Circumstances by Abraham Cahan
Tatyana Markovna Lurie had just
received the July number of "Russian
Thought," and was in a flurry. She felt
like devouring all the odd dozen of articles
in the voluminous book at once; and the
patience failing her to cut the leaves, she
fell to prying between them on the rocking-chair
which she had drawn up close to one
of the two windows of the best room.
Altogether, the residence of the Luries
consisted of three small uncarpeted and
scantily furnished apartments, and occupied
a fourth of the top floor of a veteran tenement
house on Madison Street.
Ultimately, Tatyana Markovna settled on
an extensive review of a new translation of
Guy de Maupassant's stories. But here
again she was burning to glance over the
beginning, the middle, and the end of the
article simultaneously. And so she sat,
feverishly skipping and hopping over the
lines, until a thought expressed by the critic,
and which struck her as identical with one
she had set forth in a recent discussion with
her husband, finally fixed her attention and
overspread her youthful little face with radiance.
She was forerelishing her triumph
when, upon Boris's return from work, she
would show him the passage; for in their
debate he had made light of her contention,
and met her irresolute demurrer with the
patronizing and slightly ironical tone which
he usually took while discussing book questions
But at the thought of Boris she suddenly
remembered her soup, and growing pale
she put the magazine aside, and darted into
the semi-obscurity of the kitchen.
Tatyana, or Tanya, as her husband would
fondly call her, was the daughter of a merchant
and Hebrew writer in Kieff, who
usually lost upon his literary ventures what
he would save from his business. It was
not long after she had graduated from one
of the female gymnasiums of her native
city that she met Boris Lurie, then a law
student at the University of St. Vladimir.
He was far from being what Russian college
girls would call "a dear little soul;"
for he was tall and lank, awkwardly near-sighted,
and rather plain of feature, and the
scar over his left eyebrow, too, added anything
but beauty to his looks. But for all
that, the married young women of his circle
voted him decidedly interesting.
Tanya was attracted by his authoritative
tone and rough sort of impetuosity upon
discussing social or literary topics; by his
reputation of being one of the best-read
men at the university, as well as a leading
spirit in student "circles," and by the perfect
Russian way in which his coal-black
hair fell over his commanding forehead.
As to him, he was charmed by that in her
which had charmed many a student before
him: the delicate freshness of her pink
complexion, which, by the time we first find
her in the Madison Street tenement, had
only partially faded; the enthusiastic smile
beaming from her every feature as she
spoke; and the way her little nose, the least
bit retroussť, would look upward, and her
beautiful hazel eyes would assume a look of
childlike curiosity, while she was listening
to her interlocutor.
They were married immediately after his
graduation, with the intention of settling in
Kremenchug, where he had every prospect
of a large practice. But when he presented
himself for admission to the bar, as a "private
attorney," he encountered obstacle after
obstacle. He tried another district, but with
no better success. By that time it had become
clear that the government was bent
upon keeping the Jews out of the forensic
profession, although it had not officially
placed it upon the list of vocations proscribed
to their race.
After a year of peregrination and petitioning
he came, a bundle of nerves, to Jitomir
to make a last attempt in the province
A high judiciary officer who received him
rather politely, made, in the course of their
interview, the semi-jocular remark that the
way to the bar lay through the baptismal
"Villain!" Lurie thundered, his fists
clenched and his eyes flashing.
Luckily the functionary was a cool-headed
old man who knew how to avoid unsavory
publicity. And so, when Lurie defiantly
started to stalk out of the room, he was not
A month or two later, Boris and Tanya
arrived in New York.
It was near seven o'clock when Boris
came from the pearl-button factory where he
earned, at piece-work, from six to seven
dollars a week. As Tanya heard his footsteps
through the door she sprang to her
feet and, with a joyous gleam in her eye, she
ran out to meet him at the head of the stairs.
In her delight she at once forgot the Maupassant
After an affectionate greeting she said,
with burlesque supplication:—
"Don't get angry, Borya, but I am afraid
I have flunked on my soup again."
His fatigued smile expanded.
"The worst of it," she pursued, "is the
fact that this time my negligence resulted
from something which is against you. Yes,
I have got something that will show you
that Mr. Boris has not monopolized all the
wisdom in the world; that other people know
something, too. Yes, sir!" she beamingly
concluded, in English.
