Albert by Lyof N. Tolstoi
Translator: Nathan Haskell Dole
Five rich young men went at three o'clock in the morning to a ball in
Petersburg to have a good time.
Much champagne was drunk; a majority of the gentlemen were very young; the
girls were pretty; a pianist and a fiddler played indefatigably one polka
after another; there was no cease to the noise of conversation and dancing.
But there was a sense of awkwardness and constraint; every one felt somehow
or other—and this is not unusual—that all was not as it should be.
There were several attempts made to make things more lively, but simulated
liveliness is much worse than melancholy.
One of the five young men, who was more discontented than any one else,
both with himself and with the others, and who had been feeling all the
evening a sense of disgust, took his hat, and went out noiselessly on
purpose, intending to go home.
There was no one in the ante-room, but in the next room at the door he
heard two voices disputing. The young man paused, and listened.
"It is impossible, there are guests in there," said a woman's voice.
"Come, let me in, please. I will not do any harm," urged a man in a gentle
"Indeed I will not without madame's permission," said the woman. "Where are
you going? Oh, what a man you are!"
The door was flung open, and on the threshold appeared the figure of a
stranger. Seeing a guest, the maid ceased to detain the man; and the
stranger, timidly bowing, came into the room with a somewhat unsteady gait.
He was a man of medium stature, with a lank, crooked back, and long
dishevelled hair. He wore a short paletot, and tight ragged pantaloons over
coarse dirty boots. His necktie, twisted into a string, exposed his long
white neck. His shirt was filthy, and the sleeves came down over his lean
But, notwithstanding his thoroughly emaciated body, his face was attractive
and fair; and a fresh color even mantled his cheeks under his thin dark
beard and side-whiskers. His dishevelled locks, thrown back, exposed a low
and remarkably pure forehead. His dark, languid eyes looked unswervingly
forward with an expression of serenity, submission, and sweetness, which
made a fascinating combination with the expression of his fresh, curved
lips, visible under his thin moustache.
Advancing a few steps, he paused, turned to the young man, and smiled. He
found it apparently rather hard to smile. But his face was so lighted up by
it, that the young man, without knowing why, smiled in return.
"Who is that man?" he asked of the maid in a whisper, as the stranger
walked toward the room where the dancing was going on.
"A crazy musician from the theatre," replied the maid. "He sometimes comes
to call upon madame."
"Where are you going, Delesof?" some one at this moment called from the
The young man who was called Delesof returned to the drawing-room. The
musician was now standing at the door; and, as his eyes fell on the
dancers, he showed by his smile and by the beating of his foot how much
pleasure this spectacle afforded him.
"Won't you come, and have a dance too?" said one of the guests to him. The
musician bowed, and looked at the hostess inquiringly.
"Come, come. Why not, since the gentlemen have invited you?" said the
hostess. The musician's thin, weak face suddenly assumed an expression of
decision; and smiling and winking, and shuffling his feet, he awkwardly,
clumsily went to join the dancers in the drawing-room.
In the midst of a quadrille a jolly officer, who was dancing very
beautifully and with great liveliness, accidentally hit the musician in the
back. His weak, weary legs lost their equilibrium; and the musician, making
ineffectual struggles to keep his balance, measured his length on the
Notwithstanding the sharp, hard sound made by his fall, almost everybody at
the first moment laughed.
But the musician did not rise. The guests grew silent, even the piano
ceased to sound. Delesof and the hostess were the first to reach the
prostrate musician. He was lying on his elbow, and gloomily looking at the
ground. When he had been lifted to his feet, and set in a chair, he threw
back his hair from his forehead with a quick motion of his bony hand, and
began to smile without replying to the questions that were put.
"Mr. Albert! Mr. Albert!" exclaimed the hostess. "Were you hurt? Where?
Now, I told you that you had better not try to dance.... He is so weak,"
she added, addressing her guests. "It takes all his strength."
"Who is he?" some one asked the hostess.
"A poor man, an artist. A very nice young fellow; but he's a sad case, as
you can see."
She said this without paying the least heed to the musician's presence. He
suddenly opened his eyes as though frightened at something, collected
himself, and remarked to those who were standing about him, "It's nothing
at all," said he suddenly, arising from the chair with evident effort.
And in order to show that he had suffered no injury, he went into the
middle of the room, and was going to dance; but he tottered, and would have
fallen again, had he not been supported.
Everybody felt constrained. All looked at him, and no one spoke. The
musician's glance again lost its vivacity; and, apparently forgetting that
any one was looking, he put his hand to his knee. Suddenly he raised his
head, advanced one faltering foot, and, with the same awkward gesture as
before, tossed back his hair, and went to a violin-case, and took out the
"It was nothing at all," said he again, waving the violin. "Gentlemen, we
will have a little music."
"What a strange face!" said the guests among themselves.
"Maybe there is great talent lurking in that unhappy creature," said one of
"Yes: it's a sad case,—a sad case," said another.
"What a lovely face!... There is something extraordinary about it," said
Delesof. "Let us have a look at him."...
Albert by this time, not paying attention to any one, had raised his violin
to his shoulder, and was slowly crossing over to the piano, and tuning his
instrument. His lips were drawn into an expression of indifference, his
eyes were almost shut; but his lank, bony back, his long white neck, his
crooked legs, and disorderly black hair presented a strange but somehow not
entirely ridiculous appearance. After he had tuned his violin, he struck a
quick chord, and, throwing back his head, turned to the pianist who was
waiting to accompany him. "Melancholie, G sharp," he said, turning to the
pianist with a peremptory gesture. And immediately after, as though in
apology for his peremptory gesture, he smiled sweetly, and with the same
smile turned to his audience again.
Tossing back his hair with the hand that held the bow, Albert stood at one
side of the piano, and, with a flowing motion of the bow, touched the
strings. Through the room there swept a pure, harmonious sound, which
instantly brought absolute silence.
At first, it was as though a ray of unexpectedly brilliant light had
flashed across the inner world of each hearer's consciousness; and the
notes of the theme immediately followed, pouring forth abundant and
Not one discordant or imperfect note distracted the attention of the
listeners. All the tones were clear, beautiful, and full of meaning. All
silently, with trembling expectation, followed the development of the
theme. From a state of tedium, of noisy gayety, or of deep drowsiness, into
which these people had fallen, they were suddenly transported to a world
whose existence they had forgotten.
