrow, snow-white
brow. Fustov's character was remarkable for exceptional
serenity, and a sort of amiable, restrained affability; he
was never pre-occupied, and was always satisfied with
everything; but on the other hand he was never ecstatic over
anything. Every excess, even in a good feeling, jarred upon
him; 'that's savage, savage,' he would say with a faint
shrug, half closing his golden eyes. Marvellous were those
eyes of Fustov's! They invariably expressed sympathy,
good-will, even devotion. It was only at a later period that
I noticed that the expression of his eyes resulted solely
from their setting, that it never changed, even when he was
sipping his soup or smoking a cigar. His preciseness became a
byword between us. His grandmother, indeed, had been a
German. Nature had endowed him with all sorts of talents. He
danced capitally, was a dashing horseman, and a first-rate
swimmer; did carpentering, carving and joinery, bound books
and cut out silhouettes, painted in watercolours nosegays of
flowers or Napoleon in profile in a blue uniform; played the
zither with feeling; knew a number of tricks, with cards and
without; and had a fair knowledge of mechanics, physics, and
chemistry; but everything only up to a certain point. Only
for languages he had no great facility: even French he spoke
rather badly. He spoke in general little, and his share in
our students' discussions was mostly limited to the bright
sympathy of his glance and smile. To the fair sex Fustov was
attractive, undoubtedly, but on this subject, of such
importance among young people, he did not care to enlarge,
and fully deserved the nickname given him by his comrades,
'the discreet Don Juan.' I was not dazzled by Fustov; there
was nothing in him to dazzle, but I prized his affection,
though in reality it was only manifested by his never
refusing to see me when I called. To my mind Fustov was the
happiest man in the world. His life ran so very smoothly. His
mother, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles all adored him,
he was on exceptionally good terms with all of them, and
enjoyed the reputation of a paragon in his family.
One day I went round to him rather early and did not find him
in his study. He called to me from the next room; sounds of
panting and splashing reached me from there. Every morning
Fustov took a cold shower-bath and afterwards for a quarter
of an hour practised gymnastic exercises, in which he had
attained remarkable proficiency. Excessive anxiety about
one's physical health he did not approve of, but he did not
neglect necessary care. ('Don't neglect yourself, don't
over-excite yourself, work in moderation,' was his precept.)
Fustov had not yet made his appearance, when the outer door
of the room where I was waiting flew wide open, and there
walked in a man about fifty, wearing a bluish uniform. He was
a stout, squarely-built man with milky-whitish eyes in a
dark-red face and a perfect cap of thick, grey, curly hair.
This person stopped short, looked at me, opened his mouth
wide, and with a metallic chuckle, he gave himself a smart
slap on his haunch, kicking his leg up in front as he did so.
'Ivan Demianitch?' my friend inquired through the door.
'The same, at your service,' the new comer responded. 'What
are you up to? At your toilette? That's right! that's right!'
(The voice of the man addressed as Ivan Demianitch had the
same harsh, metallic note as his laugh.) 'I've trudged all
this way to give your little brother his lesson; and he's got
a cold, you know, and does nothing but sneeze. He can't do
his work. So I've looked in on you for a bit to warm myself.'
Ivan Demianitch laughed again the same strange guffaw, again
dealt himself a sounding smack on the leg, and pulling a
check handkerchief out of his pocket, blew his nose noisily,
ferociously rolling his eyes, spat into the handkerchief, and
ejaculated with the whole force of his lungs: 'Tfoo-o-o!'
Fustov came into the room, and shaking hands with both of us,
asked us if we were acquainted.
'Not a bit of it!' Ivan Demianitch boomed at once: 'the
veteran of the year twelve has not that honour!'
Fustov mentioned my name first, then, indicating the 'veteran
of the year twelve,' he pronounced: 'Ivan Demianitch Ratsch,
professor of... various subjects.'
'Precisely so, various they are, precisely,' Mr. Ratsch
chimed in. 'Come to think of it, what is there I haven't
taught, and that I'm not teaching now, for that matter!
Mathematics and geography and statistics and Italian
book-keeping, ha-ha ha-ha! and music! You doubt it, my dear
sir?'—he pounced suddenly upon me—'ask Alexander
Daviditch if I'm not first-rate on the bassoon. I should be a
poor sort of Bohemian—Czech, I should say—if I
weren't! Yes, sir, I'm a Czech, and my native place is
ancient Prague! By the way, Alexander Daviditch, why haven't
we seen you for so long! We ought to have a little duet...
'I was at your place the day before yesterday, Ivan
Demianitch,' replied Fustov.
'But I call that a long while, ha-ha!'
When Mr. Ratsch laughed, his white eyes shifted from side to
side in a strange, restless way.
'You're surprised, young man, I see, at my behaviour,' he
addressed me again. 'But that's because you don't understand
my temperament. You must just ask our good friend here,
Alexander Daviditch, to tell you about me. What'll he tell
you? He'll tell you old Ratsch is a simple, good-hearted
chap, a regular Russian, in heart, if not in origin, ha-ha!
At his christening named Johann Dietrich, but always called
Ivan Demianitch! What's in my mind pops out on my tongue; I
wear my heart, as they say, on my sleeve. Ceremony of all
sorts I know naught about and don't want to neither! Can't
bear it! You drop in on me one day of an evening, and you'll
see for yourself. My good woman—my wife, that
is—has no nonsense about her either; she'll cook and
bake you... something wonderful! Alexander Daviditch, isn't
it the truth I'm telling?'
Fustov only smiled, and I remained silent.
'Don't look down on the old fellow, but come round,' pursued
Mr. Ratsch. 'But now...' (he pulled a fat silver watch out of
his pocket and put it up to one of his goggle eyes)'I'd
better be toddling on, I suppose. I've another chick
expecting me.... Devil knows what I'm teaching him,...
mythology, by God! And he lives a long way off, the rascal,
at the Red Gate! No matter; I'll toddle off on foot. Thanks
to your brother's cutting his lesson, I shall be the fifteen
kopecks for sledge hire to the good! Ha-ha! A very good day
to you, gentlemen, till we meet again!... Eh?... We must have
a little duet!' Mr. Ratsch bawled from the passage putting on
his goloshes noisily, and for the last time we heard his
'What a strange man!' I said, turning to Fustov, who had
already set to work at his turning-lathe. 'Can he be a
foreigner? He speaks Russian so fluently.'
'He is a foreigner; only he's been thirty years in Russia. As
long ago as 1802, some prince or other brought him from
abroad... in the capacity of secretary... more likely, valet,
one would suppose. He does speak Russian fluently,
'With such go, such far-fetched turns and phrases,' I put in.
'Well, yes. Only very unnaturally too. They're all like that,
these Russianised Germans.'
'But he's a Czech, isn't he?'
'I don't know; may be. He talks German with his wife.'
'And why does he call himself a veteran of the year twelve?
Was he in the militia, or what?'
'In the militia! indeed! At the time of the fire he remained
in Moscow and lost all his property.... That was all he did.'
'But what did he stay in Moscow for?'
Fustov still went on with his turning.
'The Lord knows. I have heard that he was a spy on our side;
but that must be nonsense. But it's a fact that he received
compensation from the treasury for his losses.'
'He wears some sort of uniform.... I suppose he's in
government service then?'
'Yes. Professor in the cadet's corps. He has the rank of a
'What's his wife like?'
'A German settled here, daughter of a sausagemaker... or
'And do you often go to see him?'
'What, is it pleasant there?'
'Has he any children?'
'Yes. Three by the German, and a son and daughter by his
'And how old is the eldest daughter?'
I fancied Fustov bent lower over his lathe, and the wheel
turned more rapidly, and hummed under the even strokes of his
'Is she good-looking?'
'That's a matter of taste. She has a remarkable face, and
she's altogether... a remarkable person.'
'Aha!' thought I. Fustov continued his work with special
earnestness, and to my next question he only responded by a
'I must make her acquaintance,' I decided.
A few days later, Fustov and I set off to Mr. Ratsch's to
spend the evening. He lived in a wooden house with a big yard
and garden, in Krivoy Place near the Pretchistensky
boulevard. He came out into the passage, and meeting us with
his characteristic jarring guffaw and noise, led us at once
into the drawing-room, where he presented me to a stout lady
in a skimpy canvas gown, Eleonora Karpovna, his wife.
Eleonora Karpovna had most likely in her first youth been
possessed of what the French for some unknown reason call
beauté du diable, that is to say, freshness;
but when I made her acquaintance, she suggested involuntarily
to the mind a good-sized piece of meat, freshly laid by the
butcher on a clean marble table. Designedly I used the word
'clean'; not only our hostess herself seemed a model of
cleanliness, but everything about her, everything in the
house positively shone, and glittered; everything had been
scoured, and polished, and washed: the samovar on the round
table flashed like fire; the curtains before the windows, the
table-napkins were crisp with starch, as were also the little
frocks and shirts of Mr. Ratsch's four children sitting
there, stout, chubby little creatures, exceedingly like their
mother, with coarsely moulded, sturdy faces, curls on their
foreheads, and red, shapeless fingers. All the four of them
had rather flat noses, large, swollen-looking lips, and tiny,
'Here's my squadron!' cried Mr. Ratsch, laying his heavy hand
on the children's heads one after another. 'Kolia, Olga,
Sashka and Mashka! This one's eight, this one's seven, that
one's four, and this one's only two! Ha! ha! ha! As you can
see, my wife and I haven't wasted our time! Eh, Eleonora
'You always say things like that,' observed Eleonora Karpovna
and she turned away.
'And she's bestowed such Russian names on her squallers!' Mr.
Ratsch pursued. 'The next thing, she'll have them all
baptized into the Orthodox Church! Yes, by Jove! She's so
Slavonic in her sympathies, 'pon my soul, she is, though she
is of German blood! Eleonora Karpovna, are you Slavonic?'
Eleonora Karpovna lost her temper.
'I'm a petty councillor's wife, that's what I am! And so I'm
a Russian lady and all you may say....'
'There, the way she loves Russia, it's simply awful!' broke
in Ivan Demianitch. 'A perfect volcano, ho, ho!'
'Well, and what of it?' pursued Eleonora Karpovna. 'To be
sure I love Russia, for where else could I obtain noble rank?
And my children too are nobly born, you know. Kolia, sitze
ruhig mit den Füssen!'
Ratsch waved his hand to her.
'There, there, princess, don't excite yourself! But where's
the nobly born Viktor? To be sure, he's always gadding about!
He'll come across the inspector one of these fine days! He'll
give him a talking-to! Das ist ein Bummler, Fiktor!'
'Dem Fiktov kann ich nicht kommandiren, Ivan Demianitch. Sie
wissen wohl!' grumbled Eleonora Karpovna.
I looked at Fustov, as though wishing finally to arrive at
what induced him to visit such people... but at that instant
there came into the room a tall girl in a black dress, the
elder daughter of Mr. Ratsch, to whom Fustov had referred....
I perceived the explanation of my friend's frequent visits.
There is somewhere, I remember, in Shakespeare, something
about 'a white dove in a flock of black crows'; that was just
the impression made on me by the girl, who entered the room.
Between the world surrounding her and herself there seemed to
be too little in common; she herself seemed secretly
bewildered and wondering how she had come there. All the
members of Mr. Ratsch's family looked self-satisfied,
simple-hearted, healthy creatures; her beautiful, but already
careworn, face bore the traces of depression, pride and
morbidity. The others, unmistakable plebeians, were
unconstrained in their manners, coarse perhaps, but simple;
but a painful uneasiness was manifest in all her indubitably
aristocratic nature. In her very exterior there was no trace
of the type characteristic of the German race; she recalled
rather the children of the south. The excessively thick,
lustreless black hair, the hollow, black, lifeless but
beautiful eyes, the low, prominent brow, the aquiline nose,
the livid pallor of the smooth skin, a certain tragic line
near the delicate lips, and in the slightly sunken cheeks,
something abrupt, and at the same time helpless in the
movements, elegance without gracefulness... in Italy all this
would not have struck me as exceptional, but in Moscow, near
the Pretchistensky boulevard, it simply astonished me! I got
up from my seat on her entrance; she flung me a swift, uneasy
glance, and dropping her black eyelashes, sat down near the
window 'like Tatiana.' (Pushkin's Oniegin was then
fresh in every one's mind.) I glanced at Fustov, but my
friend was standing with his back to me, taking a cup of tea
from the plump hands of Eleonora Karpovna. I noticed further
that the girl as she came in seemed to bring with her a
breath of slight physical chillness.... 'What a statue!' was
'Piotr Gavrilitch,' thundered Mr. Ratsch, turning to me, 'let
me introduce you to my... to my... my number one, ha, ha, ha!
to Susanna Ivanovna!'
I bowed in silence, and thought at once: 'Why, the name too
is not the same sort as the others,' while Susanna rose
slightly, without smiling or loosening her tightly clasped
'And how about the duet?' Ivan Demianitch pursued: 'Alexander
Daviditch? eh? benefactor! Your zither was left with us, and
I've got the bassoon out of its case already. Let us make
sweet music for the honourable company!' (Mr. Ratsch liked to
display his Russian; he was continually bursting out with
expressions, such as those which are strewn broadcast about
the ultra-national poems of Prince Viazemsky.) 'What do you
say? Carried?' cried Ivan Demianitch, seeing Fustov made no
objection. 'Kolka, march into the study, and look sharp with
the music-stand! Olga, this way with the zither! And oblige
us with candles for the stands, better-half!' (Mr. Ratsch
turned round and round in the room like a top.) 'Piotr
Gavrilitch, you like music, hey? If you don't care for it,
you must amuse yourself with conversation, only mind, not
above a whisper! Ha, ha ha! But what ever's become of that
silly chap, Viktor? He ought to be here to listen too! You
spoil him completely, Eleonora Karpovna.'
Eleonora Karpovna fired up angrily.
'Aber was kann ich denn, Ivan Demianitch...'
'All right, all right, don't squabble! Bleibe ruhig, hast
verstanden? Alexander Daviditch! at your service, sir!'
The children had promptly done as their father had told them.
The music-stands were set up, the music began. I have already
mentioned that Fustov played the zither extremely well, but
that instrument has always produced the most distressing
impression upon me. I have always fancied, and I fancy still,
that there is imprisoned in the zither the soul of a decrepit
Jew money-lender, and that it emits nasal whines and
complaints against the merciless musician who forces it to
utter sounds. Mr. Ratsch's performance, too, was not
calculated to give me much pleasure; moreover, his face
became suddenly purple, and assumed a malignant expression,
while his whitish eyes rolled viciously, as though he were
just about to murder some one with his bassoon, and were
swearing and threatening by way of preliminary, puffing out
chokingly husky, coarse notes one after another. I placed
myself near Susanna, and waiting for a momentary pause, I
asked her if she were as fond of music as her papa.
She turned away, as though I had given her a shove, and
pronounced abruptly, 'Who?'
'Your father,' I repeated,'Mr. Ratsch.'
'Mr. Ratsch is not my father.'
'Not your father! I beg your pardon... I must have
misunderstood... But I remember, Alexander Daviditch...'
Susanna looked at me intently and shyly.
'You misunderstood Mr. Fustov. Mr. Ratsch is my stepfather.'
I was silent for a while.
'And you don't care for music?' I began again.
Susanna glanced at me again. Undoubtedly there was something
suggesting a wild creature in her eyes. She obviously had not
expected nor desired the continuation of our conversation.
'I did not say that,' she brought out slowly.
'Troo-too-too-too-too-oo-oo...' the bassoon growled with
startling fury, executing the final flourishes. I turned
round, caught sight of the red neck of Mr. Ratsch, swollen
like a boa-constrictor's, beneath his projecting ears, and
very disgusting I thought him.
'But that... instrument you surely do not care for,' I said
in an undertone.
'No... I don't care for it,' she responded, as though
catching my secret hint.
'Oho!' thought I, and felt, as it were, delighted at
'Susanna Ivanovna,' Eleonora Karpovna announced suddenly in
her German Russian, 'music greatly loves, and herself very
beautifully plays the piano, only she likes not to play the
piano when she is greatly pressed to play.'
Susanna made Eleonora Karpovna no reply—she did not
even look at her—only there was a faint movement of her
eyes, under their dropped lids, in her direction. From this
movement alone—this movement of her pupils—I
could perceive what was the nature of the feeling Susanna
cherished for the second wife of her stepfather.... And again
I was delighted at something.
Meanwhile the duet was over. Fustov got up and with
hesitating footsteps approached the window, near which
Susanna and I were sitting, and asked her if she had received
from Lengold's the music that he had promised to order her
'Selections from Robert le Diable,' he added, turning
to me, 'from that new opera that every one's making such a
'No, I haven't got it yet,' answered Susanna, and turning
round with her face to the window she whispered hurriedly.
'Please, Alexander Daviditch, I entreat you, don't make me
play to-day. I don't feel in the mood a bit.'
'What's that? Robert le Diable of Meyer-beer?' bellowed Ivan
Demianitch, coming up to us: 'I don't mind betting it's a
first-class article! He's a Jew, and all Jews, like all
Czechs, are born musicians. Especially Jews. That's right,
isn't it, Susanna Ivanovna? Hey? Ha, ha, ha, ha!'
In Mr. Ratsch's last words, and this time even in his guffaw,
there could be heard something more than his usual bantering
tone—the desire to wound was evident. So, at least, I
fancied, and so Susanna understood him. She started
instinctively, flushed red, and bit her lower lip. A spot of
light, like the gleam of a tear, flashed on her eyelash, and
rising quickly, she went out of the room.
'Where are you off to, Susanna Ivanovna?' Mr. Ratsch bawled
'Let her be, Ivan Demianitch, 'put in Eleonora Karpovna.
'Wenn sie einmal so et was im Kopfe hat...'
'A nervous temperament,'Ratsch pronounced, rotating on his
heels, and slapping himself on the haunch, 'suffers with the
plexus solaris. Oh! you needn't look at me like that,
Piotr Gavrilitch! I've had a go at anatomy too, ha, ha! I'm
even a bit of a doctor! You ask Eleonora Karpovna... I cure
all her little ailments! Oh, I'm a famous hand at that!'
