The Possessed, or, The Devils
A Novel In Three Parts
Translated From The Russian By Constance Garnett
CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTORY
CHAPTER II. PRINCE HARRY. MATCHMAKING
CHAPTER III. THE SINS OF OTHERS
CHAPTER IV. THE CRIPPLE
CHAPTER V. THE SUBTLE SERPENT
"Strike me dead, the track has vanished,
Well, what now? We've lost the way,
Demons have bewitched our horses,
Led us in the wilds astray.
"What a number! Whither drift they?
What's the mournful dirge they sing?
Do they hail a witch's marriage
Or a goblin's burying?"
"And there was one herd of many swine feeding on this
mountain; and they besought him that he would suffer them to
enter into them. And he suffered them.
"Then went the devils out of the man and entered into the
swine; and the herd ran violently down a steep place into
the lake and were choked.
"When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and
went and told it in the city and in the country.
"Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus
and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed,
sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind;
and they were afraid."
Luke, ch. viii. 32-37.
CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTORY
SOME DETAILS OF THE BIOGRAPHY OF THAT HIGHLY RESPECTED GENTLEMAN STEPAN
IN UNDERTAKING to describe the recent and strange incidents in our town,
till lately wrapped in uneventful obscurity, I find myself forced in
absence of literary skill to begin my story rather far back, that is
to say, with certain biographical details concerning that talented and
highly-esteemed gentleman, Stepan Trofimovitch Verhovensky. I trust that
these details may at least serve as an introduction, while my projected
story itself will come later.
I will say at once that Stepan Trofimovitch had always filled a
particular rôle among us, that of the progressive patriot, so to say,
and he was passionately fond of playing the part—so much so that I
really believe he could not have existed without it. Not that I would
put him on a level with an actor at a theatre, God forbid, for I really
have a respect for him. This may all have been the effect of habit, or
rather, more exactly of a generous propensity he had from his earliest
years for indulging in an agreeable day-dream in which he figured as
a picturesque public character. He fondly loved, for instance, his
position as a "persecuted" man and, so to speak, an "exile." There is a
sort of traditional glamour about those two little words that fascinated
him once for all and, exalting him gradually in his own opinion, raised
him in the course of years to a lofty pedestal very gratifying to
vanity. In an English satire of the last century, Gulliver, returning
from the land of the Lilliputians where the people were only three or
four inches high, had grown so accustomed to consider himself a giant
among them, that as he walked along the streets of London he could not
help crying out to carriages and passers-by to be careful and get out of
his way for fear he should crush them, imagining that they were little
and he was still a giant. He was laughed at and abused for it, and rough
coachmen even lashed at the giant with their whips. But was that just?
What may not be done by habit? Habit had brought Stepan Trofimovitch
almost to the same position, but in a more innocent and inoffensive
form, if one may use such expressions, for he was a most excellent man.
I am even inclined to suppose that towards the end he had been entirely
forgotten everywhere; but still it cannot be said that his name had
never been known. It is beyond question that he had at one time belonged
to a certain distinguished constellation of celebrated leaders of
the last generation, and at one time—though only for the briefest
moment—his name was pronounced by many hasty persons of that day almost
as though it were on a level with the names of Tchaadaev, of Byelinsky,
of Granovsky, and of Herzen, who had only just begun to write abroad.
But Stepan Trofimovitch's activity ceased almost at the moment it began,
owing, so to say, to a "vortex of combined circumstances." And would you
believe it? It turned out afterwards that there had been no "vortex" and
even no "circumstances," at least in that connection. I only learned
the other day to my intense amazement, though on the most unimpeachable
authority, that Stepan Trofimovitch had lived among us in our province
not as an "exile" as we were accustomed to believe, and had never even
been under police supervision at all. Such is the force of imagination!
All his life he sincerely believed that in certain spheres he was a
constant cause of apprehension, that every step he took was watched
and noted, and that each one of the three governors who succeeded one
another during twenty years in our province came with special and uneasy
ideas concerning him, which had, by higher powers, been impressed upon
each before everything else, on receiving the appointment. Had anyone
assured the honest man on the most irrefutable grounds that he had
nothing to be afraid of, he would certainly have been offended. Yet
Stepan Trofimovitch was a most intelligent and gifted man, even, so to
say, a man of science, though indeed, in science... well, in fact he
had not done such great things in science. I believe indeed he had done
nothing at all. But that's very often the case, of course, with men of
science among us in Russia.
He came back from abroad and was brilliant in the capacity of lecturer
at the university, towards the end of the forties. He only had time
to deliver a few lectures, I believe they were about the Arabs; he
maintained, too, a brilliant thesis on the political and Hanseatic
importance of the German town Hanau, of which there was promise in the
epoch between 1413 and 1428, and on the special and obscure reasons
why that promise was never fulfilled. This dissertation was a cruel
and skilful thrust at the Slavophils of the day, and at once made him
numerous and irreconcilable enemies among them. Later on—after he had
lost his post as lecturer, however—he published (by way of revenge,
so to say, and to show them what a man they had lost) in a progressive
monthly review, which translated Dickens and advocated the views of
George Sand, the beginning of a very profound investigation into the
causes, I believe, of the extraordinary moral nobility of certain
knights at a certain epoch or something of that nature.
Some lofty and exceptionally noble idea was maintained in it, anyway.
It was said afterwards that the continuation was hurriedly forbidden and
even that the progressive review had to suffer for having printed the
first part. That may very well have been so, for what was not possible
in those days? Though, in this case, it is more likely that there
was nothing of the kind, and that the author himself was too lazy to
conclude his essay. He cut short his lectures on the Arabs because,
somehow and by some one (probably one of his reactionary enemies) a
letter had been seized giving an account of certain circumstances, in
consequence of which some one had demanded an explanation from him. I
don't know whether the story is true, but it was asserted that at the
same time there was discovered in Petersburg a vast, unnatural, and
illegal conspiracy of thirty people which almost shook society to its
foundations. It was said that they were positively on the point of
translating Fourier. As though of design a poem of Stepan Trofimovitch's
was seized in Moscow at that very time, though it had been written six
years before in Berlin in his earliest youth, and manuscript copies had
been passed round a circle consisting of two poetical amateurs and one
student. This poem is lying now on my table. No longer ago than last
year I received a recent copy in his own handwriting from Stepan
Trofimovitch himself, signed by him, and bound in a splendid red leather
binding. It is not without poetic merit, however, and even a certain
talent. It's strange, but in those days (or to be more exact, in the
thirties) people were constantly composing in that style. I find it
difficult to describe the subject, for I really do not understand it.
It is some sort of an allegory in lyrical-dramatic form, recalling the
second part of Faust. The scene opens with a chorus of women, followed
by a chorus of men, then a chorus of incorporeal powers of some sort,
and at the end of all a chorus of spirits not yet living but very
eager to come to life. All these choruses sing about something very
indefinite, for the most part about somebody's curse, but with a tinge
of the higher humour. But the scene is suddenly changed. There begins a
sort of "festival of life" at which even insects sing, a tortoise
comes on the scene with certain sacramental Latin words, and even, if
I remember aright, a mineral sings about something that is a quite
inanimate object. In fact, they all sing continually, or if they
converse, it is simply to abuse one another vaguely, but again with
a tinge of higher meaning. At last the scene is changed again; a
wilderness appears, and among the rocks there wanders a civilized young
man who picks and sucks certain herbs. Asked by a fairy why he sucks
these herbs, he answers that, conscious of a superfluity of life in
himself, he seeks forgetfulness, and finds it in the juice of these
herbs, but that his great desire is to lose his reason at once (a desire
possibly superfluous). Then a youth of indescribable beauty rides in on
a black steed, and an immense multitude of all nations follow him.
The youth represents death, for whom all the peoples are yearning. And
finally, in the last scene we are suddenly shown the Tower of Babel, and
certain athletes at last finish building it with a song of new hope, and
when at length they complete the topmost pinnacle, the lord (of Olympia,
let us say) takes flight in a comic fashion, and man, grasping the
situation and seizing his place, at once begins a new life with new
insight into things. Well, this poem was thought at that time to be
dangerous. Last year I proposed to Stepan Trofimovitch to publish it,
on the ground of its perfect harmlessness nowadays, but he declined
the suggestion with evident dissatisfaction. My view of its complete
harmlessness evidently displeased him, and I even ascribe to it a
certain coldness on his part, which lasted two whole months.
And what do you think? Suddenly, almost at the time I proposed printing
it here, our poem was published abroad in a collection of revolutionary
verse, without the knowledge of Stepan Trofimovitch. He was at
first alarmed, rushed to the governor, and wrote a noble letter in
self-defence to Petersburg. He read it to me twice, but did not send
it, not knowing to whom to address it. In fact he was in a state of
agitation for a whole month, but I am convinced that in the secret
recesses of his heart he was enormously flattered. He almost took the
copy of the collection to bed with him, and kept it hidden under his
mattress in the daytime; he positively would not allow the women to turn
his bed, and although he expected every day a telegram, he held his head
high. No telegram came. Then he made friends with me again, which is a
proof of the extreme kindness of his gentle and unresentful heart.
Of course I don't assert that he had never suffered for his convictions
at all, but I am fully convinced that he might have gone on lecturing
on his Arabs as long as he liked, if he had only given the necessary
explanations. But he was too lofty, and he proceeded with peculiar haste
to assure himself that his career was ruined for ever "by the vortex of
circumstance." And if the whole truth is to be told the real cause of
the change in his career was the very delicate proposition which had
been made before and was then renewed by Varvara Petrovna Stavrogin, a
lady of great wealth, the wife of a lieutenant-general, that he should
undertake the education and the whole intellectual development of her
only son in the capacity of a superior sort of teacher and friend, to
say nothing of a magnificent salary. This proposal had been made to
him the first time in Berlin, at the moment when he was first left a
widower. His first wife was a frivolous girl from our province, whom he
married in his early and unthinking youth, and apparently he had had a
great deal of trouble with this young person, charming as she was,
owing to the lack of means for her support; and also from other, more
delicate, reasons. She died in Paris after three years' separation
from him, leaving him a son of five years old; "the fruit of our first,
joyous, and unclouded love," were the words the sorrowing father once
let fall in my presence.
The child had, from the first, been sent back to Russia, where he was
brought up in the charge of distant cousins in some remote region.
Stepan Trofimovitch had declined Varvara Petrovna's proposal on that
occasion and had quickly married again, before the year was over, a
taciturn Berlin girl, and, what makes it more strange, there was no
particular necessity for him to do so. But apart from his marriage there
were, it appears, other reasons for his declining the situation. He was
tempted by the resounding fame of a professor, celebrated at that time,
and he, in his turn, hastened to the lecturer's chair for which he had
been preparing himself, to try his eagle wings in flight. But now with
singed wings he naturally remembered the proposition which even then had
made him hesitate. The sudden death of his second wife, who did not live
a year with him, settled the matter decisively. To put it plainly it was
all brought about by the passionate sympathy and priceless, so to
speak, classic friendship of Varvara Petrovna, if one may use such
an expression of friendship. He flung himself into the arms of this
friendship, and his position was settled for more than twenty years. I
use the expression "flung himself into the arms of," but God forbid that
anyone should fly to idle and superfluous conclusions. These embraces
must be understood only in the most loftily moral sense. The most
refined and delicate tie united these two beings, both so remarkable,
The post of tutor was the more readily accepted too, as the property—a
very small one—left to Stepan Trofimovitch by his first wife was close
to Skvoreshniki, the Stavrogins' magnificent estate on the outskirts of
our provincial town. Besides, in the stillness of his study, far from
the immense burden of university work, it was always possible to devote
himself to the service of science, and to enrich the literature of his
country with erudite studies. These works did not appear. But on the
other hand it did appear possible to spend the rest of his life, more
than twenty years, "a reproach incarnate," so to speak, to his native
country, in the words of a popular poet:
Reproach incarnate thou didst stand
Erect before thy Fatherland,
O Liberal idealist!
But the person to whom the popular poet referred may perhaps have had
the right to adopt that pose for the rest of his life if he had wished
to do so, though it must have been tedious. Our Stepan Trofimovitch was,
to tell the truth, only an imitator compared with such people; moreover,
he had grown weary of standing erect and often lay down for a while.
But, to do him justice, the "incarnation of reproach" was preserved even
in the recumbent attitude, the more so as that was quite sufficient for
the province. You should have seen him at our club when he sat down to
cards. His whole figure seemed to exclaim "Cards! Me sit down to whist
with you! Is it consistent? Who is responsible for it? Who has shattered
my energies and turned them to whist? Ah, perish, Russia!" and he would
majestically trump with a heart.
And to tell the truth he dearly loved a game of cards, which led him,
especially in later years, into frequent and unpleasant skirmishes with
Varvara Petrovna, particularly as he was always losing. But of that
later. I will only observe that he was a man of tender conscience (that
is, sometimes) and so was often depressed. In the course of his twenty
years' friendship with Varvara Petrovna he used regularly, three or
four times a year, to sink into a state of "patriotic grief," as it
was called among us, or rather really into an attack of spleen, but our
estimable Varvara Petrovna preferred the former phrase. Of late years
his grief had begun to be not only patriotic, but at times alcoholic
too; but Varvara Petrovna's alertness succeeded in keeping him all his
life from trivial inclinations. And he needed some one to look after him
indeed, for he sometimes behaved very oddly: in the midst of his exalted
sorrow he would begin laughing like any simple peasant. There were
moments when he began to take a humorous tone even about himself. But
there was nothing Varvara Petrovna dreaded so much as a humorous tone.
She was a woman of the classic type, a female Mæcenas, invariably
guided only by the highest considerations. The influence of this exalted
lady over her poor friend for twenty years is a fact of the first
importance. I shall need to speak of her more particularly, which I now
proceed to do.
There are strange friendships. The two friends are always ready to fly
at one another, and go on like that all their lives, and yet they cannot
separate. Parting, in fact, is utterly impossible. The one who has begun
the quarrel and separated will be the first to fall ill and even die,
perhaps, if the separation comes off. I know for a positive fact that
several times Stepan Trofimovitch has jumped up from the sofa and
beaten the wall with his fists after the most intimate and emotional
tête-à-tête with Varvara Petrovna.
This proceeding was by no means an empty symbol; indeed, on one
occasion, he broke some plaster off the wall. It may be asked how I come
to know such delicate details. What if I were myself a witness of it?
What if Stepan Trofimovitch himself has, on more than one occasion,
sobbed on my shoulder while he described to me in lurid colours all his
most secret feelings. (And what was there he did not say at such times!)
But what almost always happened after these tearful outbreaks was that
next day he was ready to crucify himself for his ingratitude. He would
send for me in a hurry or run over to see me simply to assure me that
Varvara Petrovna was "an angel of honour and delicacy, while he was very
much the opposite." He did not only run to confide in me, but, on more
than one occasion, described it all to her in the most eloquent letter,
and wrote a full signed confession that no longer ago than the day
before he had told an outsider that she kept him out of vanity, that
she was envious of his talents and erudition, that she hated him and was
only afraid to express her hatred openly, dreading that he would leave
her and so damage her literary reputation, that this drove him to
self-contempt, and he was resolved to die a violent death, and that he
was waiting for the final word from her which would decide everything,
and so on and so on in the same style. You can fancy after this what
an hysterical pitch the nervous outbreaks of this most innocent of
all fifty-year-old infants sometimes reached! I once read one of these
letters after some quarrel between them, arising from a trivial matter,
but growing venomous as it went on. I was horrified and besought him not
to send it.
"I must... more honourable... duty... I shall die if I don't confess
everything, everything!" he answered almost in delirium, and he did send
That was the difference between them, that Varvara Petrovna never would
have sent such a letter. It is true that he was passionately fond of
writing, he wrote to her though he lived in the same house, and during
hysterical interludes he would write two letters a day. I know for a
fact that she always read these letters with the greatest attention,
even when she received two a day, and after reading them she put them
away in a special drawer, sorted and annotated; moreover, she pondered
them in her heart. But she kept her friend all day without an answer,
met him as though there were nothing the matter, exactly as though
nothing special had happened the day before. By degrees she broke him in
so completely that at last he did not himself dare to allude to what had
happened the day before, and only glanced into her eyes at times. But
she never forgot anything, while he sometimes forgot too quickly, and
encouraged by her composure he would not infrequently, if friends came
in, laugh and make jokes over the champagne the very same day. With what
malignancy she must have looked at him at such moments, while he noticed
nothing! Perhaps in a week's time, a month's time, or even six months
later, chancing to recall some phrase in such a letter, and then the
whole letter with all its attendant circumstances, he would suddenly
grow hot with shame, and be so upset that he fell ill with one of his
attacks of "summer cholera." These attacks of a sort of "summer cholera"
were, in some cases, the regular consequence of his nervous agitations
and were an interesting peculiarity of his physical constitution.
No doubt Varvara Petrovna did very often hate him. But there was one
thing he had not discerned up to the end: that was that he had become
for her a son, her creation, even, one may say, her invention; he had
become flesh of her flesh, and she kept and supported him not simply
from "envy of his talents." And how wounded she must have been by such
suppositions! An inexhaustible love for him lay concealed in her heart
in the midst of continual hatred, jealousy, and contempt. She would not
let a speck of dust fall upon him, coddled him up for twenty-two years,
would not have slept for nights together if there were the faintest
breath against his reputation as a poet, a learned man, and a public
character. She had invented him, and had been the first to believe in
her own invention. He was, after a fashion, her day-dream.... But in
return she exacted a great deal from him, sometimes even slavishness. It
was incredible how long she harboured resentment. I have two anecdotes
to tell about that.
On one occasion, just at the time when the first rumours of the
emancipation of the serfs were in the air, when all Russia was exulting
and making ready for a complete regeneration, Varvara Petrovna was
visited by a baron from Petersburg, a man of the highest connections,
and very closely associated with the new reform. Varvara Petrovna prized
such visits highly, as her connections in higher circles had grown
weaker and weaker since the death of her husband, and had at last ceased
altogether. The baron spent an hour drinking tea with her. There was no
one else present but Stepan Trofimovitch, whom Varvara Petrovna invited
and exhibited. The baron had heard something about him before or
affected to have done so, but paid little attention to him at tea.
Stepan Trofimovitch of course was incapable of making a social blunder,
and his manners were most elegant. Though I believe he was by no means
of exalted origin, yet it happened that he had from earliest childhood
been brought up in a Moscow household—of high rank, and consequently
was well bred. He spoke French like a Parisian. Thus the baron was to
have seen from the first glance the sort of people with whom Varvara
Petrovna surrounded herself, even in provincial seclusion. But things
did not fall out like this. When the baron positively asserted the
absolute truth of the rumours of the great reform, which were then
only just beginning to be heard, Stepan Trofimovitch could not contain
himself, and suddenly shouted "Hurrah!" and even made some gesticulation
indicative of delight. His ejaculation was not over-loud and quite
polite, his delight was even perhaps premeditated, and his gesture
purposely studied before the looking-glass half an hour before tea. But
something must have been amiss with it, for the baron permitted himself
a faint smile, though he, at once, with extraordinary courtesy, put in
a phrase concerning the universal and befitting emotion of all Russian
hearts in view of the great event. Shortly afterwards he took his
leave and at parting did not forget to hold out two fingers to Stepan
Trofimovitch. On returning to the drawing-room Varvara Petrovna was
at first silent for two or three minutes, and seemed to be looking for
something on the table. Then she turned to Stepan Trofimovitch, and with
pale face and flashing eyes she hissed in a whisper:
"I shall never forgive you for that!"
Next day she met her friend as though nothing had happened, she never
referred to the incident, but thirteen years afterwards, at a tragic
moment, she recalled it and reproached him with it, and she turned pale,
just as she had done thirteen years before. Only twice in the course of
her life did she say to him:
"I shall never forgive you for that!"
The incident with the baron was the second time, but the first incident
was so characteristic and had so much influence on the fate of Stepan
Trofimovitch that I venture to refer to that too.
It was in 1855, in spring-time, in May, just after the news had reached
Skvoreshniki of the death of Lieutenant-General Stavrogin, a frivolous
old gentleman who died of a stomach ailment on the way to the Crimea,
where he was hastening to join the army on active service. Varvara
Petrovna was left a widow and put on deep mourning. She could not, it is
true, deplore his death very deeply, since, for the last four years,
she had been completely separated from him owing to incompatibility of
temper, and was giving him an allowance. (The Lieutenant-General himself
had nothing but one hundred and fifty serfs and his pay, besides his
position and his connections. All the money and Skvoreshniki belonged to
Varvara Petrovna, the only daughter of a very rich contractor.) Yet she
was shocked by the suddenness of the news, and retired into complete
solitude. Stepan Trofimovitch, of course, was always at her side.
May was in its full beauty. The evenings were exquisite. The wild cherry
was in flower. The two friends walked every evening in the garden and
used to sit till nightfall in the arbour, and pour out their thoughts
and feelings to one another. They had poetic moments. Under the
influence of the change in her position Varvara Petrovna talked more
than usual. She, as it were, clung to the heart of her friend, and this
continued for several evenings. A strange idea suddenly came over Stepan
Trofimovitch: "Was not the inconsolable widow reckoning upon him, and
expecting from him, when her mourning was over, the offer of his hand?"
A cynical idea, but the very loftiness of a man's nature sometimes
increases a disposition to cynical ideas if only from the many-sidedness
of his culture. He began to look more deeply into it, and thought it
seemed like it. He pondered: "Her fortune is immense, of course, but..."
Varvara Petrovna certainly could not be called a beauty. She was a
tall, yellow, bony woman with an extremely long face, suggestive of a
horse. Stepan Trofimovitch hesitated more and more, he was tortured by
doubts, he positively shed tears of indecision once or twice (he wept
not infrequently). In the evenings, that is to say in the arbour, his
countenance involuntarily began to express something capricious and
ironical, something coquettish and at the same time condescending. This
is apt to happen as it were by accident, and the more gentlemanly the
man the more noticeable it is. Goodness only knows what one is to think
about it, but it's most likely that nothing had begun working in her
heart that could have fully justified Stepan Trofimovitch's suspicions.
Moreover, she would not have changed her name, Stavrogin, for his
name, famous as it was. Perhaps there was nothing in it but the play
of femininity on her side; the manifestation of an unconscious feminine
yearning so natural in some extremely feminine types. However, I won't
answer for it; the depths of the female heart have not been explored to
this day. But I must continue.
It is to be supposed that she soon inwardly guessed the significance of
her friend's strange expression; she was quick and observant, and he was
sometimes extremely guileless. But the evenings went on as before, and
their conversations were just as poetic and interesting. And behold
on one occasion at nightfall, after the most lively and poetical
conversation, they parted affectionately, warmly pressing each other's
hands at the steps of the lodge where Stepan Trofimovitch slept. Every
summer he used to move into this little lodge which stood adjoining the
huge seignorial house of Skvoreshniki, almost in the garden. He had only
just gone in, and in restless hesitation taken a cigar, and not having
yet lighted it, was standing weary and motionless before the open
window, gazing at the light feathery white clouds gliding around the
bright moon, when suddenly a faint rustle made him start and turn
round. Varvara Petrovna, whom he had left only four minutes earlier,
was standing before him again. Her yellow face was almost blue. Her lips
were pressed tightly together and twitching at the corners. For ten full
seconds she looked him in the eyes in silence with a firm relentless
gaze, and suddenly whispered rapidly:
"I shall never forgive you for this!"
When, ten years later, Stepan Trofimovitch, after closing the doors,
told me this melancholy tale in a whisper, he vowed that he had been so
petrified on the spot that he had not seen or heard how Varvara Petrovna
had disappeared. As she never once afterwards alluded to the incident
and everything went on as though nothing had happened, he was all his
life inclined to the idea that it was all an hallucination, a symptom
of illness, the more so as he was actually taken ill that very night
and was indisposed for a fortnight, which, by the way, cut short the
interviews in the arbour.
But in spite of his vague theory of hallucination he seemed every day,
all his life, to be expecting the continuation, and, so to say, the
dénouement of this affair. He could not believe that that was the end of
it! And if so he must have looked strangely sometimes at his friend.
She had herself designed the costume for him which he wore for the rest
of his life. It was elegant and characteristic; a long black frock-coat,
buttoned almost to the top, but stylishly cut; a soft hat (in summer a
straw hat) with a wide brim, a white batiste cravat with a full bow
and hanging ends, a cane with a silver knob; his hair flowed on to his
shoulders. It was dark brown, and only lately had begun to get a little
grey. He was clean-shaven. He was said to have been very handsome in his
youth. And, to my mind, he was still an exceptionally impressive figure
even in old age. Besides, who can talk of old age at fifty-three?
From his special pose as a patriot, however, he did not try to appear
younger, but seemed rather to pride himself on the solidity of his
age, and, dressed as described, tall and thin with flowing hair, he
looked almost like a patriarch, or even more like the portrait of the
poet Kukolnik, engraved in the edition of his works published in 1830 or
thereabouts. This resemblance was especially striking when he sat in the
garden in summertime, on a seat under a bush of flowering lilac, with
both hands propped on his cane and an open book beside him, musing
poetically over the setting sun. In regard to books I may remark that
he came in later years rather to avoid reading. But that was only quite
towards the end. The papers and magazines ordered in great profusion by
Varvara Petrovna he was continually reading. He never lost interest in
the successes of Russian literature either, though he always maintained
a dignified attitude with regard to them. He was at one time engrossed
in the study of our home and foreign politics, but he soon gave up the
undertaking with a gesture of despair. It sometimes happened that he
would take De Tocqueville with him into the garden while he had a Paul
de Kock in his pocket. But these are trivial matters.
I must observe in parenthesis about the portrait of Kukolnik; the
engraving had first come into the hands of Varvara Petrovna when she was
a girl in a high-class boarding-school in Moscow. She fell in love with
the portrait at once, after the habit of all girls at school who fall
in love with anything they come across, as well as with their teachers,
especially the drawing and writing masters. What is interesting in this,
though, is not the characteristics of girls but the fact that even at
fifty Varvara Petrovna kept the engraving among her most intimate and
treasured possessions, so that perhaps it was only on this account that
she had designed for Stepan Trofimovitch a costume somewhat like the
poet's in the engraving. But that, of course, is a trifling matter too.
For the first years or, more accurately, for the first half of the time
he spent with Varvara Petrovna, Stepan Trofimovitch was still planning a
book and every day seriously prepared to write it. But during the later
period he must have forgotten even what he had done. More and more
frequently he used to say to us:
"I seem to be ready for work, my materials are collected, yet the work
doesn't get done! Nothing is done!"
And he would bow his head dejectedly. No doubt this was calculated
to increase his prestige in our eyes as a martyr to science, but he
himself was longing for something else. "They have forgotten me! I'm
no use to anyone!" broke from him more than once. This intensified
depression took special hold of him towards the end of the fifties.
Varvara Petrovna realised at last that it was a serious matter. Besides,
she could not endure the idea that her friend was forgotten and useless.
To distract him and at the same time to renew his fame she carried him
off to Moscow, where she had fashionable acquaintances in the
literary and scientific world; but it appeared that Moscow too was
It was a peculiar time; something new was beginning, quite unlike the
stagnation of the past, something very strange too, though it was felt
everywhere, even at Skvoreshniki. Rumours of all sorts reached us. The
facts were generally more or less well known, but it was evident that
in addition to the facts there were certain ideas accompanying them,
and what's more, a great number of them. And this was perplexing. It was
impossible to estimate and find out exactly what was the drift of these
ideas. Varvara Petrovna was prompted by the feminine composition of her
character to a compelling desire to penetrate the secret of them.
She took to reading newspapers and magazines, prohibited publications
printed abroad and even the revolutionary manifestoes which were just
beginning to appear at the time (she was able to procure them all); but
this only set her head in a whirl. She fell to writing letters; she got
few answers, and they grew more incomprehensible as time went on. Stepan
Trofimovitch was solemnly called upon to explain "these ideas" to
her once for all, but she remained distinctly dissatisfied with his
Stepan Trofimovitch's view of the general movement was supercilious in
the extreme. In his eyes all it amounted to was that he was forgotten
and of no use. At last his name was mentioned, at first in periodicals
published abroad as that of an exiled martyr, and immediately afterwards
in Petersburg as that of a former star in a celebrated constellation.
He was even for some reason compared with Radishtchev. Then some one
printed the statement that he was dead and promised an obituary notice
of him. Stepan Trofimovitch instantly perked up and assumed an air of
immense dignity. All his disdain for his contemporaries evaporated and
he began to cherish the dream of joining the movement and showing his
powers. Varvara Petrovna's faith in everything instantly revived and she
was thrown into a violent ferment. It was decided to go to Petersburg
without a moment's delay, to find out everything on the spot, to go into
everything personally, and, if possible, to throw themselves heart and
soul into the new movement. Among other things she announced that she
was prepared to found a magazine of her own, and henceforward to devote
her whole life to it. Seeing what it had come to, Stepan Trofimovitch
became more condescending than ever, and on the journey began to behave
almost patronisingly to Varvara Petrovna—which she at once laid up in
her heart against him. She had, however, another very important reason
for the trip, which was to renew her connections in higher spheres.
It was necessary, as far as she could, to remind the world of her
existence, or at any rate to make an attempt to do so. The ostensible
object of the journey was to see her only son, who was just finishing
his studies at a Petersburg lyceum.
They spent almost the whole winter season in Petersburg. But by Lent
everything burst like a rainbow-coloured soap-bubble.
Their dreams were dissipated, and the muddle, far from being cleared
up, had become even more revoltingly incomprehensible. To begin with,
connections with the higher spheres were not established, or only on a
microscopic scale, and by humiliating exertions. In her mortification
Varvara Petrovna threw herself heart and soul into the "new ideas," and
began giving evening receptions. She invited literary people, and they
were brought to her at once in multitudes. Afterwards they came of
themselves without invitation, one brought another. Never had she seen
such literary men. They were incredibly vain, but quite open in their
vanity, as though they were performing a duty by the display of it.
Some (but by no means all) of them even turned up intoxicated, seeming,
however, to detect in this a peculiar, only recently discovered, merit.
They were all strangely proud of something. On every face was written
that they had only just discovered some extremely important secret. They
abused one another, and took credit to themselves for it. It was rather
difficult to find out what they had written exactly, but among them
there were critics, novelists, dramatists, satirists, and exposers of
abuses. Stepan Trofimovitch penetrated into their very highest circle
from which the movement was directed. Incredible heights had to be
scaled to reach this group; but they gave him a cordial welcome, though,
of course, no one of them had ever heard of him or knew anything about
him except that he "represented an idea." His manœuvres among them
were so successful that he got them twice to Varvara Petrovna's salon
in spite of their Olympian grandeur. These people were very serious and
very polite; they behaved nicely; the others were evidently afraid of
them; but it was obvious that they had no time to spare. Two or three
former literary celebrities who happened to be in Petersburg, and with
whom Varvara Petrovna had long maintained a most refined correspondence,
came also. But to her surprise these genuine and quite indubitable
celebrities were stiller than water, humbler than the grass, and some
of them simply hung on to this new rabble, and were shamefully cringing
before them. At first Stepan Trofimovitch was a success. People caught
at him and began to exhibit him at public literary gatherings. The first
time he came on to the platform at some public reading in which he was
to take part, he was received with enthusiastic clapping which lasted
for five minutes. He recalled this with tears nine years afterwards,
though rather from his natural artistic sensibility than from gratitude.
"I swear, and I'm ready to bet," he declared (but only to me, and in
secret), "that not one of that audience knew anything whatever about
me." A noteworthy admission. He must have had a keen intelligence since
he was capable of grasping his position so clearly even on the platform,
even in such a state of exaltation; it also follows that he had not
a keen intelligence if, nine years afterwards, he could not recall
it without mortification, he was made to sign two or three collective
protests (against what he did not know); he signed them. Varvara
Petrovna too was made to protest against some "disgraceful action" and
she signed too. The majority of these new people, however, though they
visited Varvara Petrovna, felt themselves for some reason called upon
to regard her with contempt, and with undisguised irony. Stepan
Trofimovitch hinted to me at bitter moments afterwards that it was from
that time she had been envious of him. She saw, of course, that she
could not get on with these people, yet she received them eagerly,
with all the hysterical impatience of her sex, and, what is more, she
expected something. At her parties she talked little, although she could
talk, but she listened the more. They talked of the abolition of the
censorship, and of phonetic spelling, of the substitution of the Latin
characters for the Russian alphabet, of some one's having been sent into
exile the day before, of some scandal, of the advantage of splitting
Russia into nationalities united in a free federation, of the abolition
of the army and the navy, of the restoration of Poland as far as
the Dnieper, of the peasant reforms, and of the manifestoes, of the
abolition of the hereditary principle, of the family, of children, and
of priests, of women's rights, of Kraevsky's house, for which no one
ever seemed able to forgive Mr. Kraevsky, and so on, and so on. It was
evident that in this mob of new people there were many impostors, but
undoubtedly there were also many honest and very attractive people, in
spite of some surprising characteristics in them. The honest ones were
far more difficult to understand than the coarse and dishonest, but it
was impossible to tell which was being made a tool of by the other.
When Varvara Petrovna announced her idea of founding a magazine, people
flocked to her in even larger numbers, but charges of being a capitalist
and an exploiter of labour were showered upon her to her face. The
rudeness of these accusations was only equalled by their unexpectedness.
The aged General Ivan Ivanovitch Drozdov, an old friend and comrade
of the late General Stavrogin's, known to us all here as an extremely
stubborn and irritable, though very estimable, man (in his own way, of
course), who ate a great deal, and was dreadfully afraid of atheism,
quarrelled at one of Varvara Petrovna's parties with a distinguished
young man. The latter at the first word exclaimed, "You must be a
general if you talk like that," meaning that he could find no word of
abuse worse than "general."
Ivan Ivanovitch flew into a terrible passion: "Yes, sir, I am a general,
and a lieutenant-general, and I have served my Tsar, and you, sir, are a
puppy and an infidel!"
An outrageous scene followed. Next day the incident was exposed in
print, and they began getting up a collective protest against Varvara
Petrovna's disgraceful conduct in not having immediately turned
the general out. In an illustrated paper there appeared a malignant
caricature in which Varvara Petrovna, Stepan Trofimovitch, and General
Drozdov were depicted as three reactionary friends. There were verses
attached to this caricature written by a popular poet especially for the
occasion. I may observe, for my own part, that many persons of general's
rank certainly have an absurd habit of saying, "I have served my
Tsar"...just as though they had not the same Tsar as all the rest of us,
their simple fellow-subjects, but had a special Tsar of their own.
It was impossible, of course, to remain any longer in Petersburg, all
the more so as Stepan Trofimovitch was overtaken by a complete fiasco.
He could not resist talking of the claims of art, and they laughed
at him more loudly as time went on. At his last lecture he thought to
impress them with patriotic eloquence, hoping to touch their hearts,
and reckoning on the respect inspired by his "persecution." He did
not attempt to dispute the uselessness and absurdity of the word
"fatherland," acknowledged the pernicious influence of religion, but
firmly and loudly declared that boots were of less consequence than
Pushkin; of much less, indeed. He was hissed so mercilessly that he
burst into tears, there and then, on the platform. Varvara Petrovna took
him home more dead than alive. "On m'a traité comme un vieux bonnet
de coton," he babbled senselessly. She was looking after him all night,
giving him laurel-drops and repeating to him till daybreak, "You will
still be of use; you will still make your mark; you will be appreciated
... in another place."
Early next morning five literary men called on Varvara Petrovna, three
of them complete strangers, whom she had never set eyes on before. With
a stern air they informed her that they had looked into the question of
her magazine, and had brought her their decision on the subject. Varvara
Petrovna had never authorised anyone to look into or decide anything
concerning her magazine. Their decision was that, having founded the
magazine, she should at once hand it over to them with the capital to
run it, on the basis of a co-operative society. She herself was to
go back to Skvoreshniki, not forgetting to take with her Stepan
Trofimovitch, who was "out of date." From delicacy they agreed to
recognise the right of property in her case, and to send her every year
a sixth part of the net profits. What was most touching about it
was that of these five men, four certainly were not actuated by any
mercenary motive, and were simply acting in the interests of the
"We came away utterly at a loss," Stepan Trofimovitch used to say
afterwards. "I couldn't make head or tail of it, and kept muttering, I
remember, to the rumble of the train:
'Vyek, and vyek, and Lyov Kambek,
Lyov Kambek and vyek, and vyek.'
and goodness knows what, all the way to Moscow. It was only in Moscow
that I came to myself—as though we really might find something
"Oh, my friends!" he would exclaim to us sometimes with fervour, "you
cannot imagine what wrath and sadness overcome your whole soul when a
great idea, which you have long cherished as holy, is caught up by the
ignorant and dragged forth before fools like themselves into the street,
and you suddenly meet it in the market unrecognisable, in the mud,
absurdly set up, without proportion, without harmony, the plaything of
foolish louts! No! In our day it was not so, and it was not this for
which we strove. No, no, not this at all. I don't recognise it.... Our
day will come again and will turn all the tottering fabric of to-day
into a true path. If not, what will happen?..."
Immediately on their return from Petersburg Varvara Petrovna sent her
friend abroad to "recruit"; and, indeed, it was necessary for them to
part for a time, she felt that. Stepan Trofimovitch was delighted to go.
"There I shall revive!" he exclaimed. "There, at last, I shall set to
work!" But in the first of his letters from Berlin he struck his usual
"My heart is broken!" he wrote to Varvara Petrovna. "I can forget
nothing! Here, in Berlin, everything brings back to me my old past, my
first raptures and my first agonies. Where is she? Where are they both?
Where are you two angels of whom I was never worthy? Where is my son, my
beloved son? And last of all, where am I, where is my old self, strong
as steel, firm as a rock, when now some Andreev, our orthodox clown with
a beard, peut briser mon existence en deux"—and so on.
As for Stepan Trofimovitch's son, he had only seen him twice in his
life, the first time when he was born and the second time lately in
Petersburg, where the young man was preparing to enter the university.
The boy had been all his life, as we have said already, brought up by
his aunts (at Varvara Petrovna's expense) in a remote province, nearly
six hundred miles from Skvoreshniki. As for Andreev, he was nothing
more or less than our local shopkeeper, a very eccentric fellow, a
self-taught archæologist who had a passion for collecting Russian
antiquities and sometimes tried to outshine Stepan Trofimovitch in
erudition and in the progressiveness of his opinions. This worthy
shopkeeper, with a grey beard and silver-rimmed spectacles, still owed
Stepan Trofimovitch four hundred roubles for some acres of timber he had
bought on the latter's little estate (near Skvoreshniki). Though Varvara
Petrovna had liberally provided her friend with funds when she sent him
to Berlin, yet Stepan Trofimovitch had, before starting, particularly
reckoned on getting that four hundred roubles, probably for his secret
expenditure, and was ready to cry when Andreev asked leave to defer
payment for a month, which he had a right to do, since he had brought
the first installments of the money almost six months in advance to meet
Stepan Trofimovitch's special need at the time.
Varvara Petrovna read this first letter greedily, and underlining in
pencil the exclamation: "Where are they both?" numbered it and put it
away in a drawer. He had, of course, referred to his two deceased wives.
The second letter she received from Berlin was in a different strain:
"I am working twelve hours out of the twenty-four." ("Eleven would be
enough," muttered Varvara Petrovna.) "I'm rummaging in the libraries,
collating, copying, rushing about. I've visited the professors. I have
renewed my acquaintance with the delightful Dundasov family. What a
charming creature Lizaveta Nikolaevna is even now! She sends you her
greetings. Her young husband and three nephews are all in Berlin. I
sit up talking till daybreak with the young people and we have almost
Athenian evenings, Athenian, I mean, only in their intellectual subtlety
and refinement. Everything is in noble style; a great deal of music,
Spanish airs, dreams of the regeneration of all humanity, ideas
of eternal beauty, of the Sistine Madonna, light interspersed with
darkness, but there are spots even on the sun! Oh, my friend, my noble,
faithful friend! In heart I am with you and am yours; with you alone,
always, en tout pays, even in le pays de Makar et de ses veaux, of
which we often used to talk in agitation in Petersburg, do you remember,
before we came away. I think of it with a smile. Crossing the frontier I
felt myself in safety, a sensation, strange and new, for the first time
after so many years"—and so on and so on.
"Come, it's all nonsense!" Varvara Petrovna commented, folding up that
letter too. "If he's up till daybreak with his Athenian nights, he isn't
at his books for twelve hours a day. Was he drunk when he wrote it?
That Dundasov woman dares to send me greetings! But there, let him amuse
The phrase "dans le pays de Makar et de ses veaux" meant: "wherever
Makar may drive his calves." Stepan Trofimovitch sometimes purposely
translated Russian proverbs and traditional sayings into French in the
most stupid way, though no doubt he was able to understand and translate
them better. But he did it from a feeling that it was chic, and thought
But he did not amuse himself for long. He could not hold out for four
months, and was soon flying back to Skvoreshniki. His last letters
consisted of nothing but outpourings of the most sentimental love for
his absent friend, and were literally wet with tears. There are natures
extremely attached to home like lap-dogs. The meeting of the friends was
enthusiastic. Within two days everything was as before and even duller
than before. "My friend," Stepan Trofimovitch said to me a fortnight
after, in dead secret, "I have discovered something awful for me...
something new: je suis un simple dependent, et rien de plus! Mais
r-r-rien de plus."
After this we had a period of stagnation which lasted nine years.
The hysterical outbreaks and sobbings on my shoulder that recurred at
regular intervals did not in the least mar our prosperity. I wonder that
Stepan Trofimovitch did not grow stout during this period. His nose was
a little redder, and his manner had gained in urbanity, that was all. By
degrees a circle of friends had formed around him, although it was never
a very large one. Though Varvara Petrovna had little to do with the
circle, yet we all recognised her as our patroness. After the lesson she
had received in Petersburg, she settled down in our town for good. In
winter she lived in her town house and spent the summer on her estate
in the neighbourhood. She had never enjoyed so much consequence and
prestige in our provincial society as during the last seven years of
this period, that is up to the time of the appointment of our present
governor. Our former governor, the mild Ivan Ossipovitch, who will never
be forgotten among us, was a near relation of Varvara Petrovna's, and
had at one time been under obligations to her. His wife trembled at the
very thought of displeasing her, while the homage paid her by provincial
society was carried almost to a pitch that suggested idolatry. So Stepan
Trofimovitch, too, had a good time. He was a member of the club, lost at
cards majestically, and was everywhere treated with respect, though
many people regarded him only as a "learned man." Later on, when Varvara
Petrovna allowed him to live in a separate house, we enjoyed greater
freedom than before. Twice a week we used to meet at his house. We were
a merry party, especially when he was not sparing of the champagne. The
wine came from the shop of the same Andreev. The bill was paid twice
a year by Varvara Petrovna, and on the day it was paid Stepan
Trofimovitch almost invariably suffered from an attack of his "summer
One of the first members of our circle was Liputin, an elderly
provincial official, and a great liberal, who was reputed in the town
to be an atheist. He had married for the second time a young and pretty
wife with a dowry, and had, besides, three grown-up daughters. He
brought up his family in the fear of God, and kept a tight hand over
them. He was extremely stingy, and out of his salary had bought himself
a house and amassed a fortune. He was an uncomfortable sort of man, and
had not been in the service. He was not much respected in the town, and
was not received in the best circles. Moreover, he was a scandal-monger,
and had more than once had to smart for his back-biting, for which he
had been badly punished by an officer, and again by a country gentleman,
the respectable head of a family. But we liked his wit, his inquiring
mind, his peculiar, malicious liveliness. Varvara Petrovna disliked him,
but he always knew how to make up to her.
Nor did she care for Shatov, who became one of our circle during the
last years of this period. Shatov had been a student and had been
expelled from the university after some disturbance. In his childhood he
had been a student of Stepan Trofimovitch's and was by birth a serf of
Varvara Petrovna's, the son of a former valet of hers, Pavel Fyodoritch,
and was greatly indebted to her bounty. She disliked him for his pride
and ingratitude and could never forgive him for not having come straight
to her on his expulsion from the university. On the contrary he had not
even answered the letter she had expressly sent him at the time, and
preferred to be a drudge in the family of a merchant of the new style,
with whom he went abroad, looking after his children more in the
position of a nurse than of a tutor. He was very eager to travel at the
time. The children had a governess too, a lively young Russian lady, who
also became one of the household on the eve of their departure, and
had been engaged chiefly because she was so cheap. Two months later the
merchant turned her out of the house for "free thinking." Shatov took
himself off after her and soon afterwards married her in Geneva.
They lived together about three weeks, and then parted as free people
recognising no bonds, though, no doubt, also through poverty. He
wandered about Europe alone for a long time afterwards, living God knows
how; he is said to have blacked boots in the street, and to have been a
porter in some dockyard. At last, a year before, he had returned to his
native place among us and settled with an old aunt, whom he buried a
month later. His sister Dasha, who had also been brought up by Varvara
Petrovna, was a favourite of hers, and treated with respect and
consideration in her house. He saw his sister rarely and was not on
intimate terms with her. In our circle he was always sullen, and never
talkative; but from time to time, when his convictions were touched
upon, he became morbidly irritable and very unrestrained in his
"One has to tie Shatov up and then argue with him," Stepan Trofimovitch
would sometimes say in joke, but he liked him.