In one instant there arose in their souls, now a sentiment as though they
were contemplating the past, now of passionate remembrance of some
happiness, now the boundless longing for power and glory, now the feelings
of humility, of unsatisfied love, and of melancholy.
Now bitter-sweet, now vehemently despairing, the notes, freely
intermingling, poured forth and poured forth, so sweetly, so powerfully,
and so spontaneously, that it was not so much that sounds were heard, as
that some sort of beautiful stream of poetry, long known, but now for the
first time expressed, gushed through the soul.
At each note that he played, Albert grew taller and taller. At a little
distance, he had no appearance of being either crippled or peculiar.
Pressing the violin to his chin, and with an expression of listening with
passionate attention to the tones that he produced, he convulsively moved
his feet. Now he straightened himself up to his full height, now
thoughtfully leaned forward.
His left hand, curving over spasmodically on the strings, seemed as though
it had swooned in its position, while it was only the bony fingers that
changed about spasmodically; the right hand moved smoothly, gracefully,
His face shone with complete, enthusiastic delight; his eyes gleamed with a
radiant, steely light; his nostrils quivered, his red lips were parted in
Sometimes his head bent down closer to his violin, his eyes almost closed,
and his face, half shaded by his long locks, lighted up with a smile of
genuine blissfulness. Sometimes he quickly straightened himself up, changed
from one leg to the other, and his pure forehead, and the radiant look
which he threw around the room, were alive with pride, greatness, and the
consciousness of power. Once the pianist made a mistake, and struck a false
chord. Physical pain was apparent in the whole form and face of the
musician. He paused for a second, and with an expression of childish anger
stamped his foot, and cried, "Moll, ce moll!" The pianist corrected his
mistake; Albert closed his eyes, smiled, and, again forgetting himself and
everybody else, gave himself up with beatitude to his work. Everybody who
was in the room while Albert was playing preserved an attentive silence,
and seemed to live and breathe only in the music.
The gay officer sat motionless in a chair by the window, with his eyes
fixed upon the floor, and drawing long heavy sighs. The girls, awed by the
universal silence, sat along by the walls, only occasionally exchanging
glances expressive of satisfaction or perplexity.
The fat smiling face of the hostess was radiant with happiness. The pianist
kept his eyes fixed on Albert's face, and while his whole figure from head
to foot showed his solicitude lest he should make some mistake, he did his
best to follow him. One of the guests, who had been drinking more heavily
than the rest, lay at full length on the sofa, and tried not to move lest
he should betray his emotion. Delesof experienced an unusual sensation. It
seemed as though an icy band, now contracting, now expanding, were pressed
upon his head. The roots of his hair seemed endued with consciousness; the
cold shivers ran down his back, something rose higher and higher in his
throat, his nose and palate were full of little needles, and the tears
stole down his cheeks.
He shook himself, tried to swallow them back and wipe them away without
attracting attention, but fresh tears followed and streamed down his face.
By some sort of strange association of impressions, the first tones of
Albert's violin carried Delesof back to his early youth.
Old before his time, weary of life, a broken man, he suddenly felt as
though he were a boy of seventeen again, self-satisfied and handsome,
blissfully dull, unconsciously happy. He remembered his first love for his
cousin who wore a pink dress, he remembered his first confession of it in
the linden alley; he remembered the warmth and the inexpressible charm of
the fortuitous kiss; he remembered the immensity and enigmatical mystery of
Nature as it surrounded them then.
In his imagination as it went back in its flight, she gleamed in a mist
of indefinite hopes, of incomprehensible desires, and the indubitable faith
in the possibility of impossible happiness. All the priceless moments of
that time, one after the other, arose before him, not like unmeaning
instants of the fleeting present, but like the immutable, full-formed,
reproachful images of the past.
He contemplated them with rapture, and wept,—wept not because the time had
passed and he might have spent it more profitably (if that time had been
given to him again he would not have spent it any more profitably), but he
wept because it had passed and would never return. His recollections
evolved themselves without effort, and Albert's violin was their
mouthpiece. It said, "They have passed, forever passed, the days of thy
strength, of love, and of happiness; passed forever, and never will return.
Weep for them, shed all thy tears, let thy life pass in tears for these
days; this is the only and best happiness that remains to thee."
At the end of the next variation, Albert's face grew serene, his eyes
flushed, great clear drops of sweat poured down his cheeks. The veins
swelled on his forehead; his whole body swayed more and more; his pale lips
were parted, and his whole figure expressed an enthusiastic craving for
enjoyment. Despairingly swaying with his whole body, and throwing back his
hair, he laid down his violin, and with a smile of proud satisfaction and
happiness gazed at the bystanders. Then his back assumed its ordinary
curve, his head sank, his lips grew set, his eyes lost their fire; and as
though he were ashamed of himself, timidly glancing round, and stumbling,
he went into the next room.
Something strange came over all the audience, and something strange was
noticeable in the dead silence that succeeded Albert's playing. It was as
though each desired, and yet dared not, to acknowledge the meaning of it
What did it mean,—this brightly lighted, warm room, these brilliant women,
the dawn just appearing at the windows, these hurrying pulses, and the pure
impressions made by the fleeting tones of music? But no one ventured to
acknowledge the meaning of it all; on the contrary, almost all, feeling
incapable of throwing themselves completely under the influence of what the
new impression concealed from them, rebelled against it.
"Well, now, he plays mighty well," said the officer.
"Wonderfully," replied Delesof, stealthily wiping his cheek with his
"One thing sure, it's time to be going, gentlemen," said the gentleman who
had been lying on the sofa, straightening himself up a little. "We'll have
to give him something, gentlemen. Let us make a collection."
At this time, Albert was sitting alone in the next room, on the sofa. As he
supported himself with his elbows on his bony knees, he smoothed his face
with his dirty, sweaty hand, tossed back his hair, and smiled at his own
A large collection was taken up, and Delesof was chosen to present it.
Aside from this, Delesof, who had been so keenly and unwontedly affected by
the music, had conceived the thought of conferring some benefit upon this
It came into his head to take him home with him, to feed him, to establish
him somewhere,—in other words, to lift him from his vile position.
"Well, are you tired?" asked Delesof, approaching him. Albert replied with
a smile. "You have creative talent; you ought seriously to devote yourself
to music, to play in public."