'You must for ever be joking, Ivan Demianitch,' the latter
responded with displeasure, while Fustov, laughing and
gracefully swaying to and fro, looked at the husband and
'And why not be joking, mein Mütterchen?' retorted Ivan
Demianitch. 'Life's given us for use, and still more for
beauty, as some celebrated poet has observed. Kolka, wipe
your nose, little savage!'
'I was put in a very awkward position this evening through
your doing,' I said the same evening to Fustov, on the way
home with him. 'You told me that that girl—what's her
name?—Susanna, was the daughter of Mr. Ratsch, but
she's his stepdaughter.'
'Really! Did I tell you she was his daughter? But... isn't it
all the same?'
'That Ratsch,' I went on.... 'O Alexander, how I detest him!
Did you notice the peculiar sneer with which he spoke of Jews
before her? Is she... a Jewess?'
Fustov walked ahead, swinging his arms; it was cold, the snow
was crisp, like salt, under our feet.
'Yes, I recollect, I did hear something of the sort,' he
observed at last.... 'Her mother, I fancy, was of Jewish
'Then Mr. Ratsch must have married a widow the first time?'
'H'm!... And that Viktor, who didn't come in this evening, is
his stepson too?'
'No... he's his real son. But, as you know, I don't enter
into other people's affairs, and I don't like asking
questions. I'm not inquisitive.'
I bit my tongue. Fustov still pushed on ahead. As we got near
home, I overtook him and peeped into his face.
'Oh!' I queried, 'is Susanna really so musical?'
'She plays the piano well, 'he said between his teeth. 'Only
she's very shy, I warn you!' he added with a slight grimace.
He seemed to be regretting having made me acquainted with
I said nothing and we parted.
Next morning I set off again to Fustov's. To spend my
mornings at his rooms had become a necessity for me. He
received me cordially, as usual, but of our visit of the
previous evening—not a word! As though he had taken
water into his mouth, as they say. I began turning over the
pages of the last number of the Telescope.
A person, unknown to me, came into the room. It turned out to
be Mr. Ratsch's son, the Viktor whose absence had been
censured by his father the evening before.
He was a young man, about eighteen, but already looked
dissipated and unhealthy, with a mawkishly insolent grin on
his unclean face, and an expression of fatigue in his swollen
eyes. He was like his father, only his features were smaller
and not without a certain prettiness. But in this very
prettiness there was something offensive. He was dressed in a
very slovenly way; there were buttons off his undergraduate's
coat, one of his boots had a hole in it, and he fairly reeked
'How d'ye do,' he said in a sleepy voice, with those peculiar
twitchings of the head and shoulders which I have always
noticed in spoilt and conceited young men. 'I meant to go to
the University, but here I am. Sort of oppression on my
chest. Give us a cigar.' He walked right across the room,
listlessly dragging his feet, and keeping his hands in his
trouser-pockets, and sank heavily upon the sofa.
'Have you caught cold?' asked Fustov, and he introduced us to
each other. We were both students, but were in different
'No!... Likely! Yesterday, I must own...' (here Ratsch junior
smiled, again not without a certain prettiness, though he
showed a set of bad teeth) 'I was drunk, awfully drunk.
Yes'—he lighted a cigar and cleared his
throat—'Obihodov's farewell supper.'
'Where's he going?'
'To the Caucasus, and taking his young lady with him. You
know the black-eyed girl, with the freckles. Silly fool!'
'Your father was asking after you yesterday,' observed
Viktor spat aside. 'Yes, I heard about it. You were at our
den yesterday. Well, music, eh?'
'And she... with a new visitor' (here he pointed with
his head in my direction) 'she gave herself airs, I'll be
bound. Wouldn't play, eh?'
'Of whom are you speaking?' Fustov asked.
'Why, of the most honoured Susanna Ivanovna, of course!'
Viktor lolled still more comfortably, put his arm up round
his head, gazed at his own hand, and cleared his throat
I glanced at Fustov. He merely shrugged his shoulders, as
though giving me to understand that it was no use talking to
such a dolt.
Viktor, staring at the ceiling, fell to talking, deliberately
and through his nose, of the theatre, of two actors he knew,
of a certain Serafrina Serafrinovna, who had 'made a fool' of
him, of the new professor, R., whom he called a brute.
'Because, only fancy, what a monstrous notion! Every lecture
he begins with calling over the students' names, and he's
reckoned a liberal too! I'd have all your liberals locked up
in custody!' and turning at last his full face and whole body
towards Fustov, he brought out in a half-plaintive,
half-ironical voice: 'I wanted to ask you something,
Alexander Daviditch.... Couldn't you talk my governor round
somehow?... You play duets with him, you know.... Here he
gives me five miserable blue notes a month.... What's the use
of that! Not enough for tobacco. And then he goes on about my
not making debts! I should like to put him in my place, and
then we should see! I don't come in for pensions, not like
some people.' (Viktor pronounced these last words with
peculiar emphasis.) 'But he's got a lot of tin, I know! It's
no use his whining about hard times, there's no taking me in.
No fear! He's made a snug little pile!'
Fustov looked dubiously at Victor.
'If you like,' he began, 'I'll speak to your father. Or, if
you like... meanwhile... a trifling sum....'
'Oh, no! Better get round the governor... Though,' added
Viktor, scratching his nose with all his fingers at once,
'you might hand over five-and-twenty roubles, if it's the
same to you.... What's the blessed total I owe you?'
'You've borrowed eighty-five roubles of me.'
'Yes.... Well, that's all right, then... make it a hundred
and ten. I'll pay it all in a lump.'
Fustov went into the next room, brought back a
twenty-five-rouble note and handed it in silence to Viktor.
The latter took it, yawned with his mouth wide open, grumbled
thanks, and, shrugging and stretching, got up from the sofa.
'Foo! though... I'm bored,' he muttered, 'might as well turn
in to the "Italie."'
He moved towards the door.
Fustov looked after him. He seemed to be struggling with
'What pension were you alluding to just now, Viktor
Ivanitch?' he asked at last.
Viktor stopped in the doorway and put on his cap.
'Oh, don't you know? Susanna Ivanovna's pension.... She gets
one. An awfully curious story, I can tell you! I'll tell it
you one of these days. Quite an affair, 'pon my soul, a queer
affair. But, I say, the governor, you won't forget about the
governor, please! His hide is thick, of course—German,
and it's had a Russian tanning too, still you can get through
it. Only, mind my step-mother Elenorka's nowhere about! Dad's
afraid of her, and she wants to keep everything for her
brats! But there, you know your way about! Good-bye!'
'Ugh, what a low beast that boy is!' cried Fustov, as soon as
the door had slammed-to.
His face was burning, as though from the fire, and he turned
away from me. I did not question him, and soon retired.
All that day I spent in speculating about Fustov, about
Susanna, and about her relations. I had a vague feeling of
something like a family drama. As far as I could judge, my
friend was not indifferent to Susanna. But she? Did she care
for him? Why did she seem so unhappy? And altogether, what
sort of creature was she? These questions were continually
recurring to my mind. An obscure but strong conviction told
me that it would be no use to apply to Fustov for the
solution of them. It ended in my setting off the next day
alone to Mr. Ratsch's house.
I felt all at once very uncomfortable and confused directly I
found myself in the dark little passage. 'She won't appear
even, very likely,' flashed into my mind. 'I shall have to
stop with the repulsive veteran and his cook of a wife....
And indeed, even if she does show herself, what of it? She
won't even take part in the conversation.... She was anything
but warm in her manner to me the other day. Why ever did I
come?' While I was making these reflections, the little page
ran to announce my presence, and in the adjoining room, after
two or three wondering 'Who is it? Who, do you say?' I heard
the heavy shuffling of slippers, the folding-door was
slightly opened, and in the crack between its two halves was
thrust the face of Ivan Demianitch, an unkempt and
grim-looking face. It stared at me and its expression did not
immediately change.... Evidently, Mr. Ratsch did not at once
recognise me; but suddenly his cheeks grew rounder, his eyes
narrower, and from his opening mouth, there burst, together
with a guffaw, the exclamation: 'Ah! my dear sir! Is it you?
Pray walk in!'
I followed him all the more unwillingly, because it seemed to
me that this affable, good-humoured Mr. Ratsch was inwardly
wishing me at the devil. There was nothing to be done,
however. He led me into the drawing-room, and in the
drawing-room who should be sitting but Susanna, bending over
an account-book? She glanced at me with her melancholy eyes,
and very slightly bit the finger-nails of her left hand....
It was a habit of hers, I noticed, a habit peculiar to
nervous people. There was no one else in the room.
'You see, sir,' began Mr. Ratsch, dealing himself a smack on
the haunch, 'what you've found Susanna Ivanovna and me busy
upon: we're at our accounts. My spouse has no great head for
arithmetic, and I, I must own, try to spare my eyes. I can't
read without spectacles, what am I to do? Let the young
people exert themselves, ha-ha! That's the proper thing. But
there's no need of haste.... More haste, worse speed in
catching fleas, he-he!'
Susanna closed the book, and was about to leave the room.
'Wait a bit, wait a bit,' began Mr. Ratsch. 'It's no great
matter if you're not in your best dress....' (Susanna was
wearing a very old, almost childish, frock with short
sleeves.) 'Our dear guest is not a stickler for ceremony, and
I should like just to clear up last week.... You don't
mind?'—he addressed me. 'We needn't stand on ceremony
with you, eh?'
'Please don't put yourself out on my account!' I cried.
'To be sure, my good friend. As you're aware, the late Tsar
Alexey Nikolavitch Romanoff used to say, "Time is for
business, but a minute for recreation!" We'll devote one
minute only to that same business... ha-ha! What about that
thirteen roubles and thirty kopecks?' he added in a low
voice, turning his back on me.
'Viktor took it from Eleonora Karpovna; he said that it was
with your leave,' Susanna replied, also in a low voice.
'He said... he said... my leave...' growled Ivan Demianitch.
'I'm on the spot myself, I fancy. Might be asked. And who's
had that seventeen roubles?'
'Oh... the upholsterer. What's that for?' 'His bill.'
'His bill. Show me!' He pulled the book away from Susanna,
and planting a pair of round spectacles with silver rims on
his nose, he began passing his finger along the lines. 'The
upholsterer,.. the upholsterer... You'd chuck all the money
out of doors! Nothing pleases you better!... Wie die Croaten!
A bill indeed! But, after all,' he added aloud, and he turned
round facing me again, and pulled the spectacles off his
nose, 'why do this now? I can go into these wretched details
later. Susanna Ivanovna, be so good as to put away that
account-book, and come back to us and enchant our kind
guest's ears with your musical accomplishments, to wit,
playing on the pianoforte... Eh?'
Susanna turned away her head.
'I should be very happy,' I hastily observed; 'it would be a
great pleasure for me to hear Susanna Ivanovna play. But I
would not for anything in the world be a trouble...'
'Trouble, indeed, what nonsense! Now then, Susanna Ivanovna,
eins, zwei, drei!'
Susanna made no response, and went out.
I had not expected her to come back; but she quickly
reappeared. She had not even changed her dress, and sitting
down in a corner, she looked twice intently at me. Whether it
was that she was conscious in my manner to her of the
involuntary respect, inexplicable to myself, which, more than
curiosity, more even than sympathy, she aroused in me, or
whether she was in a softened frame of mind that day, any
way, she suddenly went to the piano, and laying her hand
irresolutely on the keys, and turning her head a little over
her shoulder towards me, she asked what I would like her to
play. Before I had time to answer she had seated herself,
taken up some music, hurriedly opened it, and begun to play.
I loved music from childhood, but at that time I had but
little comprehension of it, and very slight knowledge of the
works of the great masters, and if Mr. Ratsch had not
grumbled with some dissatisfaction, 'Aha! wieder dieser
Beethoven!' I should not have guessed what Susanna had
chosen. It was, as I found out afterwards, the celebrated
sonata in F minor, opus 57. Susanna's playing impressed me
more than I can say; I had not expected such force, such
fire, such bold execution. At the very first bars of the
intensely passionate allegro, the beginning of the sonata, I
felt that numbness, that chill and sweet terror of ecstasy,
which instantaneously enwrap the soul when beauty bursts with
sudden flight upon it. I did not stir a limb till the very
end. I kept, wanting—and not daring—to sigh. I
was sitting behind Susanna; I could not see her face; I saw
only from time to time her long dark hair tossed up and down
on her shoulders, her figure swaying impulsively, and her
delicate arms and bare elbows swiftly, and rather angularly,
moving. The last notes died away. I sighed at last. Susanna
still sat before the piano.
'Ja, ja,' observed Mr. Ratsch, who had also, however,
listened with attention; 'romantische Musik! That's all the
fashion nowadays. Only, why not play correctly? Eh? Put your
finger on two notes at once—what's that for? Eh? To be
sure, all we care for is to go quickly, quickly! Turns it out
hotter, eh? Hot pancakes!' he bawled like a street seller.
Susanna turned slightly towards Mr. Ratsch. I caught sight of
her face in profile. The delicate eyebrow rose high above the
downcast eyelid, an unsteady flush overspread the cheek, the
little ear was red under the lock pushed behind it.
'I have heard all the best performers with my own ears,'
pursued Mr. Ratsch, suddenly frowning, 'and compared with the
late Field they were all—tfoo! nil! zero!! Das war ein
Kerl! Und ein so reines Spiel! And his own compositions the
finest things! But all those now "tloo-too-too," and
"tra-ta-ta," are written, I suppose, more for beginners. Da
braucht man keine Delicatesse! Bang the keys anyhow... no
matter! It'll turn out some how! Janitscharen Musik! Pugh!'
(Ivan Demianitch wiped his forehead with his handkerchief.)
'But I don't say that for you, Susanna Ivanovna; you played
well, and oughtn't to be hurt by my remarks.'
'Every one has his own taste,' Susanna said in a low voice,
and her lips were trembling; 'but your remarks, Ivan
Demianitch, you know, cannot hurt me.'
'Oh! of course not! Only don't you imagine'—Mr. Ratsch
turned to me—'don't you imagine, my young friend, that
that comes from our excessive good-nature and meekness of
spirit; it's simply that we fancy ourselves so highly exalted
that—oo-oo!—we can't keep our cap on our head, as
the Russian proverb says, and, of course, no criticism can
touch us. The conceit, my dear sir, the conceit!'
I listened in surprise to Mr. Ratsch. Spite, the bitterest
spite, seemed as it were boiling over in every word he
uttered.... And long it must have been rankling! It choked
him. He tried to conclude his tirade with his usual laugh,
and fell into a husky, broken cough instead. Susanna did not
let drop a syllable in reply to him, only she shook her head,
raised her face, and clasping her elbows with her hands,
stared straight at him. In the depths of her fixed, wide-open
eyes the hatred of long years lay smouldering with dim,
unquenchable fire. I felt ill at ease.
'You belong to two different musical generations,' I began,
with an effort at lightness, wishing by this lightness to
suggest that I noticed nothing, 'and so it is not surprising
that you do not agree in your opinions.... But, Ivan
Demianitch, you must allow me to take rather... the side of
the younger generation. I'm an outsider, of course; but I
must confess nothing in music has ever made such an
impression on me as the... as what Susanna Ivanovna has just
Ratsch pounced at once upon me.
'And what makes you suppose,' he roared, still purple from
the fit of coughing, 'that we want to enlist you on our side?
We don't want that at all! Freedom for the free, salvation
for the saved! But as to the two generations, that's right
enough; we old folks find it hard to get on with you young
people, very hard! Our ideas don't agree in anything: neither
in art, nor in life, nor even in morals; do they, Susanna
Susanna smiled a contemptuous smile.
'Especially in regard to morals, as you say, our ideas do not
agree, and cannot agree,' she responded, and something
menacing seemed to flit over her brows, while her lips were
faintly trembling as before.
'Of course! of course!' Ratsch broke in, 'I'm not a
philosopher! I'm not capable of... rising so superior! I'm a
plain man, swayed by prejudices—oh yes!'
Susanna smiled again.
'I think, Ivan Demianitch, you too have sometimes been able
to place yourself above what are called prejudices.'
'Wie so? How so, I mean? I don't know what you mean.'
'You don't know what I mean? Your memory's so bad!'
Mr. Ratsch seemed utterly taken aback.
'I... I...' he repeated, 'I...'
'Yes, you, Mr. Ratsch.'
There followed a brief silence.
'Really, upon my word...' Mr. Ratsch was beginning; 'how dare
you... such insolence...'
Susanna all at once drew herself up to her full height, and
still holding her elbows, squeezing them tight, drumming on
them with her fingers, she stood still facing Ratsch. She
seemed to challenge him to conflict, to stand up to meet him.
Her face was changed; it became suddenly, in one instant,
extraordinarily beautiful, and terrible too; a sort of
bright, cold brilliance—the brilliance of
steel—gleamed in her lustreless eyes; the lips that had
been quivering were compressed in one straight, mercilessly
stern line. Susanna challenged Ratsch, but he gazed blankly,
and suddenly subsiding into silence, all of a heap, so to
say, drew his head in, even stepped back a pace. The veteran
of the year twelve was afraid; there could be no mistake
Susanna slowly turned her eyes from him to me, as though
calling upon me to witness her victory, and the humiliation
of her foe, and, smiling once more, she walked out of the
The veteran remained a little while motionless in his
arm-chair; at last, as though recollecting a forgotten part,
he roused himself, got up, and, slapping me on the shoulder,
laughed his noisy guffaw.
'There, 'pon my soul! fancy now, it's over ten years I've
been living with that young lady, and yet she never can see
when I'm joking, and when I'm in earnest! And you too, my
young friend, are a little puzzled, I do believe....
Ha-ha-ha! That's because you don't know old Ratsch!'
'No.... I do know you now,' I thought, not without a feeling
of some alarm and disgust.
'You don't know the old fellow, you don't know him,' he
repeated, stroking himself on the stomach, as he accompanied
me into the passage. 'I may be a tiresome person, knocked
about by life, ha-ha! But I'm a good-hearted fellow, 'pon my
soul, I am!'
I rushed headlong from the stairs into the street. I longed
with all speed to get away from that good-hearted fellow.