Shatov had radically changed some of his former socialistic convictions
abroad and had rushed to the opposite extreme. He was one of those
idealistic beings common in Russia, who are suddenly struck by some
overmastering idea which seems, as it were, to crush them at once, and
sometimes for ever. They are never equal to coping with it, but put
passionate faith in it, and their whole life passes afterwards, as it
were, in the last agonies under the weight of the stone that has fallen
upon them and half crushed them. In appearance Shatov was in complete
harmony with his convictions: he was short, awkward, had a shock of
flaxen hair, broad shoulders, thick lips, very thick overhanging white
eyebrows, a wrinkled forehead, and a hostile, obstinately downcast, as
it were shamefaced, expression in his eyes. His hair was always in a
wild tangle and stood up in a shock which nothing could smooth. He was
seven- or eight-and-twenty.
"I no longer wonder that his wife ran away from him," Varvara Petrovna
enunciated on one occasion after gazing intently at him. He tried to be
neat in his dress, in spite of his extreme poverty. He refrained again
from appealing to Varvara Petrovna, and struggled along as best he
could, doing various jobs for tradespeople. At one time he served in a
shop, at another he was on the point of going as an assistant clerk on a
freight steamer, but he fell ill just at the time of sailing. It is
hard to imagine what poverty he was capable of enduring without thinking
about it at all. After his illness Varvara Petrovna sent him a hundred
roubles, anonymously and in secret. He found out the secret, however,
and after some reflection took the money and went to Varvara Petrovna to
thank her. She received him with warmth, but on this occasion, too,
he shamefully disappointed her. He only stayed five minutes, staring
blankly at the ground and smiling stupidly in profound silence, and
suddenly, at the most interesting point, without listening to what
she was saying, he got up, made an uncouth sideways bow, helpless
with confusion, caught against the lady's expensive inlaid work-table,
upsetting it on the floor and smashing it to atoms, and walked out
nearly dead with shame. Liputin blamed him severely afterwards for
having accepted the hundred roubles and having even gone to thank
Varvara Petrovna for them, instead of having returned the money with
contempt, because it had come from his former despotic mistress. He
lived in solitude on the outskirts of the town, and did not like any
of us to go and see him. He used to turn up invariably at Stepan
Trofimovitch's evenings, and borrowed newspapers and books from him.
There was another young man who always came, one Virginsky, a clerk in
the service here, who had something in common with Shatov, though on
the surface he seemed his complete opposite in every respect. He was a
"family man" too. He was a pathetic and very quiet young man though
he was thirty; he had considerable education though he was chiefly
self-taught. He was poor, married, and in the service, and supported the
aunt and sister of his wife. His wife and all the ladies of his family
professed the very latest convictions, but in rather a crude form.
It was a case of "an idea dragged forth into the street," as Stepan
Trofimovitch had expressed it upon a former occasion. They got it
all out of books, and at the first hint coming from any of our little
progressive corners in Petersburg they were prepared to throw anything
overboard, so soon as they were advised to do so, Madame Virginsky
practised as a midwife in the town. She had lived a long while
in Petersburg as a girl. Virginsky himself was a man of rare
single-heartedness, and I have seldom met more honest fervour.
"I will never, never, abandon these bright hopes," he used to say to me
with shining eyes. Of these "bright hopes" he always spoke quietly, in
a blissful half-whisper, as it were secretly. He was rather tall, but
extremely thin and narrow-shouldered, and had extraordinarily lank hair
of a reddish hue. All Stepan Trofimovitch's condescending gibes at
some of his opinions he accepted mildly, answered him sometimes very
seriously, and often nonplussed him. Stepan Trofimovitch treated him
very kindly, and indeed he behaved like a father to all of us. "You are
all half-hearted chickens," he observed to Virginsky in joke. "All
who are like you, though in you, Virginsky, I have not observed that
narrow-mindedness I found in Petersburg, chez ces séminaristes. But
you're a half-hatched chicken all the same. Shatov would give anything
to hatch out, but he's half-hatched too."
"And I?" Liputin inquired.
"You're simply the golden mean which will get on anywhere in its own
way." Liputin was offended.
The story was told of Virginsky, and it was unhappily only too true,
that before his wife had spent a year in lawful wedlock with him she
announced that he was superseded and that she preferred Lebyadkin. This
Lebyadkin, a stranger to the town, turned out afterwards to be a very
dubious character, and not a retired captain as he represented himself
to be. He could do nothing but twist his moustache, drink, and chatter
the most inept nonsense that can possibly be imagined. This fellow, who
was utterly lacking in delicacy, at once settled in his house, glad to
live at another man's expense, ate and slept there and came, in the end,
to treating the master of the house with condescension. It was asserted
that when Virginsky's wife had announced to him that he was superseded
he said to her:
"My dear, hitherto I have only loved you, but now I respect you," but I
doubt whether this renunciation, worthy of ancient Rome, was ever really
uttered. On the contrary they say that he wept violently. A fortnight
after he was superseded, all of them, in a "family party," went one day
for a picnic to a wood outside the town to drink tea with their friends.
Virginsky was in a feverishly lively mood and took part in the dances.
But suddenly, without any preliminary quarrel, he seized the giant
Lebyadkin with both hands, by the hair, just as the latter was dancing
a can-can solo, pushed him down, and began dragging him along with
shrieks, shouts, and tears. The giant was so panic-stricken that he did
not attempt to defend himself, and hardly uttered a sound all the time
he was being dragged along. But afterwards he resented it with all the
heat of an honourable man. Virginsky spent a whole night on his knees
begging his wife's forgiveness. But this forgiveness was not granted, as
he refused to apologise to Lebyadkin; moreover, he was upbraided for the
meanness of his ideas and his foolishness, the latter charge based on
the fact that he knelt down in the interview with his wife. The captain
soon disappeared and did not reappear in our town till quite lately,
when he came with his sister, and with entirely different aims; but
of him later. It was no wonder that the poor young husband sought our
society and found comfort in it. But he never spoke of his home-life to
us. On one occasion only, returning with me from Stepan Trofimovitch's,
he made a remote allusion to his position, but clutching my hand at once
he cried ardently:
"It's of no consequence. It's only a personal incident. It's no
hindrance to the 'cause,' not the slightest!"
Stray guests visited our circle too; a Jew, called Lyamshin, and a
Captain Kartusov came. An old gentleman of inquiring mind used to come
at one time, but he died. Liputin brought an exiled Polish priest called
Slontsevsky, and for a time we received him on principle, but afterwards
we didn't keep it up.
At one time it was reported about the town that our little circle was a
hotbed of nihilism, profligacy, and godlessness, and the rumour gained
more and more strength. And yet we did nothing but indulge in the most
harmless, agreeable, typically Russian, light-hearted liberal chatter.
"The higher liberalism" and the "higher liberal," that is, a liberal
without any definite aim, is only possible in Russia.
Stepan Trofimovitch, like every witty man, needed a listener, and,
besides that, he needed the consciousness that he was fulfilling the
lofty duty of disseminating ideas. And finally he had to have some one
to drink champagne with, and over the wine to exchange light-hearted
views of a certain sort, about Russia and the "Russian spirit," about
God in general, and the "Russian God" in particular, to repeat for the
hundredth time the same Russian scandalous stories that every one knew
and every one repeated. We had no distaste for the gossip of the town
which often, indeed, led us to the most severe and loftily moral
verdicts. We fell into generalising about humanity, made stern
reflections on the future of Europe and mankind in general,
authoritatively predicted that after Cæsarism France would at once sink
into the position of a second-rate power, and were firmly convinced that
this might terribly easily and quickly come to pass. We had long ago
predicted that the Pope would play the part of a simple archbishop in
a united Italy, and were firmly convinced that this thousand-year-old
question had, in our age of humanitarianism, industry, and railways,
become a trifling matter. But, of course, "Russian higher liberalism"
could not look at the question in any other way. Stepan Trofimovitch
sometimes talked of art, and very well, though rather abstractly. He
sometimes spoke of the friends of his youth—all names noteworthy in
the history of Russian progress. He talked of them with emotion and
reverence, though sometimes with envy. If we were very much bored, the
Jew, Lyamshin (a little post-office clerk), a wonderful performer on
the piano, sat down to play, and in the intervals would imitate a pig,
a thunderstorm, a confinement with the first cry of the baby, and so on,
and so on; it was only for this that he was invited, indeed. If we had
drunk a great deal—and that did happen sometimes, though not often—we
flew into raptures, and even on one occasion sang the "Marseillaise" in
chorus to the accompaniment of Lyamshin, though I don't know how it
went off. The great day, the nineteenth of February, we welcomed
enthusiastically, and for a long time beforehand drank toasts in its
honour. But that was long ago, before the advent of Shatov or Virginsky,
when Stepan Trofimovitch was still living in the same house with Varvara
Petrovna. For some time before the great day Stepan Trofimovitch
fell into the habit of muttering to himself well-known, though rather
far-fetched, lines which must have been written by some liberal
landowner of the past:
"The peasant with his axe is coming,
Something terrible will happen."
Something of that sort, I don't remember the exact words. Varvara
Petrovna overheard him on one occasion, and crying, "Nonsense,
nonsense!" she went out of the room in a rage. Liputin, who happened to
be present, observed malignantly to Stepan Trofimovitch:
"It'll be a pity if their former serfs really do some mischief to
messieurs les landowners to celebrate the occasion," and he drew his
forefinger round his throat.
"Cher ami," Stepan Trofimovitch observed, "believe me that—this (he
repeated the gesture) will never be of any use to our landowners nor to
any of us in general. We shall never be capable of organising anything
even without our heads, though our heads hinder our understanding more
I may observe that many people among us anticipated that something
extraordinary, such as Liputin predicted, would take place on the day
of the emancipation, and those who held this view were the so-called
"authorities" on the peasantry and the government. I believe Stepan
Trofimovitch shared this idea, so much so that almost on the eve of the
great day he began asking Varvara Petrovna's leave to go abroad; in fact
he began to be uneasy. But the great day passed, and some time
passed after it, and the condescending smile reappeared on Stepan
Trofimovitch's lips. In our presence he delivered himself of some
noteworthy thoughts on the character of the Russian in general, and the
Russian peasant in particular.
"Like hasty people we have been in too great a hurry with our peasants,"
he said in conclusion of a series of remarkable utterances. "We have
made them the fashion, and a whole section of writers have for several
years treated them as though they were newly discovered curiosities. We
have put laurel-wreaths on lousy heads. The Russian village has given us
only 'Kamarinsky' in a thousand years. A remarkable Russian poet who was
also something of a wit, seeing the great Rachel on the stage for the
first time cried in ecstasy, 'I wouldn't exchange Rachel for a peasant!'
I am prepared to go further. I would give all the peasants in Russia
for one Rachel. It's high time to look things in the face more
soberly, and not to mix up our national rustic pitch with bouquet de
Liputin agreed at once, but remarked that one had to perjure oneself and
praise the peasant all the same for the sake of being progressive, that
even ladies in good society shed tears reading "Poor Anton," and that
some of them even wrote from Paris to their bailiffs that they were,
henceforward, to treat the peasants as humanely as possible.
It happened, and as ill-luck would have it just after the rumours of the
Anton Petrov affair had reached us, that there was some disturbance
in our province too, only about ten miles from Skvoreshniki, so that a
detachment of soldiers was sent down in a hurry.
This time Stepan Trofimovitch was so much upset that he even frightened
us. He cried out at the club that more troops were needed, that they
ought to be telegraphed for from another province; he rushed off to the
governor to protest that he had no hand in it, begged him not to allow
his name on account of old associations to be brought into it, and
offered to write about his protest to the proper quarter in Petersburg.
Fortunately it all passed over quickly and ended in nothing, but I was
surprised at Stepan Trofimovitch at the time.
Three years later, as every one knows, people were beginning to talk
of nationalism, and "public opinion" first came upon the scene. Stepan
Trofimovitch laughed a great deal.
"My friends," he instructed us, "if our nationalism has 'dawned' as
they keep repeating in the papers—it's still at school, at some German
'Peterschule,' sitting over a German book and repeating its everlasting
German lesson, and its German teacher will make it go down on its knees
when he thinks fit. I think highly of the German teacher. But nothing
has happened and nothing of the kind has dawned and everything is going
on in the old way, that is, as ordained by God. To my thinking that
should be enough for Russia, pour notre Sainte Russie. Besides, all this
Slavism and nationalism is too old to be new. Nationalism, if you like,
has never existed among us except as a distraction for gentlemen's
clubs, and Moscow ones at that. I'm not talking of the days of Igor, of
course. And besides it all comes of idleness. Everything in Russia comes
of idleness, everything good and fine even. It all springs from the
charming, cultured, whimsical idleness of our gentry! I'm ready to
repeat it for thirty thousand years. We don't know how to live by our
own labour. And as for the fuss they're making now about the 'dawn'
of some sort of public opinion, has it so suddenly dropped from heaven
without any warning? How is it they don't understand that before we
can have an opinion of our own we must have work, our own work, our own
initiative in things, our own experience. Nothing is to be gained for
nothing. If we work we shall have an opinion of our own. But as we
never shall work, our opinions will be formed for us by those who have
hitherto done the work instead of us, that is, as always, Europe, the
everlasting Germans—our teachers for the last two centuries. Moreover,
Russia is too big a tangle for us to unravel alone without the Germans,
and without hard work. For the last twenty years I've been sounding the
alarm, and the summons to work. I've given up my life to that appeal,
and, in my folly I put faith in it. Now I have lost faith in it, but I
sound the alarm still, and shall sound it to the tomb. I will pull at
the bell-ropes until they toll for my own requiem!"
"Alas! We could do nothing but assent. We applauded our teacher and with
what warmth, indeed! And, after all, my friends, don't we still hear
to-day, every hour, at every step, the same "charming," "clever,"
"liberal," old Russian nonsense? Our teacher believed in God.
"I can't understand why they make me out an infidel here," he used to
say sometimes. "I believe in God, mais distinguons, I believe in Him as
a Being who is conscious of Himself in me only. I cannot believe as my
Nastasya (the servant) or like some country gentleman who believes 'to
be on the safe side,' or like our dear Shatov—but no, Shatov doesn't
come into it. Shatov believes 'on principle,' like a Moscow Slavophil.
As for Christianity, for all my genuine respect for it, I'm not a
Christian. I am more of an antique pagan, like the great Goethe, or
like an ancient Greek. The very fact that Christianity has failed to
understand woman is enough, as George Sand has so splendidly shown in
one of her great novels. As for the bowings, fasting and all the rest
of it, I don't understand what they have to do with me. However busy the
informers may be here, I don't care to become a Jesuit. In the year 1847
Byelinsky, who was abroad, sent his famous letter to Gogol, and warmly
reproached him for believing in some sort of God. Entre nous soit dit, I
can imagine nothing more comic than the moment when Gogol (the Gogol of
that period!) read that phrase, and... the whole letter! But dismissing
the humorous aspect, and, as I am fundamentally in agreement, I point to
them and say—these were men! They knew how to love their people, they
knew how to suffer for them, they knew how to sacrifice everything for
them, yet they knew how to differ from them when they ought, and did not
filch certain ideas from them. Could Byelinsky have sought salvation
in Lenten oil, or peas with radish!..." But at this point Shatov
"Those men of yours never loved the people, they didn't suffer for them,
and didn't sacrifice anything for them, though they may have amused
themselves by imagining it!" he growled sullenly, looking down, and
moving impatiently in his chair.
"They didn't love the people!" yelled Stepan Trofimovitch. "Oh, how they
"Neither Russia nor the people!" Shatov yelled too, with flashing eyes.
"You can't love what you don't know and they had no conception of the
Russian people. All of them peered at the Russian people through their
fingers, and you do too; Byelinsky especially: from that very letter to
Gogol one can see it. Byelinsky, like the Inquisitive Man in Krylov's
fable, did not notice the elephant in the museum of curiosities, but
concentrated his whole attention on the French Socialist beetles; he did
not get beyond them. And yet perhaps he was cleverer than any of you.
You've not only overlooked the people, you've taken up an attitude of
disgusting contempt for them, if only because you could not imagine any
but the French people, the Parisians indeed, and were ashamed that the
Russians were not like them. That's the naked truth. And he who has
no people has no God. You may be sure that all who cease to understand
their own people and lose their connection with them at once lose to
the same extent the faith of their fathers, and become atheistic or
indifferent. I'm speaking the truth! This is a fact which will be
realised. That's why all of you and all of us now are either beastly
atheists or careless, dissolute imbeciles, and nothing more. And you
too, Stepan Trofimovitch, I don't make an exception of you at all! In
fact, it is on your account I am speaking, let me tell you that!"
As a rule, after uttering such monologues (which happened to him pretty
frequently) Shatov snatched up his cap and rushed to the door, in the
full conviction that everything was now over, and that he had cut short
all friendly relations with Stepan Trofimovitch for ever. But the latter
always succeeded in stopping him in time.
"Hadn't we better make it up, Shatov, after all these endearments," he
would say, benignly holding out his hand to him from his arm-chair.
Shatov, clumsy and bashful, disliked sentimentality. Externally he was
rough, but inwardly, I believe, he had great delicacy. Although he often
went too far, he was the first to suffer for it. Muttering something
between his teeth in response to Stepan Trofimovitch's appeal, and
shuffling with his feet like a bear, he gave a sudden and unexpected
smile, put down his cap, and sat down in the same chair as before, with
his eyes stubbornly fixed on the ground. Wine was, of course, brought
in, and Stepan Trofimovitch proposed some suitable toast, for instance
the memory of some leading man of the past.
CHAPTER II. PRINCE HARRY. MATCHMAKING.
THERE WAS ANOTHER being in the world to whom Varvara Petrovna was as
much attached as she was to Stepan Trofimovitch, her only son, Nikolay
Vsyevolodovitch Stavrogin. It was to undertake his education that Stepan
Trofimovitch had been engaged. The boy was at that time eight years old,
and his frivolous father, General Stavrogin, was already living apart
from Varvara Petrovna, so that the child grew up entirely in his
mother's care. To do Stepan Trofimovitch justice, he knew how to win his
pupil's heart. The whole secret of this lay in the fact that he was a
child himself. I was not there in those days, and he continually felt
the want of a real friend. He did not hesitate to make a friend of this
little creature as soon as he had grown a little older. It somehow came
to pass quite naturally that there seemed to be no discrepancy of age
between them. More than once he awaked his ten- or eleven-year-old
friend at night, simply to pour out his wounded feelings and weep before
him, or to tell him some family secret, without realising that this was
an outrageous proceeding. They threw themselves into each other's arms
and wept. The boy knew that his mother loved him very much, but I doubt
whether he cared much for her. She talked little to him and did not
often interfere with him, but he was always morbidly conscious of her
intent, searching eyes fixed upon him. Yet the mother confided his whole
instruction and moral education to Stepan Trofimovitch. At that time her
faith in him was unshaken. One can't help believing that the tutor had
rather a bad influence on his pupil's nerves. When at sixteen he was
taken to a lyceum he was fragile-looking and pale, strangely quiet and
dreamy. (Later on he was distinguished by great physical strength.)
One must assume too that the friends went on weeping at night, throwing
themselves in each other's arms, though their tears were not always due
to domestic difficulties. Stepan Trofimovitch succeeded in reaching
the deepest chords in his pupil's heart, and had aroused in him a vague
sensation of that eternal, sacred yearning which some elect souls can
never give up for cheap gratification when once they have tasted and
known it. (There are some connoisseurs who prize this yearning more than
the most complete satisfaction of it, if such were possible.) But in any
case it was just as well that the pupil and the preceptor were, though
none too soon, parted.
For the first two years the lad used to come home from the lyceum
for the holidays. While Varvara Petrovna and Stepan Trofimovitch were
staying in Petersburg he was sometimes present at the literary evenings
at his mother's, he listened and looked on. He spoke little, and was
quiet and shy as before. His manner to Stepan Trofimovitch was as
affectionately attentive as ever, but there was a shade of reserve in
it. He unmistakably avoided distressing, lofty subjects or reminiscences
of the past. By his mother's wish he entered the army on completing
the school course, and soon received a commission in one of the most
brilliant regiments of the Horse Guards. He did not come to show himself
to his mother in his uniform, and his letters from Petersburg began to
be infrequent. Varvara Petrovna sent him money without stint, though
after the emancipation the revenue from her estate was so diminished
that at first her income was less than half what it had been before. She
had, however, a considerable sum laid by through years of economy.
She took great interest in her son's success in the highest Petersburg
society. Where she had failed, the wealthy young officer with
expectations succeeded. He renewed acquaintances which she had hardly
dared to dream of, and was welcomed everywhere with pleasure. But very
soon rather strange rumours reached Varvara Petrovna. The young man
had suddenly taken to riotous living with a sort of frenzy. Not that he
gambled or drank too much; there was only talk of savage recklessness,
of running over people in the street with his horses, of brutal conduct
to a lady of good society with whom he had a liaison and whom he
afterwards publicly insulted. There was a callous nastiness about this
affair. It was added, too, that he had developed into a regular bully,
insulting people for the mere pleasure of insulting them. Varvara
Petrovna was greatly agitated and distressed. Stepan Trofimovitch
assured her that this was only the first riotous effervescence of a too
richly endowed nature, that the storm would subside and that this was
only like the youth of Prince Harry, who caroused with Falstaff, Poins,
and Mrs. Quickly, as described by Shakespeare.
This time Varvara Petrovna did not cry out, "Nonsense, nonsense!" as she
was very apt to do in later years in response to Stepan Trofimovitch. On
the contrary she listened very eagerly, asked him to explain this theory
more exactly, took up Shakespeare herself and with great attention read
the immortal chronicle. But it did not comfort her, and indeed she did
not find the resemblance very striking. With feverish impatience she
awaited answers to some of her letters. She had not long to wait for
them. The fatal news soon reached her that "Prince Harry" had been
involved in two duels almost at once, was entirely to blame for both of
them, had killed one of his adversaries on the spot and had maimed the
other and was awaiting his trial in consequence. The case ended in his
being degraded to the ranks, deprived of the rights of a nobleman, and
transferred to an infantry line regiment, and he only escaped worse
punishment by special favour.
In 1863 he somehow succeeded in distinguishing himself; he received a
cross, was promoted to be a non-commissioned officer, and rose
rapidly to the rank of an officer. During this period Varvara Petrovna
despatched perhaps hundreds of letters to the capital, full of prayers
and supplications. She even stooped to some humiliation in this
extremity. After his promotion the young man suddenly resigned his
commission, but he did not come back to Skvoreshniki again, and gave up
writing to his mother altogether. They learned by roundabout means that
he was back in Petersburg, but that he was not to be met in the same
society as before; he seemed to be in hiding. They found out that he was
living in strange company, associating with the dregs of the population
of Petersburg, with slip-shod government clerks, discharged military
men, beggars of the higher class, and drunkards of all sorts—that he
visited their filthy families, spent days and nights in dark slums and
all sorts of low haunts, that he had sunk very low, that he was in rags,
and that apparently he liked it. He did not ask his mother for money,
he had his own little estate—once the property of his father, General
Stavrogin, which yielded at least some revenue, and which, it was
reported, he had let to a German from Saxony. At last his mother
besought him to come to her, and "Prince Harry" made his appearance
in our town. I had never set eyes him before, but now I got a very
distinct impression of him. He was a very handsome young man of
five-and-twenty, and I must own I was impressed by him. I had expected
to see a dirty ragamuffin, sodden with drink and debauchery. He was on
the contrary, the most elegant gentleman I had ever met, extremely well
dressed, with an air and manner only to be found in a man accustomed to
culture and refinement. I was not the only person surprised. It was a
surprise to all the townspeople to whom, of course, young Stavrogin's
whole biography was well known in its minutest details, though one could
not imagine how they had got hold of them, and, what was still more
surprising, half of their stories about him turned out to be true.
All our ladies were wild over the new visitor. They were sharply divided
into two parties, one of which adored him while the other half regarded
him with a hatred that was almost blood-thirsty: but both were crazy
about him. Some of them were particularly fascinated by the idea that he
had perhaps a fateful secret hidden in his soul; others were positively
delighted at the fact that he was a murderer. It appeared too that
he had had a very good education and was indeed a man of considerable
culture. No great acquirements were needed, of course, to astonish us.
But he could judge also of very interesting everyday affairs, and, what
was of the utmost value, he judged of them with remarkable good sense. I
must mention as a peculiar fact that almost from the first day we all of
us thought him a very sensible fellow. He was not very talkative, he was
elegant without exaggeration, surprisingly modest, and at the same time
bold and self-reliant, as none of us were. Our dandies gazed at him with
envy, and were completely eclipsed by him. His face, too, impressed me.
His hair was of a peculiarly intense black, his light-coloured eyes were
peculiarly light and calm, his complexion was peculiarly soft and white,
the red in his cheeks was too bright and clear, his teeth were like
pearls, and his lips like coral—one would have thought that he must
be a paragon of beauty, yet at the same time there seemed something
repellent about him. It was said that his face suggested a mask; so much
was said though, among other things they talked of his extraordinary
physical strength. He was rather tall. Varvara Petrovna looked at him
with pride, yet with continual uneasiness. He spent about six months
among us—listless, quiet, rather morose. He made his appearance in
society, and with unfailing propriety performed all the duties demanded
by our provincial etiquette. He was related, on his father's side, to
the governor, and was received by the latter as a near kinsman. But a
few months passed and the wild beast showed his claws.
I may observe by the way, in parenthesis, that Ivan Ossipovitch, our
dear mild governor, was rather like an old woman, though he was of good
family and highly connected—which explains the fact that he remained so
long among us, though he steadily avoided all the duties of his office.
From his munificence and hospitality he ought rather to have been a
marshal of nobility of the good old days than a governor in such busy
times as ours. It was always said in the town that it was not he, but
Varvara Petrovna who governed the province. Of course this was said
sarcastically; however, it was certainly a falsehood. And, indeed, much
wit was wasted on the subject among us. On the contrary, in later years,
Varvara Petrovna purposely and consciously withdrew from anything like
a position of authority, and, in spite of the extraordinary respect
in which she was held by the whole province, voluntarily confined her
influence within strict limits set up by herself. Instead of these
higher responsibilities she suddenly took up the management of her
estate, and, within two or three years, raised the revenue from it
almost to what it had yielded in the past. Giving up her former romantic
impulses (trips to Petersburg, plans for founding a magazine, and so
on) she began to be careful and to save money. She kept even Stepan
Trofimovitch at a distance, allowing him to take lodgings in another
house (a change for which he had long been worrying her under various
pretexts). Little by little Stepan Trofimovitch began to call her a
prosaic woman, or more jestingly, "My prosaic friend." I need hardly say
he only ventured on such jests in an extremely respectful form, and on
rare, and carefully chosen, occasions.
All of us in her intimate circle felt—Stepan Trofimovitch more acutely
than any of us—that her son had come to her almost, as it were, as a
new hope, and even as a sort of new aspiration. Her passion for her son
dated from the time of his successes in Petersburg society, and grew
more intense from the moment that he was degraded in the army. Yet she
was evidently afraid of him, and seemed like a slave in his presence.
It could be seen that she was afraid of something vague and mysterious
which she could not have put into words, and she often stole searching
glances at "Nicolas," scrutinising him reflectively... and behold—the
wild beast suddenly showed his claws.
Suddenly, apropos of nothing, our prince was guilty of incredible
outrages upon various persons and, what was most striking these outrages
were utterly unheard of, quite inconceivable, unlike anything commonly
done, utterly silly and mischievous, quite unprovoked and objectless.
One of the most respected of our club members, on our committee of
management, Pyotr Pavlovitch Gaganov, an elderly man of high rank in the
service, had formed the innocent habit of declaring vehemently on all
sorts of occasions: "No, you can't lead me by the nose!" Well, there
is no harm in that. But one day at the club, when he brought out this
phrase in connection with some heated discussion in the midst of a
little group of members (all persons of some consequence) Nikolay
Vsyevolodovitch, who was standing on one side, alone and unnoticed,
suddenly went up to Pyotr Pavlovitch, took him unexpectedly and firmly
with two fingers by the nose, and succeeded in leading him two or three
steps across the room. He could have had no grudge against Mr. Gaganov.
It might be thought to be a mere schoolboy prank, though, of course, a
most unpardonable one. Yet, describing it afterwards, people said that
he looked almost dreamy at the very instant of the operation, "as though
he had gone out of his mind," but that was recalled and reflected upon
long afterwards. In the excitement of the moment all they recalled was
the minute after, when he certainly saw it all as it really was, and far
from being confused smiled gaily and maliciously "without the slightest
regret." There was a terrific outcry; he was surrounded. Nikolay
Vsyevolodovitch kept turning round, looking about him, answering nobody,
and glancing curiously at the persons exclaiming around him. At last he
seemed suddenly, as it were, to sink into thought again—so at least it
was reported—frowned, went firmly up to the affronted Pyotr Pavlovitch,
and with evident vexation said in a rapid mutter:
"You must forgive me, of course... I really don't know what suddenly
came over me... it's silly."
The carelessness of his apology was almost equivalent to a fresh insult.
The outcry was greater than ever. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch shrugged his
shoulders and went away. All this was very stupid, to say nothing of its
A calculated and premeditated indecency as it seemed at first sight—and
therefore a premeditated and utterly brutal insult to our whole society.
So it was taken to be by every one. We began by promptly and unanimously
striking young Stavrogin's name off the list of club members. Then it
was decided to send an appeal in the name of the whole club to the
governor, begging him at once (without waiting for the case to be
formally tried in court) to use "the administrative power entrusted to
him" to restrain this dangerous ruffian, "this duelling bully from the
capital, and so protect the tranquillity of all the gentry of our town
from injurious encroachments." It was added with angry resentment that
"a law might be found to control even Mr. Stavrogin." This phrase was
prepared by way of a thrust at the governor on account of Varvara
Petrovna. They elaborated it with relish. As ill luck would have it,
the governor was not in the town at the time. He had gone to a little
distance to stand godfather to the child of a very charming lady,
recently left a widow in an interesting condition. But it was known that
he would soon be back. In the meanwhile they got up a regular ovation
for the respected and insulted gentleman; people embraced and kissed
him; the whole town called upon him. It was even proposed to give a
subscription dinner in his honour, and they only gave up the idea at
his earnest request—reflecting possibly at last that the man had,
after all, been pulled by the nose and that that was really nothing
to congratulate him upon. Yet, how had it happened? How could it have
happened? It is remarkable that no one in the whole town put down this
savage act to madness. They must have been predisposed to expect such
actions from Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, even when he was sane. For my part
I don't know to this day how to explain it, in spite of the event that
quickly followed and apparently explained everything, and conciliated
every one. I will add also that, four years later, in reply to a
discreet question from me about the incident at the club, Nikolay
Vsyevolodovitch answered, frowning: "I wasn't quite well at the time."
But there is no need to anticipate events.
The general outburst of hatred with which every one fell upon the
"ruffian and duelling bully from the capital" also struck me as curious.
They insisted on seeing an insolent design and deliberate intention to
insult our whole society at once. The truth was no one liked the fellow,
but, on the contrary, he had set every one against him—and one wonders
how. Up to the last incident he had never quarrelled with anyone, nor
insulted anyone, but was as courteous as a gentleman in a fashion-plate,
if only the latter were able to speak. I imagine that he was hated for
his pride. Even our ladies, who had begun by adoring him, railed against
him now, more loudly than the men. Varvara Petrovna was dreadfully
overwhelmed. She confessed afterwards to Stepan Trofimovitch that she
had had a foreboding of all this long before, that every day for the
last six months she had been expecting "just something of that sort,"
a remarkable admission on the part of his own mother. "It's begun!" she
thought to herself with a shudder. The morning after the incident at the
club she cautiously but firmly approached the subject with her son, but
the poor woman was trembling all over in spite of her firmness. She had
not slept all night and even went out early to Stepan Trofimovitch's
lodgings to ask his advice, and shed tears there, a thing which she had
never been known to do before anyone. She longed for "Nicolas" to say
something to her, to deign to give some explanation. Nikolay, who was
always so polite and respectful to his mother, listened to her for some
time scowling, but very seriously. He suddenly got up without saying
a word, kissed her hand and went away. That very evening, as though by
design, he perpetrated another scandal. It was of a more harmless and
ordinary character than the first. Yet, owing to the state of the public
mind, it increased the outcry in the town.
Our friend Liputin turned up and called on Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch
immediately after the latter's interview with his mother, and earnestly
begged for the honour of his company at a little party he was giving for
his wife's birthday that evening. Varvara Petrovna had long watched with
a pang at her heart her son's taste for such low company, but she had
not dared to speak of it to him. He had made several acquaintances
besides Liputin in the third rank of our society, and even in lower
depths—he had a propensity for making such friends. He had never been
in Liputin's house before, though he had met the man himself. He guessed
that Liputin's invitation now was the consequence of the previous day's
scandal, and that as a local liberal he was delighted at the scandal,
genuinely believing that that was the proper way to treat stewards at
the club, and that it was very well done. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch smiled
and promised to come.
A great number of guests had assembled. The company was not very
presentable, but very sprightly. Liputin, vain and envious, only
entertained visitors twice a year, but on those occasions he did
it without stint. The most honoured of the invited guests, Stepan
Trofimovitch, was prevented by illness from being present. Tea was
handed, and there were refreshments and vodka in plenty. Cards were
played at three tables, and while waiting for supper the young people
got up a dance. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch led out Madame Liputin—a very
pretty little woman who was dreadfully shy of him—took two turns round
the room with her, sat down beside her, drew her into conversation and
made her laugh. Noticing at last how pretty she was when she laughed, he
suddenly, before all the company, seized her round the waist and
kissed her on the lips two or three times with great relish. The poor
frightened lady fainted. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch took his hat and went
up to the husband, who stood petrified in the middle of the general
excitement. Looking at him he, too, became confused and muttering
hurriedly "Don't be angry," went away. Liputin ran after him in the
entry, gave him his fur-coat with his own hands, and saw him down the
stairs, bowing. But next day a rather amusing sequel followed this
comparatively harmless prank—a sequel from which Liputin gained some
credit, and of which he took the fullest possible advantage.
At ten o'clock in the morning Liputin's servant Agafya, an
easy-mannered, lively, rosy-cheeked peasant woman of thirty, made
her appearance at Stavrogin's house, with a message for Nikolay
Vsyevolodovitch. She insisted on seeing "his honour himself." He had a
very bad headache, but he went out. Varvara Petrovna succeeded in being
present when the message was given.
"Sergay Vassilyevitch" (Liputin's name), Agafya rattled off briskly,
"bade me first of all give you his respectful greetings and ask after
your health, what sort of night your honour spent after yesterday's
doings, and how your honour feels now after yesterday's doings?"
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch smiled.
"Give him my greetings and thank him, and tell your master from me,
Agafya, that he's the most sensible man in the town."
"And he told me to answer that," Agafya caught him up still more
briskly, "that he knows that without your telling him, and wishes you
"Really! But how could he tell what I should say to you?"
"I can't say in what way he could tell, but when I had set off and had
gone right down the street, I heard something, and there he was, running
after me without his cap. 'I say, Agafya, if by any chance he says to
you, "Tell your master that he has more sense than all the town," you
tell him at once, don't forget, "The master himself knows that very
well, and wishes you the same."'"
At last the interview with the governor took place too. Our dear, mild,
Ivan Ossipovitch had only just returned and only just had time to hear
the angry complaint from the club. There was no doubt that something
must be done, but he was troubled. The hospitable old man seemed also
rather afraid of his young kinsman. He made up his mind, however, to
induce him to apologise to the club and to his victim in satisfactory
form, and, if required, by letter, and then to persuade him to leave us
for a time, travelling, for instance, to improve his mind, in Italy, or
in fact anywhere abroad. In the waiting-room in which on this occasion
he received Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch (who had been at other times
privileged as a relation to wander all over the house unchecked),
Alyosha Telyatnikov, a clerk of refined manners, who was also a member
of the governor's household, was sitting in a corner opening envelopes
at a table, and in the next room, at the window nearest to the door, a
stout and sturdy colonel, a former friend and colleague of the governor,
was sitting alone reading the Golos, paying no attention, of course,
to what was taking place in the waiting-room; in fact, he had his back
turned. Ivan Ossipovitch approached the subject in a roundabout way,
almost in a "whisper, but kept getting a little muddled. Nikolay looked
anything but cordial, not at all as a relation should. He was pale and
sat looking down and continually moving his eyebrows as though trying to
control acute pain.
"You have a kind heart and a generous one, Nicolas," the old man put in
among other things, "you're a man of great culture, you've grown up in
the highest circles, and here too your behaviour has hitherto been a
model, which has been a great consolation to your mother, who is so
precious to all of us.... And now again everything has appeared in such
an unaccountable light, so detrimental to all! I speak as a friend of
your family, as an old man who loves you sincerely and a relation, at
whose words you cannot take offence.... Tell me, what drives you to such
reckless proceedings so contrary to all accepted rules and habits? What
can be the meaning of such acts which seem almost like outbreaks of
Nikolay listened with vexation and impatience. All at once there was a
gleam of something sly and mocking in his eyes.
"I'll tell you what drives me to it," he said sullenly, and looking
round him he bent down to Ivan Ossipovitch's ear. The refined Alyosha
Telyatnikov moved three steps farther away towards the window, and the
colonel coughed over the Golos. Poor Ivan Ossipovitch hurriedly and
trustfully inclined his ear; he was exceedingly curious. And then
something utterly incredible, though on the other side only too
unmistakable, took place. The old man suddenly felt that, instead of
telling him some interesting secret, Nikolay had seized the upper
part of his ear between his teeth and was nipping it rather hard. He
shuddered, and breath failed him.
"Nicolas, this is beyond a joke!" he moaned mechanically in a voice not
Alyosha and the colonel had not yet grasped the situation, besides they
couldn't see, and fancied up to the end that the two were whispering
together; and yet the old man's desperate face alarmed them. They looked
at one another with wide-open eyes, not knowing whether to rush to his
assistance as agreed or to wait. Nikolay noticed this perhaps, and bit
"Nicolas! Nicolas!" his victim moaned again, "come... you've had your
joke, that's enough!"
In another moment the poor governor would certainly have died of terror;
but the monster had mercy on him, and let go his ear. The old man's
deadly terror lasted for a full minute, and it was followed by a sort of
fit. Within half an hour Nikolay was arrested and removed for the time
to the guard-room, where he was confined in a special cell, with a
special sentinel at the door. This decision was a harsh one, but
our mild governor was so angry that he was prepared to take the
responsibility even if he had to face Varvara Petrovna. To the general
amazement, when this lady arrived at the governor's in haste and in
nervous irritation to discuss the matter with him at once, she was
refused admittance, whereupon, without getting out of the carriage, she
returned home, unable to believe her senses.
And at last everything was explained! At two o'clock in the morning
the prisoner, who had till then been calm and had even slept, suddenly
became noisy, began furiously beating on the door with his fists,—with
unnatural strength wrenched the iron grating off the door, broke the
window, and cut his hands all over. When the officer on duty ran with
a detachment of men and the keys and ordered the cell to be opened
that they might rush in and bind the maniac, it appeared that he was
suffering from acute brain fever. He was taken home to his mother.
Everything was explained at once. All our three doctors gave it as their
opinion that the patient might well have been in a delirious state for
three days before, and that though he might have apparently been in
possession of full consciousness and cunning, yet he might have been
deprived of common sense and will, which was indeed borne out by the
facts. So it turned out that Liputin had guessed the truth sooner than
any one. Ivan Ossipovitch, who was a man of delicacy and feeling,
was completely abashed. But what was striking was that he, too, had
considered Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch capable of any mad action even when
in the full possession of his faculties. At the club, too, people were
ashamed and wondered how it was they had failed to "see the elephant"
and had missed the only explanation of all these marvels: there were,
of course, sceptics among them, but they could not long maintain their
Nikolay was in bed for more than two months. A famous doctor was
summoned from Moscow for a consultation; the whole town called on
Varvara Petrovna. She forgave them. When in the spring Nikolay had
completely recovered and assented without discussion to his mother's
proposal that he should go for a tour to Italy, she begged him further
to pay visits of farewell to all the neighbours, and so far as possible
to apologise where necessary. Nikolay agreed with great alacrity. It
became known at the club that he had had a most delicate explanation
with Pyotr Pavlovitch Gaganov, at the house of the latter, who had been
completely satisfied with his apology. As he went round to pay these
calls Nikolay was very grave and even gloomy. Every one appeared to
receive him sympathetically, but everybody seemed embarrassed and glad
that he was going to Italy. Ivan Ossipovitch was positively tearful, but
was, for some reason, unable to bring himself to embrace him, even
at the final leave-taking. It is true that some of us retained the
conviction that the scamp had simply been making fun of us, and that the
illness was neither here nor there. He went to see Liputin too.
"Tell me," he said, "how could you guess beforehand what I should say
about your sense and prime Agafya with an answer to it?"
"Why," laughed Liputin, "it was because I recognised that you were a
clever man, and so I foresaw what your answer would be."
"Anyway, it was a remarkable coincidence. But, excuse me, did you
consider me a sensible man and not insane when you sent Agafya?"
"For the cleverest and most rational, and I only pretended to believe
that you were insane.... And you guessed at once what was in my mind,
and sent a testimonial to my wit through Agafya."
"Well, there you're a little mistaken. I really was... unwell..."
muttered Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, frowning. "Bah!" he cried, "do you
suppose I'm capable of attacking people when I'm in my senses? What
object would there be in it?"
Liputin shrank together and didn't know what to answer. Nikolay turned
pale or, at least, so it seemed to Liputin.
"You have a very peculiar way of looking at things, anyhow," Nikolay
went on, "but as for Agafya, I understand, of course, that you simply
sent her to be rude to me."
"I couldn't challenge you to a duel, could I?"
"Oh, no, of course! I seem to have heard that you're not fond of
"Why borrow from the French?" said Liputin, doubling up again.
"You're for nationalism, then?"
Liputin shrank into himself more than ever.
"Bah, bah! What do I see?" cried Nicolas, noticing a volume of Considérant
in the most conspicuous place on the table. "You don't mean to say
you're a Fourierist! I'm afraid you must be! And isn't this too
borrowing from the French?" he laughed, tapping the book with his
"No, that's not taken from the French," Liputin cried with positive
fury, jumping up from his chair. "That is taken from the universal
language of humanity, not simply from the French. From the language of
the universal social republic and harmony of mankind, let me tell you!
Not simply from the French!"
"Foo! hang it all! There's no such language!" laughed Nikolay.
Sometimes a trifle will catch the attention and exclusively absorb it
for a time. Most of what I have to tell of young Stavrogin will come
later. But I will note now as a curious fact that of all the impressions
made on him by his stay in our town, the one most sharply imprinted
on his memory was the unsightly and almost abject figure of the little
provincial official, the coarse and jealous family despot, the miserly
money-lender who picked up the candle-ends and scraps left from dinner,
and was at the same time a passionate believer in some visionary future
"social harmony," who at night gloated in ecstasies over fantastic
pictures of a future phalanstery, in the approaching realisation of
which, in Russia, and in our province, he believed as firmly as in his
own existence. And that in the very place where he had saved up to
buy himself a "little home," where he had married for the second time,
getting a dowry with his bride, where perhaps, for a hundred miles round
there was not one man, himself included, who was the very least like a
future member "of the universal human republic and social harmony."
"God knows how these people come to exist!" Nikolay wondered, recalling
sometimes the unlooked-for Fourierist.
Our prince travelled for over three years, so that he was almost
forgotten in the town. We learned from Stepan Trofimovitch that he
had travelled all over Europe, that he had even been in Egypt and had
visited Jerusalem, and then had joined some scientific expedition to
Iceland, and he actually did go to Iceland. It was reported too that he
had spent one winter attending lectures in a German university. He did
not write often to his mother, twice a year, or even less, but Varvara
Petrovna was not angry or offended at this. She accepted submissively
and without repining the relations that had been established once for
all between her son and herself. She fretted for her "Nicolas" and
dreamed of him continually. She kept her dreams and lamentations to
herself. She seemed to have become less intimate even with Stepan
Trofimovitch. She was forming secret projects, and seemed to have become
more careful about money than ever. She was more than ever given to
saving money and being angry at Stepan Trofimovitch's losses at cards.