"I should like to have something to drink," exclaimed Albert, as though
suddenly waking up.
Delesof brought him some wine, and the musician greedily drained two
"What splendid wine!" he exclaimed.
"What a lovely thing that Melancholie is!" said Delesof.
"Oh, yes, yes," replied Albert with a smile. "But pardon me, I do not know
with whom I have the honor to be talking; maybe you are a count or a
prince. Couldn't you let me have a little money?" He paused for a moment.
"I have nothing—I am a poor man: I couldn't pay it back to you."
Delesof flushed, grew embarrassed, and hastened to hand the musician the
money that had been collected for him.
"Very much obliged to you," said Albert, seizing the money. "Now let us
have some more music; I will play for you as much as you wish. Only let me
have something to drink, something to drink," he repeated, as he started to
Delesof gave him some more wine, and asked him to sit down by him.
"Pardon me if I am frank with you," said Delesof. "Your talent has
interested me so much. It seems to me that you are in a wretched position."
Albert glanced now at Delesof, now at the hostess, who just then came into
"Permit me to help you," continued Delesof. "If you need any thing, then I
should be very glad if you would come and stay with me for a while. I live
alone, and maybe I could be of some service to you."
Albert smiled, and made no reply.
"Why don't you thank him?" said the hostess. "It seems to me that this
would be a capital thing for you.—Only I would not advise you," she
continued, turning to Delesof, and shaking her head warningly.
"Very much obliged to you," said Albert, seizing Delesof's hand with both
his moist ones. "Only now let us have some music, please."
But the rest of the guests were already making their preparations to
depart; and as Albert did not address them, they came out into the
Albert bade the hostess farewell; and having taken his worn hat with wide
brim, and a last summer's alma viva, which composed his only protection
against the winter, he went with Delesof down the steps.
As soon as Delesof took his seat in his carriage with his new friend, and
became conscious of that unpleasant odor of intoxication and filthiness
exhaled by the musician, he began to repent of the step that he had taken,
and to curse himself for his childish softness of heart and lack of reason.
Moreover, all that Albert said was so foolish and in such bad taste, and he
seemed so near a sudden state of beastly intoxication, that Delesof was
disgusted. "What shall I do with him?" he asked himself.
After they had been driving for a quarter of an hour, Albert relapsed into
silence, took off his hat, and laid it on his knee, then threw himself into
a corner of the carriage, and began to snore.... The wheels crunched
monotonously over the frozen snow, the feeble light of dawn scarcely made
its way through the frosty windows.
Delesof glanced at his companion. His long body, wrapped in his mantle, lay
almost lifeless near him. It seemed to him that a long head with large
black nose was swaying on his trunk; but on examining more closely he
perceived that what he took to be nose and face was the man's hair, and
that his actual face was lower down.
He bent over, and studied the features of Albert's face. Then the beauty of
his brow and of his peacefully closed mouth once more charmed him. Under
the influence of nervous excitement caused by the sleepless hours of the
long night and the music, Delesof, as he looked at that face, was once more
carried back to the blessed world of which he had caught a glimpse once
before that night; again he remembered the happy and magnanimous time of
his youth, and he ceased to repent of his rashness. At that moment he loved
Albert truly and warmly, and firmly resolved to be a benefactor to him.
The next morning when Delesof was awakened to go to his office, he saw,
with an unpleasant feeling of surprise, his old screen, his old servant,
and his clock on the table.
"What did I expect to see if not the usual objects that surround me?" he
Then he recollected the musician's black eyes and happy smile; the motive
of the Melancholie and all the strange experiences of the night came back
into his consciousness. It was never his way, however, to reconsider
whether he had done wisely or foolishly in taking the musician home with
him. After he had dressed, he carefully laid out his plans for the day: he
took some paper, wrote out some necessary directions for the house, and
hastily put on his cloak and galoshes.
As he went by the dining-room he glanced in at the door. Albert, with his
face buried in the pillow and lying at full length in his dirty, tattered
shirt, was buried in the profoundest slumber on the saffron sofa, where in
absolute unconsciousness he had been laid the night before.
Delesof felt that something was not right: it disturbed him. "Please go for
me to Boriuzovsky, and borrow his violin for a day or two," said he to his
man; "and when he wakes up, bring him some coffee, and get him some clean
linen and some old suit or other of mine. Fix him up as well as you can,
When he returned home in the afternoon, Delesof, to his surprise, found
that Albert was not there.
"Where is he?" he asked of his man.
"He went out immediately after dinner," replied the servant. "He took the
violin, and went out, saying that he would be back again in an hour; but
since that time we have not seen him."
"Ta, ta! how provoking!" said Delesof. "Why did you let him go, Zakhár?"
Zakhár was a Petersburg lackey, who had been in Delesof's service for eight
years. Delesof, as a single young bachelor, could not help intrusting him
with his plans; and he liked to get his judgment in regard to each of his
"How should I have ventured to detain him?" replied Zakhár, playing with
his watch-charms. "If you had intimated, Dmitri Ivánovitch, that you wished
me to keep him here, I might have kept him at home. But you only spoke of
"Ta! how vexatious! Well, what has he been doing while I was out?"
"Indeed, he's a real artist, as you may say, Dmitri Ivánovitch. As soon as
he woke up he asked for some madeira: then he began to keep the cook and me
pretty busy. Such an absurd.... However, he's a very interesting character.
I brought him some tea, got some dinner ready for him; but he would not eat
alone, so he asked me to sit down with him. But when he began to play on
the fiddle, then I knew that you would not find many such artists at
Izler's. One might well keep such a man. When he played 'Down the Little
Mother Volga' for us, why, it was enough to make a man weep. It was too
good for any thing! The people from all the floors came down into our
entry to listen."
"Well, did you give him some clothes?" asked the bárin.
"Certainly I did: I gave him your dress-shirt, and I put on him an overcoat
of mine. You want to help such a man as that, he's a fine fellow." Zakhár
smiled. "He asked me what rank you were, and if you had had important
acquaintances, and how many souls of peasantry you had."
"Very good: but now we must send and find him; and henceforth don't give
him any thing to drink, otherwise you'll do him more harm than good."
"That is true," said Zakhár in assent. "He doesn't seem in very robust
health: we used to have an overseer who, like him"....