'They hate one another, that's clear,' I thought, as I
returned homewards; 'there's no doubt either that he's a
wretch of a man, and she's a good girl. But what has there
been between them? What is the reason of this continual
exasperation? What was the meaning of those hints? And how
suddenly it broke out! On such a trivial pretext!'
Next day Fustov and I had arranged to go to the theatre, to
see Shtchepkin in 'Woe from Wit.' Griboyedov's comedy had
only just been licensed for performance after being first
disfigured by the censors' mutilations. We warmly applauded
Famusov and Skalozub. I don't remember what actor took the
part of Tchatsky, but I well remember that he was
indescribably bad. He made his first appearance in a
Hungarian jacket, and boots with tassels, and came on later
in a frockcoat of the colour 'flamme du punch,' then in
fashion, and the frockcoat looked about as suitable as it
would have done on our old butler. I recollect too that we
were all in ecstasies over the ball in the third act. Though,
probably, no one ever executed such steps in reality, it was
accepted as correct and I believe it is acted in just the
same way to-day. One of the guests hopped excessively high,
while his wig flew from side to side, and the public roared
with laughter. As we were coming out of the theatre, we
jostled against Viktor in a corridor.
'You were in the theatre!' he cried, flinging his arms about.
'How was it I didn't see you? I'm awfully glad I met you. You
must come and have supper with me. Come on; I'll stand the
Young Ratsch seemed in an excited, almost ecstatic, frame of
mind. His little eyes darted to and fro; he was grinning, and
there were spots of red on his face.
'Why this gleefulness?' asked Fustov.
'Why? Wouldn't you like to know, eh?' Viktor drew us a little
aside, and pulling out of his trouser-pocket a whole bundle
of the red and blue notes then in use waved them in the air.
Fustov was surprised.
'Has your governor been so liberal?'
'He liberal! You just try it on!... This morning, relying on
your intercession, I asked him for cash. What do you suppose
the old skinflint answered? "I'll pay your debts," says he,
"if you like. Up to twenty-five roubles inclusive!" Do you
hear, inclusive! No, sir, this was a gift from God in my
destitution. A lucky chance.'
'Been robbing someone?' Fustov hazarded carelessly.
'Robbing, no indeed! I won it, won it from an officer, a
guardsman. He only arrived from Petersburg yesterday. Such a
chain of circumstances! It's worth telling... only this isn't
the place. Come along to Yar's; not a couple of steps. I'll
stand the show, as I said!'
We ought, perhaps, to have refused; but we followed without
making any objection.
At Yar's we were shown into a private room; supper was
served, champagne was brought. Viktor related to us, omitting
no detail, how he had in a certain 'gay' house met this
officer of the guards, a very nice chap and of good family,
only without a hap'orth of brains; how they had made friends,
how he, the officer that is, had suggested as a joke a game
of 'fools' with Viktor with some old cards, for next to
nothing, and with the condition that the officer's winnings
should go to the benefit of Wilhelmina, but Viktor's to his
own benefit; how afterwards they had got on to betting on the
'And I, and I,' cried Viktor, and he jumped up and clapped
his hands, 'I hadn't more than six roubles in my pocket all
the while. Fancy! And at first I was completely cleaned
out.... A nice position! Only then—in answer to whose
prayers I can't say—fortune smiled. The other fellow
began to get hot and kept showing all his cards.... In no
time he'd lost seven hundred and fifty roubles! He began
begging me to go on playing, but I'm not quite a fool, I
fancy; no, one mustn't abuse such luck; I popped on my hat
and cut away. So now I've no need to eat humble pie with the
governor, and can treat my friends.... Hi waiter! Another
bottle! Gentlemen, let's clink glasses!'
We did clink glasses with Viktor, and continued drinking and
laughing with him, though his story was by no means to our
liking, nor was his society a source of any great
satisfaction to us either. He began being very affable,
playing the buffoon, unbending, in fact, and was more
loathsome than ever. Viktor noticed at last the impression he
was making on us, and began to get sulky; his remarks became
more disconnected and his looks gloomier. He began yawning,
announced that he was sleepy, and after swearing with his
characteristic coarseness at the waiter for a badly cleaned
pipe, he suddenly accosted Fustov, with a challenging
expression on his distorted face.
'I say, Alexander Daviditch,' said he, 'you tell me, if you
please, what do you look down on me for?'
'How so?' My friend was momentarily at a loss for a reply.
'I'll tell you how.... I'm very well aware that you look down
on me, and that person does too' (he pointed at me with his
finger), 'so there! As though you were yourself remarkable
for such high and exalted principles, and weren't just as
much a sinner as the rest of us. Worse even. Still waters...
you know the proverb?'
Fustov turned rather red.
'What do you mean by that?' he asked.
'Why, I mean that I'm not blind yet, and I see very clearly
everything that's going on under my nose.... And I have
nothing against it: first it's not my principle to interfere,
and secondly, my sister Susanna Ivanovna hasn't always been
so exemplary herself.... Only, why look down on me?'
'You don't understand what you're babbling there yourself!
You're drunk,' said Fustov, taking his overcoat from the
wall. 'He's swindled some fool of his money, and now he's
telling all sorts of lies!'
Viktor continued reclining on the sofa, and merely swung his
legs, which were hanging over its arm.
'Swindled! Why did you drink the wine, then? It was paid for
with the money I won, you know. As for lies, I've no need for
lying. It's not my fault that in her past Susanna
'Hold your tongue!' Fustov shouted at him, 'hold your
'You'll find out what. Come along, Piotr.'
'Aha!' pursued Viktor; 'our noble-hearted knight takes refuge
in flight. He doesn't care to hear the truth, that's evident!
It stings—the truth does, it seems!'
'Come along, Piotr,' Fustov repeated, completely losing his
habitual coolness and self-possession.
'Let's leave this wretch of a boy!'
'The boy's not afraid of you, do you hear,' Viktor shouted
after us, 'he despises you, the boy does! Do you hear!'
Fustov walked so quickly along the street that I had
difficulty in keeping up with him. All at once he stopped
short and turned sharply back.
'Where are you going?' I asked.
'Oh, I must find out what the idiot.... He's drunk, no doubt,
God knows what.... Only don't you follow me... we shall see
each other to-morrow. Good-bye!'
And hurriedly pressing my hand, Fustov set off towards Yar's
Next day I missed seeing Fustov; and on the day after that,
on going to his rooms, I learned that he had gone into the
country to his uncle's, near Moscow. I inquired if he had
left no note for me, but no note was forth-coming. Then I
asked the servant whether he knew how long Alexander
Daviditch would be away in the country. 'A fortnight, or a
little more, probably,' replied the man. I took at any rate
Fustov's exact address, and sauntered home, meditating
deeply. This unexpected absence from Moscow, in the winter,
completed my utter perplexity. My good aunt observed to me at
dinner that I seemed continually expecting something, and
gazed at the cabbage pie as though I were beholding it for
the first time in my life. 'Pierre, vous n'êtes pas
amoureux?' she cried at last, having previously got rid of
her companions. But I reassured her: no, I was not in love.
Three days passed. I had a secret prompting to go to the
Ratschs'. I fancied that in their house I should be sure to
find a solution of all that absorbed my mind, that I could
not make out.... But I should have had to meet the
veteran.... That thought pulled me up. One tempestuous
evening—the February wind was howling angrily outside,
the frozen snow tapped at the window from time to time like
coarse sand flung by a mighty hand—I was sitting in my
room, trying to read. My servant came, and, with a mysterious
air, announced that a lady wished to see me. I was
surprised... ladies did not visit me, especially at such a
late hour; however, I told him to show her in. The door
opened and with swift step there walked in a woman, muffled
up in a light summer cloak and a yellow shawl. Abruptly she
cast off the cloak and the shawl, which were covered with
snow, and I saw standing before me Susanna. I was so
astonished that I did not utter a word, while she went up to
the window, and leaning her shoulder against the wall,
remained motionless; only her bosom heaved convulsively and
her eyes moved restlessly, and the breath came with a faint
moan from her white lips. I realised that it was no slight
trouble that had brought her to me; I realised, for all my
youth and shallowness, that at that instant before my eyes
the fate of a whole life was being decided—a bitter and
'Susanna Ivanovna,' I began, 'how...'
She suddenly clutched my hand in her icy fingers, but her
voice failed her. She gave a broken sigh and looked down. Her
heavy coils of black hair fell about her face.... The snow
had not melted from off it.
'Please, calm yourself, sit down,' I began again, 'see here,
on the sofa. What has happened? Sit down, I entreat you.'
'No,' she articulated, scarcely audibly, and she sank on to
the window-seat. 'I am all right here.... Let me be.... You
could not expect... but if you knew... if I could... if...'
She tried to control herself, but the tears flowed from her
eyes with a violence that shook her, and sobs, hurried,
devouring sobs, filled the room. I felt a tightness at my
heart.... I was utterly stupefied. I had seen Susanna only
twice; I had conjectured that she had a hard life, but I had
regarded her as a proud girl, of strong character, and all at
once these violent, despairing tears.... Mercy! Why, one only
weeps like that in the presence of death!
I stood like one condemned to death myself.
'Excuse me,' she said at last, several times, almost angrily,
wiping first one eye, then the other. 'It'll soon be over.
I've come to you....' She was still sobbing, but without
tears. 'I've come.... You know that Alexander Daviditch has
In this single question Susanna revealed everything, and she
glanced at me, as though she would say: 'You understand, of
course, you will have pity, won't you?' Unhappy girl! There
was no other course left her then!
I did not know what answer to make....
'He has gone away, he has gone away... he believed him!'
Susanna was saying meanwhile. 'He did not care even to
question me; he thought I should not tell him all the truth,
he could think that of me! As though I had ever deceived
She bit her lower lip, and bending a little, began to scratch
with her nail the patterns of ice that covered the
window-pane. I went hastily into the next room, and sending
my servant away, came back at once and lighted another
candle. I had no clear idea why I was doing all this.... I
was greatly overcome. Susanna was sitting as before on the
window-seat, and it was at this moment that I noticed how
lightly she was dressed: a grey gown with white buttons and a
broad leather belt, that was all. I went up to her, but she
did not take any notice of me.
'He believed it,... he believed it,' she whispered, swaying
softly from side to side. 'He did not hesitate, he dealt me
this last... last blow!' She turned suddenly to me. 'You know
'Yes, Susanna Ivanovna.. I learnt it from his servants... at
his house. He told me nothing of his intention; I had not
seen him for two days—went to inquire and he had
already left Moscow.'
'You know his address?' she repeated. 'Well, write to him
then that he has killed me. You are a good man, I know. He
did not talk to you of me, I dare say, but he talked to me
about you. Write... ah, write to him to come back quickly, if
he wants to find me alive!... No! He will not find me!...'
Susanna's voice grew quieter at each word, and she was
quieter altogether. But this calm seemed to me more awful
than the previous sobs.
'He believed him,...' she said again, and rested her chin on
her clasped hands.
A sudden squall of wind beat upon the window with a sharp
whistle and a thud of snow. A cold draught passed over the
room.... The candles flickered.... Susanna shivered. Again I
begged her to sit on the sofa.
'No, no, let me be,' she answered, 'I am all right here.
Please.' She huddled up to the frozen pane, as though she had
found herself a refuge in the recesses of the window.
'But you're shivering, you're frozen,' I cried, 'Look, your
shoes are soaked.'
'Let me be... please...' she whispered,. and closed her eyes.
A panic seized me.
'Susanna Ivanovna!' I almost screamed: 'do rouse yourself, I
entreat you! What is the matter with you? Why such despair?
You will see, every thing will be cleared up, some
misunderstanding... some unlooked-for chance.... You will
see, he will soon be back. I will let him know.... I will
write to him to-day.... But I will not repeat your words....
Is it possible!'
'He will not find me,' Susanna murmured, still in the same
subdued voice. 'Do you suppose I would have come here, to
you, to a stranger, if I had not known I should not long be
living? Ah, all my past has been swept away beyond return!
You see, I could not bear to die so, in solitude, in silence,
without saying to some one, "I've lost every thing... and I'm
She drew back into her cold little corner.... Never shall I
forget that head, those fixed eyes with their deep, burnt-out
look, those dark, disordered tresses against the pale
window-pane, even the grey, narrow gown, under every fold of
which throbbed such young, passionate life!
Unconsciously I flung up my hands.
'You... you die, Susanna Ivanovna! You have only to live....
You must live!'
She looked at me.... My words seemed to surprise her.
'Ah, you don't know,' she began, and she softly dropped both
her hands. 'I cannot live, Too much, too much I have had to
suffer, too much! I lived through it.... I hoped... but
now... when even this is shattered... when...'
She raised her eyes to the ceiling and seemed to sink into
thought. The tragic line, which I had once noticed about her
lips, came out now still more clearly; it seemed to spread
across her whole face. It seemed as though some relentless
hand had drawn it immutably, had set a mark for ever on this
She was still silent.
'Susanna Ivanovna,' I said, to break that awful silence with
anything; 'he will come back, I assure you!'
Susanna looked at me again.
'What do you say?' she enunciated with visible effort.
'He will come back, Susanna Ivanovna, Alexander will come
'He will come back?' she repeated. 'But even if he did come
back, I cannot forgive him this humiliation, this lack of
She clutched at her head.
'My God! my God! what am I saying, and why am I here? What is
it all? What... what did I come to ask... and whom? Ah, I am
Her eyes came to a rest.
'You wanted to ask me to write to Alexander,' I made haste to
'Yes, write, write to him... what you like.... And here...'
She hurriedly fumbled in her pocket and brought out a little
manuscript book. 'This I was writing for him... before he ran
away.... But he believed... he believed him!'
I understood that her words referred to Viktor; Susanna would
not mention him, would not utter his detested name.
'But, Susanna Ivanovna, excuse me,' I began, 'what makes you
suppose that Alexander Daviditch had any conversation... with
'What? Why, he himself came to me and told me all about it,
and bragged of it... and laughed just as his father laughs!
Here, here, take it,' she went on, thrusting the manuscript
into my hand, 'read it, send it to him, burn it, throw it
away, do what you like, as you please.... But I can't die
like this with no one knowing.... Now it is time.... I must
She got up from the window-seat.... I stopped her.
'Where are you going, Susanna Ivanovna, mercy on us! Listen,
what a storm is raging! You are so lightly dressed.... And
your home is not near here. Let me at least go for a
carriage, for a sledge....'
'No, no, I want nothing,' she said resolutely, repelling me
and taking up her cloak and shawl. 'Don't keep me, for God's
sake! or... I can't answer for anything! I feel an abyss, a
dark abyss under my feet.... Don't come near me, don't touch
me!' With feverish haste she put on her cloak, arranged her
shawl.... 'Good-bye... good-bye.... Oh, my unhappy people,
for ever strangers, a curse lies upon us! No one has ever
cared for me, was it likely he...' She suddenly ceased. 'No;
one man loved me,' she began again, wringing her hands, 'but
death is all about me, death and no escape! Now it is my
turn.... Don't come after me,' she cried shrilly. 'Don't
come! don't come!'
I was petrified, while she rushed out; and an instant later,
I heard the slam downstairs of the heavy street door, and the
window panes shook again under the violent onslaught of the
I could not quickly recover myself. I was only beginning life
in those days: I had had no experience of passion nor of
suffering, and had rarely witnessed any manifestation of
strong feeling in others.... But the sincerity of this
suffering, of this passion, impressed me. If it had not been
for the manuscript in my hands, I might have thought that I
had dreamed it all—it was all so unlikely, and swooped
by like a passing storm. I was till midnight reading the
manuscript. It consisted of several sheets of letter-paper,
closely covered with a large, irregular writing, almost
without an erasure. Not a single line was quite straight, and
one seemed in every one of them to feel the excited trembling
of the hand that held the pen. Here follows what was in the
manuscript. I have kept it to this day.
I am this year twenty-eight years old. Here are my earliest
recollections; I was living in the Tambov province, in the
country house of a rich landowner, Ivan Matveitch Koltovsky,
in a small room on the second storey. With me lived my
mother, a Jewess, daughter of a dead painter, who had come
from abroad, a woman always ailing, with an extraordinarily
beautiful face, pale as wax, and such mournful eyes, that
sometimes when she gazed long at me, even without looking at
her, I was aware of her sorrowful, sorrowful eyes, and I
would burst into tears and rush to embrace her. I had tutors
come to me; I had music lessons, and was called 'miss.' I
dined at the master's table together with my mother. Mr.
Koltovsky was a tall, handsome old man with a stately manner;
he always smelt of ambre. I stood in mortal terror of
him, though he called me Suzon and gave me his dry, sinewy
hand to kiss under its lace-ruffles. With my mother he was
elaborately courteous, but he talked little even with her. He
would say two or three affable words, to which she promptly
made a hurried answer; and he would be silent and sit looking
about him with dignity, and slowly picking up a pinch of
Spanish snuff from his round, golden snuff-box with the arms
of the Empress Catherine on it.
My ninth year has always remained vivid in my memory.... I
learnt then, from the maids in the servants' room, that Ivan
Matveitch Koltovsky was my father, and almost on the same
day, my mother, by his command, was married to Mr. Ratsch,
who was something like a steward to him. I was utterly unable
to comprehend the possibility of such a thing, I was
bewildered, I was almost ill, my brain suffered under the
strain, my mind was overclouded. 'Is it true, is it true,
mamma,' I asked her, 'that scented bogey' (that was my name
for Ivan Matveitch) 'is my father?' My mother was terribly
scared, she shut my mouth.... 'Never speak to any one of
that, do you hear, Susanna, do you hear, not a word!'... she
repeated in a shaking voice, pressing my head to her
bosom.... And I never did speak to any one of it.... That
prohibition of my mother's I understood.... I understood that
I must be silent, that my mother begged my forgiveness!
My unhappiness began from that day. Mr. Ratsch did not love
my mother, and she did not love him. He married her for
money, and she was obliged to submit. Mr. Koltovsky probably
considered that in this way everything had been arranged for
the best, la position était
régularisée. I remember the day before the
marriage my mother and I—both locked in each other's
arms—wept almost the whole morning—bitterly,
bitterly—and silently. It is not strange that she was
silent.... What could she say to me? But that I did not
question her shows that unhappy children learn wisdom sooner
than happy ones... to their cost.