At last, in the April of this year, she received a letter from Paris
from Praskovya Ivanovna Drozdov, the widow of the general and the
friend of Varvara Petrovna's childhood. Praskovya Ivanovna, whom Varvara
Petrovna had not seen or corresponded with for eight years, wrote,
informing her that Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch had become very intimate
with them and a great friend of her only daughter, Liza, and that he was
intending to accompany them to Switzerland, to Verney-Montreux,
though in the household of Count K. (a very influential personage in
Petersburg), who was now staying in Paris. He was received like a son
of the family, so that he almost lived at the count's. The letter was
brief, and the object of it was perfectly clear, though it contained
only a plain statement of the above-mentioned facts without drawing any
inferences from them. Varvara Petrovna did not pause long to consider;
she made up her mind instantly, made her preparations, and taking with
her her protégée, Dasha (Shatov's sister), she set off in the middle of
April for Paris, and from there went on to Switzerland. She returned in
July, alone, leaving Dasha with the Drozdovs. She brought us the news
that the Drozdovs themselves had promised to arrive among us by the end
The Drozdovs, too, were landowners of our province, but the official
duties of General Ivan Ivanovitch Drozdov (who had been a friend
of Varvara Petrovna's and a colleague of her husband's) had always
prevented them from visiting their magnificent estate. On the death of
the general, which had taken place the year before, the inconsolable
widow had gone abroad with her daughter, partly in order to try the
grape-cure which she proposed to carry out at Verney-Montreux during the
latter half of the summer. On their return to Russia they intended to
settle in our province for good. She had a large house in the town which
had stood empty for many years with the windows nailed up. They were
wealthy people. Praskovya Ivanovna had been, in her first marriage, a
Madame Tushin, and like her school-friend, Varvara Petrovna, was the
daughter of a government contractor of the old school, and she too had
been an heiress at her marriage. Tushin, a retired cavalry captain, was
also a man of means, and of some ability. At his death he left a snug
fortune to his only daughter Liza, a child of seven. Now that Lizaveta
Nikolaevna was twenty-two her private fortune might confidently be
reckoned at 200,000 roubles, to say nothing of the property—which was
bound to come to her at the death of her mother, who had no children by
her second marriage. Varvara Petrovna seemed to be very well satisfied
with her expedition. In her own opinion she had succeeded in coming to
a satisfactory understanding with Praskovya Ivanovna, and immediately
on her arrival she confided everything to Stepan Trofimovitch. She was
positively effusive with him as she had not been for a very long time.
"Hurrah!" cried Stepan Trofimovitch, and snapped his fingers.
He was in a perfect rapture, especially as he had spent the whole time
of his friend's absence in extreme dejection. On setting off she had not
even taken leave of him properly, and had said nothing of her plan to
"that old woman," dreading, perhaps, that he might chatter about it.
She was cross with him at the time on account of a considerable gambling
debt which she had suddenly discovered. But before she left Switzerland
she had felt that on her return she must make up for it to her forsaken
friend, especially as she had treated him very curtly for a long time
past. Her abrupt and mysterious departure had made a profound and
poignant impression on the timid heart of Stepan Trofimovitch, and to
make matters worse he was beset with other difficulties at the same
time. He was worried by a very considerable money obligation, which had
weighed upon him for a long time and which he could never hope to meet
without Varvara Petrovna's assistance. Moreover, in the May of this
year, the term of office of our mild and gentle Ivan Ossipovitch came to
an end. He was superseded under rather unpleasant circumstances. Then,
while Varvara Petrovna was still away, there followed the arrival of
our new governor, Andrey Antonovitch von Lembke, and with that a change
began at once to be perceptible in the attitude of almost the whole
of our provincial society towards Varvara Petrovna, and consequently
towards Stepan Trofimovitch. He had already had time anyway to make some
disagreeable though valuable observations, and seemed very apprehensive
alone without Varvara Petrovna. He had an agitating suspicion that he
had already been mentioned to the governor as a dangerous man. He knew
for a fact that some of our ladies meant to give up calling on Varvara
Petrovna. Of our governor's wife (who was only expected to arrive in the
autumn) it was reported that though she was, so it was heard, proud,
she was a real aristocrat, and "not like that poor Varvara Petrovna."
Everybody seemed to know for a fact, and in the greatest detail, that
our governor's wife and Varvara Petrovna had met already in society and
had parted enemies, so that the mere mention of Madame von Lembke's name
would, it was said, make a painful impression on Varvara Petrovna.
The confident and triumphant air of Varvara Petrovna, the contemptuous
indifference with which she heard of the opinions of our provincial
ladies and the agitation in local society, revived the flagging spirits
of Stepan Trofimovitch and cheered him up at once. With peculiar,
gleefully-obsequious humour, he was beginning to describe the new
"You are no doubt aware, excellente amie," he said, jauntily
and coquettishly drawling his words, "what is meant by a Russian
administrator, speaking generally, and what is meant by a new Russian
administrator, that is the newly-baked, newly-established...ces
interminables mots Russes! But I don't think you can know in practice
what is meant by administrative ardour, and what sort of thing that is."
"Administrative ardour? I don't know what that is."
"Well... Vous savez chez nous... En un mot, set the most insignificant
nonentity to sell miserable tickets at a railway station, and the
nonentity will at once feel privileged to look down on you like a
Jupiter, pour montrer son pouvoir when you go to take a ticket. 'Now
then,' he says, 'I shall show you my power'... and in them it comes to a
genuine, administrative ardour. En un mot, I've read that some verger
in one of our Russian churches abroad—mais c'est très curieux—drove,
literally drove a distinguished English family, les dames charmantes,
out of the church before the beginning of the Lenten service... vous
savez ces chants et le livre de Job... on the simple pretext that
'foreigners are not allowed to loaf about a Russian church, and that
they must come at the time fixed....' And he sent them into fainting
fits.... That verger was suffering from an attack of administrative
ardour, et il a montré son pouvoir."
"Cut it short if you can, Stepan Trofimovitch."
"Mr. von Lembke is making a tour of the province now. En un mot, this
Andrey Antonovitch, though he is a russified German and of the Orthodox
persuasion, and even—I will say that for him—a remarkably handsome man
of about forty..."
"What makes you think he's a handsome man? He has eyes like a sheep's."
"Precisely so. But in this I yield, of course, to the opinion of our
"Let's get on, Stepan Trofimovitch, I beg you! By the way, you're
wearing a red neck-tie. Is it long since you've taken to it?"
"I've... I've only put it on to-day."
"And do you take your constitutional? Do you go for a four-mile walk
every day as the doctor told you to?"
"I knew you didn't! I felt sure of that when I was in Switzerland!" she
cried irritably. "Now you must go not four but six miles a day! You've
grown terribly slack, terribly, terribly! You're not simply getting old,
you're getting decrepit.... You shocked me when I first saw you just
now, in spite of your red tie, quelle idee rouge! Go on about Von
Lembke if you've really something to tell me, and do finish some time, I
entreat you, I'm tired."
"En un mot, I only wanted to say that he is one of those administrators
who begin to have power at forty, who, till they're forty, have been
stagnating in insignificance and then suddenly come to the front through
suddenly acquiring a wife, or some other equally desperate means....
That is, he has gone away now... that is, I mean to say, it was at once
whispered in both his ears that I am a corrupter of youth, and a hot-bed
of provincial atheism.... He began making inquiries at once."
"Is that true?"
"I took steps about it, in fact. When he was 'informed' that you 'ruled
the province,' vous savez, he allowed himself to use the expression that
'there shall be nothing of that sort in the future.'"
"Did he say that?"
"That 'there shall be nothing of the sort in future,' and, avec cette
morgue.... His wife, Yulia Mihailovna, we shall behold at the end of
August, she's coming straight from Petersburg."
"From abroad. We met there."
"In Paris and in Switzerland. She's related to the Drozdovs."
"Related! What an extraordinary coincidence! They say she is ambitious
and... supposed to have great connections."
"Nonsense! Connections indeed! She was an old maid without a farthing
till she was five-and-forty. But now she's hooked her Von Lembke,
and, of course, her whole object is to push him forward. They're both
"And they say she's two years older than he is?"
"Five. Her mother used to wear out her skirts on my doorsteps in Moscow;
she used to beg for an invitation to our balls as a favour when my
husband was living. And this creature used to sit all night alone in a
corner without dancing, with her turquoise fly on her forehead, so that
simply from pity I used to have to send her her first partner at two
o'clock in the morning. She was five-and-twenty then, and they used to
rig her out in short skirts like a little girl. It was improper to have
them about at last."
"I seem to see that fly."
"I tell you, as soon as I arrived I was in the thick of an intrigue. You
read Madame Drozdov's letter, of course. What could be clearer? What did
I find? That fool Praskovya herself—she always was a fool—looked at
me as much as to ask why I'd come. You can fancy how surprised I was.
I looked round, and there was that Lembke woman at her tricks, and that
cousin of hers—old Drozdov's nephew—it was all clear. You may be sure
I changed all that in a twinkling, and Praskovya is on my side again,
but what an intrigue!"
"In which you came off victor, however. Bismarck!"
"Without being a Bismarck I'm equal to falseness and stupidity wherever
I meet it, falseness, and Praskovya's folly. I don't know when I've met
such a flabby woman, and what's more her legs are swollen, and she's
a good-natured simpleton, too. What can be more foolish than a
"A spiteful fool, ma bonne amie, a spiteful fool is still more foolish,"
Stepan Trofimovitch protested magnanimously.
"You're right, perhaps. Do you remember Liza?"
"But she's not an enfant now, but a woman, and a woman of character.
She's a generous, passionate creature, and what I like about her, she
stands up to that confiding fool, her mother. There was almost a row
over that cousin."
"Bah, and of course he's no relation of Lizaveta Nikolaevna's at
all.... Has he designs on her?"
"You see, he's a young officer, not by any means talkative, modest in
fact. I always want to be just. I fancy he is opposed to the intrigue
himself, and isn't aiming at anything, and it was only the Von Lembke's
tricks. He had a great respect for Nicolas. You understand, it all
depends on Liza. But I left her on the best of terms with Nicolas,
and he promised he would come to us in November. So it's only the Von
Lembke who is intriguing, and Praskovya is a blind woman. She suddenly
tells me that all my suspicions are fancy. I told her to her face she
was a fool. I am ready to repeat it at the day of judgment. And if it
hadn't been for Nicolas begging me to leave it for a time, I wouldn't
have come away without unmasking that false woman. She's been trying
to ingratiate herself with Count K. through Nicolas. She wants to
come between mother and son. But Liza's on our side, and I came to an
understanding with Praskovya. Do you know that Karmazinov is a relation
"What? A relation of Madame von Lembke?"
"Yes, of hers. Distant."
"Karmazinov, the novelist?"
"Yes, the writer. Why does it surprise you? Of course he considers
himself a great man. Stuck-up creature! She's coming here with him. Now
she's making a fuss of him out there. She's got a notion of setting up a
sort of literary society here. He's coming for a month, he wants to sell
his last piece of property here. I very nearly met him in Switzerland,
and was very anxious not to. Though I hope he will deign to recognise
me. He wrote letters to me in the old days, he has been in my house.
I should like you to dress better, Stepan Trofimovitch; you're growing
more slovenly every day.... Oh, how you torment me! What are you reading
"I understand. The same as ever, friends and drinking, the club and
cards, and the reputation of an atheist. I don't like that reputation,
Stepan Trofimovitch; I don't care for you to be called an atheist,
particularly now. I didn't care for it in old days, for it's all nothing
but empty chatter. It must be said at last."
"Mais, ma chère..."
"Listen, Stepan Trofimovitch, of course I'm ignorant compared with you
on all learned subjects, but as I was travelling here I thought a great
deal about you. I've come to one conclusion."
"That you and I are not the wisest people in the world, but that there
are people wiser than we are."
"Witty and apt. If there are people wiser than we are, then there are
people more right than we are, and we may be mistaken, you mean? Mais,
ma bonne amie, granted that I may make a mistake, yet have I not the
common, human, eternal, supreme right of freedom of conscience? I have
the right not to be bigoted or superstitious if I don't wish to, and for
that I shall naturally be hated by certain persons to the end of time.
Et puis, comme on trouve toujours plus de moines que de raison, and as I
thoroughly agree with that..."
"What, what did you say?"
"I said, on trouve toujours plus de moines que de raison, and as I
"I'm sure that's not your saying. You must have taken it from
"It was Pascal said that."
"Just as I thought...it's not your own. Why don't you ever say anything
like that yourself, so shortly and to the point, instead of dragging
things out to such a length? That's much better than what you said just
now about administrative ardour..."
"Ma foi, chère..." why? In the first place probably because I'm not
a Pascal after all, et puis... secondly, we Russians never can say
anything in our own language.... We never have said anything hitherto,
at any rate...."
"H'm! That's not true, perhaps. Anyway, you'd better make a note of such
phrases, and remember them, you know, in case you have to talk....
Ach, Stephan Trofimovitch. I have come to talk to you seriously, quite
"Chère, chère amie!"
"Now that all these Von Lembkes and Karmazinovs.... Oh, my goodness, how
you have deteriorated!... Oh, my goodness, how you do torment me!...
I should have liked these people to feel a respect for you, for they're
not worth your little finger—but the way you behave!... What will they
see? What shall I have to show them? Instead of nobly standing as an
example, keeping up the tradition of the past, you surround yourself
with a wretched rabble, you have picked up impossible habits, you've
grown feeble, you can't do without wine and cards, you read nothing
but Paul de Kock, and write nothing, while all of them write; all your
time's wasted in gossip. How can you bring yourself to be friends with a
wretched creature like your inseparable Liputin?
"Why is he mine and inseparable?" Stepan Trofimovitch protested
"Where is he now?" Varvara Petrovna went on, sharply and sternly.
"He... he has an infinite respect for you, and he's gone to S——k, to
receive an inheritance left him by his mother."
"He seems to do nothing but get money. And how's Shatov? Is he just the
"Irascible, mais bon."
"I can't endure your Shatov. He's spiteful and he thinks too much of
"How is Darya Pavlovna?"
"You mean Dasha? What made you think of her?" Varvara Petrovna looked
at him inquisitively. "She's quite well. I left her with the Drozdovs. I
heard something about your son in Switzerland. Nothing good."
"Oh, c'est un histoire bien bête! Je vous attendais, ma bonne amie, pour
"Enough, Stepan Trofimovitch. Leave me in peace. I'm worn out. We
shall have time to talk to our heart's content, especially of what's
unpleasant. You've begun to splutter when you laugh, it's a sign of
senility! And what a strange way of laughing you've taken to!... Good
Heavens, what a lot of bad habits you've fallen into! Karmazinov won't
come and see you! And people are only too glad to make the most of
anything as it is.... You've betrayed yourself completely now. Well,
come, that's enough, that's enough, I'm tired. You really might have
mercy upon one!"
Stepan Trofimovitch "had mercy," but he withdrew in great perturbation.
Our friend certainly had fallen into not a few bad habits, especially of
late. He had obviously and rapidly deteriorated; and it was true that
he had become slovenly. He drank more and had become more tearful and
nervous; and had grown too impressionable on the artistic side. His
face had acquired a strange facility for changing with extraordinary
quickness, from the most solemn expression, for instance, to the most
absurd, and even foolish. He could not endure solitude, and was always
craving for amusement. One had always to repeat to him some gossip, some
local anecdote, and every day a new one. If no one came to see him for
a long time he wandered disconsolately about the rooms, walked to the
window, puckering up his lips, heaved deep sighs, and almost fell to
whimpering at last. He was always full of forebodings, was afraid of
something unexpected and inevitable; he had become timorous; he began to
pay great attention to his dreams.
He spent all that day and evening in great depression, he sent for me,
was very much agitated, talked a long while, gave me a long account of
things, but all rather disconnected. Varvara Petrovna had known for a
long time that he concealed nothing from me. It seemed to me at last
that he was worried about something particular, and was perhaps unable
to form a definite idea of it himself. As a rule when we met tête-à-tête
and he began making long complaints to me, a bottle was almost always
brought in after a little time, and things became much more comfortable.
This time there was no wine, and he was evidently struggling all the
while against the desire to send for it.
"And why is she always so cross?" he complained every minute, like a
child. "Tous les hommes de génie et de progrès en Russie étaient,
sont, et seront toujours des gamblers et des drunkards qui boivent in
outbreaks... and I'm not such a gambler after all, and I'm not such a
drunkard. She reproaches me for not writing anything. Strange
idea!... She asks why I lie down? She says I ought to stand, 'an example
and reproach.' Mais, entre nous soit dit, what is a man to do who is
destined to stand as a 'reproach,' if not to lie down? Does she
And at last it became clear to me what was the chief particular trouble
which was worrying him so persistently at this time. Many times that
evening he went to the looking-glass, and stood a long while before
it. At last he turned from the looking-glass to me, and with a sort
of strange despair, said: "Mon cher, je suis un broken-down man." Yes,
certainly, up to that time, up to that very day there was one thing only
of which he had always felt confident in spite of the "new views," and
of the "change in Varvara Petrovna's ideas," that was, the conviction
that still he had a fascination for her feminine heart, not simply as an
exile or a celebrated man of learning, but as a handsome man. For twenty
years this soothing and flattering opinion had been rooted in his mind,
and perhaps of all his convictions this was the hardest to part with.
Had he any presentiment that evening of the colossal ordeal which was
preparing for him in the immediate future?
I will now enter upon the description of that almost forgotten incident
with which my story properly speaking begins.
At last at the very end of August the Drozdovs returned. Their arrival
made a considerable sensation in local society, and took place shortly
before their relation, our new governor's wife, made her long-expected
appearance. But of all these interesting events I will speak later.
For the present I will confine myself to saying that Praskovya Ivanovna
brought Varvara Petrovna, who was expecting her so impatiently, a most
perplexing problem: Nikolay had parted from them in July, and,
meeting Count K. on the Rhine, had set off with him and his family for
Petersburg. (N.B.—The Count's three daughters were all of marriageable
"Lizaveta is so proud and obstinate that I could get nothing out of
her," Praskovya Ivanovna said in conclusion. "But I saw for myself that
something had happened between her and Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch. I don't
know the reasons, but I fancy, my dear Varvara Petrovna, that you
will have to ask your Darya Pavlovna for them. To my thinking Liza
was offended. I'm glad. I can tell you that I've brought you back your
favourite at last and handed her over to you; it's a weight off my
These venomous words were uttered with remarkable irritability. It was
evident that the "flabby" woman had prepared them and gloated beforehand
over the effect they would produce. But Varvara Petrovna was not the
woman to be disconcerted by sentimental effects and enigmas. She sternly
demanded the most precise and satisfactory explanations. Praskovya
Ivanovna immediately lowered her tone and even ended by dissolving into
tears and expressions of the warmest friendship. This irritable but
sentimental lady, like Stepan Trofimovitch, was for ever yearning for
true friendship, and her chief complaint against her daughter Lizaveta
Nikolaevna was just that "her daughter was not a friend to her."
But from all her explanations and outpourings nothing certain could be
gathered but that there actually had been some sort of quarrel between
Liza and Nikolay, but of the nature of the quarrel Praskovya Ivanovna
was obviously unable to form a definite idea. As for her imputations
against Darya Pavlovna, she not only withdrew them completely in the
end, but even particularly begged Varvara Petrovna to pay no attention
to her words, because "they had been said in irritation." In fact, it
had all been left very far from clear—suspicious, indeed. According to
her account the quarrel had arisen from Liza's "obstinate and ironical
character." "Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch is proud, too, and though he
was very much in love, yet he could not endure sarcasm, and began to be
sarcastic himself. Soon afterwards we made the acquaintance of a
young man, the nephew, I believe, of your 'Professor' and, indeed, the
surname's the same."
"The son, not the nephew," Varvara Petrovna corrected her.
Even in old days Praskovya Ivanovna had been always unable to recall
Stepan Trofimovitch's name, and had always called him the "Professor."
"Well, his son, then; so much the better. Of course, it's all the same
to me. An ordinary young man, very lively and free in his manners, but
nothing special in him. Well, then, Liza herself did wrong, she
made friends with the young man with the idea of making Nikolay
Vsyevolodovitch jealous. I don't see much harm in that; it's the way of
girls, quite usual, even charming in them. Only instead of being jealous
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch made friends with the young man himself, just as
though he saw nothing and didn't care. This made Liza furious. The young
man soon went away (he was in a great hurry to get somewhere) and
Liza took to picking quarrels with Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch at every
opportunity. She noticed that he used sometimes to talk to Dasha; and,
well, she got in such a frantic state that even my life wasn't worth
living, my dear. The doctors have forbidden my being irritated, and I
was so sick of their lake they make such a fuss about, it simply gave me
toothache, I had such rheumatism. It's stated in print that the Lake of
Geneva does give people the toothache. It's a feature of the place. Then
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch suddenly got a letter from the countess and he
left us at once. He packed up in one day. They parted in a friendly way,
and Liza became very cheerful and frivolous, and laughed a great deal
seeing him off; only that was all put on. When he had gone she became
very thoughtful, and she gave up speaking of him altogether and wouldn't
let me mention his name. And I should advise you, dear Varvara Petrovna,
not to approach the subject with Liza, you'll only do harm. But if you
hold your tongue she'll begin to talk of it herself, and then you'll
learn more. I believe they'll come together again, if only Nikolay
Vsyevolodovitch doesn't put off coming, as he promised."
"I'll write to him at once. If that's how it was, there was nothing in
the quarrel; all nonsense! And I know Darya too well. It's nonsense!"
"I'm sorry for what I said about Dashenka, I did wrong. Their
conversations were quite ordinary and they talked out loud, too. But it
all upset me so much at the time, my dear. And Liza, I saw, got on with
her again as affectionately as before...."
That very day Varvara Petrovna wrote to Nikolay, and begged him to come,
if only one month, earlier than the date he had fixed. But yet she still
felt that there was something unexplained and obscure in the matter.
She pondered over it all the evening and all night. Praskovya's opinion
seemed to her too innocent and sentimental. "Praskovya has always
been too sentimental from the old schooldays upwards," she reflected.
"Nicolas is not the man to run away from a girl's taunts. There's some
other reason for it, if there really has been a breach between them.
That officer's here though, they've brought him with them. As a relation
he lives in their house. And, as for Darya, Praskovya was in too much
haste to apologise. She must have kept something to herself, which she
wouldn't tell me."
By the morning Varvara Petrovna had matured a project for putting a stop
once for all to one misunderstanding at least; a project amazing in its
unexpectedness. What was in her heart when she conceived it? It would
be hard to decide and I will not undertake to explain beforehand all
the incongruities of which it was made up. I simply confine myself as
chronicler to recording events precisely as they happened, and it is not
my fault if they seem incredible. Yet I must once more testify that by
the morning there was not the least suspicion of Dasha left in Varvara
Petrovna's mind, though in reality there never had been any—she had
too much confidence in her. Besides, she could not admit the idea that
"Nicolas" could be attracted by her Darya. Next morning when Darya
Pavlovna was pouring out tea at the table Varvara Petrovna looked for a
long while intently at her and, perhaps for the twentieth time since the
previous day, repeated to herself: "It's all nonsense!"
All she noticed was that Dasha looked rather tired, and that she was
even quieter and more apathetic than she used to be. After their morning
tea, according to their invariable custom, they sat down to needlework.
Varvara Petrovna demanded from her a full account of her impressions
abroad, especially of nature, of the inhabitants, of the towns, the
customs, their arts and commerce—of everything she had time to observe.
She asked no questions about the Drozdovs or how she had got on with
them. Dasha, sitting beside her at the work-table helping her with the
embroidery, talked for half an hour in her even, monotonous, but rather
"Darya!" Varvara Petrovna interrupted suddenly, "is there nothing
special you want to tell me?"
"No, nothing," said Dasha, after a moment's thought, and she glanced at
Varvara Petrovna with her light-coloured eyes.
"Nothing on your soul, on your heart, or your conscience?"
"Nothing," Dasha repeated, quietly, but with a sort of sullen firmness.
"I knew there wasn't! Believe me, Darya, I shall never doubt you. Now
sit still and listen. In front of me, on that chair. I want to see the
whole of you. That's right. Listen, do you want to be married?"
Dasha responded with a long, inquiring, but not greatly astonished look.
"Stay, hold your tongue. In the first place there is a very great
difference in age, but of course you know better than anyone what
nonsense that is. You're a sensible girl, and there must be no mistakes
in your life. Besides, he's still a handsome man... In short, Stepan
Trofimovitch, for whom you have always had such a respect. Well?"
Dasha looked at her still more inquiringly, and this time not simply
with surprise; she blushed perceptibly.
"Stay, hold your tongue, don't be in a hurry! Though you will have money
under my will, yet when I die, what will become of you, even if you have
money? You'll be deceived and robbed of your money, you'll be lost in
fact. But married to him you're the wife of a distinguished man. Look at
him on the other hand. Though I've provided for him, if I die what will
become of him? But I could trust him to you. Stay, I've not finished.
He's frivolous, shilly-shally, cruel, egoistic, he has low habits. But
mind you think highly of him, in the first place because there are many
worse. I don't want to get you off my hands by marrying you to a rascal,
you don't imagine anything of that sort, do you? And, above all, because
I ask you, you'll think highly of him,"—
She broke off suddenly and irritably. "Do you hear? Why won't you say
Dasha still listened and did not speak.
"Stay, wait a little. He's an old woman, but you know, that's all the
better for you. Besides, he's a pathetic old woman. He doesn't deserve
to be loved by a woman at all, but he deserves to be loved for his
helplessness, and you must love him for his helplessness. You understand
me, don't you? Do you understand me?"
Dasha nodded her head affirmatively.
"I knew you would. I expected as much of you. He will love you because
he ought, he ought; he ought to adore you." Varvara Petrovna almost
shrieked with peculiar exasperation. "Besides, he will be in love with
you without any ought about it. I know him. And another thing, I shall
always be here. You may be sure I shall always be here. He will complain
of you, he'll begin to say things against you behind your back, he'll
whisper things against you to any stray person he meets, he'll be for
ever whining and whining; he'll write you letters from one room to
another, two a day, but he won't be able to get on without you all the
same, and that's the chief thing. Make him obey you. If you can't make
him you'll be a fool. He'll want to hang himself and threaten, to—don't
you believe it. It's nothing but nonsense. Don't believe it; but still
keep a sharp look-out, you never can tell, and one day he may hang
himself. It does happen with people like that. It's not through strength
of will but through weakness that people hang themselves, and so
never drive him to an extreme, that's the first rule in married life.
Remember, too, that he's a poet. Listen, Dasha, there's no greater
happiness than self-sacrifice. And besides, you'll be giving me great
satisfaction and that's the chief thing. Don't think I've been talking
nonsense. I understand what I'm saying. I'm an egoist, you be an egoist,
too. Of course I'm not forcing you. It's entirely for you to decide.
As you say, so it shall be. Well, what's the good of sitting like this.
"I don't mind, Varvara Petrovna, if I really must be married," said
"Must? What are you hinting at?" Varvara Petrovna looked sternly and
intently at her.
Dasha was silent, picking at her embroidery canvas with her needle.
"Though you're a clever girl, you're talking nonsense; though it is true
that I have certainly set my heart on marrying you, yet it's not because
it's necessary, but simply because the idea has occurred to me, and only
to Stepan Trofimovitch. If it had not been for Stepan Trofimovitch, I
should not have thought of marrying you yet, though you are twenty....
"I'll do as you wish, Varvara Petrovna."
"Then you consent! Stay, be quiet. Why are you in such a hurry? I
haven't finished. In my will I've left you fifteen thousand roubles.
I'll give you that at once, on your wedding-day. You will give eight
thousand of it to him; that is, not to him but to me. He has a debt of
eight thousand. I'll pay it, but he must know that it is done with your
money. You'll have seven thousand left in your hands. Never let him
touch a farthing of it. Don't pay his debts ever. If once you pay them,
you'll never be free of them. Besides, I shall always be here. You
shall have twelve hundred roubles a year from me, with extras, fifteen
hundred, besides board and lodging, which shall be at my expense, just
as he has it now. Only you must set up your own servants. Your yearly
allowance shall be paid to you all at once straight into your hands. But
be kind, and sometimes give him something, and let his friends come to
see him once a week, but if they come more often, turn them out. But
I shall be here, too. And if I die, your pension will go on till his
death, do you hear, till his death, for it's his pension, not yours.
And besides the seven thousand you'll have now, which you ought to keep
untouched if you're not foolish, I'll leave you another eight thousand
in my will. And you'll get nothing more than that from me, it's right
that you should know it. Come, you consent, eh? Will you say something
"I have told you already, Varvara Petrovna."
"Remember that you're free to decide. As you like, so it shall be."
"Then, may I ask, Varvara Petrovna, has Stepan Trofimovitch said
"No, he hasn't said anything, he doesn't know... but he will speak
She jumped up at once and threw on a black shawl. Dasha flushed a little
again, and watched her with questioning eyes. Varvara Petrovna turned
suddenly to her with a face flaming with anger.
"You're a fool!" She swooped down on her like a hawk. "An ungrateful
fool! What's in your mind? Can you imagine that I'd compromise you, in
any way, in the smallest degree. Why, he shall crawl on his knees to
ask you, he must be dying of happiness, that's how it shall be arranged.
Why, you know that I'd never let you suffer. Or do you suppose he'll
take you for the sake of that eight thousand, and that I'm hurrying off
to sell you? You're a fool, a fool! You're all ungrateful fools. Give me
And she flew off to walk by the wet brick pavements and the wooden
planks to Stepan Trofimovitch's.
It was true that she would never have let Dasha suffer; on the contrary,
she considered now that she was acting as her benefactress. The most
generous and legitimate indignation was glowing in her soul, when, as
she put on her shawl, she caught fixed upon her the embarrassed and
mistrustful eyes of her protégée. She had genuinely loved the girl from
her childhood upwards. Praskovya Ivanovna had with justice called Darya
Pavlovna her favourite. Long ago Varvara Petrovna had made up her mind
once for all that "Darya's disposition was not like her brother's" (not,
that is, like Ivan Shatov's), that she was quiet and gentle, and capable
of great self-sacrifice; that she was distinguished by a power of
devotion, unusual modesty, rare reasonableness, and, above all, by
gratitude. Till that time Dasha had, to all appearances, completely
justified her expectations.
"In that life there will be no mistakes," said Varvara Petrovna when the
girl was only twelve years old, and as it was characteristic of her to
attach herself doggedly and passionately to any dream that fascinated
her, any new design, any idea that struck her as noble, she made up her
mind at once to educate Dasha as though she were her own daughter. She
at once set aside a sum of money for her, and sent for a governess, Miss
Criggs, who lived with them until the girl was sixteen, but she was
for some reason suddenly dismissed. Teachers came for her from the High
School, among them a real Frenchman, who taught Dasha French. He, too,
was suddenly dismissed, almost turned out of the house. A poor lady, a
widow of good family, taught her to play the piano. Yet her chief tutor
was Stepan Trofimovitch.
In reality he first discovered Dasha. He began teaching the quiet child
even before Varvara Petrovna had begun to think about her. I repeat
again, it was wonderful how children took to him. Lizaveta Nikolaevna
Tushin had been taught by him from the age of eight till eleven (Stepan
Trofimovitch took no fees, of course, for his lessons, and would not on
any account have taken payment from the Drozdovs). But he fell in love
with the charming child and used to tell her poems of a sort about the
creation of the world, about the earth, and the history of humanity.
His lectures about the primitive peoples and primitive man were more
interesting than the Arabian Nights. Liza, who was ecstatic over these
stories, used to mimic Stepan Trofimovitch very funnily at home. He
heard of this and once peeped in on her unawares. Liza, overcome
with confusion, flung herself into his arms and shed tears; Stepan
Trofimovitch wept too with delight. But Liza soon after went away, and
only Dasha was left. When Dasha began to have other teachers, Stepan
Trofimovitch gave up his lessons with her, and by degrees left off
noticing her. Things went on like this for a long time. Once when she
was seventeen he was struck by her prettiness. It happened at Varvara
Petrovna's table. He began to talk to the young girl, was much pleased
with her answers, and ended by offering to give her a serious and
comprehensive course of lessons on the history of Russian literature.
Varvara Petrovna approved, and thanked him for his excellent idea,
and Dasha was delighted. Stepan Trofimovitch proceeded to make special
preparations for the lectures, and at last they began. They began
with the most ancient period. The first lecture went off enchantingly.
Varvara Petrovna was present. When Stepan Trofimovitch had finished, and
as he was going informed his pupil that the next time he would deal with
"The Story of the Expedition of Igor," Varvara Petrovna suddenly got up
and announced that there would be no more lessons. Stepan Trofimovitch
winced, but said nothing, and Dasha flushed crimson. It put a stop to
the scheme, however. This had happened just three years before Varvara
Petrovna's unexpected fancy.
Poor Stepan Trofimovitch was sitting alone free from all misgivings.
Plunged in mournful reveries he had for some time been looking out of
the window to see whether any of his friends were coming. But nobody
would come. It was drizzling. It was turning cold, he would have to have
the stove heated. He sighed. Suddenly a terrible apparition flashed upon
Varvara Petrovna in such weather and at such an unexpected hour to see
him! And on foot! He was so astounded that he forgot to put on his
coat, and received her as he was, in his everlasting pink-wadded
"Ma bonne amie!" he cried faintly, to greet her. "You're alone; I'm
glad; I can't endure your friends. How you do smoke! Heavens, what an
atmosphere! You haven't finished your morning tea and it's nearly twelve
o'clock. It's your idea of bliss—disorder! You take pleasure in dirt.
What's that torn paper on the floor? Nastasya, Nastasya! What is
your Nastasya about? Open the window, the casement, the doors, fling
everything wide open. And we'll go into the drawing-room. I've come to
you on a matter of importance. And you sweep up, my good woman, for once
in your life."
"They make such a muck!" Nastasya whined in a voice of plaintive
"Well, you must sweep, sweep it up fifteen times a day! You've a
wretched drawing-room" (when they had gone into the drawing-room). "Shut
the door properly. She'll be listening. You must have it repapered.
Didn't I send a paperhanger to you with patterns? Why didn't you choose
one? Sit down, and listen. Do sit down, I beg you. Where are you off to?
Where are you off to? Where are you off to?
"I'll be back directly," Stepan Trofimovitch cried from the next room.
"Here I am again."
"Ah,—you've changed your coat." She scanned him mockingly. (He had
flung his coat on over the dressing-jacket.) "Well, certainly that's
more suited to our subject. Do sit down, I entreat you."
She told him everything at once, abruptly and impressively. She hinted at
the eight thousand of which he stood in such terrible need. She told him
in detail of the dowry. Stepan Trofimovitch sat trembling, opening
his eyes wider and wider. He heard it all, but he could not realise it
clearly. He tried to speak, but his voice kept breaking. All he knew
was that everything would be as she said, that to protest and refuse to
agree would be useless, and that he was a married man irrevocably.
"Mais, ma bonne amie!...for the third time, and at my age...and to
such a child." He brought out at last, "Mais, c'est une enfant!"
"A child who is twenty years old, thank God. Please don't roll your
eyes, I entreat you, you're not on the stage. You're very clever and
learned, but you know nothing at all about life. You will always want a
nurse to look after you. I shall die, and what will become of you?
She will be a good nurse to you; she's a modest girl, strong-willed,
reasonable; besides, I shall be here too, I shan't die directly. She's
fond of home, she's an angel of gentleness. This happy thought came to
me in Switzerland. Do you understand if I tell you myself that she is
an angel of gentleness!" she screamed with sudden fury. "Your house is
dirty, she will bring in order, cleanliness. Everything will shine like
a mirror. Good gracious, do you expect me to go on my knees to you with
such a treasure, to enumerate all the advantages, to court you! Why, you
ought to be on your knees.... Oh, you shallow, shallow, faint-hearted
"But... I'm an old man!"
"What do your fifty-three years matter! Fifty is the middle of life,
not the end of it. You are a handsome man and you know it yourself. You
know, too, what a respect she has for you. If I die, what will become of
her? But married to you she'll be at peace, and I shall be at peace. You
have renown, a name, a loving heart. You receive a pension which I look
upon as an obligation. You will save her perhaps, you will save her! In
any case you will be doing her an honour. You will form her for life,
you will develop her heart, you will direct her ideas. How many people
come to grief nowadays because their ideas are wrongly directed. By that
time your book will be ready, and you will at once set people talking
about you again."
"I am, in fact," he muttered, at once flattered by Varvara Petrovna's
adroit insinuations. "I was just preparing to sit down to my 'Tales from
"Well, there you are. It's just come right."
"But... she? Have you spoken to her?"
"Don't worry about her. And there's no need for you to be inquisitive.
Of course, you must ask her yourself, entreat her to do you the honour,
you understand? But don't be uneasy. I shall be here. Besides, you love
Stepan Trofimovitch felt giddy. The walls were going round. There was
one terrible idea underlying this to which he could not reconcile
"Excellente amie," his voice quivered suddenly. "I could never have
conceived that you would make up your mind to give me in marriage to
"You're not a girl, Stepan Trofimovitch. Only girls are given in
marriage. You are taking a wife," Varvara Petrovna hissed malignantly.
"Oui, j'ai pris un mot pour un autre. Mais c'est égal." He gazed at her
with a hopeless air.
"I see that c'est égal," she muttered contemptuously through her teeth.
"Good heavens! Why he's going to faint. Nastasya, Nastasya, water!"
But water was not needed. He came to himself. Varvara Petrovna took up
"I see it's no use talking to you now...."
"Oui, oui, je suis incapable."
"But by to-morrow you'll have rested and thought it over. Stay at home.
If anything happens let me know, even if it's at night. Don't write
letters, I shan't read them. To-morrow I'll come again at this time
alone, for a final answer, and I trust it will be satisfactory. Try to
have nobody here and no untidiness, for the place isn't fit to be seen.
The next day, of course, he consented, and, indeed, he could do nothing
else. There was one circumstance...
Stepan Trofimovitch's estate, as we used to call it (which consisted
of fifty souls, reckoning in the old fashion, and bordered on
Skvoreshniki), was not really his at all, but his first wife's, and
so belonged now to his son Pyotr Stepanovitch Verhovensky. Stepan
Trofimovitch was simply his trustee, and so, when the nestling was
full-fledged, he had given his father a formal authorisation to manage
the estate. This transaction was a profitable one for the young man. He
received as much as a thousand roubles a year by way of revenue from the
estate, though under the new regime it could not have yielded more than
five hundred, and possibly not that. God knows how such an arrangement
had arisen. The whole sum, however, was sent the young man by Varvara
Petrovna, and Stepan Trofimovitch had nothing to do with a single rouble
of it. On the other hand, the whole revenue from the land remained in
his pocket, and he had, besides, completely ruined the estate, letting
it to a mercenary rogue, and without the knowledge of Varvara Petrovna
selling the timber which gave the estate its chief value. He had some
time before sold the woods bit by bit. It was worth at least
eight thousand, yet he had only received five thousand for it. But
he sometimes lost too much at the club, and was afraid to ask Varvara
Petrovna for the money. She clenched her teeth when she heard at last of
everything. And now, all at once, his son announced that he was
coming himself to sell his property for what he could get for it, and
commissioned his father to take steps promptly to arrange the sale. It
was clear that Stepan Trofimovitch, being a generous and disinterested
man, felt ashamed of his treatment of ce cher enfant (whom he had seen
for the last time nine years before as a student in Petersburg). The
estate might originally have been worth thirteen or fourteen thousand.
Now it was doubtful whether anyone would give five for it. No doubt
Stepan Trofimovitch was fully entitled by the terms of the trust to sell
the wood, and taking into account the incredibly large yearly revenue of
a thousand roubles which had been sent punctually for so many years,
he could have put up a good defence of his management. But Stepan
Trofimovitch was a generous man of exalted impulses. A wonderfully fine
inspiration occurred to his mind: when Petrusha returned, to lay on the
table before him the maximum price of fifteen thousand roubles without
a hint at the sums that had been sent him hitherto, and warmly and with
tears to press ce cher fils to his heart, and so to make an end of all
accounts between them. He began cautiously and indirectly unfolding
this picture before Varvara Petrovna. He hinted that this would add a
peculiarly noble note to their friendship... to their "idea." This
would set the parents of the last generation—and people of the last
generation generally—in such a disinterested and magnanimous light in
comparison with the new frivolous and socialistic younger generation. He
said a great deal more, but Varvara Petrovna was obstinately silent. At
last she informed him airily that she was prepared to buy their estate,
and to pay for it the maximum price, that is, six or seven thousand
(though four would have been a fair price for it). Of the remaining
eight thousand which had vanished with the woods she said not a word.
This conversation took place a month before the match was proposed to
him. Stepan Trofimovitch was overwhelmed, and began to ponder. There
might in the past have been a hope that his son would not come,
after all—an outsider, that is to say, might have hoped so. Stepan
Trofimovitch as a father would have indignantly rejected the
insinuation that he could entertain such a hope. Anyway queer rumours
had hitherto been reaching us about Petrusha. To begin with, on
completing his studies at the university six years before, he had hung
about in Petersburg without getting work. Suddenly we got the news that
he had taken part in issuing some anonymous manifesto and that he
was implicated in the affair. Then he suddenly turned up abroad in
Switzerland at Geneva—he had escaped, very likely.
"It's surprising to me," Stepan Trofimovitch commented, greatly
disconcerted. "Petrusha, c'est une si pauvre tête! He's good,
noble-hearted, very sensitive, and I was so delighted with him in
Petersburg, comparing him with the young people of to-day. But c'est un
pauvre sire, tout de même.... And you know it all comes from that
same half-bakedness, that sentimentality. They are fascinated, not by
realism, but by the emotional ideal side of socialism, by the religious
note in it, so to say, by the poetry of it... second-hand, of course.
And for me, for me, think what it means! I have so many enemies here and
more still there, they'll put it down to the father's influence. Good
God! Petrusha a revolutionist! What times we live in!"
Very soon, however, Petrusha sent his exact address from Switzerland for
money to be sent him as usual; so he could not be exactly an exile.
And now, after four years abroad, he was suddenly making his appearance
again in his own country, and announced that he would arrive shortly,
so there could be no charge against him. What was more, some one seemed
to be interested in him and protecting him. He wrote now from the south
of Russia, where he was busily engaged in some private but important
business. All this was capital, but where was his father to get that
other seven or eight thousand, to make up a suitable price for the
estate? And what if there should be an outcry, and instead of that
imposing picture it should come to a lawsuit? Something told Stepan
Trofimovitch that the sensitive Petrusha would not relinquish anything
that was to his interest. "Why is it—as I've noticed," Stepan
Trofimovitch whispered to me once, "why is it that all these desperate
socialists and communists are at the same time such incredible
skinflints, so avaricious, so keen over property, and, in fact, the
more socialistic, the more extreme they are, the keener they are over
property... why is it? Can that, too, come from sentimentalism?" I
don't know whether there is any truth in this observation of Stepan
Trofimovitch's. I only know that Petrusha had somehow got wind of the
sale of the woods and the rest of it, and that Stepan Trofimovitch was
aware of the fact. I happened, too, to read some of Petrusha's letters
to his father. He wrote extremely rarely, once a year, or even less
often. Only recently, to inform him of his approaching visit, he had
sent two letters, one almost immediately after the other. All his
letters were short, dry, consisting only of instructions, and as the
father and son had, since their meeting in Petersburg, adopted the
fashionable "thou" and "thee," Petrusha's letters had a striking
resemblance to the missives that used to be sent by landowners of the
old school from the town to their serfs whom they had left in charge of
their estates. And now suddenly this eight thousand which would solve
the difficulty would be wafted to him by Varvara Petrovna's proposition.
And at the same time she made him distinctly feel that it never could
be wafted to him from anywhere else. Of course Stepan Trofimovitch
He sent for me directly she had gone and shut himself up for the whole
day, admitting no one else. He cried, of course, talked well and talked
a great deal, contradicted himself continually, made a casual pun, and
was much pleased with it. Then he had a slight attack of his "summer
cholera"—everything in fact followed the usual course. Then he brought
out the portrait of his German bride, now twenty years deceased, and
began plaintively appealing to her: "Will you forgive me?" In fact he
seemed somehow distracted. Our grief led us to get a little drunk. He
soon fell into a sweet sleep, however. Next morning he tied his cravat
in masterly fashion, dressed with care, and went frequently to look at
himself in the glass. He sprinkled his handkerchief with scent, only a
slight dash of it, however, and as soon as he saw Varvara Petrovna out
of the window he hurriedly took another handkerchief and hid the scented
one under the pillow.
"Excellent!" Varvara Petrovna approved, on receiving his consent. "In
the first place you show a fine decision, and secondly you've listened
to the voice of reason, to which you generally pay so little heed in
your private affairs. There's no need of haste, however," she added,
scanning the knot of his white tie, "for the present say nothing, and I
will say nothing. It will soon be your birthday; I will come to see you
with her. Give us tea in the evening, and please without wine or other
refreshments, but I'll arrange it all myself. Invite your friends, but
we'll make the list together. You can talk to her the day before, if
necessary. And at your party we won't exactly announce it, or make an
engagement of any sort, but only hint at it, and let people know without
any sort of ceremony. And then the wedding a fortnight later, as far
as possible without any fuss.... You two might even go away for a time
after the wedding, to Moscow, for instance. I'll go with you, too,
perhaps... The chief thing is, keep quiet till then."
Stepan Trofimovitch was surprised. He tried to falter that he could
not do like that, that he must talk it over with his bride. But Varvara
Petrovna flew at him in exasperation.
"What for? In the first place it may perhaps come to nothing."
"Come to nothing!" muttered the bridegroom, utterly dumbfoundered.
"Yes. I'll see.... But everything shall be as I've told you, and don't
be uneasy. I'll prepare her myself. There's really no need for you.
Everything necessary shall be said and done, and there's no need for you
to meddle. Why should you? In what character? Don't come and don't write
letters. And not a sight or sound of you, I beg. I will be silent too."
She absolutely refused to explain herself, and went away, obviously
upset. Stepan Trofimovitch's excessive readiness evidently impressed
her. Alas! he was utterly unable to grasp his position, and the question
had not yet presented itself to him from certain other points of view.
On the contrary a new note was apparent in him, a sort of conquering and
jaunty air. He swaggered.