"You must have received the July number,
have you?" he burst out, flushing with
"Not your booseeness" (business), she
replied in English, playfully pronouncing
the words as in Russian. "You know you
can't get it before supper is over; so what is
the use asking?" she added, in the tongue of
her native country. With which she briskly
busied herself about the table and the stove,
glowing with happiness, every inch of her a
woman in the long-awaited presence of the
man she loves.
Boris's shabby working clothes, his few
days' growth of beard and general appearance
of physical exhaustion vainly combined,
as it were, to extinguish the light of culture
and intellectuality from his looks; they
only succeeded in adding the tinge of martyrdom
to them. As to Tatyana, she had got
so far habituated to the change that she was
only occasionally aware of it. And when
she was, it would move her to pity and
quicken her love for him. At such moments
his poor workaday clothes would appear to
her as something akin to the prison garb of
the exiled student in Siberia.
"Let me just take a glance at the table
of contents," he begged, brokenly, washing
himself at the sink.
"Then do you tell me what there is to
read. Anything interesting?"
"Or is it that you begrudge me the few
minutes' talk we have together?" she resumed
more earnestly, after a slight pause.
"The whole day I am all alone, and when
he comes he plunges into some book or other
or falls asleep like a murdered man. All
there remains is the half hour at supper; so
that, too, he would willingly deprive me of."
It was Tanya's standing grievance, and
she would deliver herself of it on the slightest
provocation, often quite irrelevantly.
After supper she read to him the passage
which she regarded as an indorsement of her
view upon Maupassant. When she had finished
and turned to him a face full of triumphant
inquiry, she was rather disappointed
by the lukewarm readiness of his surrender.
"Oh, I see. It is rather an interesting
point," he remarked lazily.
He was reclining on the stiff carpet-covered
lounge in the front room, while she was
seated in the rocker, in front of him. It
flashed across her mind that such unusual
tractability in him might augur some concession
to be exacted from her. She flew
into a mild little passion in advance, but
made no inquiries, and only said, with good-natured
"Of course, once it is printed in 'Russian
Thought,' it is 'rather an interesting point,'
but when it was only Tanya who made it,
why then it was mere rubbish."
"You know I never said it was rubbish,
Tanya," he returned deprecatingly.
After a slight pause, he resumed listlessly:—
"Besides, I am sick of these 'interesting
points.' They have been the ruin of us,
Tanychka; they eat us up alive, these 'interesting
points'—the deuce grab them. If
I cared less about 'interesting points'"—he
articulated the two words with venomous
relish—"and a little more about your future
and mine, I might not now have to stick in
a button factory."
She listened to him with an amused air,
and when he paused, she said flippantly:—
"We have heard it before."
"So much the worse for both of us. If
you at least took a more sober view of
things! Seriously, Tanya, you ought to
make life a burden to me until I begin to do
something to get out of this devilish—of
this villainous, unpardonable position."
"You should have married Cecilia Trotzky,
then," she said, laughing.
Cecilia Trotzky was the virago among
the educated Russo-Jewish immigrants, who
form a numerous colony within a colony in
the Ghetto of New York. She was described
as a woman who had placed her husband in
a medical college, then made a point of sending
him supperless to bed every time he
failed to study his lessons, and later, when
he was practicing, fixed the fees with his
"Well, what is the use of joking?" he
said gloomily, suppressing a smile. "Every
illiterate nonentity," he went on, letting the
words filter through his teeth with languid
bitterness, "every shop clerk, who at home
hardly knew there was such a thing as a
university in the world, goes to college here;
and I am serving the community by supplying
it with pearl buttons for six dollars a
week. Would this were regular, at least!
But it is not. I forgot to tell you, but we
may again have a slack season, Tanya. Oh!
I will not let things go on like this. If I
don't begin to do something at once, I shall
send a bullet through my forehead. You
may laugh, but this time it is not idle talk.
From this day on I shall be a different man.
I have a plan; I have considered everything
carefully. If we wish to get rid of our beggarly
position, of this terrible feeling of insecurity
and need," he proceeded, as he raised
himself to a sitting posture, his voice gathering
energy and his features becoming contorted
with an expression of disgust; "if we
really mean to free ourselves from this constant
trembling lest I lose my job, from
these excursions to the pawn shops—laugh
away! laugh away!—but, as I say, if we
seriously wish to make it possible for me to
enter some college here, we must send all
literature and magazines and all gush about
Russia to the deuce, and do as others do. I
have a splendid plan. Everything depends
upon you, Tanya."