Mr. Koltovsky continued to interest himself in my education,
and even by degrees put me on a more intimate footing. He did
not talk to me... but morning and evening, after flicking the
snuff from his jabot with two fingers, he would with the same
two fingers—always icy cold—pat me on the cheek
and give me some sort of dark-coloured sweetmeats, also
smelling of ambre, which I never ate. At twelve years
old I became his reader—-sa petite lectrice. I
read him French books of the last century, the memoirs of
Saint Simon, of Mably, Renal, Helvetius, Voltaire's
correspondence, the encyclopedists, of course without
understanding a word, even when, with a smile and a grimace,
he ordered me, 'relire ce dernier paragraphe, qui est bien
remarquable!' Ivan Matveitch was completely a Frenchman. He
had lived in Paris till the Revolution, remembered Marie
Antoinette, and had received an invitation to Trianon to see
her. He had also seen Mirabeau, who, according to his
account, wore very large
buttons—exagéré en tout, and was
altogether a man of mauvais ton, en dépit de sa
naissance! Ivan Matveitch, however, rarely talked of that
time; but two or three times a year, addressing himself to
the crooked old emigrant whom he had taken into his house,
and called for some unknown reason 'M. le Commandeur,' he
recited in his deliberate, nasal voice, the impromptu he had
once delivered at a soiree of the Duchesse de Polignac. I
remember only the first two lines.... It had reference to a
comparison between the Russians and the French:
'L'aigle se plait aux regions austères
Ou le ramier ne saurait habiter...'
'Digne de M. de Saint Aulaire!' M. le Commandeur would every
Ivan Matveitch looked youngish up to the time of his death:
his cheeks were rosy, his teeth white, his eyebrows thick and
immobile, his eyes agreeable and expressive, clear, black
eyes, perfect agate. He was not at all unreasonable, and was
very courteous with every one, even with the servants....
But, my God! how wretched I was with him, with what joy I
always left him, what evil thoughts confounded me in his
presence! Ah, I was not to blame for them!... I was not to
blame for what they had made of me....
Mr. Ratsch was, after his marriage, assigned a lodge not far
from the big house. I lived there with my mother. It was a
cheerless life I led there. She soon gave birth to a son,
Viktor, this same Viktor whom I have every right to think and
to call my enemy. From the time of his birth my mother never
regained her health, which had always been weak. Mr. Ratsch
did not think fit in those days to keep up such a show of
good spirits as he maintains now: he always wore a morose air
and tried to pass for a busy, hard-working person. To me he
was cruel and rude. I felt relief when I retired from Ivan
Matveitch's presence; but my own home too I was glad to
leave.... Unhappy was my youth! For ever tossed from one
shore to the other, with no desire to anchor at either! I
would run across the courtyard in winter, through the deep
snow, in a thin frock—run to the big house to read to
Ivan Matveitch, and as it were be glad to go.... But when I
was there, when I saw those great cheerless rooms, the
bright-coloured, upholstered furniture, that courteous and
heartless old man in the open silk wadded jacket, in the
white jabot and white cravat, with lace ruffles falling over
his fingers, with a soupçon of powder (so his
valet expressed it) on his combed-back hair, I felt choked by
the stifling scent of ambre, and my heart sank. Ivan
Matveitch usually sat in a large low chair; on the wall
behind his head hung a picture, representing a young woman,
with a bright and bold expression of face, dressed in a
sumptuous Hebrew costume, and simply covered with precious
stones, with diamonds.... I often stole a glance at this
picture, but only later on I learned that it was the portrait
of my mother, painted by her father at Ivan Matveitch's
request. She had changed indeed since those days! Well had he
succeeded in subduing and crushing her! 'And she loved him!
Loved that old man!' was my thought.... 'How could it be!
Love him!' And yet, when I recalled some of my mother's
glances, some half-uttered phrases and unconscious
gestures.... 'Yes, yes, she did love him!' I repeated with
horror. Ah, God, spare others from knowing aught of such
Every day I read to Ivan Matveitch, sometimes for three or
four hours together.... So much reading in such a loud voice
was harmful to me. Our doctor was anxious about my lungs and
even once communicated his fears to Ivan Matveitch. But the
old man only smiled—no; he never smiled, but somehow
sharpened and moved forward his lips—and told him:
'Vous ne savez pas ce qu'il y a de ressources dans cette
jeunesse.' 'In former years, however, M. le Commandeur,'...
the doctor ventured to observe. Ivan Matveitch smiled as
before. 'Vous rêvez, mon cher,' he interposed: 'le
commandeur n'a plus de dents, et il crache à chaque
mot. J'aime les voix jeunes.'
And I still went on reading, though my cough was very
troublesome in the mornings and at night.... Sometimes Ivan
Matveitch made me play the piano. But music always had a
soporific influence on his nerves. His eyes closed at once,
his head nodded in time, and only rarely I heard, 'C'est du
Steibelt, n'est-ce pas? Jouez-moi du Steibelt!' Ivan
Matveitch looked upon Steibelt as a great genius, who had
succeeded in overcoming in himself 'la grossière
lourdeur des Allemands,' and only found fault with him for
one thing: 'trop de fougue! trop d'imagination!'... When Ivan
Matveitch noticed that I was tired from playing he would
offer me 'du cachou de Bologne.' So day after day slipped
And then one night—a night never to be
forgotten!—a terrible calamity fell upon me. My mother
died almost suddenly. I was only just fifteen. Oh, what a
sorrow that was, with what cruel violence it swooped down
upon me! How terrified I was at that first meeting with
death! My poor mother! Strange were our relations; we
passionately loved each other... passionately and hopelessly;
we both as it were treasured up and hid from each other our
common secret, kept obstinately silent about it, though we
knew all that was passing at the bottom of our hearts! Even
of the past, of her own early past, my mother never spoke to
me, and she never complained in words, though her whole being
was nothing but one dumb complaint. We avoided all
conversation of any seriousness. Alas! I kept hoping that the
hour would come, and she would open her heart at last, and I
too should speak out, and both of us would be more at
ease.... But the daily little cares, her irresolute,
shrinking temper, illnesses, the presence of Mr. Ratsch, and
most of all the eternal question,—what is the use? and
the relentless, unbroken flowing away of time, of life....
All was ended as though by a clap of thunder, and the words
which would have loosed us from the burden of our
secret—even the last dying words of
leave-taking—I was not destined to hear from my mother!
All that is left in my memory is Mr. Ratsch's calling,
'Susanna Ivanovna, go, please, your mother wishes to give you
her blessing!' and then the pale hand stretched out from the
heavy counterpane, the agonised breathing, the dying eyes....
Oh, enough! enough!
With what horror, with what indignation and piteous curiosity
I looked next day, and on the day of the funeral, into the
face of my father... yes, my father! In my dead mother's
writing-case were found his letters. I fancied he looked a
little pale and drawn... but no! Nothing was stirring in that
heart of stone. Exactly as before, he summoned me to his
room, a week later; exactly in the same voice he asked me to
read: 'Si vous le voulez bien, les observations sur
l'histoire de France de Mably, à la page 74...
là où nous avons ètè
interrompus.' And he had not even had my mother's portrait
moved! On dismissing me, he did indeed call me to him, and
giving me his hand to kiss a second time, he observed:
'Suzanne, la mort de votre mère vous a privée
de votre appui naturel; mais vous pourrez toujours compter
sur ma protection,' but with the other hand he gave me at
once a slight push on the shoulder, and, with the sharpening
of the corners of the mouth habitual with him, he added,
'Allez, mon enfant.' I longed to shriek at him: 'Why, but you
know you're my father!' but I said nothing and left the room.
Next morning, early, I went to the graveyard. May had come in
all its glory of flowers and leaves, and a long while I sat
on the new grave. I did not weep, nor grieve; one thought was
filling my brain: 'Do you hear, mother? He means to extend
his protection to me, too!' And it seemed to me that my
mother ought not to be wounded by the smile which it
instinctively called up on my lips.
At times I wonder what made me so persistently desire to
wring—not a confession... no, indeed! but, at least,
one warm word of kinship from Ivan Matveitch? Didn't I know
what he was, and how little he was like all that I pictured
in my dreams as a father!... But I was so lonely, so
alone on earth! And then, that thought, ever recurring, gave
me no rest: 'Did not she love him? She must have loved him
Three years more slipped by. Nothing changed in the
monotonous round of life, marked out and arranged for us.
Viktor was growing into a boy. I was eight years older and
would gladly have looked after him, but Mr. Ratsch opposed my
doing so. He gave him a nurse, who had orders to keep strict
watch that the child was not 'spoilt,' that is, not to allow
me to go near him. And Viktor himself fought shy of me. One
day Mr. Ratsch came into my room, perturbed, excited, and
angry. On the previous evening unpleasant rumours had reached
me about my stepfather; the servants were talking of his
having been caught embezzling a considerable sum of money,
and taking bribes from a merchant.
'You can assist me,' he began, tapping impatiently on the
table with his fingers. 'Go and speak for me to Ivan
'Speak for you? On what ground? What about?'
'Intercede for me.... I'm not like a stranger any way... I'm
accused... well, the fact is, I may be left without bread to
eat, and you, too.'
'But how can I go to him? How can I disturb him?'
'What next! You have a right to disturb him!'
'What right, Ivan Demianitch?'
'Come, no humbug.... He cannot refuse you, for many reasons.
Do you mean to tell me you don't understand that?'
He looked insolently into my eyes, and I felt my cheeks
simply burning. Hatred, contempt, rose up within me, surged
in a rush upon me, drowning me.
'Yes, I understand you, Ivan Demianitch,' I answered at
last—my own voice seemed strange to me—'and I am
not going to Ivan Matveitch, and I will not ask him for
anything. Bread, or no bread!'
Mr. Ratsch shivered, ground his teeth, and clenched his
'All right, wait a bit, your highness!' he muttered huskily.
'I won't forget it!' That same day, Ivan Matveitch sent for
him, and, I was told, shook his cane at him, the very cane
which he had once exchanged with the Due de la Rochefoucauld,
and cried, 'You be a scoundrel and extortioner! I put you
outside!' Ivan Matveitch could hardly speak Russian at all,
and despised our 'coarse jargon,' ce jargon vulgaire et
rude. Some one once said before him, 'That same's
self-understood.' Ivan Matveitch was quite indignant, and
often afterwards quoted the phrase as an example of the
senselessness and absurdity of the Russian tongue. 'What does
it mean, that same's self-understood?' he would ask in
Russian, with emphasis on each syllable. 'Why not simply
that's understood, and why same and self?'
Ivan Matveitch did not, however, dismiss Mr. Ratsch, he did
not even deprive him of his position. But my stepfather kept
his word: he never forgot it.
I began to notice a change in Ivan Matveitch. He was
low-spirited, depressed, his health broke down a little. His
fresh, rosy face grew yellow and wrinkled; he lost a front
tooth. He quite ceased going out, and gave up the
reception-days he had established for the peasants, without
the assistance of the priest, sans le concours du
clergé. On such days Ivan Matveitch had been in
the habit of going in to the peasants in the hall or on the
balcony, with a rose in his buttonhole, and putting his lips
to a silver goblet of vodka, he would make them a speech
something like this: 'You are content with my actions, even
as I am content with your zeal, whereat I rejoice truly. We
are all brothers; at our birth we are equal; I drink
your health!' He bowed to them, and the peasants bowed to
him, but only from the waist, no prostrating themselves to
the ground, that was strictly forbidden. The peasants were
entertained with good cheer as before, but Ivan Matveitch no
longer showed himself to his subjects. Sometimes he
interrupted my reading with exclamations: 'La machine se
détraque! Cela se gâte!' Even his
eyes—those bright, stony eyes—began to grow dim
and, as it were, smaller; he dozed oftener than ever and
breathed hard in his sleep. His manner with me was unchanged;
only a shade of chivalrous deference began to be perceptible
in it. He never failed to get up—though with
difficulty—from his chair when I came in, conducted me
to the door, supporting me with his hand under my elbow, and
instead of Suzon began to call me sometimes, 'ma chère
demoiselle,' sometimes, 'mon Antigone.' M. le Commandeur died
two years after my mother's death; his death seemed to affect
Ivan Matveitch far more deeply. A contemporary had
disappeared: that was what distressed him. And yet in later
years M. le Commandeur's sole service had consisted in
crying, 'Bien joué, mal réussi!' every time
Ivan Matveitch missed a stroke, playing billiards with Mr.
Ratsch; though, indeed, too, when Ivan Matveitch addressed
him at table with some such question as: 'N'est-ce pas, M. le
Commandeur, c'est Montesquieu qui a dit cela dans ses
Lettres Persanes?' he had still, sometimes dropping a
spoonful of soup on his ruffle, responded profoundly: 'Ah,
Monsieur de Montesquieu? Un grand écrivain, monsieur,
un grand écrivain!' Only once, when Ivan Matveitch
told him that 'les théophilanthropes ont eu pourtant
du bon!' the old man cried in an excited voice, 'Monsieur de
Kolontouskoi' (he hadn't succeeded in the course of twenty
years in learning to pronounce his patron's name correctly),
'Monsieur de Kolontouskoi! Leur fondateur, l'instigateur de
cette secte, ce La Reveillère Lepeaux était un
bonnet rouge!' 'Non, non,' said Ivan Matveitch, smiling and
rolling together a pinch of snuff: 'des fleurs, des jeunes
vierges, le culte de la Nature... ils out eu du bon, ils out
eu du bon!'...I was always surprised at the extent of Ivan
Matveitch's knowledge, and at the uselessness of his
knowledge to himself.
Ivan Matveitch was perceptibly failing, but he still put a
good face on it. One day, three weeks before his death, he
had a violent attack of giddiness just after dinner. He sank
into thought, said, 'C'est la fin,' and pulling himself
together with a sigh, he wrote a letter to Petersburg to his
sole heir, a brother with whom he had had no intercourse for
twenty years. Hearing that Ivan Matveitch was unwell, a
neighbour paid him a visit—a German, a
Catholic—once a distinguished physician, who was living
in retirement in his little place in the country. He was very
rarely at Ivan Matveitch's, but the latter always received
him with special deference, and in fact had a great respect
for him. He was almost the only person in the world he did
respect. The old man advised Ivan Matveitch to send for a
priest, but Ivan Matveitch responded that 'ces messieurs et
moi, nous n'avons rien à nous dire,' and begged him to
change the subject. On the neighbour's departure, he gave his
valet orders to admit no one in future.
Then he sent for me. I was frightened when I saw him; there
were blue patches under his eyes, his face looked drawn and
stiff, his jaw hung down. 'Vous voila grande, Suzon,' he
said, with difficulty articulating the consonants, but still
trying to smile (I was then nineteen), 'vous allez
peut-être bientót rester seule. Soyez toujours
sage et vertueuse. C'est la dernière
récommandation d'un'—he coughed—'d'un
vieillard qui vous veut du bien. Je vous ai recommandé
à mon frère et je ne doute pas qu'il ne
respecte mes volontés....' He coughed again, and
anxiously felt his chest. 'Du reste, j'esèpre encore
pouvoir faire quelque chose pour vous... dans mon testament.'
This last phrase cut me to the heart, like a knife. Ah, it
was really too... too contemptuous and insulting! Ivan
Matveitch probably ascribed to some other feeling—to a
feeling of grief or gratitude—what was expressed in my
face, and as though wishing to comfort me, he patted me on
the shoulder, at the same time, as usual, gently repelling
me, and observed: 'Voyons, mon enfant, du courage! Nous
sommes tous mortels! Et puis il n'y a pas encore de danger.
Ce n'est qu'une précaution que j'ai cru devoir
Again, just as when he had summoned me after my mother's
death, I longed to shriek at him, 'But I'm your daughter!
your daughter!' But I thought in those words, in that cry of
the heart, he would doubtless hear nothing but a desire to
assert my rights, my claims on his property, on his money....
Oh, no, for nothing in the world would I say a word to this
man, who had not once mentioned my mother's name to me, in
whose eyes I was of so little account that he did not even
trouble himself to ascertain whether I was aware of my
parentage! Or, perhaps, he suspected, even knew it, and did
not wish 'to raise a dust' (a favourite saying of his, almost
the only Russian expression he ever used), did not care to
deprive himself of a good reader with a young voice! No! no!
Let him go on wronging his daughter, as he had wronged her
mother! Let him carry both sins to the grave! I swore it, I
swore he should not hear from my lips the word which must
have something of a sweet and holy sound in every ear! I
would not say to him father! I would not forgive him for my
mother and myself! He felt no need of that forgiveness, of
that name.... It could not be, it could not be that he felt
no need of it! But he should not have forgiveness, he should
not, he should not!
God knows whether I should have kept my vow, and whether my
heart would not have softened, whether I should not have
overcome my shyness, my shame, and my pride... but it
happened with Ivan Matveitch just as with my mother. Death
carried him off suddenly, and also in the night. It was again
Mr. Ratsch who waked me, and ran with me to the big house, to
Ivan Matveitch's bedroom.... But I found not even the last
dying gestures, which had left such a vivid impression on my
memory at my mother's bedside. On the embroidered, lace-edged
pillows lay a sort of withered, dark-coloured doll, with
sharp nose and ruffled grey eyebrows.... I shrieked with
horror, with loathing, rushed away, stumbled in doorways
against bearded peasants in smocks with holiday red sashes,
and found myself, I don't remember how, in the fresh air....
I was told afterwards that when the valet ran into the
bedroom, at a violent ring of the bell, he found Ivan
Matveitch not in the bed, but a few feet from it. And that he
was sitting huddled up on the floor, and that twice over he
repeated, 'Well, granny, here's a pretty holiday for you!'
And that these were his last words. But I cannot believe
that. Was it likely he would speak Russian at such a moment,
and such a homely old Russian saying too!
For a whole fortnight afterwards we were awaiting the arrival
of the new master, Semyon Matveitch Koltovsky. He sent orders
that nothing was to be touched, no one was to be discharged,
till he had looked into everything in person. All the doors,
all the furniture, drawers, tables—all were locked and
sealed up. All the servants were downcast and apprehensive. I
became suddenly one of the most important persons in the
house, perhaps the most important. I had been spoken of as
'the young lady' before; but now this expression seemed to
take a new significance, and was pronounced with a peculiar
emphasis. It began to be whispered that 'the old master had
died suddenly, and hadn't time to send for a priest, indeed
and he hadn't been at confession for many a long day; but
still, a will doesn't take long to make.'