Delesof, who had already long ago heard the story of the drunken overseer,
did not give Zakhár time to finish, but bade him make every thing ready for
the night, and then go out and bring the musician back.
He threw himself down on his bed, and put out the candle; but it was long
before he fell asleep, for thinking about Albert.
"This may seem strange to some of my friends," said Delesof to himself,
"but how seldom it is that I can do any thing for any one beside myself!
and I ought to thank God for a chance when one presents itself. I will not
send him away. I will do every thing, at least every thing that I can, to
help him. Maybe he is not absolutely crazy, but only inclined to get drunk.
It certainly will not cost me very much. Where one is, there is always
enough to satisfy two. Let him live with me a while, and then we will find
him a place, or get him up a concert; we'll help him off the shoals, and
then there will be time enough to see what will come of it." An agreeable
sense of self-satisfaction came over him after making this resolution.
"Certainly I am not a bad man: I might say I am far from being a bad man,"
he thought. "I might go so far as to say that I am a good man, when I
compare myself with others."
He was just dropping off to sleep when the sound of opening doors, and
steps in the ante-room, roused him again. "Well, shall I treat him rather
severely?" he asked himself; "I suppose that is best, and I ought to do
"Well, did you find him?" he asked of Zakhár, who answered his call.
"He's a poor, wretched fellow, Dmitri Ivánovitch," said Zakhár, shaking his
head significantly, and closing his eyes.
"What! is he drunk?"
"Had he the violin with him?"
"I brought it: the lady gave it to me."
"All right. Now please don't bring him to me to-night: let him sleep it
off; and to-morrow don't under any circumstances let him out of the house."
But before Zakhár had time to leave the room, Albert came in.
"You don't mean to say that you've gone to bed at this time," said Albert
with a smile. "I was there again, at Anna Ivánovna's. I spent a very
pleasant evening. We had music, told stories; there was a very pleasant
company there. Please let me have a glass of something to drink," he added,
seizing a carafe of water that stood on the table, "only not water."
Albert was just as he had been the night before,—the same lovely smiling
eyes and lips, the same fresh inspired brow, and weak features. Zakhár's
overcoat fitted him as though it had been made for him, and the clean,
tall, stiffly-starched collar of the dress-shirt picturesquely fitted
around his delicate white neck, giving him a peculiarly childlike and
He sat down on Delesof's bed, smiling with pleasure and gratitude, and
looked at him without speaking. Delesof gazed into Albert's eyes, and
suddenly felt himself once under the sway of that smile. All desire for
sleep vanished from him, he forgot his resolution to be stern: on the
contrary, he felt like having a gay time, to hear some music, and to talk
confidentially with Albert till morning. Delesof bade Zakhár bring a bottle
of wine, cigarettes, and the violin.
"This is excellent," said Albert. "It's early yet, we'll have a little
music. I will play whatever you like."
Zakhár, with evident satisfaction, brought a bottle of Lafitte, two
glasses, some mild cigarettes such as Albert smoked, and the violin. But,
instead of going off to bed as his bárin bade him, he lighted a cigar, and
sat down in the next room.
"Let us talk instead," said Delesof to the musician, who was beginning to
tune the violin.
Albert sat down submissively on the bed, and smiled pleasantly.
"Oh, yes!" said he, suddenly striking his forehead with his hand, and
putting on an expression of anxious curiosity. The expression of his face
always foretold what he was going to say. "I wanted to ask you,"—he
hesitated a little,—"that gentleman who was there with you last
evening.... You called him N. Was he the son of the celebrated N.?"
"His own son," replied Delesof, not understanding at all what Albert could
find of interest in him.
"Indeed!" he exclaimed, smiling with satisfaction. "I instantly noticed
that there was something peculiarly aristocratic in his manners. I love
aristocrats. There is something splendid and elegant about an aristocrat.
And that officer who danced so beautifully," he went on to ask. "He also
pleased me very much, he was so gay and noble looking. It seems he is
called Adjutant N. N."
"Who?" asked Delesof.
"The one who ran into me when we were dancing. He must be a splendid man."
"No, he is a silly fellow," replied Delesof.
"Oh, no! it can't be," rejoined Albert hotly. "There's something very, very
pleasant about him. And he's a fine musician," added Albert. "He played
something from an opera. It's a long time since I have seen any one who
pleased me so much."
"Yes, he plays very well; but I don't like his playing," said Delesof,
anxious to bring his companion to talk about music. "He does not understand
classic music, but only Donizetti and Bellini; and that's no music, you
know. You agree with me, don't you?"
"Oh, no, no! Pardon me," replied Albert with a gentle expression of
vindication. "The old music is music; but modern music is music too. And in
the modern music there are extraordinarily beautiful things. Now,
'Somnambula,' and the finale of 'Lucia,' and Chopin, and 'Robert'! I
often think,"—he hesitated, apparently collecting his thoughts,—"that if
Beethoven were alive, he would weep tears of joy to hear 'Somnambula.' It's
so beautiful all through. I heard 'Somnambula' first when Viardot and
Rubini were here. That was something worth while," he said, with shining
eyes, and making a gesture with both hands, as though he were casting
something from his breast. "I'd give a good deal, but it would be
impossible, to bring it back."
"Well, but how do you like the opera nowadays?" asked Delesof.
"Bosio is good, very good," was his reply, "exquisite beyond words; but she
does not touch me here," he said, pointing to his sunken chest. "A singer
must have passion, and she hasn't any. She is enjoyable, but she doesn't
"Well, how about Lablache?"
"I heard him in Paris, in 'The Barber of Seville.' Then he was the only
one, but now he is old. He can't be an artist, he is old."
"Well, supposing he is old, still he is fine in morceaux d'ensemble,"
said Delesof, still speaking of Lablache.
"Who said that he was old?" said Albert severely. "He can't be old. The
artist can never be old. Much is needed in an artist, but fire most of
all," he declared with glistening eyes, and raising both hands in the air.
And, indeed, a terrible inner fire seemed to glow throughout his whole
frame. "Ah, my God!" he exclaimed suddenly. "You don't know Petrof, do
you,—Petrof, the artist?"
"No, I don't know him," replied Delesof with a smile.
"How I wish that you and he might become acquainted! You would enjoy
talking with him. How he does understand art! He and I often used to meet
at Anna Ivánovna's, but now she is vexed with him for some reason or other.