At this the childlike look of curiosity
came into her face. But he seemed in no
hurry to come to the point.
"People who hang about pawn shops
have no right to 'interesting points' and
Guy de Maupassant and that sort of luxury.
Poverty is a crime! Well, but from now
on, everything will be different. Listen,
Tanychka; the greatest trouble is the rent,
is it not? It eats up the larger part of my
wages—that is, provided I work full time;
and you know how we tremble and are on
the verge of insanity each time the first of
the month is drawing near. If we wish to
achieve something, we must be satisfied to
pinch ourselves and to put up with some inconvenience.
Above all, we must not forget
that I am a common workingman. Well,
every workingman's family around here
keeps a boarder or two; let us also take one.
There is no way out of it, Tanya."
He uttered the concluding words with
studied nonchalance, but without daring to
look her in the face.
"Borya!" she exclaimed, with a bewildered
Her manner angered him.
"There, now! I expected as much!" he
said irascibly. And continuing in softer accents,
he forced her to listen to the details
of his project. The boarder's pay would
nearly come up to their rent. If they lived
more economically than now they could save
up enough for his first year's tuition at a
New York college, or, as a stepping-stone,
for a newspaper stand. Free from worry
about their rent, he would be in a fitter
mood to study English after work. In
course of time he would know the language
enough to teach it to the uneducated workingmen
of the Jewish quarter; and so he
would be liberated from his factory yoke, as
many an immigrant of his class had been.
Dalsky, a friend of theirs, and a former
classmate of Boris's, who was studying medicine,
earned his living by giving such lessons
in English, and, by the way, he was
now looking for a lodging. Why should
they not offer him their parlor? They
could do with the kitchen and the bedroom.
Besides, Dalsky would be one of the family,
and would have only partial use of the parlor.
As the plan assumed a personified form
in her mind—the face of a definite boarder—her
realization of its horrors was so keen
that she shut her ears and begged Boris to
take pity on her and desist. Whereupon
he flew into a rage and charged her with
nursing aristocratic instincts which in their
present position they could not afford. She
retorted, tearfully, that she was ready to put
up with any amount of additional work and
discomfort, but that she did not care to have
a "constant cataract on the eye."
"God knows you give me little enough of
your company, as it is. I must have tired
you capitally, if you seek somebody to talk
to and to save you from being alone with
"You know it is the rankest nonsense you
are saying!" he flamed out. "And what is
the use crying like that? As if I took a
delight in the whole affair! Cry to our
circumstances, not to me. Circumstances,
circumstances, Tanya!" he repeated, with
Little by little he relented, however, and
eventually he promised never to mention
the matter again, although inwardly both of
them felt that he would. He sat by her
side on the lounge, fondling her little hands
and murmuring love, when suddenly bending
upon him an imploring face, she said,
in a tremulous, tearful voice: "Borinka,
dear! I shall also go to some factory. We
will get along without boarders," with which
she fell upon his shoulder in a fit of heartrending
He clasped her to him, whispering: "You
know, my angel, that I would commit suicide
before letting you go to work. Don't
worry, my joy, we will get along without
"I want no strangers to hang around the
house all the time; I want to be with you
alone, I want nobody, nobody, nobody else
in the world!" she said, pressing him tightly
to her heart.
On the following evening, as Boris was
musingly trudging on his way home, after
work, it suddenly came over him that his
manner with the foreman of the shop was
assuming a rather obsequious nature. Work
was scarce, and the distribution of it was, to
a considerable extent, a matter of favoritism.
He recalled how the Czech foreman, half
tipsy with beer, had been making some stupid
efforts at being witty, and how he, Boris
Lurie, standing by, in greedy expectation of
work, had smiled a broad, ingratiating smile
of approbation. At the moment he had been
so far merged in the surroundings and in
his anxiety about work that he had not been
aware of doing anything unnatural. But now,
as it all came back to him, with inexorable
vividness, and he beheld his own wretched,
artificial smile, he was overcome with disgust.
"Villain!" he broke out at himself,
gnashing his teeth; and at the next moment
he was at the point of bursting into tears
for self-pity. To think of him, who had not
hesitated to call the president of a Russian
court "rogue" to his face, simpering like a
miserable time-server at every stupidity and
nastiness of a drunken brute! Is that what
circumstances had made of him?