Mr. Ratsch, too, thought well to change his mode of action.
He did not affect good-nature and friendliness; he knew he
would not impose upon me, but his face wore an expression of
sulky resignation. 'You see, I give in,' he seemed to say.
Every one showed me deference, and tried to please me...
while I did not know what to do or how to behave, and could
only marvel that people failed to perceive how they were
hurting me. At last Semyon Matveitch arrived.
Semyon Matveitch was ten years younger than Ivan Matveitch,
and his whole life had taken a completely different turn. He
was a government official in Petersburg, filling an important
position.... He had married and been left early a widower; he
had one son. In face Semyon Matveitch was like his brother,
only he was shorter and stouter, and had a round bald head,
bright black eyes, like Ivan Matveitch's, only more
prominent, and full red lips. Unlike his brother, whom he
spoke of even after his death as a French philosopher, and
sometimes bluntly as a queer fish, Semyon Matveitch almost
invariably talked Russian, loudly and fluently, and he was
constantly laughing, completely closing his eyes as he did so
and shaking all over in an unpleasant way, as though he were
shaking with rage. He looked after things very sharply, went
into everything himself, exacted the strictest account from
every one. The very first day of his arrival he ordered a
service with holy water, and sprinkled everything with water,
all the rooms in the house, even the lofts and the cellars,
in order, as he put it, 'radically to expel the Voltairean
and Jacobin spirit.' In the first week several of Ivan
Matveitch's favourites were sent to the right-about, one was
even banished to a settlement, corporal punishment was
inflicted on others; the old valet—he was a Turk, knew
French, and had been given to Ivan Matveitch by the late
field-marshal Kamensky—received his freedom, indeed,
but with it a command to be gone within twenty-four hours,
'as an example to others.' Semyon Matveitch turned out to be
a harsh master; many probably regretted the late owner.
'With the old master, Ivan Matveitch,' a butler, decrepit
with age, wailed in my presence, 'our only trouble was to see
that the linen put out was clean, and that the rooms smelt
sweet, and that the servants' voices weren't heard in the
passages—God forbid! For the rest, you might do as you
pleased. The old master never hurt a fly in his life! Ah,
it's hard times now! It's time to die!'
Rapid, too, was the change in my position, that is to say in
the position in which I had been placed for a few days
against my own will.... No sort of will was found among Ivan
Matveitch's papers, not a line written for my benefit. At
once every one seemed in haste to avoid me.... I am not
speaking of Mr. Ratsch... every one else, too, was angry with
me, and tried to show their anger, as though I had deceived
One Sunday after matins, in which he invariably officiated at
the altar, Semyon Matveitch sent for me. Till that day I had
seen him by glimpses, and he seemed not to have noticed me.
He received me in his study, standing at the window. He was
wearing an official uniform with two stars. I stood still,
near the door; my heart was beating violently from fear and
from another feeling, vague as yet, but still oppressive. 'I
wish to see you, young lady,' began Semyon Matveitch,
glancing first at my feet, and then suddenly into my eyes.
The look was like a slap in the face. 'I wished to see you to
inform you of my decision, and to assure you of my
unhesitating inclination to be of service to you.' He raised
his voice. 'Claims, of course, you have none, but as... my
brother's reader you may always reckon on my... my
consideration. I am... of course convinced of your good sense
and of your principles. Mr. Ratsch, your stepfather, has
already received from me the necessary instructions. To which
I must add that your attractive exterior seems to me a pledge
of the excellence of your sentiments.' Semyon Matveitch went
off into a thin chuckle, while I... I was not offended
exactly... but I suddenly felt very sorry for myself... and
at that moment I fully realised how utterly forsaken and
alone I was. Semyon Matveitch went with short, firm steps to
the table, took a roll of notes out of the drawer, and
putting it in my hand, he added: 'Here is a small sum from me
for pocket-money. I won't forget you in future, my pretty;
but good-bye for the present, and be a good girl.' I took the
roll mechanically: I should have taken anything he had
offered me, and going back to my own room, a long while I
wept, sitting on my bed. I did not notice that I had dropped
the roll of notes on the floor. Mr. Ratsch found it and
picked it up, and, asking me what I meant to do with it, kept
it for himself.
An important change had taken place in his fortunes too in
those days. After a few conversations with Semyon Matveitch,
he became a great favourite, and soon after received the
position of head steward. From that time dates his
cheerfulness, that eternal laugh of his; at first it was an
effort to adapt himself to his patron... in the end it became
a habit. It was then, too, that he became a Russian patriot.
Semyon Matveitch was an admirer of everything national, he
called himself 'a true Russian bear,' and ridiculed the
European dress, which he wore however. He sent away to a
remote village a cook, on whose training Ivan Matveitch had
spent vast sums: he sent him away because he had not known
how to prepare pickled giblets.
Semyon Matveitch used to stand at the altar and join in the
responses with the deacons, and when the serf-girls were
brought together to dance and sing choruses, he would join in
their songs too, and beat time with his feet, and pinch their
cheeks.... But he soon went back to Petersburg, leaving my
stepfather practically in complete control of the whole
Bitter days began for me.... My one consolation was music,
and I gave myself up to it with my whole soul. Fortunately
Mr. Ratsch was very fully occupied, but he took every
opportunity to make me feel his hostility; as he had
promised, he 'did not forget' my refusal. He ill-treated me,
made me copy his long and lying reports to Semyon Matveitch,
and correct for him the mistakes in spelling. I was forced to
obey him absolutely, and I did obey him. He announced that he
meant to tame me, to make me as soft as silk. 'What do you
mean by those mutinous eyes?' he shouted sometimes at dinner,
drinking his beer, and slapping the table with his hand. 'You
think, maybe, you're as silent as a sheep, so you must be all
right.... Oh, no! You'll please look at me like a sheep too!'
My position became a torture, insufferable,... my heart was
growing bitter. Something dangerous began more and more
frequently to stir within it. I passed nights without sleep
and without a light, thinking, thinking incessantly; and in
the darkness without and the gloom within, a fearful
determination began to shape itself. The arrival of Semyon
Matveitch gave another turn to my thoughts.
No one had expected him. It turned out that he was retiring
in unpleasant circumstances; he had hoped to receive the
Alexander ribbon, and they had presented him with a
snuff-box. Discontented with the government, which had failed
to appreciate his talents, and with Petersburg society, which
had shown him little sympathy, and did not share his
indignation, he determined to settle in the country, and
devote himself to the management of his property. He arrived
alone. His son, Mihail Semyonitch, arrived later, in the
holidays for the New Year. My stepfather was scarcely ever
out of Semyon Matveitch's room; he still stood high in his
good graces. He left me in peace; he had no time for me
then... Semyon Matveitch had taken it into his head to start
a paper factory. Mr. Ratsch had no knowledge whatever of
manufacturing work, and Semyon Matveitch was aware of the
fact; but then my stepfather was an active man (the favourite
expression just then), an 'Araktcheev!' That was just what
Semyon Matveitch used to call him—'my Araktcheev!'
'That's all I want,' Semyon Matveitch maintained; 'if there
is zeal, I myself will direct it.' In the midst of his
numerous occupations—he had to superintend the factory,
the estate, the foundation of a counting-house, the drawing
up of counting-house regulations, the creation of new offices
and duties—Semyon Matveitch still had time to attend to
I was summoned one evening to the drawing-room, and set to
play the piano. Semyon Matveitch cared for music even less
than his brother; he praised and thanked me, however, and
next day I was invited to dine at the master's table. After
dinner Semyon Matveitch had rather a long conversation with
me, asked me questions, laughed at some of my replies, though
there was, I remember, nothing amusing in them, and stared at
me so strangely... I felt uncomfortable. I did not like his
eyes, I did not like their open expression, their clear
glance.... It always seemed to me that this very openness
concealed something evil, that under that clear brilliance it
was dark within in his soul. 'You shall not be my reader,'
Semyon Matveitch announced to me at last, prinking and
setting himself to rights in a repulsive way. 'I am, thank
God, not blind yet, and can read myself; but coffee will
taste better to me from your little hands, and I shall listen
to your playing with pleasure.' From that day I always went
over to the big house to dinner, and sometimes remained in
the drawing-room till evening. I too, like my stepfather, was
in favour: it was not a source of joy for me. Semyon
Matveitch, I am bound to own, showed me a certain respect,
but in the man there was, I felt it, something that repelled
and alarmed me. And that 'something' showed itself not in
words, but in his eyes, in those wicked eyes, and in his
laugh. He never spoke to me of my father, of his brother, and
it seemed to me that he avoided the subject, not because he
did not want to excite ambitious ideas or pretensions in me,
but from another cause, to which I could not give a definite
shape, but which made me blush and feel bewildered....
Towards Christmas came his son, Mihail Semyonitch.
Ah, I feel I cannot go on as I have begun; these memories are
too painful. Especially now I cannot tell my story calmly....
But what is the use of concealment? I loved Michel, and he
How it came to pass—I am not going to describe that
either. From the very evening when he came into the
drawing-room—I was at the piano, playing a sonata of
Weber's when he came in—handsome and slender, in a
velvet coat lined with sheepskin and high gaiters, just as he
was, straight from the frost outside, and shaking his
snow-sprinkled, sable cap, before he had greeted his father,
glanced swiftly at me, and wondered—I knew that from
that evening I could never forget him—I could never
forget that good, young face. He began to speak... and his
voice went straight to my heart.... A manly and soft voice,
and in every sound such a true, honest nature!
Semyon Matveitch was delighted at his son's arrival, embraced
him, but at once asked, 'For a fortnight, eh? On leave, eh?'
and sent me away.
I sat a long while at my window, and gazed at the lights
flitting to and fro in the rooms of the big house. I watched
them, I listened to the new, unfamiliar voices; I was
attracted by the cheerful commotion, and something new,
unfamiliar, bright, flitted into my soul too.... The next day
before dinner I had my first conversation with him. He had
come across to see my stepfather with some message from
Semyon Matveitch, and he found me in our little sitting-room.
I was getting up to go; he detained me. He was very lively
and unconstrained in all his movements and words, but of
superciliousness or arrogance, of the tone of Petersburg
superiority, there was not a trace in him, and nothing of the
officer, of the guardsman.... On the contrary, in the very
freedom of his manner there was something appealing, almost
shamefaced, as though he were begging you to overlook
something. Some people's eyes are never laughing, even at the
moment of laughter; with him it was the lips that
almost never changed their beautiful line, while his eyes
were almost always smiling. So we chatted for about an
hour... what about I don't remember; I remember only that I
looked him straight in the face all the while, and oh, how
delightfully at ease I felt with him!
In the evening I played on the piano. He was very fond of
music, and he sat down in a low chair, and laying his curly
head on his arm, he listened intently. He did not once praise
me, but I felt that he liked my playing, and I played with
ardour. Semyon Matveitch, who was sitting near his son,
looking through some plans, suddenly frowned. 'Come, madam,'
he said, smoothing himself down and buttoning himself up, as
his manner was, 'that's enough; why are you trilling away
like a canary? It's enough to make one's head ache. For us
old folks you wouldn't exert yourself so, no fear...' he
added in an undertone, and again he sent me away. Michel
followed me to the door with his eyes, and got up from his
seat. 'Where are you off to? Where are you off to?' cried
Semyon Matveitch, and he suddenly laughed, and then said
something more... I could not catch his words; but Mr.
Ratsch, who was present, sitting in a corner of the
drawing-room (he was always 'present,' and that time he had
brought in the plans), laughed, and his laugh reached my
ears.... The same thing, or almost the same thing, was
repeated the following evening... Semyon Matveitch grew
suddenly cooler to me.
Four days later I met Michel in the corridor that divided the
big house in two. He took me by the hand, and led me to a
room near the dining-room, which was called the portrait
gallery. I followed him, not without emotion, but with
perfect confidence. Even then, I believe, I would have
followed him to the end of the world, though I had as yet no
suspicion of all that he was to me. Alas, I loved him with
all the passion, all the despair of a young creature who not
only has no one to love, but feels herself an uninvited and
unnecessary guest among strangers, among enemies!... Michel
said to me—and it was strange! I looked boldly,
directly in his face, while he did not look at me, and
flushed slightly—he said to me that he understood my
position, and sympathised with me, and begged me to forgive
his father.... 'As far as I'm concerned,' he added, 'I
beseech you always to trust me, and believe me, to me you 're
a sister—yes, a sister.' Here he pressed my hand
warmly. I was confused, it was my turn to look down; I had
somehow expected something else, some other word. I began to
thank him. 'No, please,'—he cut me short—'don't
talk like that.... But remember, it's a brother's duty to
defend his sister, and if you ever need protection, against
any one whatever, rely upon me. I have not been here long,
but I have seen a good deal already... and among other
things, I see through your stepfather.' He squeezed my hand
again, and left me.
I found out later that Michel had felt an aversion for Mr.
Ratsch from his very first meeting with him. Mr. Ratsch tried
to ingratiate himself with him too, but becoming convinced of
the uselessness of his efforts, promptly took up himself an
attitude of hostility to him, and not only did not disguise
it from Semyon Matveitch, but, on the contrary, lost no
opportunity of showing it, expressing, at the same time, his
regret that he had been so unlucky as to displease the young
heir. Mr. Ratsch had carefully studied Semyon Matveitch's
character; his calculations did not lead him astray. 'This
man's devotion to me admits of no doubt, for the very reason
that after I am gone he will be ruined; my heir cannot endure
him.'... This idea grew and strengthened in the old man's
head. They say all persons in power, as they grow old, are
readily caught by that bait, the bait of exclusive personal
Semyon Matveitch had good reason to call Mr. Ratsch his
Araktcheev.... He might well have called him another name
too. 'You're not one to make difficulties,' he used to say to
him. He had begun in this condescendingly familiar tone with
him from the very first, and my stepfather would gaze fondly
at Semyon Matveitch, let his head droop deprecatingly on one
side, and laugh with good-humoured simplicity, as though to
say, 'Here I am, entirely in your hands.'
Ah, I feel my hands shaking, and my heart's thumping against
the table on which I write at this moment. It's terrible for
me to recall those days, and my blood boils.... But I will
tell everything to the end... to the end!
A new element had come into Mr. Ratsch's treatment of me
during my brief period of favour. He began to be deferential
to me, to be respectfully familiar with me, as though I had
grown sensible, and become more on a level with him. 'You've
done with your airs and graces,' he said to me one day, as we
were going back from the big house to the lodge. 'Quite right
too! All those fine principles and delicate
sentiments—moral precepts in fact—are not for us,
young lady, they're not for poor folks.'
When I had fallen out of favour, and Michel did not think it
necessary to disguise his contempt for Mr. Ratsch and his
sympathy with me, the latter suddenly redoubled his severity
with me; he was continually following me about, as though I
were capable of any crime, and must be sharply looked after.
'You mind what I say,' he shouted, bursting without knocking
into my room, in muddy boots and with his cap on his head; 'I
won't put up with such goings on! I won't stand your stuck-up
airs! You're not going to impose on me. I'll break your proud
And accordingly, one morning he informed me that the decree
had gone forth from Semyon Matveitch that I was not to appear
at the dinner-table for the future without special
invitation.... I don't know how all this would have ended if
it had not been for an event which was the final
turning-point of my destiny....
Michel was passionately fond of horses. He took it into his
head to break in a young horse, which went well for a while,
then began kicking and flung him out of the sledge.... He was
brought home unconscious, with a broken arm and bruises on
his chest. His father was panic-stricken; he sent for the
best doctors from the town. They did a great deal for Michel;
but he had to lie down for a month. He did not play cards,
the doctor forbade him to talk, and it was awkward for him to
read, holding the book up in one hand all the while. It ended
by Semyon Matveitch sending me in to his son, in my old
capacity of reader.
Then followed hours I can never forget! I used to go in to
Michel directly after dinner, and sit at a little round table
in the half-darkened window. He used to be lying down in a
little room out of the drawing-room, at the further end, on a
broad leather sofa in the Empire style, with a gold
bas-relief on its high, straight back. The bas-relief
represented a marriage procession among the ancients.
Michel's head, thrown a little back on the pillow, always
moved at once, and his pale face turned towards me: he
smiled, his whole face brightened, he flung back his soft,
damp curls, and said to me softly, 'Good-morning, my kind
sweet girl.' I took up the book—Walter Scott's novels
were at the height of their fame in those days—the
reading of Ivanhoe has left a particularly vivid recollection
in my mind.... I could not help my voice thrilling and
quivering as I gave utterance to Rebecca's speeches. I, too,
had Jewish blood, and was not my lot like hers? Was I not,
like Rebecca, waiting on a sick man, dear to me? Every time I
removed my eyes from the page and lifted them to him, I met
his eyes with the same soft, bright smile over all his face.
We talked very little; the door into the drawing-room was
invariably open and some one was always sitting there; but
whenever it was quiet there, I used, I don't know why, to
cease reading and look intently at Michel, and he looked at
me, and we both felt happy then and, as it were, glad and
shamefaced, and everything, everything we told each other
then without a gesture or a word! Alas! our hearts came
together, ran to meet each other, as underground streams flow
together, unseen, unheard... and irresistibly.
'Can you play chess or draughts?' he asked me one day.
'I can play chess a little,' I answered.
'That's good. Tell them to bring a chess-board and push up
I sat down beside the sofa, my heart was throbbing, I did not
dare glance at Michel,... Yet from the window, across the
room, how freely I had gazed at him!
I began to set the chessmen... My fingers shook.
'I suggested it... not for the game,'... Michel said in an
undertone, also setting the pieces, 'but to have you nearer
I made no answer, but, without asking which should begin,
moved a pawn... Michel did not move in reply... I looked at
him. His head was stretched a little forward; pale all over,
with imploring eyes he signed towards my hand...