But I really wish that you might make his acquaintance. He has great, great
"Oh! Does he paint pictures?" asked Delesof.
"I don't know. No, I think not; but he was an artist of the Academy. What
thoughts he had! Whenever he talks, it is wonderful. Oh, Petrof has great
talent, only he leads a very gay life!... It's too bad," said Albert with a
smile. The next moment he got up from the bed, took the violin, and began
"Have you been at the opera lately?" asked Delesof.
Albert looked round, and sighed.
"Ah, I have not been able to!" he said, clutching his head. Again he sat
down by Delesof. "I will tell you," he went on to say, almost in a whisper.
"I can't go: I can't play there. I have nothing, nothing at all,—no
clothes, no home, no violin. It's a wretched life,—a wretched life!" he
repeated the phrase. "Yes, and why have I got into such a state? Why,
indeed? It ought not to have been," said he, smiling. "Akh! Don Juan."
And he struck his head.
"Now let us have something to eat," said Delesof.
Albert, without replying, sprang up, seized the violin, and began to play
the finale of the first act of "Don Juan," accompanying it with a
description of the scene in the opera.
Delesof felt the hair stand up on his head, when he played the voice of the
"No, I cannot play to-night," said Albert, laying down the instrument. "I
have been drinking too much." But immediately after he went to the table,
poured out a brimming glass of wine, drank it at one gulp, and again sat
down on the bed near Delesof.
Delesof looked steadily at Albert. The latter occasionally smiled, and
Delesof returned his smile. Neither of them spoke, but the glance and smile
brought them close together into a reciprocity of affection. Delesof felt
that he was growing constantly fonder and fonder of this man, and he
experienced an inexpressible pleasure.
"Were you ever in love?" he asked suddenly. Albert remained sunk in thought
for a few seconds, then his face lighted up with a melancholy smile. He
bent over toward Delesof, and gazed straight into his eyes.
"Why did you ask me that question?" he whispered. "But I will tell you all
about it. I like you," he added, after a few moments of thought, and
glancing around. "I will not deceive you, I will tell you all, just as it
was, from the beginning." He paused, and his eyes took on a strange wild
appearance. "You know that I am weak in judgment," he said suddenly. "Yes,
yes," he continued. "Anna Ivánovna has told you about it. She tells
everybody that I am crazy. It isn't true, she says it for a joke; she is a
good woman, but I really have not been quite well for some time." Albert
paused again, and stood up, gazing with wide-opened eyes at the dark door.
"You asked me if I had ever been in love. Yes, I have been in love," he
whispered, raising his brows. "That happened long ago; it was at a time
when I still had a place at the theatre. I went to play second violin at
the opera, and she came into a parquet box at the left."
Albert stood up, and bent over to Delesof's ear. "But no," said he, "why
should I mention her name? You probably know her, everybody knows her. I
said nothing, but simply looked at her: I knew that I was a poor artist,
and she an aristocratic lady. I knew that very well. I only looked at her,
and had no thoughts."
Albert paused for a moment, as though making sure of his recollections.
"How it happened I know not, but I was invited once to accompany her on my
violin.... Now I was only a poor artist!" he repeated, shaking his head and
smiling. "But no, I cannot tell you, I cannot!" he exclaimed, again
clutching his head. "How happy I was!"
"What? did you go to her house often?" asked Delesof.
"Once, only once.... But it was my own fault; I wasn't in my right mind. I
was a poor artist, and she an aristocratic lady. I ought not to have spoken
to her. But I lost my senses, I committed a folly. Petrof told me the
truth: 'It would have been better only to have seen her at the theatre.'"
"What did you do?" asked Delesof.
"Ah! wait, wait, I cannot tell you that."
And, hiding his face in his hands, he said nothing for some time.
"I was late at the orchestra. Petrof and I had been drinking that evening,
and I was excited. She was sitting in her box, and talking with some
general. I don't know who that general was. She was sitting at the very
edge of the box, with her arm resting on the rim. She wore a white dress,
with pearls on her neck. She was talking with him, but she looked at me.
Twice she looked at me. She had arranged her hair in such a becoming way! I
stopped playing, and stood near the bass, and gazed at her. Then, for the
first time, something strange took place in me. She smiled on the general,
but she looked at me. I felt certain that she was talking about me; and
suddenly I seemed to be not in my place in the orchestra, but was standing
in her box, and seizing her hand in that place. What was the meaning of
that?" asked Albert, after a moment's silence.
"A powerful imagination," said Delesof.
"No, no, ... I cannot tell," said Albert frowning. "Even then I was poor. I
hadn't any room; and when I went to the theatre, I sometimes used to sleep
"What, in the theatre?" asked Delesof.
"Ah! I am not afraid of these stupid things. Ah! just wait a moment. As
soon as everybody was gone, I went to that box where she had been sitting,
and slept there. That was my only pleasure. How many nights I spent there!
Only once again did I have that experience. At night many things seemed to
come to me. But I cannot tell you much about them." Albert contracted his
brows, and looked at Delesof. "What did it mean?" he asked.
"It was strange," replied the other.
"No, wait, wait!" he bent over to his ear, and said in a whisper,—
"I kissed her hand, wept there before her, and said many things to her. I
heard the fragrance of her sighs, I heard her voice. She said many things
to me that one night. Then I took my violin, and began to play softly. And
I played beautifully. But it became terrible to me. I am not afraid of such
stupid things, and I don't believe in them, but my head felt terribly," he
said, smiling sweetly, and moving his hand over his forehead. "It seemed
terrible to me on account of my poor mind; something happened in my head.
Maybe it was nothing; what do you think?"
Neither spoke for several minutes.
"Und wenn die Wolken sie verhüllen,
Die Sonne bleibt doch ewig klar."
hummed Albert, smiling gently. "That is true, isn't it?" he asked.
"Ich auch habe gelebt und genossen."
"Ah, old man Petrof! how this would have made things clear to you!"
Delesof, in silence and with dismay, looked at his companion's excited and
"Do you know the Juristen waltzes?" suddenly asked Albert in a loud voice,
and without waiting for an answer, jumped up, seized the violin, and began
to play the waltz. In absolute self-forgetfulness, and evidently imagining
that a whole orchestra was playing for him, Albert smiled, began to dance,
to shuffle his feet, and to play admirably.
"Hey, we will have a good time!" he exclaimed, as he ended, and waved his
violin. "I am going," said he, after sitting down in silence for a little.