He reached home out of temper, and before
supper was well over he reopened the
discussion of his scheme. It again led to a
slight quarrel, which was again made up by
his surrender, as in the previous instance.
A few days later he was "laid off" for a
To eke out their rent they had to forego
meat. For several consecutive days they
lived on bread and butter and coffee. Boris
grew extremely nervous and irritable.
One morning, coming back from the
pawn shops, Boris, pale and solemn, quietly
laid on the kitchen table the package which
he had under his arm.
"They wouldn't take it," he said almost
in a whisper. "It is not worth anything,
Tanya only raised at him a meek glance,
and went on with her work. Boris fell to
pacing the front room. They could not
Presently she stepped up to his side and
said, with rueful tenderness:—
"Well, what is the good of grieving,
Their hands clasped tightly, and their
eyes fixed themselves forlornly on the floor.
"I have promised Dalsky an answer,"
he said, after a little.
"Let him move in," she returned lugubriously,
with a slight shrug of her shoulder,
as if submitting to fate.
It was about nine in the morning, and
Dalsky, slowly pacing the front room, "Quiz-Compend"
in hand, was reviewing his lesson.
He had a certain dignity and nobleness
of feature which consorted well with
the mysterious pallor of his oval face, and
to which, by the way, his moral complexion
gave him perfect right. Then, too, his middle-sized
form was exceedingly well proportioned.
But for the rest, his looks, like
everything else about him, presented nothing
to produce an impression.
Presently he deliberately closed the book,
carefully placed it on his whatnot, and, his
eye falling upon the little flower-pot on
the window, he noiselessly stepped into the
kitchen, where Tanya was ironing some
trifles on the dining-table.
"What are you looking for, Monsieur
Dalsky?" she inquired amiably, turning her
flushed face to the boarder, who was then
gazing about the kitchen.
"Nothing—do not trouble yourself, Tatyana
Markovna—I have got it," he answered
politely, resting the soft look of his
good gray eyes at her, and showing the enameled
cup which he was carrying to the
"It is high time to give my flower-pot its
breakfast; it must have grown hungry," he
remarked unobtrusively, retracing his steps
to the front room, with the cup half filled
"It gets good board with you, your little
flower-pot," Tanya returned, in her plaintive
soprano, speaking through the open window,
which sometimes served to separate and
sometimes to connect the kitchen and the
front room. "By the way, it is time for its
master to have its breakfast too. Shall I
set the table, Monsieur Dalsky?"
"All rightissimo!" answered the student
jestingly, with the remotest suggestion of a
chivalrous smile and a bow of his head.
As he ate, she made a playful attempt at
reading the portly textbook, which he had
brought with him. Whenever she happened
to mispronounce an English word, he would
set her right, in a matter-of-fact way; whereupon
she accepted his correction with a
slight blush and a smile, somewhat bashful
and somewhat humorous.
Hardly a fortnight had elapsed since Dalsky
had installed himself and his scanty
effects at the Luries', yet he seemed to have
grown into the family, and the three felt as
if they had dwelt together all their lives.
His presence in the house produced a change
that was at once striking and imperceptible.
When free from college and from teaching,
an hour or two in the morning and a few
hours during the afternoon, he would stay
at home studying or reading, humming, between
whiles, some opera tune, or rolling up
a cigarette and smoking it as he paced up
and down the floor—all of which he did
softly, unobtrusively, with a sort of pleasing
fluency. Often he would bring from
the street some useful or decorative trifle—a
match-box, a towel-ring, a bit of bric-a-brac
for the mantelpiece, a flower-pot. At
supper he, Boris and Tanya would have
a friendly chat over the contents of the
newspapers, or the gossip of the colony,
or some Russian book, although Boris was
apt to monopolize the time for his animadversions
upon the occurrences in the pearl-button
shop, which both Tanya and Dalsky
were beginning to think rather too minute
and uninteresting. "Poor fellow; the pearl-button
environment has eaten him up," the
medical student would say to himself, with
heartfelt commiseration. As to his own
college, he would scarcely ever refer to it.
After supper he usually left for his private
lessons, after which he would perhaps drop
in at the Russian Students' Club; and altogether
his presence did not in the least encroach
upon the privacy of the Luries' life,
while, on the other hand, it seemed to have
breathed an easier and pleasanter atmosphere
into their home.