Whether I understood him... I don't remember, but something
instantaneously whirled into my head.... Hesitating, scarcely
breathing, I took up the knight and moved it right across the
board. Michel bent down swiftly, and catching my fingers with
his lips, and pressing them against the board, he began
noiselessly and passionately kissing them.... I had no power,
I had no wish to draw them back; with my other hand I hid my
face, and tears, as I remember now, cold but blissful... oh,
what blissful tears!... dropped one by one on the table. Ah,
I knew, with my whole heart I felt at that moment, all that
he was who held my hand in his power! I knew that he was not
a boy, carried away by a momentary impulse, not a Don Juan,
not a military Lovelace, but one of the noblest, the best of
men... and he loved me!
'Oh, my Susanna!' I heard Michel whisper, 'I will never make
you shed other tears than these.'
He was wrong... he did.
But what use is there in dwelling on such memories...
especially, especially now?
Michel and I swore to belong to each other. He knew that
Semyon Matveitch would never let him marry me, and he did not
conceal it from me. I had no doubt about it myself and I
rejoiced, not that he did not deceive me—he
not deceive—but that he did not try to delude
himself. For myself I asked for nothing, and would have
followed where and how he chose. 'You shall be my wife,' he
repeated to me. 'I am not Ivanhoe; I know that happiness is
not with Lady Rowena.'
Michel soon regained his health. I could not continue going
to see him, but everything was decided between us. I was
already entirely absorbed in the future; I saw nothing of
what was passing around me, as though I were floating on a
glorious, calm, but rushing river, hidden in mist. But we
were watched, we were being spied upon. Once or twice I
noticed my stepfather's malignant eyes, and heard his
loathsome laugh.... But that laugh, those eyes as it were
emerged for an instant from the mist... I shuddered, but
forgot it directly, and surrendered myself again to the
glorious, swift river...
On the day before the departure of Michel—we had
planned together that he was to turn back secretly on the way
and fetch me—I received from him through his trusted
valet a note, in which he asked me to meet him at half-past
nine in the summer billiard-room, a large, low-pitched room,
built on to the big house in the garden. He wrote to me that
he absolutely must speak with me and arrange things. I had
twice already met Michel in the billiard-room... I had the
key of the outer door. As soon as it struck half-past nine I
threw a warm wrap over my shoulders, stepped quietly out of
the lodge, and made my way successfully over the crackling
snow to the billiard-room. The moon, wrapped in vapour, stood
a dim blur just over the ridge of the roof, and the wind
whistled shrilly round the corner of the wall. A shiver
passed over me, but I put the key into the lock, went into
the room, closed the door behind me, turned round... A dark
figure became visible against one of the walls, took a couple
of steps forward, stopped...
'Michel,' I whispered.
'Michel is locked up by my orders, and this is I!' answered a
voice, which seemed to rend my heart...
Before me stood Semyon Matveitch!
I was rushing to escape, but he clutched at my arm.
'Where are you off to, vile hussy?' he hissed. 'You 're quite
equal to stolen interviews with young fools, so you'll have
to be equal to the consequences.'
I was numb with horror, but still struggled towards the
door... In vain! Like iron hooks the ringers of Semyon
Matveitch held me tight.
'Let me go, let me go,' I implored at last.
'I tell you you shan't stir!'
Semyon Matveitch forced me to sit down. In the half-darkness
I could not distinguish his face. I had turned away from him
too, but I heard him breathing hard and grinding his teeth. I
felt neither fear nor despair, but a sort of senseless
amazement... A captured bird, I suppose, is numb like that in
the claws of the kite... and Semyon Matveitch's hand, which
still held me as fast, crushed me like some wild, ferocious
'Aha!' he repeated; 'aha! So this is how it is... so it's
come to this... Ah, wait a bit!'
I tried to get up, but he shook me with such violence that I
almost shrieked with pain, and a stream of abuse, insult, and
menace burst upon me...
'Michel, Michel, where are you? save me,' I moaned.
Semyon Matveitch shook me again... That time I could not
control myself... I screamed.
That seemed to have some effect on him. He became a little
quieter, let go my arm, but remained where he was, two steps
from me, between me and the door.
A few minutes passed... I did not stir; he breathed heavily
'Sit still,' he began at last, 'and answer me. Let me see
that your morals are not yet utterly corrupt, and that you
are still capable of listening to the voice of reason.
Impulsive folly I can overlook, but stubborn
obstinacy—never! My son...' there was a catch in his
breath... 'Mihail Semyonitch has promised to marry you?
Hasn't he? Answer me! Has he promised, eh?'
I answered, of course, nothing. Semyon Matveitch was almost
flying into fury again.
'I take your silence as a sign of assent,' he went on, after
a brief pause. 'And so you were plotting to be my
daughter-in-law? A pretty notion! But you're not a child of
four years old, and you must be fully aware that young
boobies are never sparing of the wildest promises, if only
they can gain their ends... but to say nothing of that, could
you suppose that I—a noble gentleman of ancient family,
Semyon Matveitch Koltovsky—would ever give my consent
to such a marriage? Or did you mean to dispense with the
parental blessing?... Did you mean to run away, get married
in secret, and then come back, go through a nice little
farce, throw yourself at my feet, in the hope that the old
man will be touched.... Answer me, damn you!'
I only bent my head. He could kill me, but to force me to
speak—that was not in his power.
He walked up and down a little.
'Come, listen to me,' he began in a calmer voice. 'You
mustn't think... don't imagine... I see one must talk to you
in a different manner. Listen; I understand your position.
You are frightened, upset.... Pull yourself together. At this
moment I must seem to you a monster... a despot. But put
yourself in my position too; how could I help being
indignant, saying too much? And for all that I have shown you
that I am not a monster, that I too have a heart. Remember
how I treated you on my arrival here and afterwards till...
till lately... till the illness of Mihail Semyonitch. I don't
wish to boast of my beneficence, but I should have thought
simple gratitude ought to have held you back from the
slippery path on which you were determined to enter!'
Semyon Matveitch walked to and fro again, and standing still
patted me lightly on the arm, on the very arm which still
ached from his violence, and was for long after marked with
'To be sure,' he began again, 'we're headstrong... just a
little headstrong! We don't care to take the trouble to
think, we don't care to consider what our advantage consists
in and where we ought to seek it. You ask me: where that
advantage lies? You've no need to look far.... It's, maybe,
close at hand.... Here am I now. As a father, as head of the
family I am bound to be particular.... It's my duty. But I'm
a man at the same time, and you know that very well.
Undoubtedly I'm a practical person and of course cannot
tolerate any sentimental nonsense; expectations that are
quite inconsistent with everything, you must of course
dismiss from your mind for really what sense is there in
them?—not to speak of the immorality of such a
proceeding.... You will assuredly realise all this yourself,
when you have thought it over a little. And I say, simply and
straightforwardly, I wouldn't confine myself to what I have
done for you. I have always been prepared—and I am
still prepared—to put your welfare on a sound footing,
to guarantee you a secure position, because I know your
value, I do justice to your talents, and your intelligence,
and in fact... (here Semyon Matveitch stooped down to me a
little)... you have such eyes that, I confess... though I am
not a young man, yet to see them quite unmoved... I
understand... is not an easy matter, not at all an easy
These words sent a chill through me. I could scarcely believe
my ears. For the first minute I fancied that Semyon Matveitch
meant to bribe me to break with Michel, to pay me
'compensation.'... But what was he saying? My eyes had begun
to get used to the darkness and I could make out Semyon
Matveitch's face. It was smiling, that old face, and he was
walking to and fro with little steps, fidgeting restlessly
'Well, what do you say,' he asked at last, 'does my offer
'Offer?'... I repeated unconsciously,... I simply did not
understand a word.
Semyon Matveitch laughed... actually laughed his revolting
'To be sure,' he cried, 'you're all alike you young
women'—he corrected himself—'young ladies...
young ladies... you all dream of nothing else... you must
have young men! You can't live without love! Of course not.
Well, well! Youth's all very well! But do you suppose that
it's only young men that can love?... There are some older
men, whose hearts are warmer... and when once an old man does
take a fancy to any one, well—he's simply like a rock!
It's for ever! Not like these beardless, feather-brained
young fools! Yes, yes; you mustn't look down on old men! They
can do so much! You've only to take them the right way!
Yes... yes! And as for kissing, old men know all about that
too, he-he-he...' Semyon Matveitch laughed again. 'Come,
please... your little hand... just as a proof... that's
I jumped up from the chair, and with all my force I gave him
a blow in the chest. He tottered, he uttered a sort of
decrepit, scared sound, he almost fell down. There are no
words in human language to express how loathsome and
infinitely vile he seemed to me. Every vestige of fear had
'Get away, despicable old man,' broke from my lips; 'get
away, Mr. Koltovsky, you noble gentleman of ancient family!
I, too, am of your blood, the blood of the Koltovskys, and I
curse the day and the hour when I was born of that ancient
'What!... What are you saying!... What!' stammered Semyon
Matveitch, gasping for breath. 'You dare... at the very
minute when I've caught you... when you came to meet Misha...
eh? eh? eh?'
But I could not stop myself.... Something relentless,
desperate was roused up within me.
'And you, you, the brother... of your brother, you had the
insolence, you dared... What did you take me for? Can you be
so blind as not to have seen long ago the loathing you arouse
in me?... You dare use the word offer!... Let me out at once,
I moved towards the door.
'Oh, indeed! oh, oh! so this is what she says!' Semyon
Matveitch piped shrilly, in a fit of violent fury, but
obviously not able to make up his mind to come near me....
'Wait a bit, Mr. Ratsch, Ivan Demianitch, come here!'
The door of the billiard-room opposite the one I was near
flew wide open, and my stepfather appeared, with a lighted
candelabrum in each hand. His round, red face, lighted up on
both sides, was beaming with the triumph of satisfied
revenge, and slavish delight at having rendered valuable
service.... Oh, those loathsome white eyes! when shall I
cease to behold them?
'Be so good as to take this girl at once,' cried Semyon
Matveitch, turning to my stepfather and imperiously pointing
to me with a shaking hand. 'Be so good as to take her home
and put her under lock and key... so that she... can't stir a
finger, so that not a fly can get in to her! Till further
orders from me! Board up the windows if need be! You'll
answer for her with your head!'
Mr. Ratsch set the candelabra on the billiard-table, made
Semyon Matveitch a low bow, and with a slight swagger and a
malignant smile, moved towards me. A cat, I imagine,
approaches a mouse who has no chance of escape in that way.
All my daring left me in an instant. I knew the man was
capable of... beating me. I began to tremble; yes; oh, shame!
oh ignominy! I shivered.
'Now, then, madam,' said Mr. Ratsch, 'kindly come along.'
He took me, without haste, by the arm above the elbow.... He
saw that I should not resist. Of my own accord I pushed
forward towards the door; at that instant I had but one
thought in my mind, to escape as quickly as possible from the
presence of Semyon Matveitch.
But the loathsome old man darted up to us from behind, and
Ratsch stopped me and turned me round face to face with his
'Ah!' the latter shouted, shaking his fist; 'ah! So I'm the
brother... of my brother, am I? Ties of blood! eh? But a
cousin, a first cousin you could marry? You could? eh? Take
her, you!' he turned to my stepfather. 'And remember, keep a
sharp look-out! The slightest communication with
her—and no punishment will be too severe.... Take her!'
Mr. Ratsch conducted me to my room. Crossing the courtyard,
he said nothing, but kept laughing noiselessly to himself. He
closed the shutters and the doors, and then, as he was
finally returning, he bowed low to me as he had to Semyon
Matveitch, and went off into a ponderous, triumphant guffaw!
'Good-night to your highness,' he gasped out, choking: 'she
didn't catch her fairy prince! What a pity! It wasn't a bad
idea in its way! It's a lesson for the future: not to keep up
correspondence! Ho-ho-ho! How capitally it has all turned out
though!' He went out, and all of a sudden poked his head in
at the door. 'Well? I didn't forget you, did I? Hey? I kept
my promise, didn't I? Ho-ho!' The key creaked in the lock. I
breathed freely. I had been afraid he would tie my hands...
but they were my own, they were free! I instantly wrenched
the silken cord off my dressing-gown, made a noose, and was
putting it on my neck, but I flung the cord aside again at
once. 'I won't please you!' I said aloud. 'What madness,
really! Can I dispose of my life without Michel's leave, my
life, which I have surrendered into his keeping? No, cruel
wretches! No! You have not won your game yet! He will save
me, he will tear me out of this hell, he... my Michel!'
But then I remembered that he was shut up just as I was, and
I flung myself, face downwards, on my bed, and sobbed... and
sobbed.... And only the thought that my tormentor was perhaps
at the door, listening and triumphing, only that thought
forced me to swallow my tears....
I am worn out. I have been writing since morning, and now it
is evening; if once I tear myself from this sheet of paper, I
shall not be capable of taking up the pen again.... I must
hasten, hasten to the finish! And besides, to dwell on the
hideous things that followed that dreadful day is beyond my
Twenty-four hours later I was taken in a closed cart to an
isolated hut, surrounded by peasants, who were to watch me,
and kept shut up for six whole weeks! I was not for one
instant alone.... Later on I learnt that my stepfather had
set spies to watch both Michel and me ever since his arrival,
that he had bribed the servant, who had given me Michel's
note. I ascertained too that an awful, heart-rending scene
had taken place the next morning between the son and the
father.... The father had cursed him. Michel for his part had
sworn he would never set foot in his father's house again,
and had set off to Petersburg. But the blow aimed at me by my
stepfather rebounded upon himself. Semyon Matveitch announced
that he could not have him remaining there, and managing the
estate any longer. Awkward service, it seems, is an
unpardonable offence, and some one must be fixed upon to bear
the brunt of the scandal. Semyon Matveitch recompensed
Mr. Ratsch liberally, however: he gave him the necessary
means to move to Moscow and to establish himself there.
Before the departure for Moscow, I was brought back to the
lodge, but kept as before under the strictest guard. The loss
of the 'snug little berth,' of which he was being deprived
'thanks to me,' increased my stepfather's vindictive rage
against me more than ever.
'Why did you make such a fuss?' he would say, almost snorting
with indignation; 'upon my word! The old chap, of course, got
a little too hot, was a little too much in a hurry, and so he
made a mess of it; now, of course, his vanity's hurt, there's
no setting the mischief right again now! If you'd only waited
a day or two, it'd all have been right as a trivet; you
wouldn't have been kept on dry bread, and I should have
stayed what I was! Ah, well, women's hair is long... but
their wit is short! Never mind; I'll be even with you yet,
and that pretty young gentleman shall smart for it too!'
I had, of course, to bear all these insults in silence.
Semyon Matveitch I did not once see again. The separation
from his son had been a shock to him too. Whether he felt
remorse or—which is far more likely—wished to
bind me for ever to my home, to my family—my
family!—anyway, he assigned me a pension, which was to
be paid into my stepfather's hands, and to be given to me
till I married.... This humiliating alms, this pension I
still receive... that is to say, Mr. Ratsch receives it for
We settled in Moscow. I swear by the memory of my poor
mother, I would not have remained two days, not two hours,
with my stepfather, after once reaching the town... I would
have gone away, not knowing where... to the police; I would
have flung myself at the feet of the governor-general, of the
senators; I don't know what I would have done, if it had not
happened, at the very moment of our starting from the
country, that the girl who had been our maid managed to give
me a letter from Michel! Oh, that letter! How many times I
read over each line, how many times I covered it with kisses!
Michel besought me not to lose heart, to go on hoping, to
believe in his unchanging love; he swore that he would never
belong to any one but me; he called me his wife, he promised
to overcome all hindrances, he drew a picture of our future,
he asked of me only one thing, to be patient, to wait a
And I resolved to wait and be patient. Alas! what would I not
have agreed to, what would I not have borne, simply to do his
will! That letter became my holy thing, my guiding star, my
anchor. Sometimes when my stepfather would begin abusing and
insulting me, I would softly lay my hand on my bosom (I wore
Michel's letter sewed into an amulet) and only smile. And the
more violent and abusive was Mr. Ratsch, the easier, lighter,
and sweeter was the heart within me.... I used to see, at
last, by his eyes, that he began to wonder whether I was
going out of my mind.... Following on this first letter came
a second, still more full of hope.... It spoke of our meeting
Alas! instead of that meeting there came a morning... I can
see Mr. Ratsch coming in—and triumph again, malignant
triumph, in his face—and in his hands a page of the
Invalid, and there the announcement of the death of
the Captain of the Guards—Mihail Koltovsky.
What can I add? I remained alive, and went on living in Mr.
Ratsch's house. He hated me as before—more than
before—he had unmasked his black soul too much before
me, he could not pardon me that. But that was of no
consequence to me. I became, as it were, without feeling; my
own fate no longer interested me. To think of him, to think
of him! I had no interest, no joy, but that. My poor Michel
died with my name on his lips.... I was told so by a servant,
devoted to him, who had been with him when he came into the
country. The same year my stepfather married Eleonora
Karpovna. Semyon Matveitch died shortly after. In his will he
secured to me and increased the pension he had allowed me....
In the event of my death, it was to pass to Mr. Ratsch....
Two—three—years passed... six years, seven
years.... Life has been passing, ebbing away... while I
merely watched how it was ebbing. As in childhood, on some
river's edge one makes a little pond and dams it up, and
tries in all sorts of ways to keep the water from soaking
through, from breaking in. But at last the water breaks in,
and then you abandon all your vain efforts, and you are glad
instead to watch all that you had guarded ebbing away to the
So I lived, so I existed, till at last a new, unhoped-for ray
of warmth and light....'
The manuscript broke off at this word; the following leaves
had been torn off, and several lines completing the sentence
had been crossed through and blotted out.