"Won't you come along too?"
"Where?" asked Delesof in surprise.
"Let us go to Anna Ivánovna's again. It's gay there,—bustle, people,
Delesof for a moment was almost persuaded. However, coming to his senses,
he promised Albert that he would go with him the next day.
"I should like to go this minute."
"Indeed, I wouldn't go."
Albert sighed, and laid down the violin.
"Shall I stay, then?" He looked over at the table, but the wine was gone;
and so, wishing him a good-night, he left the room.
Delesof rang. "Look here," said he to Zakhár, "don't let Mr. Albert go
anywhere without asking me about it first."
The next day was a holiday. Delesof, on waking, sat in his parlor, drinking
his coffee and reading a book. Albert, who was in the next room, had not
yet moved. Zakhár discreetly opened the door, and looked into the
"Would you believe it, Dmitri Ivánovitch, there he lies asleep on the bare
sofa. I would not send him away for any thing, God knows. He's like a
little child. Indeed, he's an artist!"
At twelve o'clock, there was a sound of yawning and coughing on the other
side of the door.
Zakhár again crept into the dining-room; and the bárin heard his wheedling
voice, and Albert's gentle, beseeching voice.
"Well, how is he?" asked Delesof, when Zakhár came out.
"He feels blue, Dmitri Ivánovitch. He doesn't want to get dressed. He's so
cross. All he asks for is something to drink."
"Now, if we are to get hold of him, we must strengthen his character," said
Delesof to himself. And, forbidding Zakhár to give him any wine, he again
devoted himself to his book; in spite of himself, however, listening all
the time for developments in the dining-room.
But there was no movement there, only occasionally were heard a heavy chest
cough and spitting. Two hours passed. Delesof, after dressing to go out,
resolved to look in upon his guest. Albert was sitting motionless at the
window, leaning his head on his hands.
He looked round. His face was sallow, morose, and not only melancholy but
deeply unhappy. He tried to welcome his host with a smile, but his face
assumed a still more woe-begone expression. It seemed as though he were on
the point of tears.
With effort he stood up and bowed. "If I might have just a little glass of
simple vodka," he exclaimed with a supplicating expression. "I am so weak.
If you please!"
"Coffee will be more strengthening, I would advise you."
Albert's face lost its childish expression; he gazed coldly, sadly, out of
the window, and fell back into the chair.
"Wouldn't you like some breakfast?"
"No, thank you, I haven't any appetite."
"If you want to play on the violin, you will not disturb me," said Delesof,
laying the instrument on the table. Albert looked at the violin with a
"No, I am too weak, I cannot play," he said, and pushed the instrument from
After that, in reply to all Delesof's propositions to go to walk, to go to
the theatre in the evening, or any thing else, he only shook his head
mournfully, and refused to speak.
Delesof went out, made a few calls, dined out, and before the theatre hour,
he returned to his rooms to change his attire and find out how the musician
was getting along.
Albert was sitting in the dark ante-room, and, with his head resting on his
hand, was gazing at the heated stove. He was neatly dressed, washed and
combed; but his eyes were sad and vacant, and his whole form expressed even
more weakness and debility than in the morning.
"Well, have you had dinner, Mr. Albert?" asked Delesof.
Albert nodded his head, and, after looking with a terrified expression at
Delesof, dropped his eyes. It made Delesof feel uncomfortable.
"I have been talking to-day with a manager," said he, also dropping his
eyes. "He would be very glad to make terms with you, if you would like to
accept an engagement."
"I thank you, but I cannot play," said Albert, almost in a whisper; and he
went into his room, and closed the door as softly as possible. After a few
minutes, lifting the latch as softly as possible, he came out of the room,
bringing the violin. Casting a sharp, angry look at Delesof, he laid the
instrument on the table, and again disappeared.
Delesof shrugged his shoulders, and smiled.
"What am I to do now? Wherein am I to blame?" he asked himself.
"Well, how is the musician?" was his first question when he returned home
late that evening.
"Bad," was Zakhár's short and ringing reply. "He sighs all the time, and
coughs, and says nothing at all, only he has asked for vodka four or five
times, and once I gave him some. How can we avoid killing him this way,
Dmitri Ivánovitch? That was the way the overseer"....
"Well, hasn't he played on the fiddle?"
"Didn't even touch it. I took it to him, twice—Well, he took it up slowly,
and carried it out," said Zakhár with a smile. "Do you still bid me refuse
him something to drink?"
"Don't give him any thing to-day; we'll see what'll come of it. What is he
"He has shut himself into the parlor."
Delesof went into his library, took down a few French books, and the
Testament in German. "Put these books to-morrow in his room; and look out,
don't let him get away," said he to Zakhár.
The next morning Zakhár informed his bárin that the musician had not slept
a wink all night. "He kept walking up and down his rooms, and going to the
sideboard to try to open the cupboard and door; but every thing, in spite
of his efforts, remained locked."
Zakhár told how, while he was going to sleep, he heard Albert muttering to
himself in the darkness and gesticulating.
Each day Albert grew more gloomy and taciturn. It seemed as though he were
afraid of Delesof, and his face expressed painful terror whenever their
eyes met. He did not touch either book or violin, and made no replies to
the questions put to him.
On the third day after the musician came to stay with him, Delesof returned
home late in the evening, tired and worried. He had been on the go all day,
attending to his duties. Though they had seemed very simple and easy, yet,
as is often the case, he had not made any progress at all, in spite of his
strenuous endeavors. Afterwards he had stopped at the club, and lost at
whist. He was out of spirits.
"Well, God be with him," he replied to Zakhár, who had been telling him of
Albert's pitiable state. "To-morrow I shall be really worried about him. Is
he willing or not to stay with me, and follow my advice? No? Then it's
idle. I have done the best that I could."
"That's what comes of trying to be a benefactor to people," said he to
himself. "I am putting myself to inconvenience for him. I have taken this
filthy creature into my rooms, which keeps me from receiving strangers in
the morning; I work and trot; and yet he looks upon me as some enemy who,
against his will, would keep him in pound. But the worst is, that he is not
willing to take a step in his own behalf. That's the way with them all."