"Well, was there any ground for making
so much ado?" Boris once said triumphantly.
"We are as much alone as ever, and you
are not lonely all day, into the bargain."
Dalsky had come to America with the
definite purpose of studying and then practicing
medicine. He had landed penniless,
yet in a little over two years, and before his
friends in the colony had noticed it, he was
in a position to pay his first year's tuition
and to meet all the other bills of his humble,
but well ordered and, to him, gratifying
He was a normally constituted and well-regulated
young man of twenty-five, a year
or two Lurie's junior. There was nothing
bright nor deep about him, but he was seldom
guilty of a gross want of tact. He
would be the last man to neglect his task
on account of a ball or an interesting book,
yet he was never classed among the "grinds."
He was endowed with a light touch for
things as well as for men, and with that
faculty for ranking high in his class, which,
as we all know, does not always precede distinction
in the school of life. This sort of
people give the world very little, ask of it
still less, but get more than they give.
As he neither intruded too far into other
people's souls, nor allowed others too deep
into his own confidence, he was at peace
with himself and everybody else in the
Three months more had passed. The
button factory was busy. Boris's hard, uncongenial
toil was deepening its impress
upon him. When he came from work he
would be so completely fagged out that an
English grammar was out of the question.
He grew more morose every day.
Tanya was becoming irritable with him.
One afternoon after six she was pensively
rocking and humming a Russian folk-song,
one of her little white hands resting on an
open Russian book in her lap. Dalsky was
out, for it was one of those days when he
would stay at college until six and come
home at about the same time as Boris.
Presently she was awakened from her
reverie by the sound of footsteps. The
door opened before she had time to make
out whose they were, and as her eye fell
upon Boris, a shadow of disappointment
flitted across her brow.
Still, at the sight of his overworked face,
her heart was wrung with pity, and she
greeted him with a commiserating, nervous,
exaggerated sort of cordiality.
After a little he took to expounding a
plan, bearing upon their affairs, which he
had conceived while at work. She started
to listen with real interest, but her attention
soon wandered away, and as he went on
she gazed at him blankly and nodded irrelevant
"What is the use of talking, since you
are not listening anyway?" he said, mildly.
She was about to say softly, "Excuse me,
Borya, say it again, I'll listen," but she
said resentfully, "Suit yourself!"
His countenance fell.
"Any letters from home?" he demanded,
after a while, to break an awkward stillness.
"No," she replied, with an impatient jerk
of her shoulder.
He gave a perplexed shrug, and took up
When Dalsky came he found them plainly
out of sorts with each other. Tanya returned
his "Good health to you," only partly relaxing
the frown on her face. Boris raised
his black head from his book; his brusque
"Good health, Dalsky!" had scarcely left
his lips when his short-sighted eyes again
nearly touched the open grammar.
"You must excuse me; I am really sorry
to have kept you waiting," the boarder apologized,
methodically taking off his overcoat
and gently brushing its velvet collar before
hanging it up, "but I was unavoidably detained
at the lecture, and then I met Stern,
and you know how hard it is to shake oneself
free from him."
"It is not late at all," Tanya observed,
unnecessarily retaining a vestige of the
cloud upon her countenance. "What does
he want, Stern? Some new scheme again?"
"You hit it there, Tatyana Markovna;
and, by the way, you two are to play first
violin in it."
"I?" asked Tanya, her countenance suddenly
blazing up with confused animation.
"What is it?" Boris laid down his book
and pricked up his ears.
"He has unearthed some remarkable dialogue
in Little Russian,—you know everything
Stern comes across is remarkable.
Well, and he wants the two of you to recite
it or act it—that's your business—at the
New Year's gathering."
"What an idiotic plan!" was Boris's
verdict, which his countenance belied unceremoniously.
"Who else is going to participate?" inquired
Fixing his mild gray eyes on his youthful
landlady, Dalsky proceeded to describe the
prospective entertainment in detail. Presently
he grew absent-minded and lost the
thread of a sentence. He noticed that, as
his listener's eyes met his, her gaze became
unsteady, wandering, as though she were
looked out of countenance.
She confusedly transferred her glance to
his fresh, clean-shaven face and then to
his neatly tied scarf and immaculate shirt
Boris wore a blue flannel shirt, and, as
usual in the middle of the week, his face
was overgrown with what he jocosely called
underbrush. As he had warmed up to Dalsky's
subject and rose to his feet to ply him
with questions, the contrast which the broad,
leaf-shaped gas flame illuminated was striking.