"I do like that!" he exclaimed, standing before me, and flinging wide
his arms. "Did you hear? She wants to drive me to refusing at last. Why,
I may lose patience, too, and... refuse! 'Sit still, there's no need
for you to go to her.' But after all, why should I be married? Simply
because she's taken an absurd fancy into her heart. But I'm a serious
man, and I can refuse to submit to the idle whims of a giddy-woman! I
have duties to my son and...and to myself! I'm making a sacrifice. Does
she realise that? I have agreed, perhaps, because I am weary of life
and nothing matters to me. But she may exasperate me, and then it will
matter. I shall resent it and refuse. Et enfin, le ridicule...what will
they say at the club? What will... what will... Laputin say? 'Perhaps
nothing will come of it'—what a thing to say! That beats everything.
That's really... what is one to say to that?... Je suis un forçat, un
Badinguet, un man pushed to the wall...."
And at the same time a sort of capricious complacency, something
frivolous and playful, could be seen in the midst of all these plaintive
exclamations. In the evening we drank too much again.
CHAPTER III. THE SINS OF OTHERS
ABOUT A WEEK had passed, and the position had begun to grow more
I may mention in passing that I suffered a great deal during that
unhappy week, as I scarcely left the side of my affianced friend, in the
capacity of his most intimate confidant. What weighed upon him most
was the feeling of shame, though we saw no one all that week, and sat
indoors alone. But he was even ashamed before me, and so much so that
the more he confided to me the more vexed he was with me for it. He was
so morbidly apprehensive that he expected that every one knew about it
already, the whole town, and was afraid to show himself, not only at the
club, but even in his circle of friends. He positively would not go out
to take his constitutional till well after dusk, when it was quite dark.
A week passed and he still did not know whether he were betrothed or
not, and could not find out for a fact, however much he tried. He had
not yet seen his future bride, and did not know whether she was to be
his bride or not; did not, in fact, know whether there was anything
serious in it at all. Varvara Petrovna, for some reason, resolutely
refused to admit him to her presence. In answer to one of his first
letters to her (and he wrote a great number of them) she begged him
plainly to spare her all communications with him for a time, because
she was very busy, and having a great deal of the utmost importance to
communicate to him she was waiting for a more free moment to do so, and
that she would let him know in time when he could come to see her. She
declared she would send back his letters unopened, as they were "simple
self-indulgence." I read that letter myself—he showed it me.
Yet all this harshness and indefiniteness were nothing compared with
his chief anxiety. That anxiety tormented him to the utmost and without
ceasing. He grew thin and dispirited through it. It was something of
which he was more ashamed than of anything else, and of which he would
not on any account speak, even to me; on the contrary, he lied on
occasion, and shuffled before me like a little boy; and at the same time
he sent for me himself every day, could not stay two hours without me,
needing me as much as air or water.
Such conduct rather wounded my vanity. I need hardly say that I had
long ago privately guessed this great secret of his, and saw through it
completely. It was my firmest conviction at the time that the revelation
of this secret, this chief anxiety of Stepan Trofimovitch's would not
have redounded to his credit, and, therefore, as I was still young, I
was rather indignant at the coarseness of his feelings and the ugliness
of some of his suspicions. In my warmth—and, I must confess, in my
weariness of being his confidant—I perhaps blamed him too much. I was
so cruel as to try and force him to confess it all to me himself, though
I did recognise that it might be difficult to confess some things. He,
too, saw through me; that is, he clearly perceived that I saw through
him, and that I was angry with him indeed, and he was angry with me
too for being angry with him and seeing through him. My irritation was
perhaps petty and stupid; but the unrelieved solitude of two friends
together is sometimes extremely prejudicial to true friendship. From a
certain point of view he had a very true understanding of some aspects
of his position, and defined it, indeed, very subtly on those points
about which he did not think it necessary to be secret.
"Oh, how different she was then!" he would sometimes say to me about
Varvara Petrovna. "How different she was in the old days when we used to
talk together.... Do you know that she could talk in those days! Can
you believe that she had ideas in those days, original ideas! Now,
everything has changed! She says all that's only old-fashioned twaddle.
She despises the past.... Now she's like some shopman or cashier, she
has grown hard-hearted, and she's always cross...."
"Why is she cross now if you are carrying out her orders?" I answered.
He looked at me subtly.
"Cher ami; if I had not agreed she would have been dreadfully angry,
dread-ful-ly! But yet less than now that I have consented."
He was pleased with this saying of his, and we emptied a bottle between
us that evening. But that was only for a moment, next day he was worse
and more ill-humoured than ever.
But what I was most vexed with him for was that he could not bring
himself to call on the Drozdovs, as he should have done on their
arrival, to renew the acquaintance of which, so we heard they were
themselves desirous, since they kept asking about him. It was a source
of daily distress to him. He talked of Lizaveta Nikolaevna with an
ecstasy which I was at a loss to understand. No doubt he remembered in
her the child whom he had once loved. But besides that, he imagined for
some unknown reason that he would at once find in her company a solace
for his present misery, and even the solution of his more serious
doubts. He expected to meet in Lizaveta Nikolaevna an extraordinary
being. And yet he did not go to see her though he meant to do so every
day. The worst of it was that I was desperately anxious to be presented
to her and to make her acquaintance, and I could look to no one but
Stepan Trofimovitch to effect this. I was frequently meeting her, in the
street of course, when she was out riding, wearing a riding-habit and
mounted on a fine horse, and accompanied by her cousin, so-called, a
handsome officer, the nephew of the late General Drozdov—and these
meetings made an extraordinary impression on me at the time. My
infatuation lasted only a moment, and I very soon afterwards recognised
the impossibility of my dreams myself—but though it was a fleeting
impression it was a very real one, and so it may well be imagined
how indignant I was at the time with my poor friend for keeping so
All the members of our circle had been officially informed from the
beginning that Stepan Trofimovitch would see nobody for a time, and
begged them to leave him quite alone. He insisted on sending round a
circular notice to this effect, though I tried to dissuade him. I
went round to every one at his request and told everybody that Varvara
Petrovna had given "our old man" (as we all used to call Stepan
Trofimovitch among ourselves) a special job, to arrange in order some
correspondence lasting over many years; that he had shut himself up to
do it and I was helping him. Liputin was the only one I did not have
time to visit, and I kept putting it off—to tell the real truth I was
afraid to go to him. I knew beforehand that he would not believe one
word of my story, that he would certainly imagine that there was some
secret at the bottom of it, which they were trying to hide from him
alone, and as soon as I left him he would set to work to make inquiries
and gossip all over the town. While I was picturing all this to myself
I happened to run across him in the street. It turned out that he had
heard all about it from our friends, whom I had only just informed. But,
strange to say, instead of being inquisitive and asking questions about
Stepan Trofimovitch, he interrupted me, when I began apologising for not
having come to him before, and at once passed to other subjects. It is
true that he had a great deal stored up to tell me. He was in a state
of great excitement, and was delighted to have got hold of me for a
listener. He began talking of the news of the town, of the arrival
of the governor's wife, "with new topics of conversation," of an
opposition party already formed in the club, of how they were all in a
hubbub over the new ideas, and how charmingly this suited him, and so
on. He talked for a quarter of an hour and so amusingly that I could not
tear myself away. Though I could not endure him, yet I must admit he had
the gift of making one listen to him, especially when he was very angry
at something. This man was, in my opinion, a regular spy from his very
nature. At every moment he knew the very latest gossip and all the
trifling incidents of our town, especially the unpleasant ones, and it
was surprising to me how he took things to heart that were sometimes
absolutely no concern of his. It always seemed to me that the leading
feature of his character was envy. When I told Stepan Trofimovitch the
same evening of my meeting Liputin that morning and our conversation,
the latter to my amazement became greatly agitated, and asked me the
wild question: "Does Liputin know or not?"
I began trying to prove that there was no possibility of his finding it
out so soon, and that there was nobody from whom he could hear it. But
Stepan Trofimovitch was not to be shaken. "Well, you may believe it or
not," he concluded unexpectedly at last, "but I'm convinced that he not
only knows every detail of 'our' position, but that he knows something
else besides, something neither you nor I know yet, and perhaps never
shall, or shall only know when it's too late, when there's no turning
I said nothing, but these words suggested a great deal. For five whole
days after that we did not say one word about Liputin; it was clear to
me that Stepan Trofimovitch greatly regretted having let his tongue run
away with him, and having revealed such suspicions before me.
One morning, on the seventh or eighth day after Stepan Trofimovitch had
consented to become "engaged," about eleven o'clock, when I was hurrying
as usual to my afflicted friend, I had an adventure on the way.
I met Karmazinov, "the great writer," as Liputin called him. I had read
Karmazinov from a child. His novels and tales were well known to the
past and even to the present generation. I revelled in them; they were
the great enjoyment of my childhood and youth. Afterwards I grew rather
less enthusiastic over his work. I did not care so much for the novels
with a purpose which he had been writing of late as for his first,
early works, which were so full of spontaneous poetry, and his latest
publications I had not liked at all. Speaking generally, if I may
venture to express my opinion on so delicate a subject, all these
talented gentlemen of the middling sort who are sometimes in their
lifetime accepted almost as geniuses, pass out of memory quite suddenly
and without a trace when they die, and what's more, it often happens
that even during their lifetime, as soon as a new generation grows up
and takes the place of the one in which they have flourished, they are
forgotten and neglected by every one in an incredibly short time. This
somehow happens among us quite suddenly, like the shifting of the scenes
on the stage. Oh, it's not at all the same as with Pushkin, Gogol,
Molière, Voltaire, all those great men who really had a new original
word to say! It's true, too, that these talented gentlemen of the
middling sort in the decline of their venerable years usually write
themselves out in the most pitiful way, though they don't observe the
fact themselves. It happens not infrequently that a writer who has been
for a long time credited with extraordinary profundity and expected
to exercise a great and serious influence on the progress of society,
betrays in the end such poverty, such insipidity in his fundamental
ideas that no one regrets that he succeeded in writing himself out so
soon. But the old grey-beards don't notice this, and are angry. Their
vanity sometimes, especially towards the end of their career, reaches
proportions that may well provoke wonder. God knows what they begin
to take themselves for—for gods at least! People used to say about
Karmazinov that his connections with aristocratic society and powerful
personages were dearer to him than his own soul, people used to say that
on meeting you he would be cordial, that he would fascinate and enchant
you with his open-heartedness, especially if you were of use to him in
some way, and if you came to him with some preliminary recommendation.
But that before any stray prince, any stray countess, anyone that he
was afraid of, he would regard it as his sacred duty to forget your
existence with the most insulting carelessness, like a chip of wood,
like a fly, before you had even time to get out of his sight; he
seriously considered this the best and most aristocratic style. In spite
of the best of breeding and perfect knowledge of good manners he is,
they say, vain to such an hysterical pitch that he cannot conceal his
irritability as an author even in those circles of society where little
interest is taken in literature. If anyone were to surprise him by being
indifferent, he would be morbidly chagrined, and try to revenge himself.
A year before, I had read an article of his in a review, written with
an immense affectation of naïve poetry, and psychology too. He described
the wreck of some steamer on the English coast, of which he had been
the witness, and how he had seen the drowning people saved, and the
dead bodies brought ashore. All this rather long and verbose article
was written solely with the object of self-display. One seemed to read
between the lines: "Concentrate yourselves on me. Behold what I was like
at those moments. What are the sea, the storm, the rocks, the splinters
of wrecked ships to you? I have described all that sufficiently to you
with my mighty pen. Why look at that drowned woman with the dead child
in her dead arms? Look rather at me, see how I was unable to bear that
sight and turned away from it. Here I stood with my back to it; here
I was horrified and could not bring myself to look; I blinked my
eyes—isn't that interesting?" When I told Stepan Trofimovitch my
opinion of Karmazinov's article he quite agreed with me.
When rumours had reached us of late that Karmazinov was coming to the
neighbourhood I was, of course, very eager to see him, and, if possible,
to make his acquaintance. I knew that this might be done through Stepan
Trofimovitch, they had once been friends. And now I suddenly met him at
the cross-roads. I knew him at once. He had been pointed out to me two
or three days before when he drove past with the governor's wife. He
was a short, stiff-looking old man, though not over fifty-five, with a
rather red little face, with thick grey locks of hair clustering under
his chimney-pot hat, and curling round his clean little pink ears.
His clean little face was not altogether handsome with its thin, long,
crafty-looking lips, with its rather fleshy nose, and its sharp, shrewd
little eyes. He was dressed somewhat shabbily in a sort of cape such as
would be worn in Switzerland or North Italy at that time of year. But,
at any rate, all the minor details of his costume, the little studs,
and collar, the buttons, the tortoise-shell lorgnette on a narrow black
ribbon, the signet-ring, were all such as are worn by persons of the
most irreproachable good form. I am certain that in summer he must have
worn light prunella shoes with mother-of-pearl buttons at the side.
When we met he was standing still at the turning and looking about him,
attentively. Noticing that I was looking at him with interest, he asked
me in a sugary, though rather shrill voice:
"Allow me to ask, which is my nearest way to Bykovy Street?"
"To Bykovy Street? Oh, that's here, close by," I cried in great
excitement. "Straight on along this street and the second turning to the
"Very much obliged to you."
A curse on that minute! I fancy I was shy, and looked cringing. He
instantly noticed all that, and of course realised it all at once; that
is, realised that I knew who he was, that I had read him and revered
him from a child, and that I was shy and looked at him cringingly. He
smiled, nodded again, and walked on as I had directed him. I don't know
why I turned back to follow him; I don't know why I ran for ten paces
beside him. He suddenly stood still again.
"And could you tell me where is the nearest cab-stand?" he shouted out
to me again.
It was a horrid shout! A horrid voice!
"A cab-stand? The nearest cab-stand is... by the Cathedral; there are
always cabs standing there," and I almost turned to run for a cab for
him. I almost believe that that was what he expected me to do. Of
course I checked myself at once, and stood still, but he had noticed
my movement and was still watching me with the same horrid smile. Then
something happened which I shall never forget.
He suddenly dropped a tiny bag, which he was holding in his left
hand; though indeed it was not a bag, but rather a little box, or more
probably some part of a pocket-book, or to be more accurate a little
reticule, rather like an old-fashioned lady's reticule, though I really
don't know what it was. I only know that I flew to pick it up.
I am convinced that I did not really pick it up, but my first motion
was unmistakable. I could not conceal it, and, like a fool, I turned
crimson. The cunning fellow at once got all that could be got out of the
"Don't trouble, I'll pick it up," he pronounced charmingly; that is,
when he was quite sure that I was not going to pick up the reticule, he
picked it up as though forestalling me, nodded once more, and went his
way, leaving me to look like a fool. It was as good as though I had
picked it up myself. For five minutes I considered myself utterly
disgraced for ever, but as I reached Stepan Trofimovitch's house I
suddenly burst out laughing; the meeting struck me as so amusing that I
immediately resolved to entertain Stepan Trofimovitch with an account of
it, and even to act the whole scene to him.
But this time to my surprise I found an extraordinary change in him. He
pounced on me with a sort of avidity, it is true, as soon as I went in,
and began listening to me, but with such a distracted air that at first
he evidently did not take in my words. But as soon as I pronounced the
name of Karmazinov he suddenly flew into a frenzy.
"Don't speak of him! Don't pronounce that name!" he exclaimed, almost in
a fury. "Here, look, read it! Read it!"
He opened the drawer and threw on the table three small sheets of paper,
covered with a hurried pencil scrawl, all from Varvara Petrovna. The
first letter was dated the day before yesterday, the second had come
yesterday, and the last that day, an hour before. Their contents were
quite trivial, and all referred to Karmazinov and betrayed the vain
and fussy uneasiness of Varvara Petrovna and her apprehension that
Karmazinov might forget to pay her a visit. Here is the first one dating
from two days before. (Probably there had been one also three days
before, and possibly another four days before as well.)
"If he deigns to visit you to-day, not a word about me, I beg. Not the
faintest hint. Don't speak of me, don't mention me.—V. S."
The letter of the day before:
"If he decides to pay you a visit this morning, I think the most
dignified thing would be not to receive him. That's what I think about
it; I don't know what you think.—V. S."
To-day's, the last:
"I feel sure that you're in a regular litter and clouds of tobacco
smoke. I'm sending you Marya and Fomushka. They'll tidy you up in half
an hour. And don't hinder them, but go and sit in the kitchen while they
clear up. I'm sending you a Bokhara rug and two china vases. I've long
been meaning to make you a present of them, and I'm sending you my
Teniers, too, for a time! You can put the vases in the window and hang
the Teniers on the right under the portrait of Goethe; it will be more
conspicuous there and it's always light there in the morning. If he does
turn up at last, receive him with the utmost courtesy but try and talk
of trifling matters, of some intellectual subject, and behave as though
you had seen each other lately. Not a word about me. Perhaps I may look
in on you in the evening.—V. S.
"P.S.—If he does not come to-day he won't come at all."
I read and was amazed that he was in such excitement over such trifles.
Looking at him inquiringly, I noticed that he had had time while I was
reading to change the everlasting white tie he always wore, for a red
one. His hat and stick lay on the table. He was pale, and his hands were
"I don't care a hang about her anxieties," he cried frantically, in
response to my inquiring look. "Je m'en fiche! She has the face to be
excited about Karmazinov, and she does not answer my letters. Here is
my unopened letter which she sent me back yesterday, here on the table
under the book, under L'Homme qui rit. What is it to me that she's
wearing herself out over Nikolay! Je m'en fiche, et je proclame ma
liberté! Au diable le Karmazinov! Au diable la Lembke! I've hidden the
vases in the entry, and the Teniers in the chest of drawers, and I have
demanded that she is to see me at once. Do you hear. I've insisted!
I've sent her just such a scrap of paper, a pencil scrawl, unsealed, by
Nastasya, and I'm waiting. I want Darya Pavlovna to speak to me with
her own lips, before the face of Heaven, or at least before you. Vous me
seconderez, n'est-ce pas, comme ami et témoin. I don't want to have
to blush, to lie, I don't want secrets, I won't have secrets in this
matter. Let them confess everything to me openly, frankly, honourably
and then... then perhaps I may surprise the whole generation by my
magnanimity.... Am I a scoundrel or not, my dear sir?" he concluded
suddenly, looking menacingly at me, as though I'd considered him a
I offered him a sip of water; I had never seen him like this before. All
the while he was talking he kept running from one end of the room to
the other, but he suddenly stood still before me in an extraordinary
"Can you suppose," he began again with hysterical haughtiness, looking
me up and down, "can you imagine that I, Stepan Verhovensky, cannot find
in myself the moral strength to take my bag—my beggar's bag—and laying
it on my feeble shoulders to go out at the gate and vanish for ever,
when honour and the great principle of independence demand it! It's
not the first time that Stepan Verhovensky has had to repel despotism by
moral force, even though it be the despotism of a crazy woman, that
is, the most cruel and insulting despotism which can exist on earth,
although you have, I fancy, forgotten yourself so much as to laugh at
my phrase, my dear sir! Oh, you don't believe that I can find the moral
strength in myself to end my life as a tutor in a merchant's family, or
to die of hunger in a ditch! Answer me, answer at once; do you believe
it, or don't you believe it?"
But I was purposely silent. I even affected to hesitate to wound him by
answering in the negative, but to be unable to answer affirmatively. In
all this nervous excitement of his there was something which really did
offend me, and not personally, oh, no! But... I will explain later on.
He positively turned pale.
"Perhaps you are bored with me, G——v (this is my surname), and you
would like... not to come and see me at all?" he said in that tone of
pale composure which usually precedes some extraordinary outburst. I
jumped up in alarm. At that moment Nastasya came in, and, without a
word, handed Stepan Trofimovitch a piece of paper, on which something
was written in pencil. He glanced at it and flung it to me. On the
paper, in Varvara Petrovna's hand three words were written: "Stay at
Stepan Trofimovitch snatched up his hat and stick in silence and went
quickly out of the room. Mechanically I followed him. Suddenly voices
and sounds of rapid footsteps were heard in the passage. He stood still,
as though thunder-struck.
"It's Liputin; I am lost!" he whispered, clutching at my arm.
At the same instant Liputin walked into the room.
Why he should be lost owing to Liputin I did not know, and indeed I
did not attach much significance to the words; I put it all down to his
nerves. His terror, however, was remarkable, and I made up my mind to
keep a careful watch on him.
The very appearance of Liputin as he came in assured us that he had on
this occasion a special right to come in, in spite of the prohibition.
He brought with him an unknown gentleman, who must have been a new
arrival in the town. In reply to the senseless stare of my petrified
friend, he called out immediately in a loud voice:
"I'm bringing you a visitor, a special one! I make bold to intrude on
your solitude. Mr. Kirillov, a very distinguished civil engineer. And
what's more he knows your son, the much esteemed Pyotr Stepanovitch,
very intimately; and he has a message from him. He's only just arrived."
"The message is your own addition," the visitor observed curtly.
"There's no message at all. But I certainly do know Verhovensky. I left
him in the X. province, ten days ahead of us."
Stepan Trofimovitch mechanically offered his hand and motioned him to
sit down. He looked at me, he looked at Liputin, and then as though
suddenly recollecting himself sat down himself, though he still kept his
hat and stick in his hands without being aware of it.
"Bah, but you were going out yourself! I was told that you were quite
knocked up with work."
"Yes, I'm ill, and you see, I meant to go for a walk, I..." Stepan
Trofimovitch checked himself, quickly flung his hat and stick on the
sofa and—turned crimson.
Meantime, I was hurriedly examining the visitor. He was a young man,
about twenty-seven, decently dressed, well made, slender and dark, with
a pale, rather muddy-coloured face and black lustreless eyes. He seemed
rather thoughtful and absent-minded, spoke jerkily and ungrammatically,
transposing words in rather a strange way, and getting muddled if he
attempted a sentence of any length. Liputin was perfectly aware of
Stepan Trofimovitch's alarm, and was obviously pleased at it. He sat
down in a wicker chair which he dragged almost into the middle of the
room, so as to be at an equal distance between his host and the visitor,
who had installed themselves on sofas on opposite sides of the room. His
sharp eyes darted inquisitively from one corner of the room to another.
"It's.... a long while since I've seen Petrusha.... You met abroad?"
Stepan Trofimovitch managed to mutter to the visitor.
"Both here and abroad."
"Alexey Nilitch has only just returned himself after living four years
abroad," put in Liputin. "He has been travelling to perfect himself in
his speciality and has come to us because he has good reasons to expect
a job on the building of our railway bridge, and he's now waiting for an
answer about it. He knows the Drozdovs and Lizaveta Nikolaevna, through
The engineer sat, as it were, with a ruffled air, and listened with
awkward impatience. It seemed to me that he was angry about something.
"He knows Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch too."
"Do you know Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch?" inquired Stepan Trofimovitch.
"I know him too."
"It's... it's a very long time since I've seen Petrusha, and... I feel
I have so little right to call myself a father... c'est le mot; I... how
did you leave him?"
"Oh, yes, I left him... he comes himself," replied Mr. Kirillov, in
haste to be rid of the question again. He certainly was angry.
"He's coming! At last I... you see, it's very long since I've see
Petrusha!" Stepan Trofimovitch could not get away from this phrase. "Now
I expect my poor boy to whom... to whom I have been so much to blame!
That is, I mean to say, when I left him in Petersburg, I... in short, I
looked on him as a nonentity, quelque chose dans ce genre. He was a very
nervous boy, you know, emotional, and... very timid. When he said his
prayers going to bed he used to bow down to the ground, and make the
sign of the cross on his pillow that he might not die in the night....
Je m'en souviens. Enfin, no artistic feeling whatever, not a sign of
anything higher, of anything fundamental, no embryo of a future
ideal...c'était comme un petit idiot, but I'm afraid I am incoherent;
excuse me... you came upon me..."
"You say seriously that he crossed his pillow?" the engineer asked
suddenly with marked curiosity.
"Yes, he used to..."
"All right. I just asked. Go on."
Stepan Trofimovitch looked interrogatively at Liputin.
"I'm very grateful to you for your visit. But I must confess I'm...
not in a condition... just now... But allow me to ask where you are
"At Filipov's, in Bogoyavlensky Street."
"Ach, that's where Shatov lives," I observed involuntarily.
"Just so, in the very same house," cried Liputin, "only Shatov lodges
above, in the attic, while he's down below, at Captain Lebyadkin's. He
knows Shatov too, and he knows Shatov's wife. He was very intimate with
"Comment! Do you really know anything about that unhappy marriage de ce
pauvre ami and that woman," cried Stepan Trofimovitch, carried away
by sudden feeling. "You are the first man I've met who has known her
personally; and if only..."
"What nonsense!" the engineer snapped out, flushing all over. "How you
add to things, Liputin! I've not seen Shatov's wife; I've only once seen
her in the distance and not at all close.... I know Shatov. Why do you
add things of all sorts?"
He turned round sharply on the sofa, clutched his hat, then laid it down
again, and settling himself down once more as before, fixed his angry
black eyes on Stepan Trofimovitch with a sort of defiance. I was at a
loss to understand such strange irritability.
"Excuse me," Stepan Trofimovitch observed impressively. "I understand
that it may be a very delicate subject...."
"No sort of delicate subject in it, and indeed it's shameful, and I
didn't shout at you that it's nonsense, but at Liputin, because he adds
things. Excuse me if you took it to yourself. I know Shatov, but I don't
know his wife at all... I don't know her at all!"
"I understand. I understand. And if I insisted, it's only because I'm
very fond of our poor friend, notre irascible ami, and have always
taken an interest in him.... In my opinion that man changed his former,
possibly over-youthful but yet sound ideas, too abruptly. And now he
says all sorts of things about notre Sainte Russie to such a degree that
I've long explained this upheaval in his whole constitution, I can only
call it that, to some violent shock in his family life, and, in fact, to
his unsuccessful marriage. I, who know my poor Russia like the fingers
on my hand, and have devoted my whole life to the Russian people, I can
assure you that he does not know the Russian people, and what's more..."
"I don't know the Russian people at all, either, and I haven't time to
study them," the engineer snapped out again, and again he turned sharply
on the sofa. Stepan Trofimovitch was pulled up in the middle of his
"He is studying them, he is studying them," interposed Liputin. "He
has already begun the study of them, and is writing a very interesting
article dealing with the causes of the increase of suicide in Russia,
and, generally speaking, the causes that lead to the increase or
decrease of suicide in society. He has reached amazing results."
The engineer became dreadfully excited. "You have no right at all," he
muttered wrathfully. "I'm not writing an article. I'm not going to do
silly things. I asked you confidentially, quite by chance. There's
no article at all. I'm not publishing, and you haven't the right..."
Liputin was obviously enjoying himself.
"I beg your pardon, perhaps I made a mistake in calling your literary
work an article. He is only collecting observations, and the essence of
the question, or, so to say, its moral aspect he is not touching at all.
And, indeed, he rejects morality itself altogether, and holds with the
last new principle of general destruction for the sake of ultimate
good. He demands already more than a hundred million heads for the
establishment of common sense in Europe; many more than they demanded at
the last Peace Congress. Alexey Nilitch goes further than anyone in that
sense." The engineer listened with a pale and contemptuous smile. For
half a minute every one was silent.
"All this is stupid, Liputin," Mr. Kirillov observed at last, with a
certain dignity. "If I by chance had said some things to you, and you
caught them up again, as you like. But you have no right, for I never
speak to anyone. I scorn to talk.... If one has a conviction then it's
clear to me.... But you're doing foolishly. I don't argue about things
when everything's settled. I can't bear arguing. I never want to
"And perhaps you are very wise," Stepan Trofimovitch could not resist
"I apologise to you, but I am not angry with anyone here," the visitor
went on, speaking hotly and rapidly. "I have seen few people for four
years. For four years I have talked little and have tried to see no one,
for my own objects which do not concern anyone else, for four years.
Liputin found this out and is laughing. I understand and don't mind. I'm
not ready to take offence, only annoyed at his liberty. And if I don't
explain my ideas to you," he concluded unexpectedly, scanning us all
with resolute eyes, "it's not at all that I'm afraid of your giving
information to the government; that's not so; please do not imagine
nonsense of that sort."
No one made any reply to these words. We only looked at each other. Even
Liputin forgot to snigger.
"Gentlemen, I'm very sorry"—Stepan Trofimovitch got up resolutely from
the sofa—"but I feel ill and upset. Excuse me."
"Ach, that's for us to go." Mr. Kirillov started, snatching up his cap.
"It's a good thing you told us. I'm so forgetful."
He rose, and with a good-natured air went up to Stepan Trofimovitch,
holding out his hand.
"I'm sorry you're not well, and I came."
"I wish you every success among us," answered Stepan Trofimovitch,
shaking hands with him heartily and without haste. "I understand that,
if as you say you have lived so long abroad, cutting yourself off
from people for objects of your own and forgetting Russia, you must
inevitably look with wonder on us who are Russians to the backbone, and
we must feel the same about you. Mais cela passera. I'm only puzzled at
one thing: you want to build our bridge and at the same time you declare
that you hold with the principle of universal destruction. They won't
let you build our bridge."
"What! What's that you said? Ach, I say!" Kirillov cried, much struck,
and he suddenly broke into the most frank and good-humoured laughter.
For a moment his face took a quite childlike expression, which I thought
suited him particularly. Liputin rubbed his hand with delight at Stepan
Trofimovitch's witty remark. I kept wondering to myself why Stepan
Trofimovitch was so frightened of Liputin, and why he had cried out "I
am lost" when he heard him coming.
We were all standing in the doorway. It was the moment when hosts and
guests hurriedly exchange the last and most cordial words, and then
part to their mutual gratification.
"The reason he's so cross to-day," Liputin dropped all at once, as it
were casually, when he was just going out of the room, "is because he
had a disturbance to-day with Captain Lebyadkin over his sister. Captain
Lebyadkin thrashes that precious sister of his, the mad girl, every day
with a whip, a real Cossack whip, every morning and evening. So Alexey
Nilitch has positively taken the lodge so as not to be present. Well,
"A sister? An invalid? With a whip?" Stepan Trofimovitch cried out, as
though he had suddenly been lashed with a whip himself. "What sister?
What Lebyadkin?" All his former terror came back in an instant.
"Lebyadkin! Oh, that's the retired captain; he used only to call himself
a lieutenant before...."
"Oh, what is his rank to me? What sister? Good heavens!... You say
Lebyadkin? But there used to be a Lebyadkin here...."
"That's the very man. 'Our' Lebyadkin, at Virginsky's, you remember?"
"But he was caught with forged papers?"
"Well, now he's come back. He's been here almost three weeks and under
the most peculiar circumstances."
"Why, but he's a scoundrel?"
"As though no one could be a scoundrel among us," Liputin grinned
suddenly, his knavish little eyes seeming to peer into Stepan
"Good heavens! I didn't mean that at all... though I quite agree with
you about that, with you particularly. But what then, what then? What
did you mean by that? You certainly meant something by that."
"Why, it's all so trivial.... This captain to all appearances went away
from us at that time; not because of the forged papers, but simply to
look for his sister, who was in hiding from him somewhere, it seems;
well, and now he's brought her and that's the whole story. Why do you
seem frightened, Stepan Trofimovitch? I only tell this from his drunken
chatter though, he doesn't speak of it himself when he's sober. He's an
irritable man, and, so to speak, æsthetic in a military style; only he
has bad taste. And this sister is lame as well as mad. She seems to
have been seduced by some one, and Mr. Lebyadkin has, it seems, for many
years received a yearly grant from the seducer by way of compensation
for the wound to his honour, so it would seem at least from his chatter,
though I believe it's only drunken talk. It's simply his brag. Besides,
that sort of thing is done much cheaper. But that he has a sum of money
is perfectly certain. Ten days ago he was walking barefoot, and now I've
seen hundreds in his hands. His sister has fits of some sort every day,
she shrieks and he 'keeps her in order' with the whip. You must inspire
a woman with respect, he says. What I can't understand is how Shatov
goes on living above him. Alexey Nilitch has only been three days with
them. They were acquainted in Petersburg, and now he's taken the lodge
to get away from the disturbance."
"Is this all true?" said Stepan Trofimovitch, addressing the engineer.
"You do gossip a lot, Liputin," the latter muttered wrathfully.
"Mysteries, secrets! Where have all these mysteries and secrets among us
sprung from?" Stepan Trofimovitch could not refrain from exclaiming.
The engineer frowned, flushed red, shrugged his shoulders and went out
of the room.
"Alexey Nilitch positively snatched the whip out of his hand, broke it
and threw it out of the window, and they had a violent quarrel," added
"Why are you chattering, Liputin; it's stupid. What for?" Alexey Nilitch
turned again instantly.
"Why be so modest and conceal the generous impulses of one's soul; that
is, of your soul? I'm not speaking of my own."
"How stupid it is... and quite unnecessary. Lebyadkin's stupid and quite
worthless—and no use to the cause, and... utterly mischievous. Why do
you keep babbling all sorts of things? I'm going."
"Oh, what a pity!" cried Liputin with a candid smile, "or I'd have
amused you with another little story, Stepan Trofimovitch. I came,
indeed, on purpose to tell you, though I dare say you've heard it
already. Well, till another time, Alexey Nilitch is in such a hurry.
Good-bye for the present. The story concerns Varvara Petrovna. She
amused me the day before yesterday; she sent for me on purpose. It's
simply killing. Good-bye."
But at this Stepan Trofimovitch absolutely would not let him go. He
seized him by the shoulders, turned him sharply back into the room, and
sat him down in a chair. Liputin was positively scared.
"Why, to be sure," he began, looking warily at Stepan Trofimovitch from
his chair, "she suddenly sent for me and asked me 'confidentially' my
private opinion, whether Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch is mad or in his right
mind. Isn't that astonishing?"
"You're out of your mind!" muttered Stepan Trofimovitch, and suddenly,
as though he were beside himself: "Liputin, you know perfectly well that
you only came here to tell me something insulting of that sort and...
In a flash, I recalled his conjecture that Liputin knew not only more
than we did about our affair, but something else which we should never
"Upon my word, Stepan Trofimovitch," muttered Liputin, seeming greatly
alarmed, "upon my word..."
"Hold your tongue and begin! I beg you, Mr. Kirillov, to come back too,
and be present. I earnestly beg you! Sit down, and you, Liputin, begin
directly, simply and without any excuses."
"If I had only known it would upset you so much I wouldn't have begun at
all. And of course I thought you knew all about it from Varvara Petrovna
"You didn't think that at all. Begin, begin, I tell you."
"Only do me the favour to sit down yourself, or how can I sit here
when you are running about before me in such excitement. I can't speak
Stepan Trofimovitch restrained himself and sank impressively into an
easy chair. The engineer stared gloomily at the floor. Liputin looked at
them with intense enjoyment,
"How am I to begin?... I'm too overwhelmed...."
The day before yesterday a servant was suddenly sent to me: 'You are
asked to call at twelve o'clock,' said he. Can you fancy such a thing? I
threw aside my work, and precisely at midday yesterday I was ringing at
the bell. I was let into the drawing room; I waited a minute—she came
in; she made me sit down and sat down herself, opposite. I sat down, and
I couldn't believe it; you know how she has always treated me. She
began at once without beating about the bush, you know her way. 'You
remember,' she said, 'that four years ago when Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch
was ill he did some strange things which made all the town wonder
till the position was explained. One of those actions concerned you
personally. When Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch recovered he went at my request
to call on you. I know that he talked to you several times before, too.
Tell me openly and candidly what you... (she faltered a little at this
point) what you thought of Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch then... what was your
view of him altogether... what idea you were able to form of him at that
time... and still have?'
"Here she was completely confused, so that she paused for a whole
minute, and suddenly flushed. I was alarmed. She began again—touchingly
is not quite the word, it's not applicable to her—but in a very
"'I want you,' she said, 'to understand me clearly and without mistake.
I've sent for you now because I look upon you as a keen-sighted and
quick-witted man, qualified to make accurate observations.' (What
compliments!) 'You'll understand too,' she said, 'that I am a mother
appealing to you.... Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch has suffered some
calamities and has passed through many changes of fortune in his life.
All that,' she said, 'might well have affected the state of his mind.
I'm not speaking of madness, of course,' she said, 'that's quite out
of the question!' (This was uttered proudly and resolutely.) 'But there
might be something strange, something peculiar, some turn of thought, a
tendency to some particular way of looking at things.' (Those were her
exact words, and I admired, Stepan Trofimovitch, the exactness with
which Varvara Petrovna can put things. She's a lady of superior
intellect!) 'I have noticed in him, anyway,' she said, 'a perpetual
restlessness and a tendency to peculiar impulses. But I am a mother
and you are an impartial spectator, and therefore qualified with your
intelligence to form a more impartial opinion. I implore you, in fact'
(yes, that word, 'implore' was uttered!), 'to tell me the whole truth,
without mincing matters. And if you will give me your word never to
forget that I have spoken to you in confidence, you may reckon upon my
always being ready to seize every opportunity in the future to show my
gratitude.' Well, what do you say to that?"
"You have... so amazed me..." faltered Stepan Trofimovitch, "that I
don't believe you."
"Yes, observe, observe," cried Liputin, as though he had not heard
Stepan Trofimovitch, "observe what must be her agitation and uneasiness
if she stoops from her grandeur to appeal to a man like me, and even
condescends to beg me to keep it secret. What do you call that?
Hasn't she received some news of Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, something
"I don't know... of news of any sort... I haven't seen her for some
days, but... but I must say..." lisped Stepan Trofimovitch, evidently
hardly able to think clearly, "but I must say, Liputin, that if it
was said to you in confidence, and here you're telling it before every
"Absolutely in confidence! But God strike me dead if I... But as for
telling it here... what does it matter? Are we strangers, even Alexey
"I don't share that attitude. No doubt we three here will keep the
secret, but I'm afraid of the fourth, you, and wouldn't trust you in
"What do you mean by that? Why it's more to my interest than anyone's,
seeing I was promised eternal gratitude! What I wanted was to point
out in this connection one extremely strange incident, rather to
say, psychological than simply strange. Yesterday evening, under the
influence of my conversation with Varvara Petrovna—you can fancy
yourself what an impression it made on me—I approached Alexey Nilitch
with a discreet question: 'You knew Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch abroad,'
said I, 'and used to know him before in Petersburg too. What do you
think of his mind and his abilities?' said I. He answered laconically,
as his way is, that he was a man of subtle intellect and sound judgment.
'And have you never noticed in the course of years,' said I, 'any
turn of ideas or peculiar way of looking at things, or any, so to say,
insanity?' In fact, I repeated Varvara Petrovna's own question. And
would you believe it, Alexey Nilitch suddenly grew thoughtful, and
scowled, just as he's doing now. 'Yes,' said he, 'I have sometimes
thought there was something strange.' Take note, too, that if anything
could have seemed strange even to Alexey Nilitch, it must really have
been something, mustn't it?"
"Is that true?" said Stepan Trofimovitch, turning to Alexey Nilitch.
"I should prefer not to speak of it," answered Alexey Nilitch, suddenly
raising his head, and looking at him with flashing eyes. "I wish to
contest your right to do this, Liputin. You've no right to drag me into
this. I did not give my whole opinion at all. Though I knew Nikolay
Stavrogin in Petersburg that was long ago, and though I've met him since
I know him very little. I beg you to leave me out and... All this is
something like scandal."
Liputin threw up his hands with an air of oppressed innocence.
"A scandal-monger! Why not say a spy while you're about it? It's all
very well for you, Alexey Nilitch, to criticise when you stand aloof
from everything. But you wouldn't believe it, Stepan Trofimovitch—take
Captain Lebyadkin, he is stupid enough, one may say... in fact, one's
ashamed to say how stupid he is; there is a Russian comparison, to
signify the degree of it; and do you know he considers himself injured
by Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, though he is full of admiration for his wit.
'I'm amazed,' said he, 'at that man. He's a subtle serpent.' His own
words. And I said to him (still under the influence of my conversation,
and after I had spoken to Alexey Nilitch), 'What do you think, captain,
is your subtle serpent mad or not?' Would you believe it, it was just as
if I'd given him a sudden lash from behind. He simply leapt up from his
seat. 'Yes,' said he, '... yes, only that,' he said, 'cannot affect...'
'Affect what?' He didn't finish. Yes, and then he fell to thinking so
bitterly, thinking so much, that his drunkenness dropped off him. We
were sitting in Filipov's restaurant. And it wasn't till half an hour
later that he suddenly struck the table with his fist. 'Yes,' said he,
'maybe he's mad, but that can't affect it....' Again he didn't say what
it couldn't affect. Of course I'm only giving you an extract of the
conversation, but one can understand the sense of it. You may ask whom
you like, they all have the same idea in their heads, though it never
entered anyone's head before. 'Yes,' they say, 'he's mad; he's very
clever, but perhaps he's mad too.'"
Stepan Trofimovitch sat pondering, and thought intently.
"And how does Lebyadkin know?"
"Do you mind inquiring about that of Alexey Nilitch, who has just called
me a spy? I'm a spy, yet I don't know, but Alexey Nilitch knows all the
ins and outs of it, and holds his tongue."
"I know nothing about it, or hardly anything," answered the engineer
with the same irritation. "You make Lebyadkin drank to find out. You
brought me here to find out and to make me say. And so you must be a
"I haven't made him drunk yet, and he's not worth the money either, with
all his secrets. They are not worth that to me. I don't know what they
are to you. On the contrary, he is scattering the money, though twelve
days ago he begged fifteen kopecks of me, and it's he treats me to
champagne, not I him. But you've given me an idea, and if there should
be occasion I will make him drunk, just to get to the bottom of it and
maybe I shall find out... all your little secrets," Liputin snapped back
Stepan Trofimovitch looked in bewilderment at the two disputants. Both
were giving themselves away, and what's more, were not standing on
ceremony. The thought crossed my mind that Liputin had brought this
Alexey Nilitch to us with the simple object of drawing him into a
conversation through a third person for purposes of his own—his
"Alexey Nilitch knows Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch quite well," he went on,
irritably, "only he conceals it. And as to your question about Captain
Lebyadkin, he made his acquaintance before any of us did, six years ago
in Petersburg, in that obscure, if one may so express it, epoch in the
life of Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, before he had dreamed of rejoicing our
hearts by coming here. Our prince, one must conclude, surrounded himself
with rather a queer selection of acquaintances. It was at that time, it
seems, that he made acquaintance with this gentleman here."
"Take care, Liputin. I warn you, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch meant to be
here soon himself, and he knows how to defend himself."
"Why warn me? I am the first to cry out that he is a man of the most
subtle and refined intelligence, and I quite reassured Varvara Petrovna
yesterday on that score. 'It's his character,' I said to her, 'that I
can't answer for.' Lebyadkin said the same thing yesterday: 'A lot of
harm has come to me from his character,' he said. Stepan Trofimovitch,
it's all very well for you to cry out about slander and spying, and at
the very time observe that you wring it all out of me, and with such
immense curiosity too. Now, Varvara Petrovna went straight to the point
yesterday. 'You have had a personal interest in the business,' she said,
'that's why I appeal to you.' I should say so! What need to look for
motives when I've swallowed a personal insult from his excellency before
the whole society of the place. I should think I have grounds to be
interested, not merely for the sake of gossip. He shakes hands with
you one day, and next day, for no earthly reason, he returns your
hospitality by slapping you on the cheeks in the face of all decent
society, if the fancy takes him, out of sheer wantonness. And what's
more, the fair sex is everything for them, these butterflies and
mettlesome cocks! Grand gentlemen with little wings like the ancient
cupids, lady-killing Petchorins! It's all very well for you, Stepan
Trofimovitch, a confirmed bachelor, to talk like that, stick up for his
excellency and call me a slanderer. But if you married a pretty young
wife—as you're still such a fine fellow—then I dare say you'd bolt
your door against our prince, and throw up barricades in your house!
Why, if only that Mademoiselle Lebyadkin, who is thrashed with a whip,
were not mad and bandy-legged, by Jove, I should fancy she was the
victim of the passions of our general, and that it was from him that
Captain Lebyadkin had suffered 'in his family dignity,' as he expresses
it himself. Only perhaps that is inconsistent with his refined taste,
though, indeed, even that's no hindrance to him. Every berry is worth
picking if only he's in the mood for it. You talk of slander, but I'm
not crying this aloud though the whole town is ringing with it; I only
listen and assent. That's not prohibited."
"The town's ringing with it? What's the town ringing with?"
"That is, Captain Lebyadkin is shouting for all the town to hear, and
isn't that just the same as the market-place ringing with it? How am I
to blame? I interest myself in it only among friends, for, after all,
I consider myself among friends here." He looked at us with an innocent
air. "Something's happened, only consider: they say his excellency has
sent three hundred roubles from Switzerland by a most honourable young
lady, and, so to say, modest orphan, whom I have the honour of knowing,
to be handed over to Captain Lebyadkin. And Lebyadkin, a little later,
was told as an absolute fact also by a very honourable and therefore
trustworthy person, I won't say whom, that not three hundred but a
thousand roubles had been sent!... And so, Lebyadkin keeps crying out
'the young lady has grabbed seven hundred roubles belonging to me,' and
he's almost ready to call in the police; he threatens to, anyway, and
he's making an uproar all over the town."
"This is vile, vile of you!" cried the engineer, leaping up suddenly
from his chair.