That word all referred to people in general, and especially to those with
whom he had been associated in business that day. "But what is to be done
for him now? What is he contemplating? Why is he melancholy? Is he
melancholy on account of the debauch from which I rescued him? on account
of the degradation in which he has been? the humiliation from which I saved
him? Can it be that he has fallen so low that it is a burden for him to
look on a pure life?...
"No, this was a childish action," reasoned Delesof. "Why should I undertake
to direct others, when it is as much as I can do to manage my own affairs?"
The impulse came over him to let him go immediately, but after a little
deliberation he postponed it till the morning.
During the night Delesof was aroused by the noise of a falling table in the
ante-room, and the sound of voices and stamping feet.
"Just wait a little, I will tell Dmitri Ivánovitch," said Zakhár's voice;
Albert's voice replied passionately and incoherently.
Delesof leaped up, and went with a candle into the ante-room. Zakhár in his
nightdress was standing against the door; Albert in cap and alma viva was
trying to pull him away, and was screaming at him in a pathetic voice.
"You have no right to detain me; I have a passport; I have not stolen any
thing from you. You must let me go. I will go to the police."
"I beg of you, Dmitri Ivánovitch," said Zakhár, turning to his bárin, and
continuing to stand guard at the door. "He got up in the night, found the
key in my overcoat-pocket, and he has drunk up the whole decanter of sweet
vodka. Was that good? And now he wants to go. You didn't give me orders,
and so I could not let him out."
Albert, seeing Delesof, began to pull still more violently on Zakhár. "No
one has the right to detain me! He cannot do it," he screamed, raising his
voice more and more.
"Let him go, Zakhár," said Delesof. "I do not wish to detain you, and I
have no right to, but I advise you to stay till to-morrow," he added,
"No one has the right to detain me. I am going to the police," screamed
Albert more and more furiously, addressing only Zakhár, and not heeding
Delesof. "Guard!" he suddenly shouted at the top of his voice.
"Now, what are you screaming like that for? You see you are free to go,"
said Zakhár, opening the door.
Albert ceased screaming. "How did they dare? They were going to murder me!
No!" he muttered to himself as he put on his galoshes. Not offering to say
good-by, and still muttering something unintelligible, he went out of the
door. Zakhár accompanied him to the gate, and came back.
"Thank the Lord, Dmitri Ivánovitch! Any longer would have been a sin," said
he to his bárin. "And now we must count the silver."
Delesof only shook his head, and made no reply. There came over him a
lively recollection of the first two evenings which he and the musician had
spent together; he remembered the last wretched days which Albert had spent
there; and above all he remembered the sweet but absurd sentiment of
wonder, of love, and of sympathy, which had been aroused in him by the very
first sight of this strange man; and he began to pity him.
"What will become of him now?" he asked himself. "Without money, without
warm clothing, alone at midnight!" He thought of sending Zakhár after him,
but now it was too late.
"Is it cold out doors?" he asked.
"A healthy frost, Dmitri Ivánovitch," replied the man. "I forgot to tell
you that you will have to buy some more firewood to last till spring."
"But what did you mean by saying that it would last?"
Out of doors it was really cold; but Albert did not feel it, he was so
excited by the wine that he had taken and by the quarrel.
As he entered the street, he looked around him, and rubbed his hands with
pleasure. The street was empty, but the long lines of lights were still
brilliantly gleaming; the sky was clear and beautiful. "What!" he cried,
addressing the lighted window in Delesof's apartments; and then thrusting
his hands in his trousers pockets under his coat, and looking straight
ahead, he walked with heavy and uncertain steps straight up the street.
He felt an absolute weight in his legs and abdomen, something hummed in his
head, some invisible power seemed to hurl him from side to side; but he
still plunged ahead in the direction of where Anna Ivánovna lived.
Strange, disconnected thoughts rushed through his head. Now he remembered
his quarrel with Zakhár, now something recalled the sea and his first
voyage in the steamboat to Russia; now the merry night that he had spent
with some friend in the wine-shop by which he was passing; then suddenly
there came to him a familiar air singing itself in his recollections, and
he seemed to see the object of his passion and the terrible night in the
But notwithstanding their incoherence, all these recollections presented
themselves before his imaginations with such distinctness that when he
closed his eyes he could not tell which was nearer to the reality: what he
was doing, or what he was thinking. He did not realize and he did not feel
how his legs moved, how he staggered and hit against a wall, how he looked
around him, and how he made his way from street to street.
As he went along the Little Morskaya, Albert tripped and fell. Collecting
himself in a moment, he saw before him some huge and magnificent edifice,
and he went toward it.
In the sky not a star was to be seen, nor sign of dawn, nor moon, neither
were there any street-lights there; but all objects were perfectly
distinguishable. The windows of the edifice, which loomed up at the corner
of the street, were brilliantly lighted, but the lights wavered like
reflections. The building kept coming nearer and nearer, clearer and
clearer, to Albert.
But the lights vanished the moment that Albert entered the wide portals.
Inside it was dark. He took a few steps under the vaulted ceiling, and
something like shades glided by and fled at his approach.
"Why did I come here?" wondered Albert; but some irresistible power dragged
him forward into the depths of the immense hall.
There stood some lofty platform, and around it in silence stood what seemed
like little men. "Who is going to speak?" asked Albert. No one answered,
but some one pointed to the platform. There stood now on the platform a
tall, thin man, with bushy hair and dressed in a variegated gown. Albert
immediately recognized his friend Petrof.
"How strange! what is he doing here?" said Albert to himself.
"No, brethren," said Petrof, pointing to something, "you did not appreciate
the man while he was living among you; you did not appreciate him! He was
not a cheap artist, not a merely mechanical performer, not a crazy, ruined
man. He was a genius, a great musical genius, who perished among you
unknown and unvalued."
Albert immediately understood of whom his friend was speaking; but not
wishing to interrupt him, he hung his head modestly. "He, like a sheaf of
straw, was wholly consumed by the sacred fire which we all serve,"
continued the voice. "But he has completely fulfilled all that God gave
him; therefore he ought to be considered a great man. You may despise him,
torture him, humiliate him," continued the voice, more and more
energetically, "but he has been, is, and will be immeasurably higher than
you all. He is happy, he is good. He loved you all alike, or cared for you,
it is all the same; but he has served only that with which he was so highly
endowed. He loved one thing,—beauty, the only infinite good in the world.
Oh, yes, what a man he is! Fall all of you before him. On your knees!"
cried Petrof in a thundering voice.