It was one between a worn, wretched
workingman and a trim, fresh-looking college
Supper passed in animated conversation,
as usual. When it was over and the
boarder was gone to his pupils, Boris, reclining
on the lounge, took up his "Dombey and
Son" and Alexandroff's Dictionary. In a
quarter of an hour he was fast asleep and
snoring. It attracted the attention of
Tanya, who sat near by, reading her Russian
novel. She let the book rest on her
lap and fell to contemplating her husband.
His sprawling posture and his snores at once
revolted her and filled her with pity. She
looked at the scar over his eyebrow, and it
pained her; and yet, somehow, she could not
divert her eyes from it. At the same time
she felt a vague reminiscence stirring in her
mind. What was it? She seemed to have
seen or heard or read something somewhere
which had a certain bearing upon the painful
feeling which she was now nursing, in
spite of herself, as she was eyeing the scar
over Boris's eyebrow. What could it be?
A strenuous mental effort brought to her
mind the passage in Tolstoi's novel where
Anna Karenina, after having fallen under
Vronsky's charm, is met by her husband
upon her return to St. Petersburg, whereupon
the first thing that strikes her about
him is the uncouth hugeness of his ears.
It was not the first time her thoughts had
run in this direction. She had repeatedly
caught herself dwelling upon such apparently
silly subjects as the graceful trick
which Dalsky had in knocking off the ashes
of his cigarette, or the way he would look
about the cupboard for the cup with which
he watered his plant, or, again, the soft ring
of his voice as he said, "Tatyana Markovna!"—the
thoroughly Russian form of
address, not much in vogue in the colony.
Once, upon touching his flower on the window
sill, she became conscious of a thrill,
deliciously disquieting and as if whispering
something to her. And yet, as the case of
Anna Karenina now came to her mind, as
an illustration of her own position, it smote
her consciousness as a startling discovery.
"And so I am a married woman in love
with another man!" was her first thought;
and with her soul divided between a benumbing
terror and the sweet titillation produced
by a sense of tasting forbidden fruit,
she involuntarily repeated the mental exclamation:—
"Yes, I am a married woman in love with
And with a painful, savage sort of relish
she went on staring at her husband's scar
and listening to his fatigued breathing.
There was a moment when a wave of sympathy
suddenly surged to her heart and
nearly moved her to tears; but at the next
moment it came back to her that it was at
Boris's insistence, and in spite of her sobs,
that the boarder had been taken into the
house; whereupon her heart swelled with a
furious sense of revenge. The image of
Dalsky floated past her mental vision and
agitated her soul with a novel feeling.
When a moment or two after she threw a
glance at the looking-glass she seemed a
stranger to herself.
"Is this Tanya? Is this the respectable,
decorous young woman that she has been?"
she seemed to soliloquize. "What nonsense;
why not? What have I done? Dalsky
himself does not even suspect anything."
It seemed as if she were listening to the
depth of her own soul for a favorable answer
to her question, and as if the favorable
answer did not come.
She became fearful of herself, and, with
another sudden flow of affection for her husband,
she stepped up to his side to wake
him; but as she came into close contact
with him, the wave of tenderness ebbed
away and she left the room.
"It is nonsense," she decided; "still, I
must invent some pretext for insisting upon
his removal. Then I'll forget him, anyway."
Whether she would have had the courage
to carry out her resolve or not, is not known,
for the task soon became superfluous.
A few days later, as Dalsky was drawing
on his overcoat to leave for his lessons, he
said, rather awkwardly, addressing himself
to both, while looking at Boris:—
"By the way, I have to tell you something.
I am afraid that devilish college
will make it impossible for me to live downtown."
Both Boris and Tanya grew pale.
"You see," Dalsky pursued, "the lectures
and the work in the dissecting-room
are so scattered throughout the day that I
don't see my way out unless I get a room in
the neighborhood of the college." And to
talk himself out of the embarrassing position,
he went on to explain college affairs
with unnecessary detail.
As a matter of fact, however, his whole
explanation, although not based on an untruth,
was not the real cause of his determination
to leave the Luries. He had
known Boris in his better days, and now
sympathized with him and Tanya keenly.