The reading of this manuscript so upset me, the impression
made by Susanna's visit was so great, that I could not sleep
all night, and early in the morning I sent an express
messenger to Fustov with a letter, in which I besought him to
come to Moscow as soon as possible, as his absence might have
the most terrible results. I mentioned also my interview with
Susanna, and the manuscript she had left in my hands. After
having sent off the letter, I did not go out of the house all
day, and pondered all the time on what might be happening at
the Ratsches'. I could not make up my mind to go there
myself. I could not help noticing though that my aunt was in
a continual fidget; she ordered pastilles to be burnt every
minute, and dealt the game of patience, known as 'the
traveller,' which is noted as a game in which one can never
succeed. The visit of an unknown lady, and at such a late
hour, had not been kept secret from her: her imagination at
once pictured a yawning abyss on the edge of which I was
standing, and she was continually sighing and moaning and
murmuring French sentences, quoted from a little manuscript
book entitled Extraits de Lecture. In the evening I
found on the little table at my bedside the treatise of De
Girando, laid open at the chapter: On the evil influence of
the passions. This book had been put in my room, at my aunt's
instigation of course, by the elder of her companions, who
was called in the household Amishka, from her resemblance to
a little poodle of that name, and was a very sentimental, not
to say romantic, though elderly, maiden lady. All the
following day was spent in anxious expectation of Fustov's
coming, of a letter from him, of news from the Ratsches'
house... though on what ground could they have sent to me?
Susanna would be more likely to expect me to visit her....
But I positively could not pluck up courage to see her
without first talking to Fustov. I recalled every expression
in my letter to him.... I thought it was strong enough; at
last, late in the evening, he appeared.
He came into my room with his habitual, rapid, but deliberate
step. His face struck me as pale, and though it showed traces
of the fatigue of the journey, there was an expression of
astonishment, curiosity, and dissatisfaction—emotions
of which he had little experience as a rule. I rushed up to
him, embraced him, warmly thanked him for obeying me, and
after briefly describing my conversation with Susanna, handed
him the manuscript. He went off to the window, to the very
window in which Susanna had sat two days before, and without
a word to me, he fell to reading it. I at once retired to the
opposite corner of the room, and for appearance' sake took up
a book; but I must own I was stealthily looking over the edge
of the cover all the while at Fustov. At first he read rather
calmly, and kept pulling with his left hand at the down on
his lip; then he let his hand drop, bent forward and did not
stir again. His eyes seemed to fly along the lines and his
mouth slightly opened. At last he finished the manuscript,
turned it over, looked round, thought a little, and began
reading it all through a second time from beginning to end.
Then he got up, put the manuscript in his pocket and moved
towards the door; but he turned round and stopped in the
middle of the room.
'Well, what do you think?' I began, not waiting for him to
'I have acted wrongly towards her,' Fustov declared thickly.
'I have behaved... rashly, unpardonably, cruelly. I believed
'What!' I cried; 'that Viktor whom you despise so! But what
could he say to you?'
Fustov crossed his arms and stood obliquely to me. He was
ashamed, I saw that.
'Do you remember,' he said with some effort, 'that... Viktor
alluded to... a pension. That unfortunate word stuck in my
head. It's the cause of everything. I began questioning
him.... Well, and he—'
'What did he say?'
'He told me that the old man... what's his name?...
Koltovsky, had allowed Susanna that pension because... on
account of... well, in fact, by way of damages.'
I flung up my hands.
'And you believed him?'
'Yes! I believed him.... He said, too, that with the young
one... In fact, my behaviour is unjustifiable.'
'And you went away so as to break everything off?'
'Yes; that's the best way... in such cases. I acted savagely,
savagely,' he repeated.
We were both silent. Each of us felt that the other was
ashamed; but it was easier for me; I was not ashamed of
'I would break every bone in that Viktor's body now,' pursued
Fustov, clenching his teeth, 'if I didn't recognise that I'm
in fault. I see now what the whole trick was contrived for,
with Susanna's marriage they would lose the pension....
I took his hand.
'Alexander,' I asked him, 'have you been to her?'
'No; I came straight to you on arriving. I'll go to-morrow...
early to-morrow. Things can't be left so. On no account!'
'But you... love her, Alexander?'
Fustov seemed offended.
'Of course I love her. I am very much attached to her.'
'She's a splendid, true-hearted girl!' I cried.
Fustov stamped impatiently.
'Well, what notion have you got in your head? I was prepared
to marry her—she's been baptized—I'm ready to
marry her even now, I'd been thinking of it, though she's
older than I am.'
At that instant I suddenly fancied that a pale woman's figure
was seated in the window, leaning on her arms. The lights had
burnt down; it was dark in the room. I shivered, looked more
intently, and saw nothing, of course, in the window seat; but
a strange feeling, a mixture of horror, anguish and pity,
came over me.
'Alexander!' I began with sudden intensity, 'I beg you, I
implore you, go at once to the Ratsches', don't put it off
till to-morrow! An inner voice tells me that you really ought
to see Susanna to-day!'
Fustov shrugged his shoulders.
'What are you talking about, really! It's eleven o'clock now,
most likely they're all in bed.'
'No matter.... Do go, for goodness' sake! I have a
presentiment.... Please do as I say! Go at once, take a
'Come, what nonsense!' Fustov responded coolly; 'how could I
go now? To-morrow morning I will be there, and everything
will be cleared up.'
'But, Alexander, remember, she said that she was dying, that
you would not find her... And if you had seen her face! Only
think, imagine, to make up her mind to come to me... what it
must have cost her....'
'She's a little high-flown,' observed Fustov, who had
apparently regained his self-possession completely. 'All
girls are like that... at first. I repeat, everything will be
all right to-morrow. Meanwhile, good-bye. I'm tired, and
you're sleepy too.'
He took his cap, and went out of the room.
'But you promise to come here at once, and tell me all about
it?' I called after him.
'I promise.... Good-bye!'
I went to bed, but in my heart I was uneasy, and I felt vexed
with my friend. I fell asleep late and dreamed that I was
wandering with Susanna along underground, damp passages of
some sort, and crawling along narrow, steep staircases, and
continually going deeper and deeper down, though we were
trying to get higher up out into the air. Some one was all
the while incessantly calling us in monotonous, plaintive
Some one's hand lay on my shoulder and pushed it several
times.... I opened my eyes and in the faint light of the
solitary candle, I saw Fustov standing before me. He
frightened me. He was staggering; his face was yellow, almost
the same colour as his hair; his lips seemed hanging down,
his muddy eyes were staring senselessly away. What had become
of his invariably amiable, sympathetic expression? I had a
cousin who from epilepsy was sinking into idiocy.... Fustov
looked like him at that moment.
I sat up hurriedly.
'What is it? What is the matter? Heavens!'
He made no answer.
'Why, what has happened? Fustov! Do speak! Susanna?...'
Fustov gave a slight start.
'She...' he began in a hoarse voice, and broke off.
'What of her? Have you seen her?'
He stared at me.
'She's no more.'
'No. She is dead.'
I jumped out of bed.
'Dead? Susanna? Dead?'
Fustov turned his eyes away again.
'Yes; she is dead; she died at midnight.'
'He's raving!' crossed my mind.
'At midnight! And what's the time now?'
'It's eight o'clock in the morning now.
They sent to tell me. She is to be buried to-morrow.'
I seized him by the hand.
'Alexander, you're not delirious? Are you in your senses?'
'I am in my senses,' he answered. 'Directly I heard it, I
came straight to you.'
My heart turned sick and numb, as always happens on realising
an irrevocable misfortune.
'My God! my God! Dead!' I repeated. 'How is it possible? So
suddenly! Or perhaps she took her own life?'
'I don't know,' said Fustov, 'I know nothing. They told me
she died at midnight. And to-morrow she will be buried.'
'At midnight!' I thought.... 'Then she was still alive
yesterday when I fancied I saw her in the window, when I
entreated him to hasten to her....'
'She was still alive yesterday, when you wanted to send me to
Ivan Demianitch's,' said Fustov, as though guessing my
'How little he knew her!' I thought again. 'How little we
both knew her! "High-flown," said he, "all girls are like
that."... And at that very minute, perhaps, she was putting
to her lips... Can one love any one and be so grossly
mistaken in them?'
Fustov stood stockstill before my bed, his hands hanging,
like a guilty man.
I dressed hurriedly.
'What do you mean to do now, Alexander?' I asked.
He gazed at me in bewilderment, as though marvelling at the
absurdity of my question. And indeed what was there to do?
'You simply must go to them, though,' I began. 'You're bound
to ascertain how it happened; there is, possibly, a crime
concealed. One may expect anything of those people.... It is
all to be thoroughly investigated. Remember the statement in
her manuscript, the pension was to cease on her marriage, but
in event of her death it was to pass to Ratsch. In any case,
one must render her the last duty, pay homage to her
I talked to Fustov like a preceptor, like an elder brother.
In the midst of all that horror, grief, bewilderment, a sort
of unconscious feeling of superiority over Fustov had
suddenly come to the surface in me.... Whether from seeing
him crushed by the consciousness of his fault, distracted,
shattered, whether that a misfortune befalling a man almost
always humiliates him, lowers him in the opinion of others,
'you can't be much,' is felt, 'if you hadn't the wit to come
off better than that!' God knows! Any way, Fustov seemed to
me almost like a child, and I felt pity for him, and saw the
necessity of severity. I held out a helping hand to him,
stooping down to him from above. Only a woman's sympathy is
free from condescension.
But Fustov continued to gaze with wild and stupid eyes at
me—my authoritative tone obviously had no effect on
him, and to my second question, 'You're going to them, I
suppose?' he replied—
'No, I'm not going.'
'What do you mean, really? Don't you want to ascertain for
yourself, to investigate, how, and what? Perhaps, she has
left a letter... a document of some sort....'
Fustov shook his head.
'I can't go there,' he said. 'That's what I came to you for,
to ask you to go... for me... I can't... I can't....'
Fustov suddenly sat down to the table, hid his face in both
hands, and sobbed bitterly.
'Alas, alas!' he kept repeating through his tears; 'alas,
poor girl... poor girl... I loved... I loved her... alas!'
I stood near him, and I am bound to confess, not the
slightest sympathy was excited in me by those incontestably
sincere sobs. I simply marvelled that Fustov could cry
like that, and it seemed to me that
now I knew
what a small person he was, and that I should, in his place,
have acted quite differently. What's one to make of it? If
Fustov had remained quite unmoved, I should perhaps have
hated him, have conceived an aversion for him, but he would
not have sunk in my esteem.... He would have kept his
prestige. Don Juan would have remained Don Juan! Very late in
life, and only after many experiences, does a man learn, at
the sight of a fellow-creature's real failing or weakness, to
sympathise with him, and help him without a secret
self-congratulation at his own virtue and strength, but on
the contrary, with every humility and comprehension of the
naturalness, almost the inevitableness, of sin.
I was very bold and resolute in sending Fustov to the
Ratsches'; but when I set out there myself at twelve o'clock
(nothing would induce Fustov to go with me, he only begged me
to give him an exact account of everything), when round the
corner of the street their house glared at me in the distance
with a yellowish blur from the coffin candles at one of the
windows, an indescribable panic made me hold my breath, and I
would gladly have turned back.... I mastered myself, however,
and went into the passage. It smelt of incense and wax; the
pink cover of the coffin, edged with silver lace, stood in a
corner, leaning against the wall. In one of the adjoining
rooms, the dining-room, the monotonous muttering of the
deacon droned like the buzzing of a bee. From the
drawing-room peeped out the sleepy face of a servant girl,
who murmured in a subdued voice, 'Come to do homage to the
dead?' She indicated the door of the dining-room. I went in.
The coffin stood with the head towards the door; the black
hair of Susanna under the white wreath, above the raised lace
of the pillow, first caught my eyes. I went up sidewards,
crossed myself, bowed down to the ground, glanced... Merciful
God! what a face of agony! Unhappy girl! even death had no
pity on her, had denied her—beauty, that would be
little—even that peace, that tender and impressive
peace which is often seen on the faces of the newly dead. The
little, dark, almost brown, face of Susanna recalled the
visages on old, old holy pictures. And the expression on that
face! It looked as though she were on the point of
shrieking—a shriek of despair—and had died so,
uttering no sound... even the line between the brows was not
smoothed out, and the fingers on the hands were bent back and
clenched. I turned away my eyes involuntarily; but, after a
brief interval, I forced myself to look, to look long and
attentively at her. Pity filled my soul, and not pity alone.
'That girl died by violence,' I decided inwardly; 'that's
beyond doubt.' While I was standing looking at the dead girl,
the deacon, who on my entrance had raised his voice and
uttered a few disconnected sounds, relapsed into droning
again, and yawned twice. I bowed to the ground a second time,
and went out into the passage.
In the doorway of the drawing-room Mr. Ratsch was already on
the look-out for me, dressed in a gay-coloured dressing-gown.
Beckoning to me with his hand, he led me to his own
room—I had almost said, to his lair. The room, dark and
close, soaked through and through with the sour smell of
stale tobacco, suggested a comparison with the lair of a wolf
or a fox.
'Rupture! rupture of the external... of the external
covering.... You understand.., the envelopes of the heart!'
said Mr. Ratsch, directly the door closed. 'Such a
misfortune! Only yesterday evening there was nothing to
notice, and all of a sudden, all in a minute, all was over!
It's a true saying, "heute roth, morgen todt!" It's true;
it's what was to be expected. I always expected it. At Tambov
the regimental doctor, Galimbovsky, Vikenty Kasimirovitch....
you've probably heard of him... a first-rate medical man, a
'It's the first time I've heard the name,' I observed.
'Well, no matter; any way he was always,' pursued Mr. Ratsch,
at first in a low voice, and then louder and louder, and, to
my surprise, with a perceptible German accent, 'he was always
warning me: "Ay, Ivan Demianitch! ay! my dear boy, you must
be careful! Your stepdaughter has an organic defect in the
heart—hypertrophia cordialis! The least thing and
there'll be trouble! She must avoid all exciting emotions
above all.... You must appeal to her reason."... But, upon my
word, with a young lady... can one appeal to reason? Ha...
Mr. Ratsch was, through long habit, on the point of laughing,
but he recollected himself in time, and changed the incipient
guffaw into a cough.
And this was what Mr. Ratsch said! After all that I had found
out about him!... I thought it my duty, however, to ask him
whether a doctor was called in.
Mr. Ratsch positively bounced into the air.
'To be sure there was.... Two were summoned, but it was
already over—abgemacht! And only fancy, both, as though
they were agreeing' (Mr. Ratsch probably meant, as though
they had agreed), 'rupture! rupture of the heart! That's
what, with one voice, they cried out. They proposed a
post-mortem; but I... you understand, did not consent to
'And the funeral's to-morrow?' I queried.
'Yes, yes, to-morrow, to-morrow we bury our dear one! The
procession will leave the house precisely at eleven o'clock
in the morning.... From here to the church of St. Nicholas on
Hen's Legs... what strange names your Russian churches do
have, you know! Then to the last resting-place in mother
earth. You will come! We have not been long acquainted, but I
make bold to say, the amiability of your character and the
elevation of your sentiments!...'
I made haste to nod my head.
'Yes, yes, yes,' sighed Mr. Ratsch. 'It... it really has
been, as they say, a thunderbolt from a clear sky! Ein Blitz
aus heiterem Himmel!'
'And Susanna Ivanovna said nothing before her death, left
'Nothing, positively! Not a scrap of anything! Not a bit of
paper! Only fancy, when they called me to her, when they
waked me up—she was stiff already! Very distressing it
was for me; she has grieved us all terribly! Alexander
Daviditch will be sorry too, I dare say, when he knows....
They say he is not in Moscow.'
'He did leave town for a few days...' I began.
'Viktor Ivanovitch is complaining they're so long getting his
sledge harnessed,' interrupted a servant girl coming
in—the same girl I had seen in the passage. Her face,
still looking half-awake, struck me this time by the
expression of coarse insolence to be seen in servants when
they know that their masters are in their power, and that
they do not dare to find fault or be exacting with them.
'Directly, directly,' Ivan Demianitch responded nervously.
'Eleonora Karpovna! Leonora! Lenchen! come here!'
There was a sound of something ponderous moving the other
side of the door, and at the same instant I heard Viktor's
imperious call: 'Why on earth don't they put the horses in?
You don't catch me trudging off to the police on foot!'
'Directly, directly,' Ivan Demianitch faltered again.
'Eleonora Karpovna, come here!'
'But, Ivan Demianitch,' I heard her voice, 'ich habe keine
'Macht nichts. Komm herein!'
Eleonora Karpovna came in, holding a kerchief over her neck
with two fingers. She had on a morning wrapper, not buttoned
up, and had not yet done her hair. Ivan Demianitch flew up to
'You hear, Viktor's calling for the horses,' he said,
hurriedly pointing his finger first to the door, then to the
window. 'Please, do see to it, as quick as possible! Der Kerl
'Der Viktor schreit immer, Ivan Demianitch, Sie wissen wohl,'
responded Eleonora Karpovna, 'and I have spoken to the
coachman myself, but he's taken it into his head to give the
horses oats. Fancy, what a calamity to happen so suddenly,'
she added, turning to me; 'who could have expected such a
thing of Susanna Ivanovna?'
'I was always expecting it, always!' cried Ratsch, and threw
up his arms, his dressing-gown flying up in front as he did
so, and displaying most repulsive unmentionables of chamois
leather, with buckles on the belt. 'Rupture of the heart!
rupture of the external membrane! Hypertrophy!'
'To be sure,' Eleonora Karpovna repeated after him, 'hyper...
Well, so it is. Only it's a terrible, terrible grief to me, I
say again...' And her coarse-featured face worked a little,
her eyebrows rose into the shape of triangles, and a tiny
tear rolled over her round cheek, that looked varnished like
a doll's.... 'I'm very sorry that such a young person who
ought to have lived and enjoyed everything... everything...
And to fall into despair so suddenly!'
'Na! gut, gut... geh, alte!' Mr. Ratsch cut her short.
'Geh' schon, geh' schon,' muttered Eleonora Karpovna, and she
went away, still holding the kerchief with her fingers, and
And I followed her. In the passage stood Viktor in a
student's coat with a beaver collar and a cap stuck jauntily
on one side. He barely glanced at me over his shoulder, shook
his collar up, and did not nod to me, for which I mentally
I went back to Fustov.
I found my friend sitting in a corner of his room with
downcast head and arms folded across his breast. He had sunk
into a state of numbness, and he gazed around him with the
slow, bewildered look of a man who has slept very heavily and
has only just been waked. I told him all about my visit to
Ratsch's, repeated the veteran's remarks and those of his
wife, described the impression they had made on me and
informed him of my conviction that the unhappy girl had taken
her own life.... Fustov listened to me with no change of
expression, and looked about him with the same bewildered
'Did you see her?' he asked me at last.