"But I say, you are yourself the honourable person who brought word
to Lebyadkin from Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch that a thousand roubles were
sent, not three hundred. Why, the captain told me so himself when he was
"It's... it's an unhappy misunderstanding. Some one's made a mistake and
it's led to... It's nonsense, and it's base of you."
"But I'm ready to believe that it's nonsense, and I'm distressed at the
story, for, take it as you will, a girl of an honourable reputation
is implicated first over the seven hundred roubles, and secondly in
unmistakable intimacy with Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch. For how much does it
mean to his excellency to disgrace a girl of good character, or put to
shame another man's wife, like that incident with me? If he comes across
a generous-hearted man he'll force him to cover the sins of others under
the shelter of his honourable name. That's just what I had to put up
with, I'm speaking of myself...."
"Be careful, Liputin." Stepan Trofimovitch got up from his easy chair
and turned pale.
"Don't believe it, don't believe it! Somebody has made a mistake
and Lebyadkin's drunk..." exclaimed the engineer in indescribable
excitement. "It will all be explained, but I can't.... And I think it's
low.... And that's enough, enough!"
He ran out of the room.
"What are you about? Why, I'm going with you!" cried Liputin, startled.
He jumped up and ran after Alexey Nilitch.
Stepan Trofimovitch stood a moment reflecting, looked at me as though he
did not see me, took up his hat and stick and walked quietly out of
the room. I followed him again, as before. As we went out of the gate,
noticing that I was accompanying him, he said:
"Oh yes, you may serve as a witness...de l'accident. Vous
m'accompagnerez, n'est-ce pas?"
"Stepan Trofimovitch, surely you're not going there again? Think what
may come of it!"
With a pitiful and distracted smile, a smile of shame and utter despair,
and at the same time of a sort of strange ecstasy, he whispered to me,
standing still for an instant:
"I can't marry to cover 'another man's sins'!"
These words were just what I was expecting. At last that fatal sentence
that he had kept hidden from me was uttered aloud, after a whole week of
shuffling and pretence. I was positively enraged.
"And you, Stepan Verhovensky, with your luminous mind, your kind heart,
can harbour such a dirty, such a low idea... and could before Liputin
He looked at me, made no answer and walked on in the same direction.
I did not want to be left behind. I wanted to give Varvara Petrovna my
version. I could have forgiven him if he had simply with his womanish
faint-heartedness believed Liputin, but now it was clear that he
had thought of it all himself long before, and that Liputin had only
confirmed his suspicions and poured oil on the flames. He had not
hesitated to suspect the girl from the very first day, before he had any
kind of grounds, even Liputin's words, to go upon. Varvara Petrovna's
despotic behaviour he had explained to himself as due to her haste
to cover up the aristocratic misdoings of her precious "Nicolas" by
marrying the girl to an honourable man! I longed for him to be punished
"Oh, Dieu, qui est si grand et si bon! Oh, who will comfort me!" he
exclaimed, halting suddenly again, after walking a hundred paces.
"Come straight home and I'll make everything clear to you," I cried,
turning him by force towards home.
"It's he! Stepan Trofimovitch, it's you? You?" A fresh, joyous young
voice rang out like music behind us.
We had seen nothing, but a lady on horseback suddenly made her
appearance beside us—Lizaveta Nikolaevna with her invariable companion.
She pulled up her horse.
"Come here, come here quickly!" she called to us, loudly and merrily.
"It's twelve years since I've seen him, and I know him, while he.... Do
you really not know me?"
Stepan Trofimovitch clasped the hand held out to him and kissed it
reverently. He gazed at her as though he were praying and could not
utter a word.
"He knows me, and is glad! Mavriky Nikolaevitch, he's delighted to see
me! Why is it you haven't been to see us all this fortnight? Auntie
tried to persuade me you were ill and must not be disturbed; but I know
Auntie tells lies. I kept stamping and swearing at you, but I had made
up my mind, quite made up my mind, that you should come to me first,
that was why I didn't send to you. Heavens, why he hasn't changed a
bit!" She scrutinised him, bending down from the saddle. "He's absurdly
unchanged. Oh, yes, he has wrinkles, a lot of wrinkles, round his eyes
and on his cheeks some grey hair, but his eyes are just the same. And
have I changed? Have I changed? Why don't you say something?"
I remembered at that moment the story that she had been almost ill when
she was taken away to Petersburg at eleven years old, and that she had
cried during her illness and asked for Stepan Trofimovitch.
"You... I..." he faltered now in a voice breaking with joy. "I was just
crying out 'who will comfort me?' and I heard your voice. I look on it
as a miracle et je commence à croire."
"En Dieu! En Dieu qui est là-haut et qui est si grand et si bon! You
see, I know all your lectures by heart. Mavriky Nikolaevitch, what faith
he used to preach to me then, en Dieu qui est si grand et si bon! And do
you remember your story of how Columbus discovered America, and they
all cried out, 'Land! land!'? My nurse Alyona Frolovna says I was
light-headed at night afterwards, and kept crying out 'land! land!'
in my sleep. And do you remember how you told me the story of Prince
Hamlet? And do you remember how you described to me how the poor
emigrants were transported from Europe to America? And it was all
untrue; I found out afterwards how they were transited. But what
beautiful fibs he used to tell me then, Mavriky Nikolaevitch! They were
better than the truth. Why do you look at Mavriky Nikolaevitch like
that? He is the best and finest man on the face of the globe and you must
like him just you do me! Il fait tout ce que je veux. But, dear Stepan
Trofimovitch, you must be unhappy again, since you cry out in the middle
of the street asking who will comfort you. Unhappy, aren't you? Aren't
"Now I'm happy...."
"Aunt is horrid to you?" she went on, without listening. "She's just the
same as ever, cross, unjust, and always our precious aunt! And do
you remember how you threw yourself into my arms in the garden and I
comforted you and cried—don't be afraid of Mavriky Nikolaevitch; he has
known all about you, everything, for ever so long; you can weep on his
shoulder as long as you like, and he'll stand there as long as you like!
... Lift up your hat, take it off altogether for a minute, lift up your
head, stand on tiptoe, I want to kiss you on the forehead as I kissed
you for the last time when we parted. Do you see that young lady's
admiring us out of the window? Come closer, closer! Heavens! How grey he
And bending over in the saddle she kissed him on the forehead.
"Come, now to your home! I know where you live. I'll be with you
directly, in a minute. I'll make you the first visit, you stubborn man,
and then I must have you for a whole day at home. You can go and make
ready for me."
And she galloped off with her cavalier. We returned. Stepan Trofimovitch
sat down on the sofa and began to cry.
"Dieu, Dieu." he exclaimed, "enfin une minute de bonheur!"
Not more than ten minutes afterwards she reappeared according to her
promise, escorted by her Mavriky Nikolaevitch.
"Vous et le bonheur, vous arrivez en même temps!" He got up to meet her.
"Here's a nosegay for you; I rode just now to Madame Chevalier's, she
has flowers all the winter for name-days. Here's Mavriky Nikolaevitch,
please make friends. I wanted to bring you a cake instead of a nosegay,
but Mavriky Nikolaevitch declares that is not in the Russian spirit."
Mavriky Nikolaevitch was an artillery captain, a tall and handsome man
of thirty-three, irreproachably correct in appearance, with an imposing
and at first sight almost stern countenance, in spite of his wonderful
and delicate kindness which no one could fail to perceive almost the
first moment of making his acquaintance. He was taciturn, however,
seemed very self-possessed and made no efforts to gain friends. Many
of us said later that he was by no means clever; but this was not
I won't attempt to describe the beauty of Lizaveta Nikolaevna. The
whole town was talking of it, though some of our ladies and young girls
indignantly differed on the subject. There were some among them who
already detested her, and principally for her pride. The Drozdovs had
scarcely begun to pay calls, which mortified them, though the real
reason for the delay was Praskovya Ivanovna's invalid state. They
detested her in the second place because she was a relative of
the governor's wife, and thirdly because she rode out every day on
horseback. We had never had young ladies who rode on horseback before;
it was only natural that the appearance of Lizaveta Nikolaevna on
horseback and her neglect to pay calls was bound to offend local
society. Yet every one knew that riding was prescribed her by the
doctor's orders, and they talked sarcastically of her illness. She
really was ill. What struck me at first sight in her was her abnormal,
nervous, incessant restlessness. Alas, the poor girl was very unhappy,
and everything was explained later. To-day, recalling the past, I should
not say she was such a beauty as she seemed to me then. Perhaps she was
really not pretty at all. Tall, slim, but strong and supple, she struck
one by the irregularities of the lines of her face. Her eyes were set
somewhat like a Kalmuck's, slanting; she was pale and thin in the
face with high cheek-bones, but there was something in the face that
conquered and fascinated! There was something powerful in the ardent
glance of her dark eyes. She always made her appearance "like a
conquering heroine, and to spread her conquests." She seemed proud and
at times even arrogant. I don't know whether she succeeded in being
kind, but I know that she wanted to, and made terrible efforts to force
herself to be a little kind. There were, no doubt, many fine impulses
and the very best elements in her character, but everything in her
seemed perpetually seeking its balance and unable to find it; everything
was in chaos, in agitation, in uneasiness. Perhaps the demands she made
upon herself were too severe, and she was never able to find in herself
the strength to satisfy them.
She sat on the sofa and looked round the room.
"Why do I always begin to feel sad at such moments; explain that
mystery, you learned person? I've been thinking all my life that
I should be goodness knows how pleased at seeing you and recalling
everything, and here I somehow don't feel pleased at all, although I do
love you.... Ach, heavens! He has my portrait on the wall! Give it here.
I remember it! I remember it!"
An exquisite miniature in water-colour of Liza at twelve years old had
been sent nine years before to Stepan Trofimovitch from Petersburg by
the Drozdovs. He had kept it hanging on his wall ever since.
"Was I such a pretty child? Can that really have been my face?"
She stood up, and with the portrait in her hand looked in the
"Make haste, take it!" she cried, giving back the portrait. "Don't hang
it up now, afterwards. I don't want to look at it."
She sat down on the sofa again. "One life is over and another is begun,
then that one is over—a third begins, and so on, endlessly. All the
ends are snipped off as it were with scissors. See what stale things I'm
telling you. Yet how much truth there is in them!"
She looked at me, smiling; she had glanced at me several times already,
but in his excitement Stepan Trofimovitch forgot that he had promised
to introduce me.
"And why have you hung my portrait under those daggers? And why have you
got so many daggers and sabres?"
He had as a fact hanging on the wall, I don't know why, two crossed
daggers and above them a genuine Circassian sabre. As she asked this
question she looked so directly at me that I wanted to answer, but
hesitated to speak. Stepan Trofimovitch grasped the position at last and
"I know, I know," she said, "I'm delighted to meet you. Mother has
heard a great deal about you, too. Let me introduce you to Mavriky
Nikolaevitch too, he's a splendid person. I had formed a funny notion of
you already. You're Stepan Trofimovitch's confidant, aren't you?"
I turned rather red.
"Ach, forgive me, please. I used quite the wrong word: not funny at all,
but only..." She was confused and blushed. "Why be ashamed though at
your being a splendid person? Well, it's time we were going, Mavriky
Nikolaevitch! Stepan Trofimovitch, you must be with us in half an hour.
Mercy, what a lot we shall talk! Now I'm your confidante, and about
everything, everything, you understand?"
Stepan Trofimovitch was alarmed at once.
"Oh, Mavriky Nikolaevitch knows everything, don't mind him!"
"What does he know?"
"Why, what do you mean?" she cried in astonishment. "Bah, why it's true
then that they're hiding it! I wouldn't believe it! And they're hiding
Dasha, too. Aunt wouldn't let me go in to see Dasha to-day. She says
she's got a headache."
"But... but how did you find out?"
"My goodness, like every one else. That needs no cunning!"
"But does every one else...?"
"Why, of course. Mother, it's true, heard it first through Alyona
Frolovna, my nurse; your Nastasya ran round to tell her. You told
Nastasya, didn't you? She says you told her yourself."
"I... I did once speak," Stepan Trofimovitch faltered, crimsoning all
over, "but... I only hinted... j'étais si nerveux et malade, et
"And your confidant didn't happen to be at hand, and Nastasya turned up.
Well that was enough! And the whole town's full of her cronies! Come, it
doesn't matter, let them know; it's all the better. Make haste and come
to us, we dine early.... Oh, I forgot," she added, sitting down again;
"listen, what sort of person is Shatov?"
"Shatov? He's the brother of Darya Pavlovna."
"I know he's her brother! What a person you are, really," she
interrupted impatiently. "I want to know what he's like; what sort of
man he is."
"C'est un pense-creux d'ici. C'est le meilleur et le plus irascible
homme du monde."
"I've heard that he's rather queer. But that wasn't what I meant. I've
heard that he knows three languages, one of them English, and can do
literary work. In that case I've a lot of work for him. I want some one
to help me and the sooner the better. Would he take the work or not?
He's been recommended to me...."
"Oh, most certainly he will. Et vous ferez un bienfait...."
"I'm not doing it as a bienfait. I need some one to help me."
"I know Shatov pretty well," I said, "and if you will trust me with a
message to him I'll go to him this minute."
"Tell him to come to me at twelve o'clock to-morrow morning. Capital!
Thank you. Mavriky Nikolaevitch, are you ready?"
They went away. I ran at once, of course, to Shatov.
"Mon ami!" said Stepan Trofimovitch, overtaking me on the steps. "Be
sure to be at my lodging at ten or eleven o'clock when I come back. Oh,
I've acted very wrongly in my conduct to you and to every one."
I did not find Shatov at home. I ran round again, two hours later. He
was still out. At last, at eight o'clock I went to him again, meaning
to leave a note if I did not find him; again I failed to find him. His
lodging was shut up, and he lived alone without a servant of any sort.
I did think of knocking at Captain Lebyadkin's down below to ask about
Shatov; but it was all shut up below, too, and there was no sound or
light as though the place were empty. I passed by Lebyadkin's door with
curiosity, remembering the stories I had heard that day. Finally, I made
up my mind to come very early next morning. To tell the truth I did not
put much confidence in the effect of a note. Shatov might take no notice
of it; he was so obstinate and shy. Cursing my want of success, I was
going out of the gate when all at once I stumbled on Mr. Kirillov.
He was going into the house and he recognised me first. As he began
questioning me of himself, I told him how things were, and that I had a
"Let us go in," said he, "I will do everything."
I remembered that Liputin had told us he had taken the wooden lodge in
the yard that morning. In the lodge, which was too large for him, a deaf
old woman who waited upon him was living too. The owner of the house had
moved into a new house in another street, where he kept a restaurant,
and this old woman, a relation of his, I believe, was left behind to
look after everything in the old house. The rooms in the lodge were
fairly clean, though the wall-papers were dirty. In the one we went into
the furniture was of different sorts, picked up here and there, and all
utterly worthless. There were two card-tables, a chest of drawers made
of elder, a big deal table that must have come from some peasant hut
or kitchen, chairs and a sofa with trellis-work back and hard leather
cushions. In one corner there was an old-fashioned ikon, in front of
which the old woman had lighted a lamp before we came in, and on the
walls hung two dingy oil-paintings, one, a portrait of the Tsar Nikolas
I, painted apparently between 1820 and 1830; the other the portrait of
some bishop. Mr. Kirillov lighted a candle and took out of his trunk,
which stood not yet unpacked in a corner, an envelope, sealing-wax, and
a glass seal.
"Seal your note and address the envelope."
I would have objected that this was unnecessary, but he insisted. When I
had addressed the envelope I took my cap.
"I was thinking you'd have tea," he said. "I have bought tea. Will you?"
I could not refuse. The old woman soon brought in the tea, that is, a
very large tea-pot of boiling water, a little tea-pot full of strong
tea, two large earthenware cups, coarsely decorated, a fancy loaf, and a
whole deep saucer of lump sugar.
"I love tea at night," said he. "I walk much and drink it till daybreak.
Abroad tea at night is inconvenient."
"You go to bed at daybreak?"
"Always; for a long while. I eat little; always tea. Liputin's sly, but
I was surprised at his wanting to talk; I made up my mind to take
advantage of the opportunity. "There were unpleasant misunderstandings
this morning," I observed.
"That's foolishness; that's great nonsense. All this is nonsense because
Lebyadkin is drunk. I did not tell Liputin, but only explained the
nonsense, because he got it all wrong. Liputin has a great deal of
fantasy, he built up a mountain out of nonsense. I trusted Liputin
"And me to-day?" I said, laughing.
"But you see, you knew all about it already this morning; Liputin is
weak or impatient, or malicious or... he's envious."
The last word struck me.
"You've mentioned so many adjectives, however, that it would be strange
if one didn't describe him."
"Or all at once."
"Yes, and that's what Liputin really is—he's a chaos. He was lying this
morning when he said you were writing something, wasn't he?
"Why should he?" he said, scowling again and staring at the floor.
I apologised, and began assuring him that I was not inquisitive. He
"He told the truth; I am writing. Only that's no matter."
We were silent for a minute. He suddenly smiled with the childlike smile
I had noticed that morning.
"He invented that about heads himself out of a book, and told me first
himself, and understands badly. But I only seek the causes why men dare
not kill themselves; that's all. And it's all no matter."
"How do you mean they don't dare? Are there so few suicides?"
"Do you really think so?"
He made no answer, got up, and began walking to and fro lost in thought.
"What is it restrains people from suicide, do you think?" I asked.
He looked at me absent-mindedly, as though trying to remember what we
were talking about.
"I... I don't know much yet.... Two prejudices restrain them, two
things; only two, one very little, the other very big."
"What is the little thing?"
"Pain? Can that be of importance at such a moment?"
"Of the greatest. There are two sorts: those who kill themselves either
from great sorrow or from spite, or being mad, or no matter what...
they do it suddenly. They think little about the pain, but kill
themselves suddenly. But some do it from reason—they think a great
"Why, are there people who do it from reason?"
"Very many. If it were not for superstition there would be more, very
He did not answer.
"But aren't there means of dying without pain?"
"Imagine"—he stopped before me—"imagine a stone as big as a great
house; it hangs and you are under it; if it falls on you, on your head,
will it hurt you?"
"A stone as big as a house? Of course it would be fearful."
"I speak not of the fear. Will it hurt?"
"A stone as big as a mountain, weighing millions of tons? Of course it
"But really stand there and while it hangs you will fear very much that
it will hurt. The most learned man, the greatest doctor, all, all will
be very much frightened. Every one will know that it won't hurt, and
every one will be afraid that it will hurt."
"Well, and the second cause, the big one?"
"The other world!"
"You mean punishment?"
"That's no matter. The other world; only the other world."
"Are there no atheists, such as don't believe in the other world at
Again he did not answer.
"You judge from yourself, perhaps."
"Every one cannot judge except from himself," he said, reddening. "There
will be full freedom when it will be just the same to live or not to
live. That's the goal for all."
"The goal? But perhaps no one will care to live then?"
"No one," he pronounced with decision.
"Man fears death because he loves life. That's how I understand it," I
observed, "and that's determined by nature."
"That's abject; and that's where the deception comes in." His eyes
flashed. "Life is pain, life is terror, and man is unhappy. Now all is
pain and terror. Now man loves life, because he loves pain and terror,
and so they have done according. Life is given now for pain and terror,
and that's the deception. Now man is not yet what he will be. There will
be a new man, happy and proud. For whom it will be the same to live or
not to live, he will be the new man. He who will conquer pain and terror
will himself be a god. And this God will not be."
"Then this God does exist according to you?"
"He does not exist, but He is. In the stone there is no pain, but in the
fear of the stone is the pain. God is the pain of the fear of death. He
who will conquer pain and terror will become himself a god. Then there
will be a new life, a new man; everything will be new... then they will
divide history into two parts: from the gorilla to the annihilation of
God, and from the annihilation of God to..."
"To the gorilla?"
"... To the transformation of the earth, and of man physically. Man
will be God, and will be transformed physically, and the world will
be transformed and things will be transformed and thoughts and all
feelings. What do you think: will man be changed physically then?"
"If it will be just the same living or not living, all will kill
themselves, and perhaps that's what the change will be?"
"That's no matter. They will kill deception. Every one who wants the
supreme freedom must dare to kill himself. He who dares to kill himself
has found out the secret of the deception. There is no freedom beyond;
that is all, and there is nothing beyond. He who dares kill himself is
God. Now every one can do so that there shall be no God and shall be
nothing. But no one has once done it yet."
"There have been millions of suicides."
"But always not for that; always with terror and not for that object.
Not to kill fear. He who kills himself only to kill fear will become a
god at once."
"He won't have time, perhaps," I observed.
"That's no matter," he answered softly, with calm pride, almost disdain.
"I'm sorry that you seem to be laughing," he added half a minute later.
"It seems strange to me that you were so irritable this morning and are
now so calm, though you speak with warmth."
"This morning? It was funny this morning," he answered with a smile. "I
don't like scolding, and I never laugh," he added mournfully.
"Yes, you don't spend your nights very cheerfully over your tea."
I got up and took my cap.
"You think not?" he smiled with some surprise. "Why? No, I... I don't
know." He was suddenly confused. "I know not how it is with the others,
and I feel that I cannot do as others. Everybody thinks and then at once
thinks of something else. I can't think of something else. I think all
my life of one thing. God has tormented me all my life," he ended up
suddenly with astonishing expansiveness.
"And tell me, if I may ask, why is it you speak Russian not quite
correctly? Surely you haven't forgotten it after five years abroad?"
"Don't I speak correctly? I don't know. No, it's not because of abroad.
I have talked like that all my life... it's no matter to me."
"Another question, a more delicate one. I quite believe you that you're
disinclined to meet people and talk very little. Why have you talked to
"To you? This morning you sat so nicely and you... but it's all no
matter... you are like my brother, very much, extremely," he added,
flushing. "He has been dead seven years. He was older, very, very much."
"I suppose he had a great influence on your way of thinking?"
"N-no. He said little; he said nothing. I'll give your note."
He saw me to the gate with a lantern, to lock it after me. "Of course
he's mad," I decided. In the gateway I met with another encounter.
I had only just lifted my leg over the high barrier across the bottom of
the gateway, when suddenly a strong hand clutched at my chest.
"Who's this?" roared a voice, "a friend or an enemy? Own up!"
"He's one of us; one of us!" Liputin's voice squealed near by. "It's Mr.
G——v, a young man of classical education, in touch with the highest
"I love him if he's in society, clas-si... that means he's high-ly
ed-u-cated. The retired Captain Ignat Lebyadkin, at the service of the
world and his friends... if they're true ones, if they're true ones, the
Captain Lebyadkin, a stout, fleshy man over six feet in height, with
curly hair and a red face, was so extremely drunk that he could scarcely
stand up before me, and articulated with difficulty. I had seen him
before, however, in the distance.
"And this one!" he roared again, noticing Kirillov, who was still
standing with the lantern; he raised his fist, but let it fall again at
"I forgive you for your learning! Ignat Lebyadkin—high-ly
'A bomb of love with stinging smart
Exploded in Ignaty's heart.
In anguish dire I weep again
The arm that at Sevastopol
I lost in bitter pain!'
Not that I ever was at Sevastopol, or ever lost my arm, but you know
what rhyme is." He pushed up to me with his ugly, tipsy face.
"He is in a hurry, he is going home!" Liputin tried to persuade him.
"He'll tell Lizaveta Nikolaevna to-morrow."
"Lizaveta!" he yelled again. "Stay, don't go!
'Among the Amazons a star,
Upon her steed she flashes by,
And smiles upon me from afar,
The child of aris-to-cra-cy!
To a Starry Amazon.'
You know that's a hymn. It's a hymn, if you're not an ass! The duffers,
they don't understand! Stay!"
He caught hold of my coat, though I pulled myself away with all my
"Tell her I'm a knight and the soul of honour, and as for that Dasha...
I'd pick her up and chuck her out.... She's only a serf, she daren't..."
At this point he fell down, for I pulled myself violently out of his
hands and ran into the street. Liputin clung on to me.
"Alexey Nilitch will pick him up. Do you know what I've just found out
from him?" he babbled in desperate haste. "Did you hear his verses? He's
sealed those verses to the 'Starry Amazon' in an envelope and is going
to send them to-morrow to Lizaveta Nikolaevna, signed with his name in
full. What a fellow!"
"I bet you suggested it to him yourself."
"You'll lose your bet," laughed Liputin. "He's in love, in love like a
cat, and do you know it began with hatred. He hated Lizaveta Nikolaevna
at first so much, for riding on horseback that he almost swore aloud at
her in the street. Yes, he did abuse her! Only the day before yesterday
he swore at her when she rode by—luckily she didn't hear. And,
suddenly, to-day—poetry! Do you know he means to risk a proposal?
"I wonder at you, Liputin; whenever there's anything nasty going on
you're always on the spot taking a leading part in it," I said angrily.
"You're going rather far, Mr. G——v. Isn't your poor little
heart quaking, perhaps, in terror of a rival?"
"Wha-at!" I cried, standing still.
"Well, now to punish you I won't say anything more, and wouldn't you
like to know though? Take this alone, that that lout is not a simple
captain now but a landowner of our province, and rather an important
one, too, for Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch sold him all his estate the other
day, formerly of two hundred serfs; and as God's above, I'm not lying.
I've only just heard it, but it was from a most reliable source. And now
you can ferret it out for yourself; I'll say nothing more; good-bye."
Stepan Trofimovitch was awaiting me with hysterical impatience. It
was an hour since he had returned. I found him in a state resembling
intoxication; for the first five minutes at least I thought he was
drunk. Alas, the visit to the Drozdovs had been the finishing-stroke.
"Mon ami! I have completely lost the thread... Lise... I love and
respect that angel as before; just as before; but it seems to me they
both asked me simply to find out something from me, that is more simply
to get something out of me, and then to get rid of me.... That's how it
"You ought to be ashamed!" I couldn't help exclaiming. "My friend, now I
am utterly alone. Enfin, c'est ridicule. Would you believe it, the place
is positively packed with mysteries there too. They simply flew at me
about those ears and noses, and some mysteries in Petersburg too. You
know they hadn't heard till they came about the tricks Nicolas played
here four years ago. 'You were here, you saw it, is it true that he is
mad?' Where they got the idea I can't make out. Why is it that Praskovya
is so anxious Nicolas should be mad? The woman will have it so, she
will. Ce Maurice, or what's his name, Mavriky Nikolaevitch, brave homme
tout de même... but can it be for his sake, and after she wrote herself
from Paris to cette pauvre amie?... Enfin, this Praskovya, as cette
chère amie calls her, is a type. She's Gogol's Madame Box, of immortal
memory, only she's a spiteful Madame Box, a malignant Box, and in an
immensely exaggerated form."
"That's making her out a regular packing-case if it's an exaggerated
"Well, perhaps it's the opposite; it's all the same, only don't
interrupt me, for I'm all in a whirl. They are all at loggerheads,
except Lise, she keeps on with her 'Auntie, auntie!' but Lise's sly, and
there's something behind it too. Secrets. She has quarrelled with the
old lady. Cette pauvre auntie tyrannises over every one it's true, and
then there's the governor's wife, and the rudeness of local society, and
Karmazinov's 'rudeness'; and then this idea of madness, ce Lipoutine,
ce que je ne comprends pas... and... and they say she's been putting
vinegar on her head, and here are we with our complaints and
letters.... Oh, how I have tormented her and at such a time! Je suis un
ingrat! Only imagine, I come back and find a letter from her; read it,
read it! Oh, how ungrateful it was of me!"
He gave me a letter he had just received from Varvara Petrovna. She
seemed to have repented of her "stay at home." The letter was amiable
but decided in tone, and brief. She invited Stepan Trofimovitch to come
to her the day after to-morrow, which was Sunday, at twelve o'clock, and
advised him to bring one of his friends with him. (My name was mentioned
in parenthesis). She promised on her side to invite Shatov, as the
brother of Darya Pavlovna. "You can obtain a final answer from her: will
that be enough for you? Is this the formality you were so anxious for?"
"Observe that irritable phrase about formality. Poor thing, poor thing,
the friend of my whole life! I confess the sudden determination of my
whole future almost crushed me.... I confess I still had hopes, but now
tout est dit. I know now that all is over. C'est terrible! Oh, that
that Sunday would never come and everything would go on in the old way.
You would have gone on coming and I'd have gone on here...."
"You've been upset by all those nasty things Liputin said, those
"My dear, you have touched on another sore spot with your friendly
finger. Such friendly fingers are generally merciless and sometimes
unreasonable; pardon, you may not believe it, but I'd almost forgotten
all that, all that nastiness, not that I forgot it, indeed, but in
my foolishness I tried all the while I was with Lise to be happy and
persuaded myself I was happy. But now... Oh, now I'm thinking of
that generous, humane woman, so long-suffering with my contemptible
failings—not that she's been altogether long-suffering, but what have
I been with my horrid, worthless character! I'm a capricious child, with
all the egoism of a child and none of the innocence. For the last twenty
years she's been looking after me like a nurse, cette pauvre auntie, as
Lise so charmingly calls her.... And now, after twenty years, the child
clamours to be married, sending letter after letter, while her head's
in a vinegar-compress and... now he's got it—on Sunday I shall be a
married man, that's no joke.... And why did I keep insisting myself,
what did I write those letters for? Oh, I forgot. Lise idolizes Darya
Pavlovna, she says so anyway; she says of her 'c'est un ange, only
rather a reserved one.' They both advised me, even Praskovya. ...
Praskovya didn't advise me though. Oh, what venom lies concealed in
that 'Box'! And Lise didn't exactly advise me: 'What do you want to get
married for,' she said, 'your intellectual pleasures ought to be enough
for you.' She laughed. I forgive her for laughing, for there's an ache
in her own heart. You can't get on without a woman though, they said to
me. The infirmities of age are coming upon you, and she will tuck you
up, or whatever it is.... Ma foi, I've been thinking myself all this
time I've been sitting with you that Providence was sending her to me
in the decline of my stormy years and that she would tuck me up, or
whatever they call it... enfin, she'll be handy for the housekeeping.
See what a litter there is, look how everything's lying about. I said it
must be cleared up this morning, and look at the book on the floor! La
pauvre amie was always angry at the untidiness here. ... Ah, now I shall
no longer hear her voice! Vingt ans! And it seems they've had anonymous
letters. Only fancy, it's said that Nicolas has sold Lebyadkin his
property. C'est un monstre; et enfin what is Lebyadkin? Lise listens,
and listens, ooh, how she listens! I forgave her laughing. I saw her
face as she listened, and ce Maurice...I shouldn't care to be in his
shoes now, brave homme tout de même, but rather shy; but never mind
He paused. He was tired and upset, and sat with drooping head, staring
at the floor with his tired eyes. I took advantage of the interval to
tell him of my visit to Filipov's house, and curtly and dryly expressed
my opinion that Lebyadkin's sister (whom I had never seen) really
might have been somehow victimised by Nicolas at some time during that
mysterious period of his life, as Liputin had called it, and that it
was very possible that Lebyadkin received sums of money from Nicolas for
some reason, but that was all. As for the scandal about Darya Pavlovna,
that was all nonsense, all that brute Liputin's misrepresentations, that
this was anyway what Alexey Nilitch warmly maintained, and we had
no grounds for disbelieving him. Stepan Trofimovitch listened to my
assurances with an absent air, as though they did not concern him. I
mentioned by the way my conversation with Kirillov, and added that he
might be mad.
"He's not mad, but one of those shallow-minded people," he mumbled
listlessly. "Ces gens-là supposent la nature et la societé humaine
autres que Dieu ne les a faites et qu'elles ne sont réellement. People
try to make up to them, but Stepan Verhovensky does not, anyway. I saw
them that time in Petersburg avec cette chère amie (oh, how I used to
wound her then), and I wasn't afraid of their abuse or even of their
praise. I'm not afraid now either. Mais parlons d'autre chose....
I believe I have done dreadful things. Only fancy, I sent a letter
yesterday to Darya Pavlovna and... how I curse myself for it!"
"What did you write about?"
"Oh, my friend, believe me, it was all done in a noble spirit. I let
her know that I had written to Nicolas five days before, also in a noble
"I understand now!" I cried with heat. "And what right had you to couple
their names like that?"
"But, mon cher, don't crush me completely, don't shout at me; as it is
I'm utterly squashed like... a black-beetle. And, after all, I thought
it was all so honourable. Suppose that something really happened...
en Suisse...or was beginning. I was bound to question their hearts
beforehand that I...enfin, that I might not constrain their hearts,
and be a stumbling-block in their paths. I acted simply from honourable
"Oh, heavens! What a stupid thing you've done!" I cried involuntarily.
"Yes, yes," he assented with positive eagerness. "You have never said
anything more just, c'était bête, mais que faire? Tout est dit. I shall
marry her just the same even if it be to cover 'another's sins.' So
there was no object in writing, was there?"
"You're at that idea again!"
"Oh, you won't frighten me with your shouts now. You see a different
Stepan Verhovensky before you now. The man I was is buried. Enfin,
tout est dit. And why do you cry out? Simply because you're not getting
married, and you won't have to wear a certain decoration on your head.
Does that shock you again? My poor friend, you don't know woman, while
I have done nothing but study her. 'If you want to conquer the world,
conquer yourself'—the one good thing that another romantic like you, my
bride's brother, Shatov, has succeeded in saying. I would gladly borrow
from him his phrase. Well, here I am ready to conquer myself, and I'm
getting married. And what am I conquering by way of the whole world?
Oh, my friend, marriage is the moral death of every proud soul, of all
independence. Married life will corrupt me, it will sap my energy, my
courage in the service of the cause. Children will come, probably not my
own either—certainly not my own: a wise man is not afraid to face the
truth. Liputin proposed this morning putting up barricades to keep out
Nicolas; Liputin's a fool. A woman would deceive the all-seeing eye
itself. Le bon Dieu knew what He was in for when He was creating woman,
but I'm sure that she meddled in it herself and forced Him to create her
such as she is... and with such attributes: for who would have incurred
so much trouble for nothing? I know Nastasya may be angry with me for
free-thinking, but...enfin, tout est dit."
He wouldn't have been himself if he could have dispensed with the cheap
gibing free-thought which was in vogue in his day. Now, at any rate, he
comforted himself with a gibe, but not for long.
"Oh, if that day after to-morrow, that Sunday, might never come!" he
exclaimed suddenly, this time in utter despair. "Why could not this
one week be without a Sunday—si le miracle existe? What would it be to
Providence to blot out one Sunday from the calendar? If only to prove
His power to the atheists et que tout soit dit! Oh, how I loved her!
Twenty years, these twenty years, and she has never understood me!"
"But of whom are you talking? Even I don't understand you!" I asked,
"Vingt ans! And she has not once understood me; oh, it's cruel! And can
she really believe that I am marrying from fear, from poverty? Oh, the
shame of it! Oh, Auntie, Auntie, I do it for you!... Oh, let her know,
that Auntie, that she is the one woman I have adored for twenty years!
She must learn this, it must be so, if not they will need force to drag
me under ce qu'on appelle le wedding-crown."
It was the first time I had heard this confession, and so vigorously
uttered. I won't conceal the fact that I was terribly tempted to laugh.
I was wrong.
"He is the only one left me now, the only one, my one hope!" he cried
suddenly, clasping his hands as though struck by a new idea. "Only he,
my poor boy, can save me now, and, oh, why doesn't he come! Oh, my son,
oh, my Petrusha.... And though I do not deserve the name of father,
but rather that of tiger, yet...Laissez-moi, mon ami, I'll lie down a
little, to collect my ideas. I am so tired, so tired. And I think it's
time you were in bed. Voyez vous, it's twelve o'clock...."
CHAPTER IV. THE CRIPPLE
SHATOV WAS NOT PERVERSE but acted on my note, and called at midday on
Lizaveta Nikolaevna. We went in almost together; I was also going to
make my first call. They were all, that is Liza, her mother, and Mavriky
Nikolaevitch, sitting in the big drawing-room, arguing. The mother was
asking Liza to play some waltz on the piano, and as soon as Liza began
to play the piece asked for, declared it was not the right one.
Mavriky Nikolaevitch in the simplicity of his heart took Liza's part,
maintaining that it was the right waltz. The elder lady was so angry
that she began to cry. She was ill and walked with difficulty. Her
legs were swollen, and for the last few days she had been continually
fractious, quarrelling with every one, though she always stood rather
in awe of Liza. They were pleased to see us. Liza flushed with pleasure,
and saying "merci" to me, on Shatov's account of course, went to meet
him, looking at him with interest.
Shatov stopped awkwardly in the doorway. Thanking him for coming she led
him up to her mother.
"This is Mr. Shatov, of whom I have told you, and this is Mr. G——v, a
great friend of mine and of Stepan Trofimovitch's. Mavriky Nikolaevitch
made his acquaintance yesterday, too."
"And which is the professor?"
"There's no professor at all, maman."
"But there is. You said yourself that there'd be a professor. It's this
one, probably." She disdainfully indicated Shatov.
"I didn't tell you that there'd be a professor. Mr. G——v is
in the service, and Mr. Shatov is a former student."
"A student or professor, they all come from the university just the
same. You only want to argue. But the Swiss one had moustaches and a
"It's the son of Stepan Trofimovitch that maman always calls the
professor," said Liza, and she took Shatov away to the sofa at the other
end of the drawing-room.
"When her legs swell, she's always like this, you understand she's
ill," she whispered to Shatov, still with the same marked curiosity,
scrutinising him, especially his shock of hair.
"Are you an officer?" the old lady inquired of me. Liza had mercilessly
abandoned me to her.
"N-no.—I'm in the service...."
"Mr. G——v is a great friend of Stepan Trofimovitch's," Liza chimed in
"Are you in Stepan Trofimovitch's service? Yes, and he's a professor,
too, isn't he?"
"Ah, maman, you must dream at night of professors," cried Liza with
"I see too many when I'm awake. But you always will contradict your
mother. Were you here four years ago when Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch was in
I answered that I was.
"And there was some Englishman with you?"
"No, there was not."
"Well, you see there was no Englishman, so it must have been idle
gossip. And Varvara Petrovna and Stepan Trofimovitch both tell lies. And
they all tell lies."
"Auntie and Stepan Trofimovitch yesterday thought there was a
resemblance between Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch and Prince Harry in
Shakespeare's Henry IV, and in answer to that maman says that there was
no Englishman here," Liza explained to us.
"If Harry wasn't here, there was no Englishman. It was no one else but
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch at his tricks."
"I assure you that maman's doing it on purpose," Liza thought necessary
to explain to Shatov. "She's really heard of Shakespeare. I read her the
first act of Othello myself. But she's in great pain now. Maman, listen,
it's striking twelve, it's time you took your medicine."
"The doctor's come," a maid-servant announced at the door.
The old lady got up and began calling her dog: "Zemirka, Zemirka, you
come with me at least."
Zemirka, a horrid little old dog, instead of obeying, crept under the
sofa where Liza was sitting.
"Don't you want to? Then I don't want you. Good-bye, my good sir, I
don't know your name or your father's," she said, addressing me.
"Well, it doesn't matter, with me it goes in at one ear and out of the
other. Don't you come with me, Mavriky Nikolaevitch, it was Zemirka I
called. Thank God I can still walk without help and to-morrow I shall go
for a drive."
She walked angrily out of the drawing-room.
"Anton Lavrentyevitch, will you talk meanwhile to Mavriky Nikolaevitch;
I assure you you'll both be gainers by getting to know one another
better," said Liza, and she gave a friendly smile to Mavriky
Nikolaevitch, who beamed all over as she looked at him. There was no
help for it, I remained to talk to Mavriky Nikolaevitch.
Lizaveta Nikolaevna's business with Shatov turned out, to my surprise,
to be really only concerned with literature. I had imagined, I don't
know why, that she had asked him to come with some other object. We,
Mavriky Nikolaevitch and I that is, seeing that they were talking aloud
and not trying to hide anything from us, began to listen, and at last
they asked our advice. It turned out that Lizaveta Nikolaevna was
thinking of bringing out a book which she thought would be of use,
but being quite inexperienced she needed some one to help her. The
earnestness with which she began to explain her plan to Shatov quite
"She must be one of the new people," I thought. "She has not been to
Switzerland for nothing."
Shatov listened with attention, his eyes fixed on the ground, showing
not the slightest surprise that a giddy young lady in society should
take up work that seemed so out of keeping with her.
Her literary scheme was as follows. Numbers of papers and journals are
published in the capitals and the provinces of Russia, and every day a
number of events are reported in them. The year passes, the newspapers
are everywhere folded up and put away in cupboards, or are torn up
and become litter, or are used for making parcels or wrapping things.
Numbers of these facts make an impression and are remembered by the
public, but in the course of years they are forgotten. Many people would
like to look them up, but it is a labour for them to embark upon this
sea of paper, often knowing nothing of the day or place or even year in
which the incident occurred. Yet if all the facts for a whole year were
brought together into one book, on a definite plan, and with a definite
object, under headings with references, arranged according to months and
days, such a compilation might reflect the characteristics of Russian
life for the whole year, even though the facts published are only a
small fraction of the events that take place.
"Instead of a number of newspapers there would be a few fat books,
that's all," observed Shatov.
But Lizaveta Nikolaevna clung to her idea, in spite of the difficulty
of carrying it out and her inability to describe it. "It ought to be
one book, and not even a very thick one," she maintained. But even if it
were thick it would be clear, for the great point would be the plan and
the character of the presentation of facts. Of course not all would
be collected and reprinted. The decrees and acts of government,
local regulations, laws—all such facts, however important, might be
altogether omitted from the proposed publication. They could leave out a
great deal and confine themselves to a selection of events more or
less characteristic of the moral life of the people, of the personal
character of the Russian people at the present moment. Of course
everything might be put in: strange incidents, fires, public
subscriptions, anything good or bad, every speech or word, perhaps even
floodings of the rivers, perhaps even some government decrees, but
only such things to be selected as are characteristic of the period;
everything would be put in with a certain view, a special significance
and intention, with an idea which would illuminate the facts looked
at in the aggregate, as a whole. And finally the book ought to be
interesting even for light reading, apart from its value as a work of
reference. It would be, so to say, a presentation of the spiritual,
moral, inner life of Russia for a whole year.
"We want every one to buy it, we want it to be a book that will be found
on every table," Liza declared. "I understand that all lies in the plan,
and that's why I apply to you," she concluded. She grew very warm over
it, and although her explanation was obscure and incomplete, Shatov
began to understand.
"So it would amount to something with a political tendency, a selection
of facts with a special tendency," he muttered, still not raising his
"Not at all, we must not select with a particular bias, and we ought
not to have any political tendency in it. Nothing but impartiality—that
will be the only tendency."
"But a tendency would be no harm," said Shatov, with a slight movement,
"and one can hardly avoid it if there is any selection at all. The very
selection of facts will suggest how they are to be understood. Your idea
is not a bad one."
"Then such a book is possible?" cried Liza delightedly.
"We must look into it and consider. It's an immense undertaking. One
can't work it out on the spur of the moment. We need experience. And
when we do publish the book I doubt whether we shall find out how to
do it. Possibly after many trials; but the thought is alluring. It's a
He raised his eyes at last, and they were positively sparkling with
pleasure, he was so interested.
"Was it your own idea?" he asked Liza, in a friendly and, as it were,
"The idea's no trouble, you know, it's the plan is the trouble," Liza
smiled. "I understand very little. I am not very clever, and I only
pursue what is clear to me, myself...."
"Perhaps that's not the right word?" Liza inquired quickly.
"The word is all right; I meant nothing."
"I thought while I was abroad that even I might be of some use. I have
money of my own lying idle. Why shouldn't I—even I—work for the common
cause? Besides, the idea somehow occurred to me all at once of itself.
I didn't invent it at all, and was delighted with it. But I saw at
once that I couldn't get on without some one to help, because I am not
competent to do anything of myself. My helper, of course, would be the
co-editor of the book. We would go halves. You would give the plan and
the work. Mine would be the original idea and the means for publishing
it. Would the book pay its expenses, do you think?"
"If we hit on a good plan the book will go."
"I warn you that I am not doing it for profit; but I am very anxious
that the book should circulate and should be very proud of making a
"Well, but how do I come in?"
"Why, I invite you to be my fellow-worker, to go halves. You will think
out the plan."
"How do you know that I am capable of thinking out the plan?"
"People have talked about you to me, and here I've heard
... I know that you are very clever and... are working for the cause ...
and think a great deal. Pyotr Stepanovitch Verhovensky spoke about you
in Switzerland," she added hurriedly. "He's a very clever man, isn't
Shatov stole a fleeting, momentary glance at her, but dropped his eyes
"Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch told me a great deal about you, too."
Shatov suddenly turned red.
"But here are the newspapers." Liza hurriedly picked up from a chair
a bundle of newspapers that lay tied up ready. "I've tried to mark
the facts here for selection, to sort them, and I have put the papers
together... you will see."
Shatov took the bundle.
"Take them home and look at them. Where do you live?"
"In Bogoyavlensky Street, Filipov's house."
"I know. I think it's there, too, I've been told, a captain lives,
beside you, Mr. Lebyadkin," said Liza in the same hurried manner.
Shatov sat for a full minute with the bundle in his outstretched hand,
making no answer and staring at the floor.
"You'd better find some one else for these jobs. I shouldn't suit you at
all," he brought out at last, dropping his voice in an awfully strange
way, almost to a whisper.