But another voice mildly answered from another corner of the hall. "I do
not wish to bow my knee before him," said the voice.
Albert instantly recognized Delesof.
"Why is he great? And why should we bow before him? Has he conducted
himself in an honorable and righteous manner? Has he brought society any
advantage? Do we not know how he borrowed money, and never returned it;
how he carried off a violin that belonged to a brother artist, and pawned
"My God! how did he know all that?" said Albert to himself, drooping his
head still lower.
"Do we not know," the voice went on, "how he pandered to the lowest of the
low, pandered to them for money? Do we not know how he was driven out of
the theatre? How Anna Ivánovna threatened to hand him over to the police?"
"My God! that is all true, but protect me," cried Albert. "You are the only
one who knows why I did so."
"Stop, for shame!" cried Petrof's voice again. "What right have you to
accuse him? Have you lived his life? Have you experienced his enthusiasms?"
"Right! right!" whispered Albert.
"Art is the highest manifestation of power in man. It is given only to the
favored few, and it lifts the chosen to such an eminence that the head
swims, and it is hard to preserve its integrity. In art, as in every
struggle, there are heroes who bring all under subjection to them, and
perish if they do not attain their ends."
Petrof ceased speaking; and Albert lifted his head, and tried to shout in a
loud voice, "Right! right!" but his voice died without a sound.
"That is not the case with you. This does not concern you," sternly said
the artist Petrof, addressing Delesof. "Yes, humble him, despise him," he
continued, "for he is better and happier than all the rest of you."
Albert, with rapture in his heart at hearing these words, could not contain
himself, but went up to his friend, and was about to kiss him.
"Get thee gone, I do not know you," replied Petrof. "Go your own way, you
cannot come here."
"Here, you drunken fellow, you cannot come here," cried a policeman at the
Albert hesitated, then collected all his forces, and, endeavoring not to
stumble, crossed over to the next street.
It was only a few steps to Anna Ivánovna's. From the hall of her house a
stream of light fell on the snowy dvor, and at the gate stood sledges and
Clinging with both hands to the balustrade, he made his way up the steps,
and rang the bell.
The maid's sleepy face appeared at the open door, and looked angrily at
"It is impossible," she cried; "I have been forbidden to let you in," and
she slammed the door. The sounds of music and women's voices floated down
Albert sat down on the ground, and leaned his head against the wall, and
shut his eyes. At that very instant a throng of indistinct but correlated
visions took possession of him with fresh force, mastered him, and carried
him off into the beautiful and free domain of fancy.
"Yes! he is better and happier," involuntarily the voice repeated in his
From the door were heard the sounds of a polka. These sounds also told him
that he was better and happier. In a neighboring church was heard the sound
of a prayer-bell; and the prayer-bell also told him that he was better and
"Now I will go back to that hall again," said Albert to himself. "Petrof
must have many things still to tell me."
There seemed to be no one now in the hall; and in the place of the artist
Petrof, Albert himself stood on the platform, and was playing on his violin
all that the voice had said before.
But his violin was of strange make: it was composed of nothing but glass,
and he had to hold it with both hands, and slowly rub it on his breast to
make it give out sounds. The sounds were so sweet and delicious, that
Albert felt he had never before heard any thing like them. The more tightly
he pressed the violin to his breast, the more sweet and consoling they
became. The louder the sounds, the more swiftly the shadows vanished, and
the more brilliantly the walls of the hall were illuminated. But it was
necessary to play very cautiously on the violin, lest it should break.
Albert played on the instrument of glass cautiously and well. He played
things the like of which he felt no one would ever hear again.
He was growing tired, when a heavy distant sound began to annoy him. It was
the sound of a bell, but this sound seemed to have a language.
"Yes," said the bell, with its notes coming from somewhere far off and high
up, "yes, he seems to you wretched; you despise him, but he is better and
happier than you. No one ever will play more on that instrument!"
These words which he understood seemed suddenly so wise, so novel, and so
true, to Albert, that he stopped playing, and, while trying not to move,
lifted his eyes and his arms toward heaven. He felt that he was beautiful
and happy. Although no one was in the hall, Albert expanded his chest, and
proudly lifted his head, and stood on the platform so that all might see
Suddenly some one's hand was gently laid on his shoulder; he turned around,
and in the half light saw a woman. She looked pityingly at him, and shook
her head. He immediately became conscious that what he was doing was wrong,
and a sense of shame came over him.
"Where shall I go?" he asked her. Once more she gazed long and fixedly at
him, and bent her head pityingly. She was the one, the very one whom he
loved, and her dress was the same; on her round white neck was the pearl
necklace, and her lovely arms were bare above the elbows.
She took him in her arms, and bore him away through the hall. At the
entrance of the hall, Albert saw the moon and water. But the water was not
below as is usually the case, and the moon was not above; there was a white
circle in one place as sometimes happens. The moon and the water were
together,—everywhere, above and below, and on all sides and around them
both. Albert and his love darted off toward the moon and the water, and he
now realized that she whom he loved more than all in the world was in his
arms: he embraced her, and felt inexpressible felicity.
"Is not this a dream?" he asked himself. But no, it was the reality, it was
more than reality: it was reality and recollection combined.
Then he felt that the indescribable pleasure which he had felt during the
last moment was gone, and would never be renewed.
"Why am I weeping?" he asked of her. She looked at him in silence, with
pitying eyes. Albert understood what she desired to say in reply. "Just as
when I was alive," he went on to say. She, without replying, looked
"This is terrible! How can I explain to her that I am alive?" he asked
himself in horror. "My God, I am alive! Do understand me," he whispered.
"He is better and happier," said a voice.
But something kept oppressing Albert ever more powerfully. Whether it was
the moon or the water, or her embrace or his tears, he could not tell, but
he was conscious that he could not say all that it was his duty to say, and
that all would be quickly over.
Two guests coming out from Anna Ivánovna's rooms stumbled against Albert
lying on the threshold. One of them went back to Anna Ivánovna, and called
her. "That was heartless," he said. "You might let a man freeze to death
"Akh! why, that is my Albert. See where he was lying!" exclaimed the
hostess. "Annushka, have him brought into the room; find a place for him
somewhere," she added, addressing the maid.
"Oh! I am alive, why do you bury me?" muttered Albert, as they brought him
unconscious into the room.