'In the coffin?'
Fustov seemed to doubt whether Susanna were really dead.
'In the coffin.'
Fustov's face twitched and he dropped his eyes and softly
rubbed his hands.
'Are you cold?' I asked him.
'Yes, old man, I'm cold,' he answered hesitatingly, and he
shook his head stupidly.
I began to explain my reasons for thinking that Susanna had
poisoned herself or perhaps had been poisoned, and that the
matter could not be left so....
Fustov stared at me.
'Why, what is there to be done?' he said, slowly opening his
eyes wide and slowly closing them. 'Why, it'll be worse... if
it's known about. They won't bury her. We must let things...
This idea, simple as it was, had never entered my head. My
friend's practical sense had not deserted him.
'When is... her funeral?' he went on.
'Are you going?'
'To the house or straight to the church?'
'To the house and to the church too; and from there to the
'But I shan't go... I can't, I can't!' whispered Fustov and
began crying. It was at these same words that he had broken
into sobs in the morning. I have noticed that it is often so
with weeping; as though to certain words, for the most of no
great meaning,—but just to these words and to no
others—it is given to open the fount of tears in a man,
to break him down, and to excite in him the feeling of pity
for others and himself... I remember a peasant woman was once
describing before me the sudden death of her daughter, and
she fairly dissolved and could not go on with her tale as
soon as she uttered the phrase, 'I said to her, Fekla. And
she says, "Mother, where have you put the salt... the salt...
sa-alt?"' The word 'salt' overpowered her.
But again, as in the morning, I was but little moved by
Fustov's tears. I could not conceive how it was he did not
ask me if Susanna had not left something for him. Altogether
their love for one another was a riddle to me; and a riddle
it remained to me.
After weeping for ten minutes Fustov got up, lay down on the
sofa, turned his face to the wall, and remained motionless. I
waited a little, but seeing that he did not stir, and made no
answer to my questions, I made up my mind to leave him. I am
perhaps doing him injustice, but I almost believe he was
asleep. Though indeed that would be no proof that he did not
feel sorrow... only his nature was so constituted as to be
unable to support painful emotions for long... His nature was
too awfully well-balanced!
The next day exactly at eleven o'clock I was at the place.
Fine hail was falling from the low-hanging sky, there was a
slight frost, a thaw was close at hand, but there were
cutting, disagreeable gusts of wind flitting across in the
air.... It was the most thoroughly Lenten, cold-catching
weather. I found Mr. Ratsch on the steps of his house. In a
black frock-coat adorned with crape, with no hat on his head,
he fussed about, waved his arms, smote himself on the thighs,
shouted up to the house, and then down into the street, in
the direction of the funeral car with a white catafalque,
already standing there with two hired carriages. Near it four
garrison soldiers, with mourning capes over their old coats,
and mourning hats pulled over their screwed-up eyes, were
pensively scratching in the crumbling snow with the long
stems of their unlighted torches. The grey shock of hair
positively stood up straight above the red face of Mr.
Ratsch, and his voice, that brazen voice, was cracking from
the strain he was putting on it. 'Where are the pine
branches? pine branches! this way! the branches of pine!' he
yelled. 'They'll be bearing out the coffin directly! The
pine! Hand over those pine branches! Look alive!' he cried
once more, and dashed into the house. It appeared that in
spite of my punctuality, I was late: Mr. Ratsch had thought
fit to hurry things forward. The service in the house was
already over; the priests—of whom one wore a calotte,
and the other, rather younger, had most carefully combed and
oiled his hair—appeared with all their retinue on the
steps. The coffin too appeared soon after, carried by a
coachman, two door-keepers, and a water-carrier. Mr. Ratsch
walked behind, with the tips of his fingers on the coffin
lid, continually repeating, 'Easy, easy!' Behind him waddled
Eleonora Karpovna in a black dress, also adorned with crape,
surrounded by her whole family; after all of them, Viktor
stepped out in a new uniform with a sword with crape round
the handle. The coffin-bearers, grumbling and altercating
among themselves, laid the coffin on the hearse; the garrison
soldiers lighted their torches, which at once began crackling
and smoking; a stray old woman, who had joined herself on to
the party, raised a wail; the deacons began to chant, the
fine snow suddenly fell faster and whirled round like 'white
flies.' Mr. Ratsch bawled, 'In God's name! start!' and the
procession started. Besides Mr. Ratsch's family, there were
in all five men accompanying the hearse: a retired and
extremely shabby officer of roads and highways, with a faded
Stanislas ribbon—not improbably hired—on his
neck; the police superintendent's assistant, a diminutive man
with a meek face and greedy eyes; a little old man in a
fustian smock; an extremely fat fishmonger in a tradesman's
bluejacket, smelling strongly of his calling, and I. The
absence of the female sex (for one could hardly count as such
two aunts of Eleonora Karpovna, sisters of the sausagemaker,
and a hunchback old maiden lady with blue spectacles on her
blue nose), the absence of girl friends and acquaintances
struck me at first; but on thinking it over I realised that
Susanna, with her character, her education, her memories,
could not have made friends in the circle in which she was
living. In the church there were a good many people
assembled, more outsiders than acquaintances, as one could
see by the expression of their faces. The service did not
last long. What surprised me was that Mr. Ratsch crossed
himself with great fervour, quite as though he were of the
orthodox faith, and even chimed in with the deacons in the
responses, though only with the notes not with the words.
When at last it came to taking leave of the dead, I bowed
low, but did not give the last kiss. Mr. Ratsch, on the
contrary, went through this terrible ordeal with the utmost
composure, and with a deferential inclination of his person
invited the officer of the Stanislas ribbon to the coffin, as
though offering him entertainment, and picking his children
up under the arms swung them up in turn and held them up to
the body. Eleonora Karpovna, on taking farewell of Susanna,
suddenly broke into a roar that filled the church; but she
was soon soothed and continually asked in an exasperated
whisper, 'But where's my reticule?' Viktor held himself
aloof, and seemed to be trying by his whole demeanour to
convey that he was out of sympathy with all such customs and
was only performing a social duty. The person who showed the
most sympathy was the little old man in the smock, who had
been, fifteen years before, a land surveyor in the Tambov
province, and had not seen Ratsch since then. He did not know
Susanna at all, but had drunk a couple of glasses of spirits
at the sideboard before starting. My aunt had also come to
the church. She had somehow or other found out that the
deceased woman was the very lady who had paid me a visit, and
had been thrown into a state of indescribable agitation! She
could not bring herself to suspect me of any sort of
misconduct, but neither could she explain such a strange
chain of circumstances.... Not improbably she imagined that
Susanna had been led by love for me to commit suicide, and
attired in her darkest garments, with an aching heart and
tears, she prayed on her knees for the peace of the soul of
the departed, and put a rouble candle before the picture of
the Consolation of Sorrow.... 'Amishka' had come with her
too, and she too prayed, but was for the most part gazing at
me, horror-stricken.... That elderly spinster, alas! did not
regard me with indifference. On leaving the church, my aunt
distributed all her money, more than ten roubles, among the
At last the farewell was over. They began closing the coffin.
During the whole service I had not courage to look straight
at the poor girl's distorted face; but every time that my
eyes passed by it—'he did not come, he did not come,'
it seemed to me that it wanted to say. They were just going
to lower the lid upon the coffin. I could not restrain
myself: I turned a rapid glance on to the dead woman. 'Why
did you do it?' I was unconsciously asking.... 'He did not
come!' I fancied for the last time.... The hammer was
knocking in the nails, and all was over.
We followed the hearse towards the cemetery. We were forty in
number, of all sorts and conditions, nothing else really than
an idle crowd. The wearisome journey lasted more than an
hour. The weather became worse and worse. Halfway there
Viktor got into a carriage, but Mr. Ratsch stepped gallantly
on through the sloppy snow; just so must he have stepped
through the snow when, after the fateful interview with
Semyon Matveitch, he led home with him in triumph the girl
whose life he had ruined for ever. The 'veteran's' hair and
eyebrows were edged with snow; he kept blowing and uttering
exclamations, or manfully drawing deep breaths and puffing
out his round, dark-red cheeks.... One really might have
thought he was laughing. 'On my death the pension was to pass
to Ivan Demianitch'; these words from Susanna's manuscript
recurred again to my mind. We reached the cemetery at last;
we moved up to a freshly dug grave. The last ceremony was
quickly performed; all were chilled through, all were in
haste. The coffin slid on cords into the yawning hole; they
began to throw earth on it. Mr. Ratsch here too showed the
energy of his spirit, so rapidly, with such force and vigour,
did he fling clods of earth on to the coffin lid, throwing
himself into an heroic pose, with one leg planted firmly
before him... he could not have shown more energy if he had
been stoning his bitterest foe. Viktor, as before, held
himself aloof; he kept muffling himself up in his coat, and
rubbing his chin in the fur of his collar. Mr. Ratsch's other
children eagerly imitated their father. Flinging sand and
earth was a source of great enjoyment to them, for which, of
course, they were in no way to blame. A mound began to rise
up where the hole had been; we were on the point of
separating, when Mr. Ratsch, wheeling round to the left in
soldierly fashion, and slapping himself on the thigh,
announced to all of us 'gentlemen present,' that he invited
us, and also the 'reverend clergy,' to a 'funeral banquet,'
which had been arranged at no great distance from the
cemetery, in the chief saloon of an extremely superior
restaurant, 'thanks to the kind offices of our honoured
friend Sigismund Sigismundovitch.'... At these words he
indicated the assistant of the police superintendent, and
added that for all his grief and his Lutheran faith, he, Ivan
Demianitch Ratsch, as a genuine Russian, put the old Russian
usages before everything. 'My spouse,' he cried, 'with the
ladies that have accompanied her, may go home, while we
gentlemen commemorate in a modest repast the shade of Thy
departed servant!' Mr. Ratsch's proposal was received with
genuine sympathy; 'the reverend clergy' exchanged expressive
glances with one another, while the officer of roads and
highways slapped Ivan Demianitch on the shoulder, and called
him a patriot and the soul of the company.
We set off all together to the restaurant. In the restaurant,
in the middle of a long, wide, and quite empty room on the
first storey, stood two tables laid for dinner, covered with
bottles and eatables, and surrounded by chairs. The smell of
whitewash, mingled with the odours of spirits and salad oil,
was stifling and oppressive. The police superintendent's
assistant, as the organiser of the banquet, placed the clergy
in the seats of honour, near which the Lenten dishes were
crowded together conspicuously; after the priests the other
guests took their seats; the banquet began. I would not have
used such a festive word as banquet by choice, but no other
word would have corresponded with the real character of the
thing. At first the proceedings were fairly quiet, even
slightly mournful; jaws munched busily, and glasses were
emptied, but sighs too were audible—possibly sighs of
digestion, but possibly also of feeling. There were
references to death, allusions to the brevity of human life,
and the fleeting nature of earthly hopes. The officer of
roads and highways related a military but still edifying
anecdote. The priest in the calotte expressed his approval,
and himself contributed an interesting fact from the life of
the saint, Ivan the Warrior. The priest with the superbly
arranged hair, though his attention was chiefly engrossed by
the edibles, gave utterance to something improving on the
subject of chastity. But little by little all this changed.
Faces grew redder, and voices grew louder, and laughter
reasserted itself; one began to hear disconnected
exclamations, caressing appellations, after the manner of
'dear old boy,' 'dear heart alive,' 'old cock,' and even 'a
pig like that'—everything, in fact, of which the
Russian nature is so lavish, when, as they say, 'it comes
unbuttoned.' By the time that the corks of home-made
champagne were popping, the party had become noisy; some one
even crowed like a cock, while another guest was offering to
bite up and swallow the glass out of which he had just been
drinking. Mr. Ratsch, no longer red but purple, suddenly rose
from his seat; he had been guffawing and making a great noise
before, but now he asked leave to make a speech. 'Speak! Out
with it!' every one roared; the old man in the smock even
bawled 'bravo!' and clapped his hands... but he was already
sitting on the floor. Mr. Ratsch lifted his glass high above
his head, and announced that he proposed in brief but
'impressionable' phrases to refer to the qualities of the
noble soul which,'leaving here, so to say, its earthly husk
(die irdische Hülle) has soared to heaven, and
plunged...' Mr. Ratsch corrected himself: 'and plashed....'
He again corrected himself: 'and plunged...'
'Father deacon! Reverend sir! My good soul!' we heard a
subdued but insistent whisper, 'they say you've a devilish
good voice; honour us with a song, strike up: "We live among
'Sh! sh!... Shut up there!' passed over the lips of the
...'Plunged all her devoted family,' pursued Mr. Ratsch,
turning a severe glance in the direction of the lover of
music, 'plunged all her family into the most irreplaceable
grief! Yes!' cried Ivan Demianitch, 'well may the Russian
proverb say, "Fate spares not the rod."...'
'Stop! Gentlemen!' shouted a hoarse voice at the end of the
table, 'my purse has just been stolen!...'
'Ah, the swindler!' piped another voice, and slap! went a box
on the ear.
Heavens! What followed then! It was as though the wild beast,
till then only growling and faintly stirring within us, had
suddenly broken from its chains and reared up, ruffled and
fierce in all its hideousness. It seemed as though every one
had been secretly expecting 'a scandal,' as the natural
outcome and sequel of a banquet, and all, as it were, rushed
to welcome it, to support it.... Plates, glasses clattered
and rolled about, chairs were upset, a deafening din arose,
hands were waving in the air, coat-tails were flying, and a
fight began in earnest.
'Give it him! give it him!' roared like mad my neighbour, the
fishmonger, who had till that instant seemed to be the most
peaceable person in the world; it is true he had been
silently drinking some dozen glasses of spirits. 'Thrash
Who was to be thrashed, and what he was to be thrashed for,
he had no idea, but he bellowed furiously.
The police superintendent's assistant, the officer of roads
and highways, and Mr. Ratsch, who had probably not expected
such a speedy termination to his eloquence, tried to restore
order... but their efforts were unavailing. My neighbour, the
fishmonger, even fell foul of Mr. Ratsch himself.
'He's murdered the young woman, the blasted German,' he
yelled at him, shaking his fists; 'he's bought over the
police, and here he's crowing over it!!'
At this point the waiters ran in.... What happened further I
don't know; I snatched up my cap in all haste, and made off
as fast as my legs would carry me! All I remember is a
fearful crash; I recall, too, the remains of a herring in the
hair of the old man in the smock, a priest's hat flying right
across the room, the pale face of Viktor huddled up in a
corner, and a red beard in the grasp of a muscular hand....
Such were the last impressions I carried away of the
'memorial banquet,' arranged by the excellent Sigismund
Sigismundovitch in honour of poor Susanna.
After resting a little, I set off to see Fustov, and told him
all of which I had been a witness during that day. He
listened to me, sitting still, and not raising his head, and
putting both hands under his legs, he murmured again, 'Ah! my
poor girl, my poor girl!' and again lay down on the sofa and
turned his back on me.
A week later he seemed to have quite got over it, and took up
his life as before. I asked him for Susanna's manuscript as a
keepsake: he gave it me without raising any objection.
Several years passed by. My aunt was dead; I had left Moscow
and settled in Petersburg. Fustov too had moved to
Petersburg. He had entered the department of the Ministry of
Finance, but we rarely met and I saw nothing much in him
then. An official like every one else, and nothing more! If
he is still living and not married, he is, most likely,
unchanged to this day; he carves and carpenters and uses
dumb-bells, and is as much a lady-killer as ever, and
sketches Napoleon in a blue uniform in the albums of his lady
friends. It happened that I had to go to Moscow on business.
In Moscow I learned, with considerable surprise, that the
fortunes of my former acquaintance, Mr. Ratsch, had taken an
adverse turn. His wife had, indeed, presented him with twins,
two boys, whom as a true Russian he had christened
Briacheslav and Viacheslav, but his house had been burnt
down, he had been forced to retire from his position, and
worst of all, his eldest son, Viktor, had become practically
a permanent inmate of the debtors' prison. During my stay in
Moscow, among a company at a friendly gathering, I chanced to
hear an allusion made to Susanna, and a most slighting, most
insulting allusion! I did all I could to defend the memory of
the unhappy girl, to whom fate had denied even the charity of
oblivion, but my arguments did not make much impression on my
audience. One of them, a young student poet, was, however, a
little moved by my words. He sent me next day a poem, which I
have forgotten, but which ended in the following four lines:
'Her tomb lies cold, forlorn, but even death
Her gentle spirit's memory cannot save
From the sly voice of slander whispering on,
Withering the flowers on her forsaken tomb....'
I read these lines and unconsciously sank into musing.
Susanna's image rose before me; once more I seemed to see the
frozen window in my room; I recalled that evening and the
blustering snowstorm, and those words, those sobs.... I began
to ponder how it was possible to explain Susanna's love for
Fustov, and why she had so quickly, so impulsively given way
to despair, as soon as she saw herself forsaken. How was it
she had had no desire to wait a little, to hear the bitter
truth from the lips of the man she loved, to write to him,
even? How could she fling herself at once headlong into the
abyss? Because she was passionately in love with Fustov, I
shall be told; because she could not bear the slightest doubt
of his devotion, of his respect for her. Perhaps; or perhaps
because she was not at all so passionately in love with
Fustov; that she did not deceive herself about him, but
simply rested her last hopes on him, and could not get over
the thought that even this man had at once, at the first
breath of slander, turned away from her with contempt! Who
can say what killed her; wounded pride, or the wretchedness
of her helpless position, or the very memory of that first,
noble, true-hearted nature to whom she had so joyfully
pledged herself in the morning of her early days, who had so
deeply trusted her, and so honoured her? Who knows; perhaps
at the very instant when I fancied that her dead lips were
murmuring, 'he did not come!' her soul was rejoicing that she
had gone herself to him, to her Michel? The secrets of human
life are great, and love itself, the most impenetrable of
those secrets.... Anyway, to this day, whenever the image of
Susanna rises before me, I cannot overcome a feeling of pity
for her, and of angry reproach against fate, and my lips
whisper instinctively, 'Unhappy girl! unhappy girl!'