Liza flushed crimson.
"What jobs are you speaking of? Mavriky Nikolaevitch," she cried,
"please bring that letter here."
I too followed Mavriky Nikolaevitch to the table.
"Look at this," she turned suddenly to me, unfolding the letter in great
excitement. "Have you ever seen anything like it. Please read it aloud.
I want Mr. Shatov to hear it too."
With no little astonishment I read aloud the following missive:
"To the Perfection, Miss Tushin.
"Oh, she's a sweet queen,
When on side-saddle she gallops by,
And in the breeze her fair tresses fly!
Or when with her mother in church she bows low
And on devout faces a red flush doth flow!
Then for the joys of lawful wedlock I aspire,
And follow her and her mother with tears of desire.
"Composed by an unlearned man in the midst of a discussion.
"I pity myself above all men that I did not lose my arm at Sevastopol,
not having been there at all, but served all the campaign delivering
paltry provisions, which I look on as a degradation. You are a goddess
of antiquity, and I am nothing, but have had a glimpse of infinity.
Look on it as a poem and no more, for, after all, poetry is nonsense and
justifies what would be considered impudence in prose. Can the sun be
angry with the infusoria if the latter composes verses to her from the
drop of water, where there is a multitude of them if you look through
the microscope? Even the club for promoting humanity to the larger
animals in tip-top society in Petersburg, which rightly feels compassion
for dogs and horses, despises the brief infusoria making no reference
to it whatever, because it is not big enough. I'm not big enough either.
The idea of marriage might seem droll, but soon I shall have property
worth two hundred souls through a misanthropist whom you ought to
despise. I can tell a lot and I can undertake to produce documents
that would mean Siberia. Don't despise my proposal. A letter from an
infusoria is of course in verse.
"Captain Lebyadkin your most humble friend.
"And he has time no end."
"That was written by a man in a drunken condition, a worthless fellow,"
I cried indignantly. "I know him."
"That letter I received yesterday," Liza began to explain, flushing
and speaking hurriedly. "I saw myself, at once, that it came from some
foolish creature, and I haven't yet shown it to maman, for fear of
upsetting her more. But if he is going to keep on like that, I don't
know how to act. Mavriky Nikolaevitch wants to go out and forbid him to
do it. As I have looked upon you as a colleague," she turned to Shatov,
"and as you live there, I wanted to question you so as to judge what
more is to be expected of him."
"He's a drunkard and a worthless fellow," Shatov muttered with apparent
"Is he always so stupid?"
"No, he's not stupid at all when he's not drunk."
"I used to know a general who wrote verses exactly like that," I
"One can see from the letter that he is clever enough for his own
purposes," Mavriky Nikolaevitch, who had till then been silent, put in
"He lives with some sister?" Liza queried.
"Yes, with his sister."
"They say he tyrannises over her, is that true?"
Shatov looked at Liza again, scowled, and muttering, "What business is
it of mine?" moved towards the door.
"Ah, stay!" cried Liza, in a flutter. "Where are you going? We have so
much still to talk over...."
"What is there to talk over? I'll let you know to-morrow."
"Why, the most important thing of all—the printing-press! Do believe me
that I am not in jest, that I really want to work in good earnest!" Liza
assured him in growing agitation. "If we decide to publish it, where is
it to be printed? You know it's a most important question, for we shan't
go to Moscow for it, and the printing-press here is out of the
question for such a publication. I made up my mind long ago to set up
a printing-press of my own, in your name perhaps—and I know maman will
allow it so long as it is in your name...."
"How do you know that I could be a printer?" Shatov asked sullenly.
"Why, Pyotr Stepanovitch told me of you in Switzerland, and referred
me to you as one who knows the business and able to set up a
printing-press. He even meant to give me a note to you from himself, but
I forgot it."
Shatov's face changed, as I recollect now. He stood for a few seconds
longer, then went out of the room.
Liza was angry.
"Does he always go out like that?" she asked, turning to me.
I was just shrugging my shoulders when Shatov suddenly came back, went
straight up to the table and put down the roll of papers he had taken.
"I'm not going to be your helper, I haven't the time...."
"Why? Why? I think you are angry!" Liza asked him in a grieved and
The sound of her voice seemed to strike him; for some moments he looked
at her intently, as though trying to penetrate to her very soul.
"No matter," he muttered, softly, "I don't want to...."
And he went away altogether.
Liza was completely overwhelmed, quite disproportionately in fact, so it
seemed to me.
"Wonderfully queer man," Mavriky Nikolaevitch observed aloud.
He certainly was queer, but in all this there was a very great deal not
clear to me. There was something underlying it all. I simply did not
believe in this publication; then that stupid letter, in which there
was an offer, only too barefaced, to give information and produce
"documents," though they were all silent about that, and talked of
something quite different; finally that printing-press and Shatov's
sudden exit, just because they spoke of a printing-press. All this led
me to imagine that something had happened before I came in of which I
knew nothing; and, consequently, that it was no business of mine and
that I was in the way. And, indeed, it was time to take leave, I had
stayed long enough for the first call. I went up to say good-bye to
She seemed to have forgotten that I was in the room, and was still
standing in the same place by the table with her head bowed, plunged in
thought, gazing fixedly at one spot on the carpet.
"Ah, you, too, are going, good-bye," she murmured in an ordinary
friendly tone. "Give my greetings to Stepan Trofimovitch, and persuade
him to come and see me as soon as he can. Mavriky Nikolaevitch, Anton
Lavrentyevitch is going. Excuse maman's not being able to come out and
say good-bye to you...."
I went out and had reached the bottom of the stairs when a footman
suddenly overtook me at the street door.
"My lady begs you to come back...."
"The mistress, or Lizaveta Nikolaevna?"
"The young lady."
I found Liza not in the big room where we had been sitting, but in the
reception-room next to it. The door between it and the drawing-room,
where Mavriky Nikolaevitch was left alone, was closed.
Liza smiled to me but was pale. She was standing in the middle of the
room in evident indecision, visibly struggling with herself; but she
suddenly took me by the hand, and led me quickly to the window.
"I want to see her at once," she whispered, bending upon me a
burning, passionate, impatient glance, which would not admit a hint of
opposition. "I must see her with my own eyes, and I beg you to help
She was in a perfect frenzy, and—in despair.
"Who is it you want to see, Lizaveta Nikolaevna?" I inquired in dismay.
"That Lebyadkin's sister, that lame girl.... Is it true that she's
I was astounded.
"I have never seen her, but I've heard that she's lame. I heard it
yesterday," I said with hurried readiness, and also in a whisper.
"I must see her, absolutely. Could you arrange it to-day?"
I felt dreadfully sorry for her.
"That's utterly impossible, and, besides, I should not know at all how
to set about it," I began persuading her. "I'll go to Shatov...."
"If you don't arrange it by to-morrow I'll go to her by myself, alone,
for Mavriky Nikolaevitch has refused. I rest all my hopes on you and
I've no one else; I spoke stupidly to Shatov.... I'm sure that you are
perfectly honest and perhaps ready to do anything for me, only arrange
I felt a passionate desire to help her in every way.
"This is what I'll do," I said, after a moment's thought. "I'll go
myself to-day and will see her for sure, for sure. I will manage so
as to see her. I give you my word of honour. Only let me confide in
"Tell him that I do desire it, and that I can't wait any longer, but
that I wasn't deceiving him just now. He went away perhaps because
he's very honest and he didn't like my seeming to deceive him. I
wasn't deceiving him, I really do want to edit books and found a
"He is honest, very honest," I assented warmly.
"If it's not arranged by to-morrow, though, I shall go myself whatever
happens, and even if every one were to know."
"I can't be with you before three o'clock to-morrow," I observed, after
a moment's deliberation.
"At three o'clock then. Then it was true what I imagined yesterday at
Stepan Trofimovitch's, that you—are rather devoted to me?" she said
with a smile, hurriedly pressing my hand to say good-bye, and hurrying
back to the forsaken Mavriky Nikolaevitch.
I went out weighed down by my promise, and unable to understand what
had happened. I had seen a woman in real despair, not hesitating to
compromise herself by confiding in a man she hardly knew. Her womanly
smile at a moment so terrible for her and her hint that she had noticed
my feelings the day before sent a pang to my heart; but I felt sorry
for her, very sorry—that was all! Her secrets became at once something
sacred for me, and if anyone had begun to reveal them to me now, I think
I should have covered my ears, and should have refused to hear anything
more. I only had a presentiment of something... yet I was utterly at
a loss to see how I could do anything. What's more I did not even yet
understand exactly what I had to arrange; an interview, but what sort
of an interview? And how could I bring them together? My only hope was
Shatov, though I could be sure that he wouldn't help me in any way. But
all the same, I hurried to him.
I did not find him at home till past seven o'clock that evening. To my
surprise he had visitors with him—Alexey Nilitch, and another gentleman
I hardly knew, one Shigalov, the brother of Virginsky's wife.
This gentleman must, I think, have been staying about two months in
the town; I don't know where he came from. I had only heard that he
had written some sort of article in a progressive Petersburg magazine.
Virginsky had introduced me casually to him in the street. I had
never in my life seen in a man's face so much despondency, gloom, and
moroseness. He looked as though he were expecting the destruction of the
world, and not at some indefinite time in accordance with prophecies,
which might never be fulfilled, but quite definitely, as though it were
to be the day after to-morrow at twenty-five minutes past ten. We hardly
said a word to one another on that occasion, but had simply shaken hands
like two conspirators. I was most struck by his ears, which were of
unnatural size, long, broad, and thick, sticking out in a peculiar way.
His gestures were slow and awkward.
If Liputin had imagined that a phalanstery might be established in our
province, this gentleman certainly knew the day and the hour when it
would be founded. He made a sinister impression on me. I was the more
surprised at finding him here, as Shatov was not fond of visitors.
I could hear from the stairs that they were talking very loud, all three
at once, and I fancy they were disputing; but as soon as I went in, they
all ceased speaking. They were arguing, standing up, but now they all
suddenly sat down, so that I had to sit down too. There was a stupid
silence that was not broken for fully three minutes. Though Shigalov
knew me, he affected not to know me, probably not from hostile feelings,
but for no particular reason. Alexey Nilitch and I bowed to one another
in silence, and for some reason did not shake hands. Shigalov began at
last looking at me sternly and frowningly, with the most naïve assurance
that I should immediately get up and go away. At last Shatov got up from
his chair and the others jumped up at once. They went out without saying
good-bye. Shigalov only said in the doorway to Shatov, who was seeing
"Remember that you are bound to give an explanation."
"Hang your explanation, and who the devil am I bound to?" said Shatov.
He showed them out and fastened the door with the latch.
"Snipes!" he said, looking at me, with a sort of wry smile.
His face looked angry, and it seemed strange to me that he spoke first.
When I had been to see him before (which was not often) it had usually
happened that he sat scowling in a corner, answered ill-humouredly
and only completely thawed and began to talk with pleasure after a
considerable time. Even so, when he was saying good-bye he always
scowled, and let one out as though he were getting rid of a personal
"I had tea yesterday with that Alexey Nilitch," I observed. "I think
he's mad on atheism."
"Russian atheism has never gone further than making a joke," growled
Shatov, putting up a new candle in place of an end that had burnt out.
"No, this one doesn't seem to me a joker, I think he doesn't know how to
talk, let alone trying to make jokes."
"Men made of paper! It all comes from flunkeyism of thought," Shatov
observed calmly, sitting down on a chair in the corner, and pressing the
palms of both hands on his knees.
"There's hatred in it, too," he went on, after a minute's pause.
"They'd be the first to be terribly unhappy if Russia could be suddenly
reformed, even to suit their own ideas, and became extraordinarily
prosperous and happy. They'd have no one to hate then, no one to curse,
nothing to find fault with. There is nothing in it but an immense animal
hatred for Russia which has eaten into their organism.... And it isn't
a case of tears unseen by the world under cover of a smile! There has
never been a falser word said in Russia than about those unseen tears,"
he cried, almost with fury.
"Goodness only knows what you're saying," I laughed.
"Oh, you're a 'moderate liberal,'" said Shatov, smiling too. "Do you
know," he went on suddenly, "I may have been talking nonsense about the
'flunkeyism of thought.' You will say to me no doubt directly, 'it's you
who are the son of a flunkey, but I'm not a flunkey.'"
"I wasn't dreaming of such a thing.... What are you saying!"
"You need not apologise. I'm not afraid of you. Once I was only the
son of a flunkey, but now I've become a flunkey myself, like you. Our
Russian liberal is a flunkey before everything, and is only looking for
some one whose boots he can clean."
"What boots? What allegory is this?"
"Allegory, indeed! You are laughing, I see.... Stepan Trofimovitch said
truly that I lie under a stone, crushed but not killed, and do nothing
but wriggle. It was a good comparison of his."
"Stepan Trofimovitch declares that you are mad over the Germans," I
laughed. "We've borrowed something from them anyway."
"We took twenty kopecks, but we gave up a hundred roubles of our own."
We were silent a minute.
"He got that sore lying in America."
"Who? What sore?"
"I mean Kirillov. I spent four months with him lying on the floor of a
"Why, have you been in America?" I asked, surprised. "You never told me
"What is there to tell? The year before last we spent our last farthing,
three of us, going to America in an emigrant steamer, to test the
life of the American workman on ourselves, and to verify by personal
experiment the state of a man in the hardest social conditions. That was
our object in going there."
"Good Lord!" I laughed. "You'd much better have gone somewhere in our
province at harvest-time if you wanted to 'make a personal experiment'
instead of bolting to America."
"We hired ourselves out as workmen to an exploiter; there were six of
us Russians working for him—students, even landowners coming from their
estates, some officers, too, and all with the same grand object. Well,
so we worked, sweated, wore ourselves out; Kirillov and I were exhausted
at last; fell ill—went away—we couldn't stand it. Our employer cheated
us when he paid us off; instead of thirty dollars, as he had agreed, he
paid me eight and Kirillov fifteen; he beat us, too, more than once. So
then we were left without work, Kirillov and I, and we spent four months
lying on the floor in that little town. He thought of one thing and I
thought of another."
"You don't mean to say your employer beat you? In America? How you must
have sworn at him!"
"Not a bit of it. On the contrary, Kirillov and I made up our minds
from the first that we Russians were like little children beside the
Americans, and that one must be born in America, or at least live for
many years with Americans to be on a level with them. And do you know,
if we were asked a dollar for a thing worth a farthing, we used to pay
it with pleasure, in fact with enthusiasm. We approved of everything:
spiritualism, lynch-law, revolvers, tramps. Once when we were travelling
a fellow slipped his hand into my pocket, took my brush, and began
brushing his hair with it. Kirillov and I only looked at one another,
and made up our minds that that was the right thing and that we liked it
"The strange thing is that with us all this is not only in the brain but
is carried out in practice," I observed.
"Men made of paper," Shatov repeated.
"But to cross the ocean in an emigrant steamer, though, to go to an
unknown country, even to make a personal experiment and all that—by
Jove... there really is a large-hearted staunchness about it.... But
how did you get out of it?"
"I wrote to a man in Europe and he sent me a hundred roubles."
As Shatov talked he looked doggedly at the ground as he always did, even
when he was excited. At this point he suddenly raised his head.
"Do you want to know the man's name?"
"Who was it?"
He got up suddenly, turned to his limewood writing-table and
began searching for something on it. There was a vague, though
well-authenticated rumour among us that Shatov's wife had at one time
had a liaison with Nikolay Stavrogin, in Paris, and just about two years
ago, that is when Shatov was in America. It is true that this was long
after his wife had left him in Geneva.
"If so, what possesses him now to bring his name forward and to lay
stress on it?" I thought.
"I haven't paid him back yet," he said, turning suddenly to me again,
and looking at me intently he sat down in the same place as before in
the corner, and asked abruptly, in quite a different voice:
"You have come no doubt with some object. What do you want?"
I told him everything immediately, in its exact historical order, and
added that though I had time to think it over coolly after the first
excitement was over, I was more puzzled than ever. I saw that it meant
something very important to Lizaveta Nikolaevna. I was extremely anxious
to help her, but the trouble was that I didn't know how to keep the
promise I had made her, and didn't even quite understand now what I had
promised her. Then I assured him impressively once more that she had not
meant to deceive him, and had had no thought of doing so; that there had
been some misunderstanding, and that she had been very much hurt by the
extraordinary way in which he had gone off that morning.
He listened very attentively.
"Perhaps I was stupid this morning, as I usually am.... Well, if she
didn't understand why I went away like that... so much the better for
He got up, went to the door, opened it, and began listening on the
"Do you want to see that person yourself?"
"That's just what I wanted, but how is it to be done?" I cried,
"Let's simply go down while she's alone. When he comes in he'll beat
her horribly if he finds out we've been there. I often go in on the sly.
I went for him this morning when he began beating her again."
"What do you mean?"
"I dragged him off her by the hair. He tried to beat me, but I
frightened him, and so it ended. I'm afraid he'll come back drunk, and
won't forget it—he'll give her a bad beating because of it."
We went downstairs at once.
The Lebyadkins' door was shut but not locked, and we were able to go in.
Their lodging consisted of two nasty little rooms, with smoke-begrimed
walls on which the filthy wall-paper literally hung in tatters. It
had been used for some years as an eating-house, until Filipov, the
tavern-keeper, moved to another house. The other rooms below what had
been the eating-house were now shut up, and these two were all the
Lebyadkins had. The furniture consisted of plain benches and deal
tables, except for an old arm-chair that had lost its arms. In the
second room there was the bedstead that belonged to Mlle. Lebyadkin
standing in the corner, covered with a chintz quilt; the captain himself
went to bed anywhere on the floor, often without undressing. Everything
was in disorder, wet and filthy; a huge soaking rag lay in the middle
of the floor in the first room, and a battered old shoe lay beside it
in the wet. It was evident that no one looked after anything here. The
stove was not heated, food was not cooked; they had not even a samovar
as Shatov told me. The captain had come to the town with his sister
utterly destitute, and had, as Liputin said, at first actually gone from
house to house begging. But having unexpectedly received some money, he
had taken to drinking at once, and had become so besotted that he was
incapable of looking after things.
Mlle. Lebyadkin, whom I was so anxious to see, was sitting quietly at
a deal kitchen table on a bench in the corner of the inner room, not
making a sound. When we opened the door she did not call out to us or
even move from her place. Shatov said that the door into the passage
would not lock and it had once stood wide open all night. By the dim
light of a thin candle in an iron candlestick, I made out a woman of
about thirty, perhaps, sickly and emaciated, wearing an old dress of
dark cotton material, with her long neck uncovered, her scanty dark hair
twisted into a knot on the nape of her neck, no larger than the fist of
a two-year-old child. She looked at us rather cheerfully. Besides the
candlestick, she had on the table in front of her a little peasant
looking-glass, an old pack of cards, a tattered book of songs, and a
white roll of German bread from which one or two bites had been taken.
It was noticeable that Mlle. Lebyadkin used powder and rouge, and
painted her lips. She also blackened her eyebrows, which were fine,
long, and black enough without that. Three long wrinkles stood sharply
conspicuous across her high, narrow forehead in spite of the powder on
it. I already knew that she was lame, but on this occasion she did not
attempt to get up or walk. At some time, perhaps in early youth, that
wasted face may have been pretty; but her soft, gentle grey eyes were
remarkable even now. There was something dreamy and sincere in her
gentle, almost joyful, expression. This gentle serene joy, which was
reflected also in her smile, astonished me after all I had heard of the
Cossack whip and her brother's violence. Strange to say, instead of the
oppressive repulsion and almost dread one usually feels in the presence
of these creatures afflicted by God, I felt it almost pleasant to look
at her from the first moment, and my heart was filled afterwards with
pity in which there was no trace of aversion.
"This is how she sits literally for days together, utterly alone,
without moving; she tries her fortune with the cards, or looks in the
looking-glass," said Shatov, pointing her out to me from the doorway.
"He doesn't feed her, you know. The old woman in the lodge brings her
something sometimes out of charity; how can they leave her all alone
like this with a candle!"
To my surprise Shatov spoke aloud, just as though she were not in the
"Good day, Shatushka!" Mlle. Lebyadkin said genially.
"I've brought you a visitor, Marya Timofyevna," said Shatov.
"The visitor is very welcome. I don't know who it is you've brought, I
don't seem to remember him." She scrutinised me intently from behind the
candle, and turned again at once to Shatov (and she took no more notice
of me for the rest of the conversation, as though I had not been near
"Are you tired of walking up and down alone in your garret?" she
laughed, displaying two rows of magnificent teeth.
"I was tired of it, and I wanted to come and see you."
Shatov moved a bench up to the table, sat down on it and made me sit
"I'm always glad to have a talk, though you're a funny person,
Shatushka, just like a monk. When did you comb your hair last? Let me
do it for you." And she pulled a little comb out of her pocket. "I don't
believe you've touched it since I combed it last."
"Well, I haven't got a comb," said Shatov, laughing too.
"Really? Then I'll give you mine; only remind me, not this one but
With a most serious expression she set to work to comb his hair. She
even parted it on one side; drew back a little, looked to see whether it
was right and put the comb back in her pocket.
"Do you know what, Shatushka?" She shook her head. "You may be a very
sensible man but you're dull. It's strange for me to look at all of you.
I don't understand how it is people are dull. Sadness is not dullness.
"And are you happy when your brother's here?"
"You mean Lebyadkin? He's my footman. And I don't care whether he's
here or not. I call to him: 'Lebyadkin, bring the water!' or 'Lebyadkin,
bring my shoes!' and he runs. Sometimes one does wrong and can't help
laughing at him.
"That's just how it is," said Shatov, addressing me aloud without
ceremony. "She treats him just like a footman. I've heard her myself
calling to him, 'Lebyadkin, give me some water!' And she laughed as
she said it. The only difference is that he doesn't fetch the water but
beats her for it; but she isn't a bit afraid of him. She has some sort
of nervous fits, almost every day, and they are destroying her memory
so that afterwards she forgets everything that's just happened, and is
always in a muddle over time. You imagine she remembers how you came in;
perhaps she does remember, but no doubt she has changed everything to
please herself, and she takes us now for different people from what we
are, though she knows I'm 'Shatushka.' It doesn't matter my speaking
aloud, she soon leaves off listening to people who talk to her, and
plunges into dreams. Yes, plunges. She's an extraordinary person for
dreaming; she'll sit for eight hours, for whole days together in the
same place. You see there's a roll lying there, perhaps she's only taken
one bite at it since the morning, and she'll finish it to-morrow. Now
she's begun trying her fortune on cards...."
"I keep trying my fortune, Shatushka, but it doesn't come out right,"
Marya Timofyevna put in suddenly, catching the last word, and without
looking at it she put out her left hand for the roll (she had heard
something about the roll too very likely). She got hold of the roll
at last and after keeping it for some time in her left hand, while her
attention was distracted by the conversation which sprang up again, she
put it back again on the table unconsciously without having taken a bite
"It always comes out the same, a journey, a wicked man, somebody's
treachery, a death-bed, a letter, unexpected news. I think it's all
nonsense. Shatushka, what do you think? If people can tell lies why
shouldn't a card?" She suddenly threw the cards together again. "I said
the same thing to Mother Praskovya, she's a very venerable woman, she
used to run to my cell to tell her fortune on the cards, without letting
the Mother Superior know. Yes, and she wasn't the only one who came to
me. They sigh, and shake their heads at me, they talk it over while I
laugh. 'Where are you going to get a letter from, Mother Praskovya,' I
say, 'when you haven't had one for twelve years?' Her daughter had been
taken away to Turkey by her husband, and for twelve years there had been
no sight nor sound of her. Only I was sitting the next evening at tea
with the Mother Superior (she was a princess by birth), there was some
lady there too, a visitor, a great dreamer, and a little monk from Athos
was sitting there too, a rather absurd man to my thinking. What do you
think, Shatushka, that monk from Athos had brought Mother Praskovya a
letter from her daughter in Turkey, that morning—so much for the knave
of diamonds—unexpected news! We were drinking our tea, and the monk
from Athos said to the Mother Superior, 'Blessed Mother Superior, God
has blessed your convent above all things in that you preserve so great
a treasure in its precincts,' said he. 'What treasure is that?' asked
the Mother Superior. 'The Mother Lizaveta, the Blessed.' This Lizaveta
the Blessed was enshrined in the nunnery wall, in a cage seven feet long
and five feet high, and she had been sitting there for seventeen years
in nothing but a hempen shift, summer and winter, and she always kept
pecking at the hempen cloth with a straw or a twig of some sort, and she
never said a word, and never combed her hair, or washed, for seventeen
years. In the winter they used to put a sheepskin in for her, and every
day a piece of bread and a jug of water. The pilgrims gaze at her, sigh
and exclaim, and make offerings of money. 'A treasure you've pitched
on,' answered the Mother Superior—(she was angry, she disliked Lizaveta
dreadfully)—'Lizaveta only sits there out of spite, out of pure
obstinacy, it is nothing but hypocrisy.' I didn't like this; I was
thinking at the time of shutting myself up too. 'I think,' said I, 'that
God and nature are just the same thing.' They all cried out with
one voice at me, 'Well, now!' The Mother Superior laughed, whispered
something to the lady and called me up, petted me, and the lady gave me
a pink ribbon. Would you like me to show it to you? And the monk began
to admonish me. But he talked so kindly, so humbly, and so wisely, I
suppose. I sat and listened. 'Do you understand?' he asked. 'No,' I
said, 'I don't understand a word, but leave me quite alone.' Ever since
then they've left me in peace, Shatushka. And at that time an old woman
who was living in the convent doing penance for prophesying the future,
whispered to me as she was coming out of church, 'What is the mother of
God? What do you think?' 'The great mother,' I answer, 'the hope of
the human race.' 'Yes,' she answered, 'the mother of God is the great
mother—the damp earth, and therein lies great joy for men. And every
earthly woe and every earthly tear is a joy for us; and when you water
the earth with your tears a foot deep, you will rejoice at everything at
once, and your sorrow will be no more, such is the prophecy.' That word
sank into my heart at the time. Since then when I bow down to the ground
at my prayers, I've taken to kissing the earth. I kiss it and weep. And
let me tell you, Shatushka, there's no harm in those tears; and even
if one has no grief, one's tears flow from joy. The tears flow of
themselves, that's the truth. I used to go out to the shores of the
lake; on one side was our convent and on the other the pointed mountain,
they called it the Peak. I used to go up that mountain, facing the east,
fall down to the ground, and weep and weep, and I don't know how long
I wept, and I don't remember or know anything about it. I would get up,
and turn back when the sun was setting, it was so big, and splendid and
glorious—do you like looking at the sun, Shatushka? It's beautiful but
sad. I would turn to the east again, and the shadow, the shadow of our
mountain was flying like an arrow over our lake, long, long and narrow,
stretching a mile beyond, right up to the island on the lake and cutting
that rocky island right in two, and as it cut it in two, the sun would
set altogether and suddenly all would be darkness. And then I used to be
quite miserable, suddenly I used to remember, I'm afraid of the dark,
Shatushka. And what I wept for most was my baby...."
"Why, had you one?" And Shatov, who had been listening attentively all
the time, nudged me with his elbow.
"Why, of course. A little rosy baby with tiny little nails, and my only
grief is I can't remember whether it was a boy or a girl. Sometimes
I remember it was a boy, and sometimes it was a girl. And when he was
born, I wrapped him in cambric and lace, and put pink ribbons on him,
strewed him with flowers, got him ready, said prayers over him. I took
him away un-christened and carried him through the forest, and I was
afraid of the forest, and I was frightened, and what I weep for most is
that I had a baby and I never had a husband."
"Perhaps you had one?" Shatov queried cautiously.
"You're absurd, Shatushka, with your reflections. I had, perhaps I had,
but what's the use of my having had one, if it's just the same as though
I hadn't. There's an easy riddle for you. Guess it!" she laughed.
"Where did you take your baby?"
"I took it to the pond," she said with a sigh.
Shatov nudged me again.
"And what if you never had a baby and all this is only a wild dream?"
"You ask me a hard question, Shatushka," she answered dreamily, without
a trace of surprise at such a question. "I can't tell you anything about
that, perhaps I hadn't; I think that's only your curiosity. I shan't
leave off crying for him anyway, I couldn't have dreamt it." And big
tears glittered in her eyes. "Shatushka, Shatushka, is it true that your
wife ran away from you?"
She suddenly put both hands on his shoulders, and looked at him
pityingly. "Don't be angry, I feel sick myself. Do you know, Shatushka,
I've had a dream: he came to me again, he beckoned me, called me. 'My
little puss,' he cried to me, 'little puss, come to me!' And I was more
delighted at that 'little puss' than anything; he loves me, I thought."
"Perhaps he will come in reality," Shatov muttered in an undertone.
"No, Shatushka, that's a dream.... He can't come in reality. You know
'A new fine house I do not crave,
This tiny cell's enough for me;
There will I dwell my soul to save
And ever pray to God for thee.'
Ach, Shatushka, Shatushka, my dear, why do you never ask me about
"Why, you won't tell. That's why I don't ask."
"I won't tell, I won't tell," she answered quickly. "You may kill me, I
won't tell. You may burn me, I won't tell. And whatever I had to bear
I'd never tell, people won't find out!"
"There, you see. Every one has something of their own," Shatov said,
still more softly, his head drooping lower and lower.
"But if you were to ask perhaps I should tell, perhaps I should!"
she repeated ecstatically. "Why don't you ask? Ask, ask me nicely,
Shatushka, perhaps I shall tell you. Entreat me, Shatushka, so that I
shall consent of myself. Shatushka, Shatushka!"
But Shatushka was silent. There was complete silence lasting a minute.
Tears slowly trickled down her painted cheeks. She sat forgetting her
two hands on Shatov's shoulders, but no longer looking at him.
"Ach, what is it to do with me, and it's a sin." Shatov suddenly got up
from the bench.
"Get up!" He angrily pulled the bench from under me and put it back
where it stood before.
"He'll be coming, so we must mind he doesn't guess. It's time we were
"Ach, you're talking of my footman," Marya Timofyevna laughed suddenly.
"You're afraid of him. Well, good-bye, dear visitors, but listen for one
minute, I've something to tell you. That Nilitch came here with Filipov,
the landlord, a red beard, and my fellow had flown at me just then, so
the landlord caught hold of him and pulled him about the room while he
shouted 'It's not my fault, I'm suffering for another man's sin!' So
would you believe it, we all burst out laughing...."
"Ach, Timofyevna, why it was I, not the red beard, it was I pulled
him away from you by his hair, this morning; the landlord came the day
before yesterday to make a row; you've mixed it up."
"Stay, I really have mixed it up. Perhaps it was you. Why dispute about
trifles? What does it matter to him who it is gives him a beating?" She
"Come along!" Shatov pulled me. "The gate's creaking, he'll find us and
And before we had time to run out on to the stairs we heard a drunken
shout and a shower of oaths at the gate.
Shatov let me into his room and locked the door.
"You'll have to stay a minute if you don't want a scene. He's squealing
like a little pig, he must have stumbled over the gate again. He falls
flat every time."
We didn't get off without a scene, however.
Shatov stood at the closed door of his room and listened; suddenly he
"He's coming here, I knew he would," he whispered furiously. "Now
there'll be no getting rid of him till midnight."
Several violent thumps of a fist on the door followed.
"Shatov, Shatov, open!" yelled the captain. "Shatov, friend!
'I have come, to thee to tell thee
That the sun doth r-r-rise apace,
That the forest glows and tr-r-rembles
In... the fire of...his...embrace.
Tell thee I have waked, God damn thee,
Wakened under the birch-twigs....'
("As it might be under the birch-rods, ha ha!")
'Every little bird...is...thirsty,
Says I'm going to...have a drink,
But I don't...know what to drink....'
"Damn his stupid curiosity! Shatov, do you understand how good it is to
"Don't answer!" Shatov whispered to me again.
"Open the door! Do you understand that there's something higher than
brawling... in mankind; there are moments of an hon-hon-honourable
man.... Shatov, I'm good; I'll forgive you.... Shatov, damn the
"Do you understand, you ass, that I'm in love, that I've bought a
dress-coat, look, the garb of love, fifteen roubles; a captain's love
calls for the niceties of style.... Open the door!" he roared savagely
all of a sudden, and he began furiously banging with his fists again.
"Go to hell!" Shatov roared suddenly..
"S-s-slave! Bond-slave, and your sister's a slave, a bondswoman... a
th... th... ief!"
"And you sold your sister."
"That's a lie! I put up with the libel though. I could with one word...
do you understand what she is?"
"What?" Shatov at once drew near the door inquisitively.
"But will you understand?"
"Yes, I shall understand, tell me what?"
"I'm not afraid to say! I'm never afraid to say anything in public!..."
"You not afraid? A likely story," said Shatov, taunting him, and nodding
to me to listen.
"Yes, I think you are."
"Well then, tell away if you're not afraid of your master's whip....
You're a coward, though you are a captain!"
"I... I... she's... she's..." faltered Lebyadkin in a voice shaking with
"Well?" Shatov put his ear to the door.
A silence followed, lasting at least half a minute.
"Sc-ou-oundrel!" came from the other side of the door at last, and the
captain hurriedly beat a retreat downstairs, puffing like a samovar,
stumbling on every step.
"Yes, he's a sly one, and won't give himself away even when he's drunk."
Shatov moved away from the door.
"What's it all about?" I asked.
Shatov waved aside the question, opened the door and began listening
on the stairs again. He listened a long while, and even stealthily
descended a few steps. At last he came back.
"There's nothing to be heard; he isn't beating her; he must have flopped
down at once to go to sleep. It's time for you to go."
"Listen, Shatov, what am I to gather from all this?"
"Oh, gather what you like!" he answered in a weary and disgusted voice,
and he sat down to his writing-table.
I went away. An improbable idea was growing stronger and stronger in my
mind. I thought of the next day with distress....
This "next day," the very Sunday which was to decide Stepan
Trofimovitch's fate irrevocably, was one of the most memorable days in
my chronicle. It was a day of surprises, a day that solved past riddles
and suggested new ones, a day of startling revelations, and still more
hopeless perplexity. In the morning, as the reader is already aware, I
had by Varvara Petrovna's particular request to accompany my friend on
his visit to her, and at three o'clock in the afternoon I had to be with
Lizaveta Nikolaevna in order to tell her—I did not know what—and to
assist her—I did not know how. And meanwhile it all ended as no one
could have expected. In a word, it was a day of wonderful coincidences.
To begin with, when Stepan Trofimovitch and I arrived at Varvara
Petrovna's at twelve o'clock punctually, the time she had fixed, we did
not find her at home; she had not yet come back from church. My poor
friend was so disposed, or, more accurately speaking, so indisposed that
this circumstance crushed him at once; he sank almost helpless into
an arm-chair in the drawing-room. I suggested a glass of water; but in
spite of his pallor and the trembling of his hands, he refused it
with dignity. His get-up for the occasion was, by the way, extremely
recherché: a shirt of batiste and embroidered, almost fit for a ball, a
white tie, a new hat in his hand, new straw-coloured gloves, and even a
suspicion of scent. We had hardly sat down when Shatov was shown in by
the butler, obviously also by official invitation. Stepan Trofimovitch
was rising to shake hands with him, but Shatov, after looking
attentively at us both, turned away into a corner, and sat down there
without even nodding to us. Stepan Trofimovitch looked at me in dismay
We sat like this for some minutes longer in complete silence. Stepan
Trofimovitch suddenly began whispering something to me very quickly,
but I could not catch it; and indeed, he was so agitated himself that he
broke off without finishing. The butler came in once more, ostensibly to
set something straight on the table, more probably to take a look at us.
Shatov suddenly addressed him with a loud question:
"Alexey Yegorytch, do you know whether Darya Pavlovna has gone with
"Varvara Petrovna was pleased to drive to the cathedral alone, and Darya
Pavlovna was pleased to remain in her room upstairs, being indisposed,"
Alexey Yegorytch announced formally and reprovingly.
My poor friend again stole a hurried and agitated glance at me, so
that at last I turned away from him. Suddenly a carriage rumbled at the
entrance, and some commotion at a distance in the house made us aware
of the lady's return. We all leapt up from our easy chairs, but again
a surprise awaited us; we heard the noise of many footsteps, so our
hostess must have returned not alone, and this certainly was rather
strange, since she had fixed that time herself. Finally, we heard some
one come in with strange rapidity as though running, in a way that
Varvara Petrovna could not have come in. And, all at once she almost
flew into the room, panting and extremely agitated. After her a little
later and much more quickly Lizaveta Nikolaevna came in, and with her,
hand in hand, Marya Timofyevna Lebyadkin! If I had seen this in my
dreams, even then I should not have believed it.
To explain their utterly unexpected appearance, I must go back an
hour and describe more in detail an extraordinary adventure which had
befallen Varvara Petrovna in church.
In the first place almost the whole town, that is, of course, all of the
upper stratum of society, were assembled in the cathedral. It was known
that the governor's wife was to make her appearance there for the
first time since her arrival amongst us. I must mention that there were
already rumours that she was a free-thinker, and a follower of "the new
principles." All the ladies were also aware that she would be dressed
with magnificence and extraordinary elegance. And so the costumes of our
ladies were elaborate and gorgeous for the occasion.
Only Varvara Petrovna was modestly dressed in black as she always was,
and had been for the last four years. She had taken her usual place in
church in the first row on the left, and a footman in livery had put
down a velvet cushion for her to kneel on; everything in fact, had been
as usual. But it was noticed, too, that all through the service she
prayed with extreme fervour. It was even asserted afterwards when people
recalled it, that she had had tears in her eyes. The service was over at
last, and our chief priest, Father Pavel, came out to deliver a solemn
sermon. We liked his sermons and thought very highly of them. We used
even to try to persuade him to print them, but he never could make up
his mind to. On this occasion the sermon was a particularly long one.
And behold, during the sermon a lady drove up to the church in an old
fashioned hired droshky, that is, one in which the lady could only sit
sideways, holding on to the driver's sash, shaking at every jolt like a
blade of grass in the breeze. Such droshkys are still to be seen in our
town. Stopping at the corner of the cathedral—for there were a number
of carriages, and mounted police too, at the gates—the lady sprang out
of the droshky and handed the driver four kopecks in silver.
"Isn't it enough, Vanya?" she cried, seeing his grimace. "It's all I've
got," she added plaintively.
"Well, there, bless you. I took you without fixing the price," said the
driver with a hopeless gesture, and looking at her he added as though
"And it would be a sin to take advantage of you too."
Then, thrusting his leather purse into his bosom, he touched up his
horse and drove off, followed by the jeers of the drivers standing near.
Jeers, and wonder too, followed the lady as she made her way to the
cathedral gates, between the carriages and the footmen waiting for
their masters to come out. And indeed, there certainly was something
extraordinary and surprising to every one in such a person's suddenly
appearing in the street among people. She was painfully thin and she
limped, she was heavily powdered and rouged; her long neck was quite
bare, she had neither kerchief nor pelisse; she had nothing on but an
old dark dress in spite of the cold and windy, though bright, September
day. She was bareheaded, and her hair was twisted up into a tiny knot,
and on the right side of it was stuck an artificial rose, such as are
used to dedicate cherubs sold in Palm week. I had noticed just such a
one with a wreath of paper roses in a corner under the ikons when I was
at Marya Timofyevna's the day before. To put a finishing-touch to it,
though the lady walked with modestly downcast eyes there was a sly and
merry smile on her face. If she had lingered a moment longer, she would
perhaps not have been allowed to enter the cathedral. But she succeeded
in slipping by, and entering the building, gradually pressed forward.
Though it was half-way through the sermon, and the dense crowd that
filled the cathedral was listening to it with absorbed and silent
attention, yet several pairs of eyes glanced with curiosity and
amazement at the new-comer. She sank on to the floor, bowed her painted
face down to it, lay there a long time, unmistakably weeping; but
raising her head again and getting up from her knees, she soon
recovered, and was diverted. Gaily and with evident and intense
enjoyment she let her eyes rove over the faces, and over the walls
of the cathedral. She looked with particular curiosity at some of the
ladies, even standing on tip-toe to look at them, and even laughed once
or twice, giggling strangely. But the sermon was over, and they brought
out the cross. The governor's wife was the first to go up to the cross,
but she stopped short two steps from it, evidently wishing to make way
for Varvara Petrovna, who, on her side, moved towards it quite directly
as though she noticed no one in front of her. There was an obvious and,
in its way, clever malice implied in this extraordinary act of deference
on the part of the governor's wife; every one felt this; Varvara
Petrovna must have felt it too; but she went on as before, apparently
noticing no one, and with the same unfaltering air of dignity kissed the
cross, and at once turned to leave the cathedral. A footman in livery
cleared the way for her, though every one stepped back spontaneously to
let her pass. But just as she was going out, in the porch the closely
packed mass of people blocked the way for a moment. Varvara Petrovna
stood still, and suddenly a strange, extraordinary creature, the woman
with the paper rose on her head, squeezed through the people, and
fell on her knees before her. Varvara Petrovna, who was not easily
disconcerted, especially in public, looked at her sternly and with
I hasten to observe here, as briefly as possible, that though Varvara
Petrovna had become, it was said, excessively careful and even stingy,
yet sometimes she was not sparing of money, especially for benevolent
objects. She was a member of a charitable society in the capital. In
the last famine year she had sent five hundred roubles to the chief
committee for the relief of the sufferers, and people talked of it in
the town. Moreover, just before the appointment of the new governor, she
had been on the very point of founding a local committee of ladies to
assist the poorest mothers in the town and in the province. She
was severely censured among us for ambition; but Varvara Petrovna's
well-known strenuousness and, at the same time, her persistence nearly
triumphed over all obstacles. The society was almost formed, and the
original idea embraced a wider and wider scope in the enthusiastic mind
of the foundress. She was already dreaming of founding a similar society
in Moscow, and the gradual expansion of its influence over all the
provinces of Russia. And now, with the sudden change of governor,
everything was at a standstill; and the new governor's wife had, it was
said, already uttered in society some biting, and, what was worse, apt
and sensible remarks about the impracticability of the fundamental idea
of such a committee, which was, with additions of course, repeated to
Varvara Petrovna. God alone knows the secrets of men's hearts; but I
imagine that Varvara Petrovna stood still now at the very cathedral
gates positively with a certain pleasure, knowing that the governor's
wife and, after her, all the congregation, would have to pass by
immediately, and "let her see for herself how little I care what
she thinks, and what pointed things she says about the vanity of my
benevolence. So much for all of you!"
"What is it my dear? What are you asking?" said Varvara Petrovna,
looking more attentively at the kneeling woman before her, who gazed at
her with a fearfully panic-stricken, shame-faced, but almost reverent
expression, and suddenly broke into the same strange giggle.
"What does she want? Who is she?"
Varvara Petrovna bent an imperious and inquiring gaze on all around her.
Every one was silent.
"You are unhappy? You are in need of help?"
"I am in need.... I have come..." faltered the "unhappy" creature, in a
voice broken with emotion. "I have come only to kiss your hand...."
Again she giggled. With the childish look with which little children
caress some one, begging for a favour, she stretched forward to seize
Varvara Petrovna's hand, but, as though panic-stricken, drew her hands
"Is that all you have come for?" said Varvara Petrovna, with a
compassionate smile; but at once she drew her mother-of-pearl purse out
of her pocket, took out a ten-rouble note and gave it to the unknown.
The latter took it. Varvara Petrovna was much interested and evidently
did not look upon her as an ordinary low-class beggar.
"I say, she gave her ten roubles!" some one said in the crowd.
"Let me kiss your hand," faltered the unknown, holding tight in the
fingers of her left hand the corner of the ten-rouble note, which
fluttered in the draught. Varvara Petrovna frowned slightly, and with
a serious, almost severe, face held out her hand. The cripple kissed it
with reverence. Her grateful eyes shone with positive ecstasy. At that
moment the governor's wife came up, and a whole crowd of ladies and high
officials flocked after her. The governor's wife was forced to stand
still for a moment in the crush; many people stopped.
"You are trembling. Are you cold?" Varvara Petrovna observed suddenly,
and flinging off her pelisse which a footman caught in mid-air, she took
from her own shoulders a very expensive black shawl, and with her own
hands wrapped it round the bare neck of the still kneeling woman.
"But get up, get up from your knees I beg you!"
The woman got up.
"Where do you live? Is it possible no one knows where she lives?"
Varvara Petrovna glanced round impatiently again. But the crowd was
different now: she saw only the faces of acquaintances, people in
society, surveying the scene, some with severe astonishment, others with
sly curiosity and at the same time guileless eagerness for a sensation,
while others positively laughed.
"I believe her name's Lebyadkin," a good-natured person volunteered at
last in answer to Varvara Petrovna. It was our respectable and respected
merchant Andreev, a man in spectacles with a grey beard, wearing Russian
dress and holding a high round hat in his hands. "They live in the
Filipovs' house in Bogoyavlensky Street."
"Lebyadkin? Filipovs' house? I have heard something.... Thank you, Nikon
Semyonitch. But who is this Lebyadkin?"
"He calls himself a captain, a man, it must be said, not over careful
in his behaviour. And no doubt this is his sister. She must have escaped
from under control," Nikon Semyonitch went on, dropping his voice, and
glancing significantly at Varvara Petrovna.
"I understand. Thank you, Nikon Semyonitch. Your name is Mlle.
"No, my name's not Lebyadkin."
"Then perhaps your brother's name is Lebyadkin?"
"My brother's name is Lebyadkin."
"This is what I'll do, I'll take you with me now, my dear, and you shall
be driven from me to your family. Would you like to go with me?"
"Ach, I should!" cried Mlle. Lebyadkin, clasping her hands.
"Auntie, auntie, take me with you too!" the voice of Lizaveta Nikolaevna
I must observe that Lizaveta Nikolaevna had come to the cathedral with
the governor's wife, while Praskovya Ivanovna had by the doctor's
orders gone for a drive in her carriage, taking Mavriky Nikolaevitch
to entertain her. Liza suddenly left the governor's wife and ran up to
"My dear, you know I'm always glad to have you, but what will your
mother say?" Varvara Petrovna began majestically, but she became
suddenly confused, noticing Liza's extraordinary agitation.
"Auntie, auntie, I must come with you!" Liza implored, kissing Varvara
"Mais qu'avez vous donc, Lise?" the governor's wife asked with
"Ah, forgive me, darling, chère cousine, I'm going to auntie's."
Liza turned in passing to her unpleasantly surprised chère cousine, and
kissed her twice.
"And tell maman to follow me to auntie's directly; maman meant, fully
meant to come and see you, she said so this morning herself, I forgot to
tell you," Liza pattered on. "I beg your pardon, don't be angry, Julie,
chère...cousine....Auntie, I'm ready!"
"If you don't take me with you, auntie, I'll run after your carriage,
screaming," she whispered rapidly and despairingly in Varvara Petrovna's
ear; it was lucky that no one heard. Varvara Petrovna positively
staggered back, and bent her penetrating gaze on the mad girl. That gaze
settled everything. She made up her mind to take Liza with her.
"We must put an end to this!" broke from her lips. "Very well, I'll
take you with pleasure, Liza," she added aloud, "if Yulia Mihailovna
is willing to let you come, of course." With a candid air and
straightforward dignity she addressed the governor's wife directly.
"Oh, certainly, I don't want to deprive her of such a pleasure
especially as I am myself..." Yulia Mihailovna lisped with amazing
affability—"I myself... know well what a fantastic, wilful little head
it is!" Yulia Mihailovna gave a charming smile.
"I thank you extremely," said Varvara Petrovna, with a courteous and
"And I am the more gratified," Yulia Mihailovna went on, lisping almost
rapturously, flushing all over with agreeable excitement, "that, apart
from the pleasure of being with you Liza should be carried away by such
an excellent, I may say lofty, feeling... of compassion..." (she
glanced at the "unhappy creature") "and... and at the very portal of the
"Such a feeling does you honour," Varvara Petrovna approved
magnificently. Yulia Mihailovna impulsively held out her hand and
Varvara Petrovna with perfect readiness touched it with her fingers. The
general effect was excellent, the faces of some of those present beamed
with pleasure, some bland and insinuating smiles were to be seen.
In short it was made manifest to every one in the town that it was not
Yulia Mihailovna who had up till now neglected Varvara Petrovna in not
calling upon her, but on the contrary that Varvara Petrovna had "kept
Yulia Mihailovna within bounds at a distance, while the latter would
have hastened to pay her a visit, going on foot perhaps if necessary,
had she been fully assured that Varvara Petrovna would not turn her
away." And Varvara Petrovna's prestige was enormously increased.
"Get in, my dear." Varvara Petrovna motioned Mlle. Lebyadkin towards the
carriage which had driven up.
The "unhappy creature" hurried gleefully to the carriage door, and there
the footman lifted her in.
"What! You're lame!" cried Varvara Petrovna, seeming quite alarmed,
and she turned pale. (Every one noticed it at the time, but did not
The carriage rolled away. Varvara Petrovna's house was very near
the cathedral. Liza told me afterwards that Miss Lebyadkin laughed
hysterically for the three minutes that the drive lasted, while Varvara
Petrovna sat "as though in a mesmeric sleep." Liza's own expression.
CHAPTER V. THE SUBTLE SERPENT
VARVARA PETROVNA rang the bell and threw herself into an easy chair by
"Sit here, my dear." She motioned Marya Timofyevna to a seat in the
middle of the room, by a large round table. "Stepan Trofimovitch,
what is the meaning of this? See, see, look at this woman, what is the
meaning of it?"
"I... I..." faltered Stepan Trofimovitch.
But a footman came in.
"A cup of coffee at once, we must have it as quickly as possible! Keep
"Mais, chère et excellente amie, dans quelle inquiétude..." Stepan
Trofimovitch exclaimed in a dying voice.
"Ach! French! French! I can see at once that it's the highest society,"
cried Marya Timofyevna, clapping her hands, ecstatically preparing
herself to listen to a conversation in French. Varvara Petrovna stared
at her almost in dismay.
We all sat in silence, waiting to see how it would end. Shatov did not
lift up his head, and Stepan Trofimovitch was overwhelmed with confusion
as though it were all his fault; the perspiration stood out on his
temples. I glanced at Liza (she was sitting in the corner almost beside
Shatov). Her eyes darted keenly from Varvara Petrovna to the cripple and
back again; her lips were drawn into a smile, but not a pleasant
one. Varvara Petrovna saw that smile. Meanwhile Marya Timofyevna was
absolutely transported. With evident enjoyment and without a trace
of embarrassment she stared at Varvara Petrovna's beautiful
drawing-room—the furniture, the carpets, the pictures on the walls, the
old-fashioned painted ceiling, the great bronze crucifix in the corner,
the china lamp, the albums, the objects on the table.
"And you're here, too, Shatushka!" she cried suddenly. "Only fancy, I
saw you a long time ago, but I thought it couldn't be you! How could you
come here!" And she laughed gaily.
"You know this woman?" said Varvara Petrovna, turning to him at once.
"I know her," muttered Shatov. He seemed about to move from his chair,
but remained sitting.
"What do you know of her? Make haste, please!"
"Oh, well..." he stammered with an incongruous smile. "You see for
"What do I see? Come now, say something!"
"She lives in the same house as I do... with her brother... an officer."
Shatov stammered again.
"It's not worth talking about..." he muttered, and relapsed into
determined silence. He positively flushed with determination.
"Of course one can expect nothing else from you," said Varvara Petrovna
indignantly. It was clear to her now that they all knew something and,
at the same time, that they were all scared, that they were evading her
questions, and anxious to keep something from her.
The footman came in and brought her, on a little silver tray, the cup of
coffee she had so specially ordered, but at a sign from her moved with
it at once towards Marya Timofyevna.
"You were very cold just now, my dear; make haste and drink it and get
Marya Timofyevna took the cup and at once went off into a giggle
at having said merci to the footman. But meeting Varvara Petrovna's
reproving eyes, she was overcome with shyness and put the cup on the
"Auntie, surely you're not angry?" she faltered with a sort of flippant
"Wh-a-a-t?" Varvara Petrovna started, and drew herself up in her chair.
"I'm not your aunt. What are you thinking of?"
Marya Timofyevna, not expecting such an angry outburst, began trembling
all over in little convulsive shudders, as though she were in a fit, and
sank back in her chair.
"I... I... thought that was the proper way," she faltered, gazing
open-eyed at Varvara Petrovna. "Liza called you that."
"Why, this young lady here," said Marya Timofyevna, pointing with her
"So she's Liza already?"
"You called her that yourself just now," said Marya Timofyevna growing
a little bolder. "And I dreamed of a beauty like that," she added,
laughing, as it were accidentally.
Varvara Petrovna reflected, and grew calmer, she even smiled faintly at
Marya Timofyevna's last words; the latter, catching her smile, got up
from her chair, and limping, went timidly towards her.
"Take it. I forgot to give it back. Don't be angry with my rudeness."
She took from her shoulders the black shawl that Varvara Petrovna had
wrapped round her.
"Put it on again at once, and you can keep it always. Go and sit down,
drink your coffee, and please don't be afraid of me, my dear, don't
worry yourself. I am beginning to understand you."
"Chère amie..." Stepan Trofimovitch ventured again.
"Ach, Stepan Trofimovitch, it's bewildering enough without you. You
might at least spare me.... Please ring that bell there, near you, to
the maid's room."
A silence followed. Her eyes strayed irritably and suspiciously over all
our faces. Agasha, her favourite maid, came in.
"Bring me my check shawl, the one I bought in Geneva. What's Darya
"She's not very well, madam."
"Go and ask her to come here. Say that I want her particularly, even if
she's not well."
At that instant there was again, as before, an unusual noise of steps
and voices in the next room, and suddenly Praskovya Ivanovna, panting
and "distracted," appeared in the doorway. She was leaning on the arm of
"Ach, heavens, I could scarcely drag myself here. Liza, you mad girl,
how you treat your mother!" she squeaked, concentrating in that squeak,
as weak and irritable people are wont to do, all her accumulated
irritability. "Varvara Petrovna, I've come for my daughter!"
Varvara Petrovna looked at her from under her brows, half rose to meet
her, and scarcely concealing her vexation brought out: "Good morning,
Praskovya Ivanovna, please be seated, I knew you would come!"
There could be nothing surprising to Praskovya Ivanovna in such a
reception. Varvara Petrovna had from childhood upwards treated her
old school friend tyrannically, and under a show of friendship almost
contemptuously. And this was an exceptional occasion too. During the
last few days there had almost been a complete rupture between the two
households, as I have mentioned incidentally already. The reason of this
rupture was still a mystery to Varvara Petrovna, which made it all
the more offensive; but the chief cause of offence was that Praskovya
Ivanovna had succeeded in taking up an extraordinarily supercilious
attitude towards Varvara Petrovna. Varvara Petrovna was wounded of
course, and meanwhile some strange rumours had reached her which also
irritated her extremely, especially by their vagueness. Varvara Petrovna
was of a direct and proudly frank character, somewhat slap-dash in her
methods, indeed, if the expression is permissible. There was nothing
she detested so much as secret and mysterious insinuations, she always
preferred war in the open. Anyway, the two ladies had not met for five
days. The last visit had been paid by Varvara Petrovna, who had come
back from "that Drozdov woman" offended and perplexed. I can say with
certainty that Praskovya Ivanovna had come on this occasion with the
naïve conviction that Varvara Petrovna would, for some reason, be sure
to stand in awe of her. This was evident from the very expression of her
face. Evidently too, Varvara Petrovna was always possessed by a demon of
haughty pride whenever she had the least ground for suspecting that she
was for some reason supposed to be humiliated. Like many weak people,
who for a long time allow themselves to be insulted without resenting
it, Praskovya Ivanovna showed an extraordinary violence in her attack at
the first favourable opportunity. It is true that she was not well, and
always became more irritable in illness. I must add finally, that our
presence in the drawing-room could hardly be much check to the two
ladies who had been friends from childhood, if a quarrel had broken out
between them. We were looked upon as friends of the family, and almost
as their subjects. I made that reflection with some alarm at the time.
Stepan Trofimovitch, who had not sat down since the entrance of Varvara
Petrovna, sank helplessly into an arm-chair on hearing Praskovya
Ivanovna's squeal, and tried to catch my eye with a look of despair.
Shatov turned sharply in his chair, and growled something to himself.
I believe he meant to get up and go away. Liza rose from her chair but
sank back again at once without even paying befitting attention to her
mother's squeal—not from "waywardness," but obviously because she
was entirely absorbed by some other overwhelming impression. She was
looking absent-mindedly into the air, no longer noticing even Marya
"Ach, here!" Praskovya Ivanovna indicated an easy chair near the table
and sank heavily into it with the assistance of Mavriky Nikolaevitch.
"I wouldn't have sat down in your house, my lady, if it weren't for my
legs," she added in a breaking voice.
Varvara Petrovna raised her head a little, and with an expression of
suffering pressed the fingers of her right hand to her right temple,
evidently in acute pain (tic douloureux).
"Why so, Praskovya Ivanovna; why wouldn't you sit down in my house? I
possessed your late husband's sincere friendship all his life; and you
and I used to play with our dolls at school together as girls."
Praskovya Ivanovna waved her hands.
"I knew that was coming! You always begin about the school when you want
to reproach me—that's your way. But to my thinking that's only fine
talk. I can't stand the school you're always talking about."
"You've come in rather a bad temper, I'm afraid; how are your legs? Here
they're bringing you some coffee, please have some, drink it and don't
"Varvara Petrovna, you treat me as though I were a child. I won't have
any coffee, so there!"
And she pettishly waved away the footman who was bringing her coffee.
(All the others refused coffee too except Mavriky Nikolaevitch and me.
Stepan Trofimovitch took it, but put it aside on the table. Though Marya
Timofyevna was very eager to have another cup and even put out her hand
to take it, on second thoughts she refused it ceremoniously, and was
obviously pleased with herself for doing so.)
Varvara Petrovna gave a wry smile.
"I'll tell you what it is, Praskovya Ivanovna, my friend, you must
have taken some fancy into your head again, and that's why you've come.
You've simply lived on fancies all your life. You flew into a fury at
the mere mention of our school; but do you remember how you came and
persuaded all the class that a hussar called Shablykin had proposed to
you, and how Mme. Lefebure proved on the spot you were lying. Yet you
weren't lying, you were simply imagining it all to amuse yourself. Come,
tell me, what is it now? What are you fancying now; what is it vexes
"And you fell in love with the priest who used to teach us scripture at
school—so much for you, since you've such a spiteful memory. Ha ha ha!"
She laughed viciously and went off into a fit of coughing.
"Ah, you've not forgotten the priest then..." said Varvara Petrovna,
looking at her vindictively.
Her face turned green. Praskovya Ivanovna suddenly assumed a dignified
"I'm in no laughing mood now, madam. Why have you drawn my daughter
into your scandals in the face of the whole town? That's what I've come
"My scandals?" Varvara Petrovna drew herself up menacingly.
"Maman, I entreat you too, to restrain yourself," Lizaveta Nikolaevna
brought out suddenly.
"What's that you say?" The maman was on the point of breaking into a
squeal again, but catching her daughter's flashing eye, she subsided
"How could you talk about scandal, maman?" cried Liza, flushing red.
"I came of my own accord with Yulia Mihailovna's permission, because I
wanted to learn this unhappy woman's story and to be of use to her."
"This unhappy woman's story!" Praskovya Ivanovna drawled with a spiteful
laugh. "Is it your place to mix yourself up with such 'stories.' Ach,
enough of your tyrannising!" She turned furiously to Varvara Petrovna.
"I don't know whether it's true or not, they say you keep the whole town
in order, but it seems your turn has come at last."
Varvara Petrovna sat straight as an arrow ready to fly from the bow. For
ten seconds she looked sternly and immovably at Praskovya Ivanovna.
"Well, Praskovya, you must thank God that all here present are our
friends," she said at last with ominous composure. "You've said a great
deal better unsaid."
"But I'm not so much afraid of what the world will say, my lady, as
some people. It's you who, under a show of pride, are trembling at what
people will say. And as for all here being your friends, it's better for
you than if strangers had been listening."
"Have you grown wiser during this last week?"
"It's not that I've grown wiser, but simply that the truth has come out
"What truth has come out this week? Listen, Praskovya Ivanovna, don't
irritate me. Explain to me this minute, I beg you as a favour, what
truth has come out and what do you mean by that?"
"Why there it is, sitting before you!" and Praskovya Ivanovna suddenly
pointed at Marya Timofyevna with that desperate determination which
takes no heed of consequences, if only it can make an impression at
the moment. Marya Timofyevna, who had watched her all the time with
light-hearted curiosity, laughed exultingly at the sight of the wrathful
guest's finger pointed impetuously at her, and wriggled gleefully in her
"God Almighty have mercy on us, they've all gone crazy!" exclaimed
Varvara Petrovna, and turning pale she sank back in her chair.
She turned so pale that it caused some commotion. Stepan Trofimovitch
was the first to rush up to her. I drew near also; even Liza got up from
her seat, though she did not come forward. But the most alarmed of all
was Praskovya Ivanovna herself. She uttered a scream, got up as far as
she could and almost wailed in a lachrymose voice:
"Varvara Petrovna, dear, forgive me for my wicked foolishness! Give her
some water, somebody."
"Don't whimper, please, Praskovya Ivanovna, and leave me alone,
gentlemen, please, I don't want any water!" Varvara Petrovna pronounced
in a firm though low voice, with blanched lips.
"Varvara Petrovna, my dear," Praskovya Ivanovna went on, a little
reassured, "though I am to blame for my reckless words, what's upset me
more than anything are these anonymous letters that some low creatures
keep bombarding me with; they might write to you, since it concerns you,
but I've a daughter!"
Varvara Petrovna looked at her in silence, with wide-open eyes,
listening with wonder. At that moment a side-door in the corner opened
noiselessly, and Darya Pavlovna made her appearance. She stood still and
looked round. She was struck by our perturbation. Probably she did not
at first distinguish Marya Timofyevna, of whose presence she had not
been informed. Stepan Trofimovitch was the first to notice her; he made
a rapid movement, turned red, and for some reason proclaimed in a loud
voice: "Darya Pavlovna!" so that all eyes turned on the new-comer.
"Oh, is this your Darya Pavlovna!" cried Marya Timofyevna. "Well,
Shatushka, your sister's not like you. How can my fellow call such a
charmer the serf-wench Dasha?"
Meanwhile Darya Pavlovna had gone up to Varvara Petrovna, but struck
by Marya Timofyevna's exclamation she turned quickly and stopped just
before her chair, looking at the imbecile with a long fixed gaze.
"Sit down, Dasha," Varvara Petrovna brought out with terrifying
composure. "Nearer, that's right. You can see this woman, sitting down.
Do you know her?"
"I have never seen her," Dasha answered quietly, and after a pause she
added at once:
"She must be the invalid sister of Captain Lebyadkin."
"And it's the first time I've set eyes on you, my love, though I've been
interested and wanted to know you a long time, for I see how
well-bred you are in every movement you make," Marya Timofyevna cried
enthusiastically. "And though my footman swears at you, can such a
well-educated charming person as you really have stolen money from
him? For you are sweet, sweet, sweet, I tell you that from myself!" she
concluded, enthusiastically waving her hand.
"Can you make anything of it?" Varvara Petrovna asked with proud
"I understand it...."
"Have you heard about the money?"
"No doubt it's the money that I undertook at Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch's
request to hand over to her brother, Captain Lebyadkin."
A silence followed.
"Did Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch himself ask you to do so?"
"He was very anxious to send that money, three hundred roubles, to Mr.
Lebyadkin. And as he didn't know his address, but only knew that he
was to be in our town, he charged me to give it to Mr. Lebyadkin if he
"What is the money... lost? What was this woman speaking about just
"That I don't know. I've heard before that Mr. Lebyadkin says I didn't
give him all the money, but I don't understand his words. There were
three hundred roubles and I sent him three hundred roubles."
Darya Pavlovna had almost completely regained her composure. And it was
difficult, I may mention, as a rule, to astonish the girl or ruffle her
calm for long—whatever she might be feeling. She brought out all her
answers now without haste, replied immediately to every question with
accuracy, quietly, smoothly, and without a trace of the sudden emotion
she had shown at first, or the slightest embarrassment which might
have suggested a consciousness of guilt. Varvara Petrovna's eyes were
fastened upon her all the time she was speaking. Varvara Petrovna
thought for a minute:
"If," she pronounced at last firmly, evidently addressing all present,
though she only looked at Dasha, "if Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch did not
appeal even to me but asked you to do this for him, he must have had his
reasons for doing so. I don't consider I have any right to inquire into
them, if they are kept secret from me. But the very fact of your having
taken part in the matter reassures me on that score, be sure of that,
Darya, in any case. But you see, my dear, you may, through ignorance of
the world, have quite innocently done something imprudent; and you did
so when you undertook to have dealings with a low character. The rumours
spread by this rascal show what a mistake you made. But I will find
out about him, and as it is my task to protect you, I shall know how to
defend you. But now all this must be put a stop to."
"The best thing to do," said Marya Timofyevna, popping up from her
chair, "is to send him to the footmen's room when he comes. Let him
sit on the benches there and play cards with them while we sit here and
drink coffee. We might send him a cup of coffee too, but I have a great
contempt for him."
And she wagged her head expressively.
"We must put a stop to this," Varvara Petrovna repeated, listening
attentively to Marya Timofyevna. "Ring, Stepan Trofimovitch, I beg you."
Stepan Trofimovitch rang, and suddenly stepped forward, all excitement.
"If... if..." he faltered feverishly, flushing, breaking off and
stuttering, "if I too have heard the most revolting story, or rather
slander, it was with utter indignation...enfin c'est un homme perdu, et
quelque chose comme un forçat evadé...."
He broke down and could not go on. Varvara Petrovna, screwing up her
eyes, looked him up and down.
The ceremonious butler Alexey Yegorytch came in.
"The carriage," Varvara Petrovna ordered. "And you, Alexey Yegorytch,
get ready to escort Miss Lebyadkin home; she will give you the address
"Mr. Lebyadkin has been waiting for her for some time downstairs, and
has been begging me to announce him."
"That's impossible, Varvara Petrovna!" and Mavriky Nikolaevitch, who had
sat all the time in unbroken silence, suddenly came forward in alarm.
"If I may speak, he is not a man who can be admitted into society.
He... he... he's an impossible person, Varvara Petrovna!"
"Wait a moment," said Varvara Petrovna to Alexey Yegorytch, and he
disappeared at once.
"C'est un homme malhonnête et je crois même que c'est un forçat evadé
ou quelque chose dans ce genre," Stepan Trofimovitch muttered again, and
again he flushed red and broke off.
"Liza, it's time we were going," announced Praskovya Ivanovna
disdainfully, getting up from her seat. She seemed sorry that in her
alarm she had called herself a fool. While Darya Pavlovna was speaking,
she listened, pressing her lips superciliously. But what struck me most
was the expression of Lizaveta Nikolaevna from the moment Darya Pavlovna
had come in. There was a gleam of hatred and hardly disguised contempt
in her eyes.
"Wait one minute, Praskovya Ivanovna, I beg you." Varvara Petrovna
detained her, still with the same exaggerated composure. "Kindly sit
down. I intend to speak out, and your legs are bad. That's right, thank
you. I lost my temper just now and uttered some impatient words. Be so
good as to forgive me. I behaved foolishly and I'm the first to regret
it, because I like fairness in everything. Losing your temper too,
of course, you spoke of certain anonymous letters. Every anonymous
communication is deserving of contempt, just because it's not signed. If
you think differently I'm sorry for you. In any case, if I were in your
place, I would not pry into such dirty corners, I would not soil my
hands with it. But you have soiled yours. However, since you have
begun on the subject yourself, I must tell you that six days ago I too
received a clownish anonymous letter. In it some rascal informs me that
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch has gone out of his mind, and that I have reason
to fear some lame woman, who 'is destined to play a great part in
my life.' I remember the expression. Reflecting and being aware that
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch has very numerous enemies, I promptly sent for a
man living here, one of his secret enemies, and the most vindictive and
contemptible of them, and from my conversation with him I gathered what
was the despicable source of the anonymous letter. If you too, my poor
Praskovya Ivanovna, have been worried by similar letters on my account,
and as you say 'bombarded' with them, I am, of course, the first to
regret having been the innocent cause of it. That's all I wanted to tell
you by way of explanation. I'm very sorry to see that you are so
tired and so upset. Besides, I have quite made up my mind to see that
suspicious personage of whom Mavriky Nikolaevitch said just now, a
little inappropriately, that it was impossible to receive him. Liza in
particular need have nothing to do with it. Come to me, Liza, my dear,
let me kiss you again."
Liza crossed the room and stood in silence before Varvara Petrovna. The
latter kissed her, took her hands, and, holding her at arm's-length,
looked at her with feeling, then made the sign of the cross over her and
kissed her again.
"Well, good-bye, Liza" (there was almost the sound of tears in Varvara
Petrovna's voice), "believe that I shall never cease to love you
whatever fate has in store for you. God be with you. I have always
blessed His Holy Will...."
She would have added something more, but restrained herself and broke
off. Liza was walking back to her place, still in the same silence, as
it were plunged in thought, but she suddenly stopped before her mother.
"I am not going yet, mother. I'll stay a little longer at auntie's," she
brought out in a low voice, but there was a note of iron determination
in those quiet words.
"My goodness! What now?" wailed Praskovya Ivanovna, clasping her hands
helplessly. But Liza did not answer, and seemed indeed not to hear her;
she sat down in the same corner and fell to gazing into space again as
There was a look of pride and triumph in Varvara Petrovna's face.
"Mavriky Nikolaevitch, I have a great favour to ask of you. Be so kind
as to go and take a look at that person downstairs, and if there is any
possibility of admitting him, bring him up here."
Mavriky Nikolaevitch bowed and went out. A moment later he brought in
I have said something of this gentleman's outward appearance. He was a
tall, curly-haired, thick-set fellow about forty with a purplish, rather
bloated and flabby face, with cheeks that quivered at every movement of
his head, with little bloodshot eyes that were sometimes rather crafty,
with moustaches and side-whiskers, and with an incipient double chin,
fleshy and rather unpleasant-looking. But what was most striking about
him was the fact that he appeared now wearing a dress-coat and clean
"There are people on whom clean linen is almost unseemly," as Liputin
had once said when Stepan Trofimovitch reproached him in jest for being
untidy. The captain had perfectly new black gloves too, of which he
held the right one in his hand, while the left, tightly stretched and
unbuttoned, covered part of the huge fleshy fist in which he held a
brand-new, glossy round hat, probably worn for the first time that day.
It appeared therefore that "the garb of love," of which he had shouted
to Shatov the day before, really did exist. All this, that is, the
dress-coat and clean linen, had been procured by Liputin's advice with
some mysterious object in view (as I found out later). There was no
doubt that his coming now (in a hired carriage) was at the instigation
and with the assistance of some one else; it would never have dawned on
him, nor could he by himself have succeeded in dressing, getting ready
and making up his mind in three-quarters of an hour, even if the scene
in the porch of the cathedral had reached his ears at once. He was not
drunk, but was in the dull, heavy, dazed condition of a man suddenly
awakened after many days of drinking. It seemed as though he would be
drunk again if one were to put one's hands on his shoulders and rock
him to and fro once or twice. He was hurrying into the drawing-room but
stumbled over a rug near the doorway. Marya Timofyevna was helpless with
laughter. He looked savagely at her and suddenly took a few rapid steps
towards Varvara Petrovna.
"I have come, madam..." he blared out like a trumpet-blast.
"Be so good, sir, as to take a seat there, on that chair," said Varvara
Petrovna, drawing herself up. "I shall hear you as well from there, and
it will be more convenient for me to look at you from here."
The captain stopped short, looking blankly before him. He turned,
however, and sat down on the seat indicated close to the door. An
extreme lack of self-confidence and at the same time insolence, and a
sort of incessant irritability, were apparent in the expression of his
face. He was horribly scared, that was evident, but his self-conceit
was wounded, and it might be surmised that his mortified vanity might on
occasion lead him to any effrontery, in spite of his cowardice. He was
evidently uneasy at every movement of his clumsy person. We all know
that when such gentlemen are brought by some marvellous chance into
society, they find their worst ordeal in their own hands, and the
impossibility of disposing them becomingly, of which they are conscious
at every moment. The captain sat rigid in his chair, with his hat and
gloves in his hands and his eyes fixed with a senseless stare on the
stern face of Varvara Petrovna. He would have liked, perhaps, to have
looked about more freely, but he could not bring himself to do so yet.
Marya Timofyevna, apparently thinking his appearance very funny, laughed
again, but he did not stir. Varvara Petrovna ruthlessly kept him in this
position for a long time, a whole minute, staring at him without mercy.
"In the first place allow me to learn your name from yourself," Varvara
Petrovna pronounced in measured and impressive tones.
"Captain Lebyadkin," thundered the captain. "I have come, madam..." He
made a movement again.
"Allow me!" Varvara Petrovna checked him again. "Is this unfortunate
person who interests me so much really your sister?"
"My sister, madam, who has escaped from control, for she is in a certain
He suddenly faltered and turned crimson. "Don't misunderstand me,
madam," he said, terribly confused. "Her own brother's not going to
throw mud at her... in a certain condition doesn't mean in such a
condition... in the sense of an injured reputation... in the last
stage..." he suddenly broke off.
"Sir!" said Varvara Petrovna, raising her head.
"In this condition!" he concluded suddenly, tapping the middle of his
forehead with his finger.
A pause followed.
"And has she suffered in this way for long?" asked Varvara Petrovna,
with a slight drawl.
"Madam, I have come to thank you for the generosity you showed in the
porch, in a Russian, brotherly way."
"I mean, not brotherly, but simply in the sense that I am my sister's
brother; and believe me, madam," he went on more hurriedly, turning
crimson again, "I am not so uneducated as I may appear at first sight in
your drawing-room. My sister and I are nothing, madam, compared with the
luxury we observe here. Having enemies who slander us, besides. But on
the question of reputation Lebyadkin is proud, madam... and... and ...
and I've come to repay with thanks.... Here is money, madam!"
At this point he pulled out a pocket-book, drew out of it a bundle of
notes, and began turning them over with trembling fingers in a perfect
fury of impatience. It was evident that he was in haste to explain
something, and indeed it was quite necessary to do so. But probably
feeling himself that his fluster with the money made him look even more
foolish, he lost the last traces of self-possession. The money refused
to be counted. His fingers fumbled helplessly, and to complete his shame
a green note escaped from the pocket-book, and fluttered in zigzags on
to the carpet.
"Twenty roubles, madam." He leapt up suddenly with the roll of notes in
his hand, his face perspiring with discomfort. Noticing the note which
had dropped on the floor, he was bending down to pick it up, but for
some reason overcome by shame, he dismissed it with a wave.
"For your servants, madam; for the footman who picks it up. Let them
remember my sister!"
"I cannot allow that," Varvara Petrovna brought out hurriedly, even with
"In that case..."
He bent down, picked it up, flushing crimson, and suddenly going up to
Varvara Petrovna held out the notes he had counted.
"What's this?" she cried, really alarmed at last, and positively
shrinking back in her chair.
Mavriky Nikolaevitch, Stepan Trofimovitch, and I all stepped forward.
"Don't be alarmed, don't be alarmed; I'm not mad, by God, I'm not mad,"
the captain kept asseverating excitedly.
"Yes, sir, you're out of your senses."
"Madam, she's not at all as you suppose. I am an insignificant link.
Oh, madam, wealthy are your mansions, but poor is the dwelling of Marya
Anonyma, my sister, whose maiden name was Lebyadkin, but whom we'll call
Anonyma for the time, only for the time, madam, for God Himself will
not suffer it for ever. Madam, you gave her ten roubles and she took it,
because it was from you, madam! Do you hear, madam? From no one else
in the world would this Marya Anonyma take it, or her grandfather, the
officer killed in the Caucasus before the very eyes of Yermolov, would
turn in his grave. But from you, madam, from you she will take anything.
But with one hand she takes it, and with the other she holds out to
you twenty roubles by way of subscription to one of the benevolent
committees in Petersburg and Moscow, of which you are a member... for
you published yourself, madam, in the Moscow News, that you are ready to
receive subscriptions in our town, and that any one may subscribe...."
The captain suddenly broke off; he breathed hard as though after some
difficult achievement. All he said about the benevolent society had
probably been prepared beforehand, perhaps under Liputin's supervision.
He perspired more than ever; drops literally trickled down his temples.
Varvara Petrovna looked searchingly at him.
"The subscription list," she said severely, "is always downstairs in
charge of my porter. There you can enter your subscriptions if you wish
to. And so I beg you to put your notes away and not to wave them in the
air. That's right. I beg you also to go back to your seat. That's right.
I am very sorry, sir, that I made a mistake about your sister, and gave
her something as though she were poor when she is so rich. There's only
one thing I don't understand, why she can only take from me, and no one
else. You so insisted upon that that I should like a full explanation."
"Madam, that is a secret that may be buried only in the grave!" answered
"Why?" Varvara Petrovna asked, not quite so firmly.
He relapsed into gloomy silence, looking on the floor, laying his right
hand on his heart. Varvara Petrovna waited, not taking her eyes off him.
"Madam!" he roared suddenly. "Will you allow me to ask you one question?
Only one, but frankly, directly, like a Russian, from the heart?"
"Kindly do so."
"Have you ever suffered madam, in your life?"
"You simply mean to say that you have been or are being ill-treated by
"Madam, madam!" He jumped up again, probably unconscious of doing
so, and struck himself on the breast. "Here in this bosom so much has
accumulated, so much that God Himself will be amazed when it is revealed
at the Day of Judgment."
"H'm! A strong expression!"
"Madam, I speak perhaps irritably...."
"Don't be uneasy. I know myself when to stop you."
"May I ask you another question, madam?"
"Ask another question."
"Can one die simply from the generosity of one's feelings?"
"I don't know, as I've never asked myself such a question."
"You don't know! You've never asked yourself such a question," he said
with pathetic irony. "Well, if that's it, if that's it...
"Be still, despairing heart!"
And he struck himself furiously on the chest. He was by now walking
about the room again.
It is typical of such people to be utterly incapable of keeping their
desires to themselves; they have, on the contrary, an irresistible
impulse to display them in all their unseemliness as soon as they arise.
When such a gentleman gets into a circle in which he is not at home
he usually begins timidly,—but you have only to give him an inch and he
will at once rush into impertinence. The captain was already excited.
He walked about waving his arms and not listening to questions, talked
about himself very, very quickly, so that sometimes his tongue would not
obey him, and without finishing one phrase he passed to another. It is
true he was probably not quite sober. Moreover, Lizaveta Nikolaevna
was sitting there too, and though he did not once glance at her, her
presence seemed to over-excite him terribly; that, however, is only my
supposition. There must have been some reason which led Varvara Petrovna
to resolve to listen to such a man in spite of her repugnance. Praskovya
Ivanovna was simply shaking with terror, though, I believe she really
did not quite understand what it was about. Stepan Trofimovitch was
trembling too, but that was, on the contrary, because he was disposed to
understand everything, and exaggerate it. Mavriky Nikolaevitch stood in
the attitude of one ready to defend all present; Liza was pale, and she
gazed fixedly with wide-open eyes at the wild captain. Shatov sat in
the same position as before, but, what was strangest of all, Marya
Timofyevna had not only ceased laughing, but had become terribly sad.
She leaned her right elbow on the table, and with a prolonged, mournful
gaze watched her brother declaiming. Darya Pavlovna alone seemed to me
"All that is nonsensical allegory," said Varvara Petrovna, getting angry
at last. "You haven't answered my question, why? I insist on an answer."
"I haven't answered, why? You insist on an answer, why?" repeated
the captain, winking. "That little word 'why' has run through all the
universe from the first day of creation, and all nature cries every
minute to it's Creator, 'why?' And for seven thousand years it has had
no answer, and must Captain Lebyadkin alone answer? And is that justice,
"That's all nonsense and not to the point!" cried Varvara Petrovna,
getting angry and losing patience. "That's allegory; besides, you
express yourself too sensationally, sir, which I consider impertinence."
"Madam," the captain went on, not hearing, "I should have liked perhaps
to be called Ernest, yet I am forced to bear the vulgar name Ignat—why
is that do you suppose? I should have liked to be called Prince de
Monbart, yet I am only Lebyadkin, derived from a swan.* Why is that?
I am a poet, madam, a poet in soul, and might be getting a thousand
roubles at a time from a publisher, yet I am forced to live in a pig
pail. Why? Why, madam? To my mind Russia is a freak of nature and
* From Lebyed, a Swan.
"Can you really say nothing more definite?"
"I can read you the poem, 'The Cockroach,' madam."
"Madam, I'm not mad yet! I shall be mad, no doubt I shall be, but I'm
not so yet. Madam, a friend of mine—a most honourable man—has written
a Krylov's fable, called 'The Cockroach.' May I read it?"
"You want to read some fable of Krylov's?"
"No, it's not a fable of Krylov's I want to read. It's my fable, my own
composition. Believe me, madam, without offence I'm not so uneducated
and depraved as not to understand that Russia can boast of a great
fable-writer, Krylov, to whom the Minister of Education has raised a
monument in the Summer Gardens for the diversion of the young. Here,
madam, you ask me why? The answer is at the end of this fable, in
letters of fire."
"Read your fable."
"Lived a cockroach in the world
Such was his condition,
In a glass he chanced to fall
Full of fly-perdition."
"Heavens! What does it mean?" cried Varvara Petrovna.
"That's when flies
get into a glass in the summer-time," the captain explained hurriedly
with the irritable impatience of an author interrupted in reading. "Then
it is perdition to the flies, any fool can understand. Don't interrupt,
don't interrupt. You'll see, you'll see...." He kept waving his arms.
"But he squeezed against the flies,
They woke up and cursed him,
Raised to Jove their angry cries;
'The glass is full to bursting!'
In the middle of the din
Came along Nikifor,
Fine old man, and looking in...
I haven't quite finished it. But no matter, I'll tell it in words,"
the captain rattled on. "Nikifor takes the glass, and in spite of their
outcry empties away the whole stew, flies, and beetles and all, into the
pig pail, which ought to have been done long ago. But observe, madam,
observe, the cockroach doesn't complain. That's the answer to your
question, why?" he cried triumphantly. "'The cockroach does not
complain.' As for Nikifor he typifies nature," he added, speaking
rapidly and walking complacently about the room.
Varvara Petrovna was terribly angry.
"And allow me to ask you about that money said to have been received
from Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, and not to have been given to you, about
which you dared to accuse a person belonging to my household."
"It's a slander!" roared Lebyadkin, flinging up his right hand
"No, it's not a slander."
"Madam, there are circumstances that force one to endure family disgrace
rather than proclaim the truth aloud. Lebyadkin will not blab, madam!"
He seemed dazed; he was carried away; he felt his importance; he
certainly had some fancy in his mind. By now he wanted to insult some
one, to do something nasty to show his power.
"Ring, please, Stepan Trofimovitch," Varvara Petrovna asked him.
"Lebyadkin's cunning, madam." he said, winking with his evil smile;
"he's cunning, but he too has a weak spot, he too at times is in the
portals of passions, and these portals are the old military hussars'
bottle, celebrated by Denis Davydov. So when he is in those portals,
madam, he may happen to send a letter in verse, a most magnificent
letter—but which afterwards he would have wished to take back, with the
tears of all his life; for the feeling of the beautiful is destroyed.
But the bird has flown, you won't catch it by the tail. In those portals
now, madam, Lebyadkin may have spoken about an honourable young lady,
in the honourable indignation of a soul revolted by wrongs, and his
slanderers have taken advantage of it. But Lebyadkin is cunning, madam!
And in vain a malignant wolf sits over him every minute, filling his
glass and waiting for the end. Lebyadkin won't blab. And at the bottom
of the bottle he always finds instead Lebyadkin's cunning. But enough,
oh, enough, madam! Your splendid halls might belong to the noblest in
the land, but the cockroach will not complain. Observe that, observe
that he does not complain, and recognise his noble spirit!"
At that instant a bell rang downstairs from the porter's room, and
almost at the same moment Alexey Yegorytch appeared in response to
Stepan Trofimovitch's ring, which he had somewhat delayed answering. The
correct old servant was unusually excited.
"Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch has graciously arrived this moment and is
coming here," he pronounced, in reply to Varvara Petrovna's questioning
glance. I particularly remember her at that moment; at first she turned
pale, but suddenly her eyes flashed. She drew herself up in her chair
with an air of extraordinary determination. Every one was astounded
indeed. The utterly unexpected arrival of Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch,
who was not expected for another month, was not only strange from its
unexpectedness but from its fateful coincidence with the present moment.
Even the captain remained standing like a post in the middle of the room
with his mouth wide open, staring at the door with a fearfully stupid
And, behold, from the next room—a very large and long apartment—came
the sound of swiftly approaching footsteps, little, exceedingly rapid
steps; some one seemed to be running, and that some one suddenly flew
into the drawing-room, not Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, but a young man who
was a complete stranger to all.
I will permit myself to halt here to sketch in a few hurried strokes
this person who had so suddenly arrived on the scene.
He was a young man of twenty-seven or thereabouts, a little above the
medium height, with rather long, lank, flaxen hair, and with faintly
defined, irregular moustache and beard. He was dressed neatly, and in
the fashion, though not like a dandy. At the first glance he looked
round-shouldered and awkward, but yet he was not round-shouldered, and
his manner was easy. He seemed a queer fish, and yet later on we all
thought his manners good, and his conversation always to the point.
No one would have said that he was ugly, and yet no one would have liked
his face. His head was elongated at the back, and looked flattened at
the sides, so that his face seemed pointed, his forehead was high and
narrow, but his features were small; his eyes were keen, his nose was
small and sharp, his lips were long and thin. The expression of his face
suggested ill-health, but this was misleading. He had a wrinkle on each
cheek which gave him the look of a man who had just recovered from a
serious illness. Yet he was perfectly well and strong, and had never
He walked and moved very hurriedly, yet never seemed in a hurry to
be off. It seemed as though nothing could disconcert him; in every
circumstance and in every sort of society he remained the same. He had a
great deal of conceit, but was utterly unaware of it himself.
He talked quickly, hurriedly, but at the same time with assurance, and
was never at a loss for a word. In spite of his hurried manner his ideas
were in perfect order, distinct and definite—and this was particularly
striking. His articulation was wonderfully clear. His words pattered out
like smooth, big grains, always well chosen, and at your service.
At first this attracted one, but afterwards it became repulsive, just
because of this over-distinct articulation, this string of ever-ready
words. One somehow began to imagine that he must have a tongue of
special shape, somehow exceptionally long and thin, extremely red with a
very sharp everlastingly active little tip.
Well, this was the young man who darted now into the drawing-room, and
really, I believe to this day, that he began to talk in the next room,
and came in speaking. He was standing before Varvara Petrovna in a
"... Only fancy, Varvara Petrovna," he pattered on, "I came in expecting
to find he'd been here for the last quarter of an hour; he arrived an
hour and a half ago; we met at Kirillov's: he set off half an hour ago
meaning to come straight here, and told me to come here too, a quarter
of an hour later...."
"But who? Who told you to come here?" Varvara Petrovna inquired.
"Why, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch! Surely this isn't the first you've heard
of it! But his luggage must have been here a long while, anyway. How
is it you weren't told? Then I'm the first to bring the news. One might
send out to look for him; he's sure to be here himself directly
though. And I fancy, at the moment that just fits in with some of
his expectations, and is far as I can judge, at least, some of his
At this point he turned his eyes about the room and fixed them with
special attention on the captain.
"Ach, Lizaveta Nikolaevna, how glad I am to meet you at the very first
step, delighted to shake hands with you." He flew up to Liza, who
was smiling gaily, to take her proffered hand, "and I observe that my
honoured friend Praskovya Ivanovna has not forgotten her 'professor,'
and actually isn't cross with him, as she always used to be in
Switzerland. But how are your legs, here, Praskovya Ivanovna, and were
the Swiss doctors right when at the consultation they prescribed your
native air? What? Fomentations? That ought to do good. But how sorry I
was, Varvara Petrovna" (he turned rapidly to her) "that I didn't arrive
in time to meet you abroad, and offer my respects to you in person; I
had so much to tell you too. I did send word to my old man here, but I
fancy that he did as he always does..."
"Petrusha!" cried Stepan Trofimovitch, instantly roused from his
stupefaction. He clasped his hands and flew to his son. "Pierre, mon
enfant! Why, I didn't know you!" He pressed him in his arms and the
tears rolled down his cheeks.
"Come, be quiet, be quiet, no flourishes, that's enough, that's enough,
please," Petrusha muttered hurriedly, trying to extricate himself from
"I've always sinned against you, always!"
"Well, that's enough. We can talk of that later. I knew you'd carry on.
Come, be a little more sober, please."
"But it's ten years since I've seen you."
"The less reason for demonstrations."
"Come, I believe in your affection, I believe in it, take your arms
away. You see, you're disturbing other people.... Ah, here's Nikolay
Vsyevolodovitch; keep quiet, please."
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch was already in the room; he came in very quietly
and stood still for an instant in the doorway, quietly scrutinising the
I was struck by the first sight of him just as I had been four years
before, when I saw him for the first time. I had not forgotten him in
the least. But I think there are some countenances which always seem to
exhibit something new which one has not noticed before, every time
one meets them, though one may have seen them a hundred times already.
Apparently he was exactly the same as he had been four years before. He
was as elegant, as dignified, he moved with the same air of consequence
as before, indeed he looked almost as young. His faint smile had just
the same official graciousness and complacency. His eyes had the same
stern, thoughtful and, as it were, preoccupied look. In fact, it seemed
as though we had only parted the day before. But one thing struck me. In
old days, though he had been considered handsome, his face was "like a
mask," as some of our sharp-tongued ladies had expressed it. Now—now,
I don't know why he impressed me at once as absolutely, incontestably
beautiful, so that no one could have said that his face was like a mask.
Wasn't it perhaps that he was a little paler and seemed rather thinner
than before? Or was there, perhaps, the light of some new idea in his
"Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch!" cried Varvara Petrovna, drawing herself up
but not rising from her chair. "Stop a minute!" She checked his advance
with a peremptory gesture.
But to explain the awful question which immediately followed that
gesture and exclamation—a question which I should have imagined to be
impossible even in Varvara Petrovna, I must ask the reader to remember
what that lady's temperament had always been, and the extraordinary
impulsiveness she showed at some critical moments. I beg him to consider
also, that in spite of the exceptional strength of her spirit and
the very considerable amount of common sense and practical, so to say
business, tact she possessed, there were moments in her life in which
she abandoned herself altogether, entirely and, if it's permissible
to say so, absolutely without restraint. I beg him to take into
consideration also that the present moment might really be for her one
of those in which all the essence of life, of all the past and all the
present, perhaps, too, all the future, is concentrated, as it were,
focused. I must briefly recall, too, the anonymous letter of which she
had spoken to Praskovya Ivanovna with so much irritation, though I think
she said nothing of the latter part of it. Yet it perhaps contained the
explanation of the possibility of the terrible question with which she
suddenly addressed her son.
"Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch," she repeated, rapping out her words in a
resolute voice in which there was a ring of menacing challenge, "I beg
you to tell me at once, without moving from that place; is it true that
this unhappy cripple—here she is, here, look at her—is it true that
she is... your lawful wife?"
I remember that moment only too well; he did not wink an eyelash but
looked intently at his mother. Not the faintest change in his face
followed. At last he smiled, a sort of indulgent smile, and without
answering a word went quietly up to his mother, took her hand, raised it
respectfully to his lips and kissed it. And so great was his invariable
and irresistible ascendancy over his mother that even now she could not
bring herself to pull away her hand. She only gazed at him, her whole
figure one concentrated question, seeming to betray that she could not
bear the suspense another moment.
But he was still silent. When he had kissed her hand, he scanned the
whole room once more, and moving, as before, without haste went towards
Marya Timofyevna. It is very difficult to describe people's countenances
at certain moments. I remember, for instance, that Marya Timofyevna,
breathless with fear, rose to her feet to meet him and clasped her hands
before her, as though beseeching him. And at the same time I remember
the frantic ecstasy which almost distorted her face—an ecstasy almost
too great for any human being to bear. Perhaps both were there, both the
terror and the ecstasy. But I remember moving quickly towards her (I was
standing not far off), for I fancied she was going to faint.
"You should not be here," Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch said to her in
a caressing and melodious voice; and there was the light of an
extraordinary tenderness in his eyes. He stood before her in the most
respectful attitude, and every gesture showed sincere respect for her.
The poor girl faltered impulsively in a half-whisper.
"But may I... kneel down... to you now?"
"No, you can't do that."
He smiled at her magnificently, so that she too laughed joyfully at
once. In the same melodious voice, coaxing her tenderly as though she
were a child, he went on gravely.
"Only think that you are a girl, and that though I'm your devoted friend
I'm an outsider, not your husband, nor your father, nor your betrothed.
Give me your arm and let us go; I will take you to the carriage, and if
you will let me I will see you all the way home."
She listened, and bent her head as though meditating.
"Let's go," she said with a sigh, giving him her hand.
But at that point a slight mischance befell her. She must have turned
carelessly, resting on her lame leg, which was shorter than the other.
She fell sideways into the chair, and if the chair had not been there
would have fallen on to the floor. He instantly seized and supported
her, and holding her arm firmly in his, led her carefully and
sympathetically to the door. She was evidently mortified at having
fallen; she was overwhelmed, blushed, and was terribly abashed. Looking
dumbly on the ground, limping painfully, she hobbled after him, almost
hanging on his arm. So they went out. Liza, I saw, suddenly jumped up
from her chair for some reason as they were going out, and she followed
them with intent eyes till they reached the door. Then she sat down
again in silence, but there was a nervous twitching in her face, as
though she had touched a viper.
While this scene was taking place between Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch and
Marya Timofyevna every one was speechless with amazement; one could have
heard a fly; but as soon as they had gone out, every one began suddenly
It was very little of it talk, however; it was mostly exclamation. I've
forgotten a little the order in which things happened, for a scene of
confusion followed. Stepan Trofimovitch uttered some exclamation in
French, clasping his hands, but Varvara Petrovna had no thought for him.
Even Mavriky Nikolaevitch muttered some rapid, jerky comment. But Pyotr
Stepanovitch was the most excited of all. He was trying desperately with
bold gesticulations to persuade Varvara Petrovna of something, but it
was a long time before I could make out what it was. He appealed
to Praskovya Ivanovna, and Lizaveta Nikolaevna too, even, in his
excitement, addressed a passing shout to his father—in fact he seemed
all over the room at once. Varvara Petrovna, flushing all over, sprang
up from her seat and cried to Praskovya Ivanovna:
"Did you hear what he said to her here just now, did you hear it?"
But the latter was incapable of replying. She could only mutter
something and wave her hand. The poor woman had troubles of her own to
think about. She kept turning her head towards Liza and was watching her
with unaccountable terror, but she didn't even dare to think of getting
up and going away until her daughter should get up. In the meantime the
captain wanted to slip away. That I noticed. There was no doubt that he
had been in a great panic from the instant that Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch
had made his appearance; but Pyotr Stepanovitch took him by the arm and
would not let him go.
"It is necessary, quite necessary," he pattered on to Varvara Petrovna,
still trying to persuade her. He stood facing her, as she was sitting
down again in her easy chair, and, I remember, was listening to him
eagerly; he had succeeded in securing her attention.
"It is necessary. You can see for yourself, Varvara Petrovna, that there
is a misunderstanding here, and much that is strange on the surface,
and yet the thing's as clear as daylight, and as simple as my finger. I
quite understand that no one has authorised me to tell the story, and
I dare say I look ridiculous putting myself forward. But in the first
place, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch attaches no sort of significance to
the matter himself, and, besides, there are incidents of which it is
difficult for a man to make up his mind to give an explanation himself.
And so it's absolutely necessary that it should be undertaken by a third
person, for whom it's easier to put some delicate points into words.
Believe me, Varvara Petrovna, that Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch is not at
all to blame for not immediately answering your question just now with
a full explanation, it's all a trivial affair. I've known him since his
Petersburg days. Besides, the whole story only does honour to Nikolay
Vsyevolodovitch, if one must make use of that vague word 'honour.'"
"You mean to say that you were a witness of some incident which gave
rise... to this misunderstanding?" asked Varvara Petrovna.
"I witnessed it, and took part in it," Pyotr Stepanovitch hastened to
"If you'll give me your word that this will not wound Nikolay
Vsyevolodovitch's delicacy in regard to his feeling for me, from whom
he ne-e-ver conceals anything... and if you are convinced also that your
doing this will be agreeable to him..."
"Certainly it will be agreeable, and for that reason I consider it a
particularly agreeable duty. I am convinced that he would beg me to do
The intrusive desire of this gentleman, who seemed to have dropped on
us from heaven to tell stories about other people's affairs, was rather
strange and inconsistent with ordinary usage.
But he had caught Varvara Petrovna by touching on too painful a spot.
I did not know the man's character at that time, and still less his
"I am listening," Varvara Petrovna announced with a reserved and
cautious manner. She was rather painfully aware of her condescension.
"It's a short story; in fact if you like it's not a story at all," he
rattled on, "though a novelist might work it up into a novel in an idle
hour. It's rather an interesting little incident, Praskovya Ivanovna,
and I am sure that Lizaveta Nikolaevna will be interested to hear
it, because there are a great many things in it that are odd if not
wonderful. Five years ago, in Petersburg, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch
made the acquaintance of this gentleman, this very Mr. Lebyadkin who's
standing here with his mouth open, anxious, I think, to slip away at
once. Excuse me, Varvara Petrovna. I don't advise you to make your
escape though, you discharged clerk in the former commissariat
department; you see, I remember you very well. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch
and I know very well what you've been up to here, and, don't forget,
you'll have to answer for it. I ask your pardon once more, Varvara
Petrovna. In those days Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch used to call this
gentleman his Falstaff; that must be," he explained suddenly, "some old
burlesque character, at whom every one laughs, and who is willing to
let every one laugh at him, if only they'll pay him for it. Nikolay
Vsyevolodovitch was leading at that time in Petersburg a life, so to
say, of mockery. I can't find another word to describe it, because he
is not a man who falls into disillusionment, and he disdained to be
occupied with work at that time. I'm only speaking of that period,
Varvara Petrovna. Lebyadkin had a sister, the woman who was sitting here
just now. The brother and sister hadn't a corner* of their own, but
were always quartering themselves on different people. He used to hang
about the arcades in the Gostiny Dvor, always wearing his old uniform,
and would stop the more respectable-looking passers-by, and everything
he got from them he'd spend in drink. His sister lived like the birds
of heaven. She'd help people in their 'corners,' and do jobs for them
on occasion. It was a regular Bedlam. I'll pass over the description
of this life in 'corners,' a life to which Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch had
* In the poorer quarters of Russian towns a single room is often
let out to several families, each of which occupies a "corner."
"at that time, from eccentricity. I'm only talking of that period,
Varvara Petrovna; as for 'eccentricity,' that's his own expression. He
does not conceal much from me. Mlle. Lebyadkin, who was thrown in the
way of meeting Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch very often, at one time, was
fascinated by his appearance. He was, so to say, a diamond set in the
dirty background of her life. I am a poor hand at describing feelings,
so I'll pass them over; but some of that dirty lot took to jeering at
her once, and it made her sad. They always had laughed at her, but she
did not seem to notice it before. She wasn't quite right in her head
even then, but very different from what she is now. There's reason to
believe that in her childhood she received something like an education
through the kindness of a benevolent lady. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch
had never taken the slightest notice of her. He used to spend his time
chiefly in playing preference with a greasy old pack of cards for
stakes of a quarter-farthing with clerks. But once, when she was being
ill-treated, he went up (without inquiring into the cause) and seized
one of the clerks by the collar and flung him out of a second-floor
window. It was not a case of chivalrous indignation at the sight of
injured innocence; the whole operation took place in the midst of roars
of laughter, and the one who laughed loudest was Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch
himself. As it all ended without harm, they were reconciled and began
drinking punch. But the injured innocent herself did not forget it. Of
course it ended in her becoming completely crazy. I repeat I'm a poor
hand at describing feelings. But a delusion was the chief feature in
this case. And Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch aggravated that delusion as
though he did it on purpose. Instead of laughing at her he began all
at once treating Mlle. Lebyadkin with sudden respect. Kirillov, who was
there (a very original man, Varvara Petrovna, and very abrupt, you'll
see him perhaps one day, for he's here now), well, this Kirillov who,
as a rule, is perfectly silent, suddenly got hot, and said to Nikolay
Vsyevolodovitch, I remember, that he treated the girl as though she were
a marquise, and that that was doing for her altogether. I must add that
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch had rather a respect for this Kirillov. What do
you suppose was the answer he gave him: 'You imagine, Mr. Kirillov, that
I am laughing at her. Get rid of that idea, I really do respect her,
for she's better than any of us.' And, do you know, he said it in such a
serious tone. Meanwhile, he hadn't really said a word to her for two or
three months, except 'good morning' and 'good-bye.' I remember, for I
was there, that she came at last to the point of looking on him almost
as her betrothed who dared not 'elope with her,' simply because he had
many enemies and family difficulties, or something of the sort.
There was a great deal of laughter about it. It ended in Nikolay
Vsyevolodovitch's making provision for her when he had to come here, and
I believe he arranged to pay a considerable sum, three hundred roubles a
year, if not more, as a pension for her. In short it was all a caprice,
a fancy of a man prematurely weary on his side, perhaps—it may even
have been, as Kirillov says, a new experiment of a blasé man, with
the object of finding out what you can bring a crazy cripple to." (You
picked out on purpose, he said, the lowest creature, a cripple, for ever
covered with disgrace and blows, knowing, too, that this creature was
dying of comic love for you, and set to work to mystify her completely
on purpose, simply to see what would come of it.) "Though, how is a man
so particularly to blame for the fancies of a crazy woman, to whom
he had hardly uttered two sentences the whole time. There are things,
Varvara Petrovna, of which it is not only impossible to speak sensibly,
but it's even nonsensical to begin speaking of them at all. Well,
eccentricity then, let it stand at that. Anyway, there's nothing worse
to be said than that; and yet now they've made this scandal out of it.
... I am to some extent aware, Varvara Petrovna, of what is happening
The speaker suddenly broke off and was turning to Lebyadkin. But Varvara
Petrovna checked him. She was in a state of extreme exaltation.
"Have you finished?" she asked.
"Not yet; to complete my story I should have to ask this gentleman one
or two questions if you'll allow me... you'll see the point in a minute,
"Enough, afterwards, leave it for the moment I beg you. Oh, I was quite
right to let you speak!"
"And note this, Varvara Petrovna," Pyotr Stepanovitch said hastily.
"Could Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch have explained all this just now in
answer to your question, which was perhaps too peremptory?"
"Oh, yes, it was."
"And wasn't I right in saying that in some cases it's much easier for a
third person to explain things than for the person interested?"
"Yes, yes... but in one thing you were mistaken, and, I see with regret,
are still mistaken."
"Really, what's that?"
"You see.... But won't you sit down, Pyotr Stepanovitch?"
"Oh, as you please. I am tired indeed. Thank you." He instantly moved up
an easy chair and turned it so that he had Varvara Petrovna on one
side and Praskovya Ivanovna at the table on the other, while he faced
Lebyadkin, from whom he did not take his eyes for one minute.
"You are mistaken in calling this eccentricity...."
"Oh, if it's only that...."
"No, no, no, wait a little," said Varvara Petrovna, who was obviously
about to say a good deal and to speak with enthusiasm. As soon as Pyotr
Stepanovitch noticed it, he was all attention.
"No, it was something higher than eccentricity, and I assure you,
something sacred even! A proud man who has suffered humiliation early
in life and reached the stage of 'mockery' as you so subtly called
it—Prince Harry, in fact, to use the capital nickname Stepan
Trofimovitch gave him then, which would have been perfectly correct if
it were not that he is more like Hamlet, to my thinking at least."
"Et vous avez raison," Stepan Trofimovitch pronounced, impressively and
"Thank you, Stepan Trofimovitch. I thank you particularly too for your
unvarying faith in Nicolas, in the loftiness of his soul and of his
destiny. That faith you have even strengthened in me when I was losing
"Chère, chère." Stepan Trofimovitch was stepping forward, when he
checked himself, reflecting that it was dangerous to interrupt.
"And if Nicolas had always had at his side" (Varvara Petrovna almost
shouted) "a gentle Horatio, great in his humility—another excellent
expression of yours, Stepan Trofimovitch—he might long ago have been
saved from the sad and 'sudden demon of irony,' which has tormented him
all his life. ('The demon of irony' was a wonderful expression of yours
again, Stepan Trofimovitch.) But Nicolas has never had an Horatio or an
Ophelia. He had no one but his mother, and what can a mother do alone,
and in such circumstances? Do you know, Pyotr Stepanovitch, it's
perfectly comprehensible to me now that a being like Nicolas could be
found even in such filthy haunts as you have described. I can so clearly
picture now that 'mockery' of life. (A wonderfully subtle expression
of yours!) That insatiable thirst of contrast, that gloomy background
against which he stands out like a diamond, to use your comparison
again, Pyotr Stepanovitch. And then he meets there a creature
ill-treated by every one, crippled, half insane, and at the same time
perhaps filled with noble feelings."
"H'm.... Yes, perhaps."
"And after that you don't understand that he's not laughing at her like
every one. Oh, you people! You can't understand his defending her from
insult, treating her with respect 'like a marquise' (this Kirillov
must have an exceptionally deep understanding of men, though he didn't
understand Nicolas). It was just this contrast, if you like, that led to
the trouble. If the unhappy creature had been in different surroundings,
perhaps she would never have been brought to entertain such a frantic
delusion. Only a woman can understand it, Pyotr Stepanovitch, only a
woman. How sorry I am that you... not that you're not a woman, but that
you can't be one just for the moment so as to understand."
"You mean in the sense that the worse things are the better it is. I
understand, I understand, Varvara Petrovna. It's rather as it is in
religion; the harder life is for a man or the more crushed and poor the
people are, the more obstinately they dream of compensation in heaven;
and if a hundred thousand priests are at work at it too, inflaming
their delusion, and speculating on it, then... I understand you, Varvara
Petrovna, I assure you."
"That's not quite it; but tell me, ought Nicolas to have laughed at her
and have treated her as the other clerks, in order to extinguish the
delusion in this unhappy organism." (Why Varvara Petrovna used the word
organism I couldn't understand.) "Can you really refuse to recognise
the lofty compassion, the noble tremor of the whole organism with which
Nicolas answered Kirillov: 'I do not laugh at her.' A noble, sacred
"Sublime," muttered Stepan Trofimovitch.
"And observe, too, that he is by no means so rich as you suppose. The
money is mine and not his, and he would take next to nothing from me
"I understand, I understand all that, Varvara Petrovna," said Pyotr
Stepanovitch, with a movement of some impatience.
"Oh, it's my character! I recognise myself in Nicolas. I recognise that
youthfulness, that liability to violent, tempestuous impulses. And if
we ever come to be friends, Pyotr Stepanovitch, and, for my part, I
sincerely hope we may, especially as I am so deeply indebted to you,
then, perhaps you'll understand...."
"Oh, I assure you, I hope for it too," Pyotr Stepanovitch muttered
"You'll understand then the impulse which leads one in the blindness
of generous feeling to take up a man who is unworthy of one in every
respect, a man who utterly fails to understand one, who is ready to
torture one at every opportunity and, in contradiction to everything, to
exalt such a man into a sort of ideal, into a dream. To concentrate in
him all one's hopes, to bow down before him; to love him all one's life,
absolutely without knowing why—perhaps just because he was unworthy of
it.... Oh, how I've suffered all my life, Pyotr Stepanovitch!"
Stepan Trofimovitch, with a look of suffering on his face, began trying
to catch my eye, but I turned away in time.
"... And only lately, only lately—oh, how unjust I've been to Nicolas!
... You would not believe how they have been worrying me on all sides,
all, all, enemies, and rascals, and friends, friends perhaps more than
enemies. When the first contemptible anonymous letter was sent to me,
Pyotr Stepanovitch, you'll hardly believe it, but I had not strength
enough to treat all this wickedness with contempt.... I shall never,
never forgive myself for my weakness."
"I had heard something of anonymous letters here already," said Pyotr
Stepanovitch, growing suddenly more lively, "and I'll find out the
writers of them, you may be sure."
"But you can't imagine the intrigues that have been got up here. They
have even been pestering our poor Praskovya Ivanovna, and what reason
can they have for worrying her? I was quite unfair to you to-day
perhaps, my dear Praskovya Ivanovna," she added in a generous impulse of
kindliness, though not without a certain triumphant irony.
"Don't say any more, my dear," the other lady muttered reluctantly.
"To my thinking we'd better make an end of all this; too much has been
And again she looked timidly towards Liza, but the latter was looking at
"And I intend now to adopt this poor unhappy creature, this insane
woman who has lost everything and kept only her heart," Varvara Petrovna
exclaimed suddenly. "It's a sacred duty I intend to carry out. I take
her under my protection from this day."
"And that will be a very good thing in one way," Pyotr Stepanovitch
cried, growing quite eager again. "Excuse me, I did not finish just now.
It's just the care of her I want to speak of. Would you believe it, that
as soon as Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch had gone (I'm beginning from where
I left off, Varvara Petrovna), this gentleman here, this Mr. Lebyadkin,
instantly imagined he had the right to dispose of the whole pension
that was provided for his sister. And he did dispose of it. I don't
know exactly how it had been arranged by Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch at that
time. But a year later, when he learned from abroad what had happened,
he was obliged to make other arrangements. Again, I don't know the
details; he'll tell you them himself. I only know that the interesting
young person was placed somewhere in a remote nunnery, in very
comfortable surroundings, but under friendly superintendence—you
understand? But what do you think Mr. Lebyadkin made up his mind to do?
He exerted himself to the utmost, to begin with, to find where
his source of income, that is his sister, was hidden. Only lately he
attained his object, took her from the nunnery, asserting some claim to
her, and brought her straight here. Here he doesn't feed her properly,
beats her, and bullies her. As soon as by some means he gets a
considerable sum from Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, he does nothing but
get drunk, and instead of gratitude ends by impudently defying Nikolay
Vsyevolodovitch, making senseless demands, threatening him with
proceedings if the pension is not paid straight into his hands. So
he takes what is a voluntary gift from Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch as a
tax—can you imagine it? Mr. Lebyadkin, is that all true that I have
said just now?"
The captain, who had till that moment stood in silence looking down,
took two rapid steps forward and turned crimson.
"Pyotr Stepanovitch, you've treated me cruelly," he brought out
"Why cruelly? How? But allow us to discuss the question of cruelty or
gentleness later on. Now answer my first question; is it true all that I
have said or not? If you consider it's false you are at liberty to give
your own version at once."
"I... you know yourself, Pyotr Stepanovitch," the captain muttered, but
he could not go on and relapsed into silence. It must be observed that
Pyotr Stepanovitch was sitting in an easy chair with one leg crossed
over the other, while the captain stood before him in the most
Lebyadkin's hesitation seemed to annoy Pyotr Stepanovitch; a spasm of
anger distorted his face.
"Then you have a statement you want to make?" he said, looking subtly at
the captain. "Kindly speak. We're waiting for you."
"You know yourself Pyotr Stepanovitch, that I can't say anything."
"No, I don't know it. It's the first time I've heard it. Why can't you
The captain was silent, with his eyes on the ground.
"Allow me to go, Pyotr Stepanovitch," he brought out resolutely.
"No, not till you answer my question: is it all true that I've said?"
"It is true," Lebyadkin brought out in a hollow voice, looking at his
tormentor. Drops of perspiration stood out on his forehead.
"Is it all true?"
"It's all true."
"Have you nothing to add or to observe? If you think that we've been
unjust, say so; protest, state your grievance aloud."
"No, I think nothing."
"Did you threaten Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch lately?"
"It was... it was more drink than anything, Pyotr Stepanovitch." He
suddenly raised his head. "If family honour and undeserved disgrace
cry out among men then—then is a man to blame?" he roared suddenly,
forgetting himself as before.
"Are you sober now, Mr. Lebyadkin?"
Pyotr Stepanovitch looked at him penetratingly.
"I am... sober."
"What do you mean by family honour and undeserved disgrace?"
"I didn't mean anybody, anybody at all. I meant myself," the captain
said, collapsing again.
"You seem to be very much offended by what I've said about you and your
conduct? You are very irritable, Mr. Lebyadkin. But let me tell you I've
hardly begun yet what I've got to say about your conduct, in its real
sense. I'll begin to discuss your conduct in its real sense. I shall
begin, that may very well happen, but so far I've not begun, in a real
Lebyadkin started and stared wildly at Pyotr Stepanovitch.
"Pyotr Stepanovitch, I am just beginning to wake up."
"H'm! And it's I who have waked you up?"
"Yes, it's you who have waked me, Pyotr Stepanovitch; and I've been
asleep for the last four years with a storm-cloud hanging over me. May I
withdraw at last, Pyotr Stepanovitch?"
"Now you may, unless Varvara Petrovna thinks it necessary..."
But the latter dismissed him with a wave of her hand.
The captain bowed, took two steps towards the door, stopped suddenly,
laid his hand on his heart, tried to say something, did not say it, and
was moving quickly away. But in the doorway he came face to face with
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch; the latter stood aside. The captain shrank into
himself, as it were, before him, and stood as though frozen to the spot,
his eyes fixed upon him like a rabbit before a boa-constrictor. After
a little pause Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch waved him aside with a slight
motion of his hand, and walked into the drawing-room.
He was cheerful and serene. Perhaps something very pleasant had happened
to him, of which we knew nothing as yet; but he seemed particularly
"Do you forgive me, Nicolas?" Varvara Petrovna hastened to say, and got
up suddenly to meet him.
But Nicolas positively laughed.
"Just as I thought," he said, good-humouredly and jestingly. "I see you
know all about it already. When I had gone from here I reflected in the
carriage that I ought at least to have told you the story instead of
going off like that. But when I remembered that Pyotr Stepanovitch was
still here, I thought no more of it."
As he spoke he took a cursory look round.
"Pyotr Stepanovitch told us an old Petersburg episode in the life of a
queer fellow," Varvara Petrovna rejoined enthusiastically—"a mad
and capricious fellow, though always lofty in his feelings, always
chivalrous and noble...."
"Chivalrous? You don't mean to say it's come to that," laughed Nicolas.
"However, I'm very grateful to Pyotr Stepanovitch for being in such a
hurry this time." He exchanged a rapid glance with the latter. "You must
know, maman, that Pyotr Stepanovitch is the universal peacemaker; that's
his part in life, his weakness, his hobby, and I particularly recommend
him to you from that point of view. I can guess what a yarn he's
been spinning. He's a great hand at spinning them; he has a perfect
record-office in his head. He's such a realist, you know, that he can't
tell a lie, and prefers truthfulness to effect... except, of course,
in special cases when effect is more important than truth." (As he said
this he was still looking about him.) "So, you see clearly, maman, that
it's not for you to ask my forgiveness, and if there's any craziness
about this affair it's my fault, and it proves that, when all's said and
done, I really am mad.... I must keep up my character here...."
Then he tenderly embraced his mother.
"In any case the subject has been fully discussed and is done with,"
he added, and there was a rather dry and resolute note in his voice.
Varvara Petrovna understood that note, but her exaltation was not
damped, quite the contrary.
"I didn't expect you for another month, Nicolas!"
"I will explain everything to you, maman, of course, but now..."
And he went towards Praskovya Ivanovna.
But she scarcely turned her head towards him, though she had been
completely overwhelmed by his first appearance. Now she had fresh
anxieties to think of; at the moment the captain had stumbled upon
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch as he was going out, Liza had suddenly begun
laughing—at first quietly and intermittently, but her laughter grew
more and more violent, louder and more conspicuous. She flushed crimson,
in striking contrast with her gloomy expression just before.
While Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch was talking to Varvara Petrovna, she had
twice beckoned to Mavriky Nikolaevitch as though she wanted to whisper
something to him; but as soon as the young man bent down to her, she
instantly burst into laughter; so that it seemed as though it was at
poor Mavriky Nikolaevitch that she was laughing. She evidently tried to
control herself, however, and put her handkerchief to her lips.
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch turned to greet her with a most innocent and
"Please excuse me," she responded, speaking quickly. "You... you've seen
Mavriky Nikolaevitch of course.... My goodness, how inexcusably tall you
are, Mavriky Nikolaevitch!"
And laughter again, Mavriky Nikolaevitch was tall, but by no means
"Have... you been here long?" she muttered, restraining herself again,
genuinely embarrassed though her eyes were shining.
"More than two hours," answered Nicolas, looking at her intently. I may
remark that he was exceptionally reserved and courteous, but that apart
from his courtesy his expression was utterly indifferent, even listless.
"And where are you going to stay?"
Varvara Petrovna, too, was watching Liza, but she was suddenly struck by
"Where have you been all this time, Nicolas, more than two hours?" she
said, going up to him. "The train comes in at ten o'clock."
"I first took Pyotr Stepanovitch to Kirillov's. I came across Pyotr
Stepanovitch at Matveyev (three stations away), and we travelled
"I had been waiting at Matveyev since sunrise," put in Pyotr
Stepanovitch. "The last carriages of our train ran off the rails in the
night, and we nearly had our legs broken."
"Your legs broken!" cried Liza. "Maman, maman, you and I meant to go to
Matveyev last week, we should have broken our legs too!"
"Heaven have mercy on us!" cried Praskovya Ivanovna, crossing herself.
"Maman, maman, dear maman, you mustn't be frightened if I break both my
legs. It may so easily happen to me; you say yourself that I ride so
recklessly every day. Mavriky Nikolaevitch, will you go about with me
when I'm lame?" She began giggling again. "If it does happen I won't let
anyone take me about but you, you can reckon on that.... Well, suppose I
break only one leg. Come, be polite, say you'll think it a pleasure."
"A pleasure to be crippled?" said Mavriky Nikolaevitch, frowning
"But then you'll lead me about, only you and no one else."
"Even then it'll be you leading me about, Lizaveta Nikolaevna,"
murmured Mavriky Nikolaevitch, even more gravely.
"Why, he's trying to make a joke!" cried Liza, almost in dismay.
"Mavriky Nikolaevitch, don't you ever dare take to that! But what an
egoist you are! I am certain that, to your credit, you're slandering
yourself. It will be quite the contrary; from morning till night you'll
assure me that I have become more charming for having lost my leg.
There's one insurmountable difficulty—you're so fearfully tall, and
when I've lost my leg I shall be so very tiny.. How will you be able to
take me on your arm; we shall look a strange couple!"
And she laughed hysterically. Her jests and insinuations were feeble,
but she was not capable of considering the effect she was producing.
"Hysterics!" Pyotr Stepanovitch whispered to me. "A glass of water, make
He was right. A minute later every one was fussing about, water was
brought. Liza embraced her mother, kissed her warmly, wept on her
shoulder, then drawing back and looking her in the face she fell to
laughing again. The mother too began whimpering. Varvara Petrovna made
haste to carry them both off to her own rooms, going out by the same
door by which Darya Pavlovna had come to us. But they were not away
long, not more than four minutes.
I am trying to remember now every detail of these last moments of that
memorable morning. I remember that when we were left without the ladies
(except Darya Pavlovna, who had not moved from her seat), Nikolay
Vsyevolodovitch made the round, greeting us all except Shatov, who still
sat in his corner, his head more bowed than ever. Stepan Trofimovitch
was beginning something very witty to Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, but the
latter turned away hurriedly to Darya Pavlovna. But before he reached
her, Pyotr Stepanovitch caught him and drew him away, almost violently,
towards the window, where he whispered something quickly to him,
apparently something very important to judge by the expression of
his face and the gestures that accompanied the whisper. Nikolay
Vsyevolodovitch listened inattentively and listlessly with his official
smile, and at last even impatiently, and seemed all the time on the
point of breaking away. He moved away from the window just as the ladies
came back. Varvara Petrovna made Liza sit down in the same seat as
before, declaring that she must wait and rest another ten minutes; and
that the fresh air would perhaps be too much for her nerves at once.
She was looking after Liza with great devotion, and sat down beside
her. Pyotr Stepanovitch, now disengaged, skipped up to them at once,
and broke into a rapid and lively flow of conversation. At that point
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch at last went up to Darya Pavlovna with his
leisurely step. Dasha began stirring uneasily at his approach, and
jumped up quickly in evident embarrassment, flushing all over her face.
"I believe one may congratulate you... or is it too soon?" he brought
out with a peculiar line in his face.
Dasha made him some answer, but it was difficult to catch it.
"Forgive my indiscretion," he added, raising his voice, "but you know I
was expressly informed. Did you know about it?"
"Yes, I know that you were expressly informed."
"But I hope I have not done any harm by my congratulations," he laughed.
"And if Stepan Trofimovitch..."
"What, what's the congratulation about?" Pyotr Stepanovitch suddenly
skipped up to them. "What are you being congratulated about, Darya
Pavlovna? Bah! Surely that's not it? Your blush proves I've guessed
right. And indeed, what else does one congratulate our charming and
virtuous young ladies on? And what congratulations make them blush most
readily? Well, accept mine too, then, if I've guessed right! And pay
up. Do you remember when we were in Switzerland you bet you'd never be
married.... Oh, yes, apropos of Switzerland—what am I thinking about?
Only fancy, that's half what I came about, and I was almost forgetting
it. Tell me," he turned quickly to Stepan Trofimovitch, "when are you
going to Switzerland?"
"I... to Switzerland?" Stepan Trofimovitch replied, wondering and
"What? Aren't you going? Why you're getting married, too, you wrote?"
"Pierre!" cried Stepan Trofimovitch.
"Well, why Pierre?... You see, if that'll please you, I've flown here to
announce that I'm not at all against it, since you were set on having
my opinion as quickly as possible; and if, indeed," he pattered on, "you
want to 'be saved,' as you wrote, beseeching my help in the same letter,
I am at your service again. Is it true that he is going to be married,
Varvara Petrovna?" He turned quickly to her. "I hope I'm not being
indiscreet; he writes himself that the whole town knows it and every
one's congratulating him, so that, to avoid it he only goes out at
night. I've got his letters in my pocket. But would you believe it,
Varvara Petrovna, I can't make head or tail of it? Just tell me one
thing, Stepan Trofimovitch, are you to be congratulated or are you to
be 'saved'? You wouldn't believe it; in one line he's despairing and in
the next he's most joyful. To begin with he begs my forgiveness; well,
of course, that's their way... though it must be said; fancy, the man's
only seen me twice in his life and then by accident. And suddenly now,
when he's going to be married for the third time, he imagines that
this is a breach of some sort of parental duty to me, and entreats me a
thousand miles away not to be angry and to allow him to. Please don't
be hurt, Stepan Trofimovitch. It's characteristic of your generation,
I take a broad view of it, and don't blame you. And let's admit it does
you honour and all the rest. But the point is again that I don't see the
point of it. There's something about some sort of 'sins in Switzerland.'
'I'm getting married,' he says, for my sins or on account of the 'sins'
of another,' or whatever it is—'sins' anyway. 'The girl,' says he, 'is
a pearl and a diamond,' and, well, of course, he's 'unworthy of her';
it's their way of talking; but on account of some sins or circumstances
'he is obliged to lead her to the altar, and go to Switzerland, and
therefore abandon everything and fly to save me.' Do you understand
anything of all that? However... however, I notice from the expression
of your faces"—(he turned about with the letter in his hand looking
with an innocent smile into the faces of the company)—"that, as usual,
I seem to have put my foot in it through my stupid way of being open,
or, as Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch says, 'being in a hurry.' I thought, of
course, that we were all friends here, that is, your friends, Stepan
Trofimovitch, your friends. I am really a stranger, and I see... and I
see that you all know something, and that just that something I don't
know." He still went on looking about him.
"So Stepan Trofimovitch wrote to you that he was getting married for
the 'sins of another committed in Switzerland,' and that you were to
fly here 'to save him,' in those very words?" said Varvara Petrovna,
addressing him suddenly. Her face was yellow and distorted, and her lips
"Well, you see, if there's anything I've not understood," said Pyotr
Stepanovitch, as though in alarm, talking more quickly than ever, "it's
his fault, of course, for writing like that. Here's the letter. You
know, Varvara Petrovna, his letters are endless and incessant, and,
you know, for the last two or three months there has been letter upon
letter, till, I must own, at last I sometimes didn't read them through.
Forgive me, Stepan Trofimovitch, for my foolish confession, but you must
admit, please, that, though you addressed them to me, you wrote them
more for posterity, so that you really can't mind.... Come, come, don't
be offended; we're friends, anyway. But this letter, Varvara Petrovna,
this letter, I did read through. These 'sins'—these 'sins of
another'—are probably some little sins of our own, and I don't mind
betting very innocent ones, though they have suddenly made us take a
fancy to work up a terrible story, with a glamour of the heroic about
it; and it's just for the sake of that glamour we've got it up. You
see there's something a little lame about our accounts—it must be
confessed, in the end. We've a great weakness for cards, you know....
But this is unnecessary, quite unnecessary, I'm sorry, I chatter too
much. But upon my word, Varvara Petrovna, he gave me a fright, and I
really was half prepared to save him. He really made me feel ashamed.
Did he expect me to hold a knife to his throat, or what? Am I such a
merciless creditor? He writes something here of a dowry.... But are you
really going to get married, Stepan Trofimovitch? That would be just
like you, to say a lot for the sake of talking. Ach, Varvara Petrovna,
I'm sure you must be blaming me now, and just for my way of talking
"On the contrary, on the contrary, I see that you are driven out of
all patience, and, no doubt you have had good reason," Varvara Petrovna
answered spitefully. She had listened with spiteful enjoyment to all the
"candid outbursts" of Pyotr Stepanovitch, who was obviously playing
a part (what part I did not know then, but it was unmistakable, and
"On the contrary," she went on, "I'm only too grateful to you for
speaking; but for you I might not have known of it. My eyes are opened
for the first time for twenty years. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, you
said just now that you had been expressly informed; surely Stepan
Trofimovitch hasn't written to you in the same style?"
"I did get a very harmless and... and... very generous letter from
"You hesitate, you pick out your words. That's enough! Stepan
Trofimovitch, I request a great favour from you." She suddenly turned to
him with flashing eyes. "Kindly leave us at once, and never set foot in
my house again."
I must beg the reader to remember her recent "exaltation," which had not
yet passed. It's true that Stepan Trofimovitch was terribly to blame!
But what was a complete surprise to me then was the wonderful dignity of
his bearing under his son's "accusation," which he had never thought of
interrupting, and before Varvara Petrovna's "denunciation." How did he
come by such spirit? I only found out one thing, that he had certainly
been deeply wounded at his first meeting with Petrusha, by the way he
had embraced him. It was a deep and genuine grief; at least in his eyes
and to his heart. He had another grief at the same time, that is the
poignant consciousness of having acted contemptibly. He admitted this
to me afterwards with perfect openness. And you know real genuine sorrow
will sometimes make even a phenomenally frivolous, unstable man solid
and stoical; for a short time at any rate; what's more, even fools are
by genuine sorrow turned into wise men, also only for a short time of
course; it is characteristic of sorrow. And if so, what might not
happen with a man like Stepan Trofimovitch? It worked a complete
transformation—though also only for a time, of course.
He bowed with dignity to Varvara Petrovna without uttering a word (there
was nothing else left for him to do, indeed). He was on the point of
going out without a word, but could not refrain from approaching Darya
Pavlovna. She seemed to foresee that he would do so, for she began
speaking of her own accord herself, in utter dismay, as though in haste
to anticipate him.
"Please, Stepan Trofimovitch, for God's sake, don't say anything," she
began, speaking with haste and excitement, with a look of pain in her
face, hurriedly stretching out her hands to him. "Be sure that I still
respect you as much... and think just as highly of you, and... think
well of me too, Stepan Trofimovitch, that will mean a great deal to me,
a great deal...."
Stepan Trofimovitch made her a very, very low bow.
"It's for you to decide, Darya Pavlovna; you know that you are perfectly
free in the whole matter! You have been, and you are now, and you always
will be," Varvara Petrovna concluded impressively.
"Bah! Now I understand it all!" cried Pyotr Stepanovitch, slapping
himself on the forehead. "But... but what a position I am put in by
all this! Darya Pavlovna, please forgive me!... What do you call your
treatment of me, eh?" he said, addressing his father.
"Pierre, you might speak to me differently, mightn't you, my boy,"
Stepan Trofimovitch observed quite quietly.
"Don't cry out, please," said Pierre, with a wave of his hand. "Believe
me, it's all your sick old nerves, and crying out will do no good at
all. You'd better tell me instead, why didn't you warn me since you
might have supposed I should speak out at the first chance?"
Stepan Trofimovitch looked searchingly at him.
"Pierre, you who know so much of what goes on here, can you really have
known nothing of this business and have heard nothing about it?"
"What? What a set! So it's not enough to be a child in your old age,
you must be a spiteful child too! Varvara Petrovna, did you hear what he
There was a general outcry; but then suddenly an incident took place
which no one could have anticipated.
First of all I must mention that, for the last two or three minutes
Lizaveta Nikolaevna had seemed to be possessed by a new impulse; she
was whispering something hurriedly to her mother, and to Mavriky
Nikolaevitch, who bent down to listen. Her face was agitated, but at the
same time it had a look of resolution. At last she got up from her
seat in evident haste to go away, and hurried her mother whom Mavriky
Nikolaevitch began helping up from her low chair. But it seemed they
were not destined to get away without seeing everything to the end.
Shatov, who had been forgotten by every one in his corner (not far from
Lizaveta Nikolaevna), and who did not seem to know himself why he went
on sitting there, got up from his chair, and walked, without haste, with
resolute steps right across the room to Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, looking
him straight in the face. The latter noticed him approaching at some
distance, and faintly smiled, but when Shatov was close to him he left
When Shatov stood still facing him with his eyes fixed on him, and
without uttering a word, every one suddenly noticed it and there was a
general hush; Pyotr Stepanovitch was the last to cease speaking. Liza
and her mother were standing in the middle of the room. So passed five
seconds; the look of haughty astonishment was followed by one of anger
on Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch's face; he scowled....
And suddenly Shatov swung his long, heavy arm, and with all his might
struck him a blow in the face. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch staggered
Shatov struck the blow in a peculiar way, not at all after the
conventional fashion (if one may use such an expression). It was not a
slap with the palm of his hand, but a blow with the whole fist, and it
was a big, heavy, bony fist covered with red hairs and freckles. If the
blow had struck the nose, it would have broken it. But it hit him on the
cheek, and struck the left corner of the lip and the upper teeth, from
which blood streamed at once.
I believe there was a sudden scream, perhaps Varvara Petrovna
screamed—that I don't remember, because there was a dead hush again;
the whole scene did not last more than ten seconds, however.
Yet a very great deal happened in those seconds.
I must remind the reader again that Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch's was one
of those natures that know nothing of fear. At a duel he could face the
pistol of his opponent with indifference, and could take aim and kill
with brutal coolness. If anyone had slapped him in the face, I should
have expected him not to challenge his assailant to a duel, but to
murder him on the spot. He was just one of those characters, and would
have killed the man, knowing very well what he was doing, and without
losing his self-control. I fancy, indeed, that he never was liable to
those fits of blind rage which deprive a man of all power of reflection.
Even when overcome with intense anger, as he sometimes was, he was
always able to retain complete self-control, and therefore to realise
that he would certainly be sent to penal servitude for murdering a man
not in a duel; nevertheless, he'd have killed any one who insulted him,
and without the faintest hesitation.
I have been studying Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch of late, and through
special circumstances I know a great many facts about him now, at the
time I write. I should compare him, perhaps, with some gentlemen of the
past of whom legendary traditions are still perceived among us. We are
told, for instance, about the Decabrist L—n, that he was always seeking
for danger, that he revelled in the sensation, and that it had become
a craving of his nature; that in his youth he had rushed into duels for
nothing; that in Siberia he used to go to kill bears with nothing but
a knife; that in the Siberian forests he liked to meet with runaway
convicts, who are, I may observe in passing, more formidable than bears.
There is no doubt that these legendary gentlemen were capable of a
feeling of fear, and even to an extreme degree, perhaps, or they would
have been a great deal quieter, and a sense of danger would never have
become a physical craving with them. But the conquest of fear was
what fascinated them. The continual ecstasy of vanquishing and the
consciousness that no one could vanquish them was what attracted them.
The same L——n struggled with hunger for some time before he was sent
into exile, and toiled to earn his daily bread simply because he did not
care to comply with the requests of his rich father, which he considered
unjust. So his conception of struggle was many-sided, and he did not
prize stoicism and strength of character only in duels and bear-fights.
But many years have passed since those times, and the nervous,
exhausted, complex character of the men of to-day is incompatible with
the craving for those direct and unmixed sensations which were so sought
after by some restlessly active gentlemen of the good old days. Nikolay
Vsyevolodovitch would, perhaps, have looked down on L—n, and have
called him a boastful cock-a-hoop coward; it's true he wouldn't have
expressed himself aloud. Stavrogin would have shot his opponent in a
duel, and would have faced a bear if necessary, and would have defended
himself from a brigand in the forest as successfully and as fearlessly
as L—n, but it would be without the slightest thrill of enjoyment,
languidly, listlessly, even with ennui and entirely from unpleasant
necessity. In anger, of course, there has been a progress compared with
L—n, even compared with Lermontov. There was perhaps more malignant
anger in Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch than in both put together, but it was a
calm, cold, if one may so say, reasonable anger, and therefore the most
revolting and most terrible possible. I repeat again, I considered him
then, and I still consider him (now that everything is over), a man who,
if he received a slap in the face, or any equivalent insult, would be
certain to kill his assailant at once, on the spot, without challenging
Yet, in the present case, what happened was something different and
He had scarcely regained his balance after being almost knocked over in
this humiliating way, and the horrible, as it were, sodden, thud of
the blow in the face had scarcely died away in the room when he seized
Shatov by the shoulders with both hands, but at once, almost at the same
instant, pulled both hands away and clasped them behind his back. He did
not speak, but looked at Shatov, and turned as white as his shirt. But,
strange to say, the light in his eyes seemed to die out. Ten seconds
later his eyes looked cold, and I'm sure I'm not lying—calm. Only he
was terribly pale. Of course I don't know what was passing within the
man, I saw only his exterior. It seems to me that if a man should snatch
up a bar of red-hot iron and hold it tight in his hand to test his
fortitude, and after struggling for ten seconds with insufferable pain
end by overcoming it, such a man would, I fancy, go through something
like what Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch was enduring during those ten seconds.
Shatov was the first to drop his eyes, and evidently because he was
unable to go on facing him; then he turned slowly and walked out of the
room, but with a very different step. He withdrew quietly, with peculiar
awkwardness, with his shoulders hunched, his head hanging as though
he were inwardly pondering something. I believe he was whispering
something. He made his way to the door carefully, without stumbling
against anything or knocking anything over; he opened the door a very
little way, and squeezed through almost sideways. As he went out his
shock of hair standing on end at the back of his head was particularly
Then first of all one fearful scream was heard. I saw Lizaveta
Nikolaevna seize her mother by the shoulder and Mavriky Nikolaevitch by
the arm and make two or three violent efforts to draw them out of the
room. But she suddenly uttered a shriek, and fell full length on the
floor, fainting. I can hear the thud of her head on the carpet to this