The frequent outbreaks of temper between
husband and wife, and the cloud which
now almost constantly hung over the house,
heavily bore down upon him as a friend,
and made his life there extremely uncomfortable.
At last he had perceived the roving,
nonplussed look in her eyes as their
glances met. Once become observant in
this direction, he noticed a thousand and
one other little things which seemed to confirm
his suspicion. "Can it be that she is
interested in me?" he said to himself. For
a moment the thought caressed his vanity
and conjured up the image of Tanya in a
novel aspect, which lured him and spoke of
the possibility of reciprocating her feeling—of
It was on the very next day that he
announced his intention to move.
The house became so dreary to Tanya
that her loneliness during the day frightened
her, though the presence of Boris
irritated her more than ever. She felt as
if some member of the household had died.
Wherever she turned she beheld some trace
of the student; worse than anything else
was the window-plant, which Dalsky had
left behind him. She avoided looking at it,
lest it should thrill her with a crushing sense
of her desolation, of her bereavement, as it
were. Yet, when she was about to remove
it, she had not the heart to do it. She
strayed about like a shadow, and often felt
as though it were enough to touch her to
make her melt away in tears.
One evening, after an unbearable silence,
succeeding a sharp altercation, Boris asked,
"What has become of you, Tanya? I
simply fail to recognize you."
"If you understand, then it is foolish to
ask," she retorted, with a smile of mild sarcasm,
eyeing the floor.
"I understand nothing." But as the
words left his lips, something suddenly
dawned upon him which made his blood
run cold. An array of situations which
had produced an impression upon him, but
which had been lost upon his consciousness,
now uprose in his mind. He grew ashen
"Well, so much the worse," said she.
"Tell me, and I will know," he rejoined,
with studied irony, while in his heart he
was praying Heaven that his misgivings
might prove baseless.
"Oh! I think you do understand; you
are not so blind." Her voice now sounded
alien in his ears, and she herself seemed to
him suddenly changed—as if she had in
one moment become transmuted into an
older, wiser, sterner, and more beautiful,
fiercely beautiful, woman.
"I swear to you that I do not know anything."
"Very well, then; I shall write it," she
said, with a sudden determination, rising to
produce paper, pen, and ink.
"All right," he said, in abject cowardice,
with a meaningless smile.
"I am your best friend in the world. I
have been thinking, and thinking, and have
arrived at the conclusion that the best thing
for us to do is to part for a time. I do not
blame anybody but myself, but I cannot
help it. I have no moral right to live
with you as long as my mind is constantly
occupied with somebody else. I have struggled
hard to keep out the thoughts of him,
but it is of no avail."
The phlegmatic ticking of the cheap
alarm clock was singing a solemn accompaniment
to the impressive stillness of the
surroundings. Boris, gazing at the corner
of the room with a faint, stolid smile, was
almost trembling. Tanya's face was burning
with excitement. She went on:—
"I repeat, I have only myself to blame,
and I am doing my best to struggle out of
this state of mind. But while it lasts, my
false, my dishonest position in this house
aggravates things. I wish to be alone, for
a while, at least. Then, under new conditions,
I hope I shall soon get over it. For
the sake of everything that is good, do not
attempt to persuade me to stay. It is all
thought out and decided. Nor do you need
offer to support me. I have no right to it,
and will not accept it under any circumstances.
I can work and earn my own
living. I am prepared to bear the cross.
Besides, shall I be the only Russian college
woman to work in an American factory?
Above all, do not let anybody know anything—the
person to whom I have referred
not excluded, of course. I am sure he does
not suspect anything. Do not let him surmise
the cause of it all, if you do not wish
to see my corpse. We can invent some
It was the early part of a bleak wintry
evening. The interior of Silberman's shop,
crowded with men and women and their
sewing-machines, every bit of space truckled
up with disorderly piles of finished shirts
or bundles of stuff, was dappled with cheerless
gaslight. The spacious, barn-like loft
rang and trembled with a chaos of mournful
and merry song, vying with the insolent
rattle of the machines. There were synagogue
airs in the chorus and airs of the
Jewish stage; popular American airs, airs
from the dancing schools, and time-honored
airs imported from Russia, Poland, Galicia,
Only Tanya was not singing. Bent upon
her machine, in a remote corner, she was
practicing a straight stitch upon some cuttings.
She was making marked progress,
and, flushed with her success, had almost
grown oblivious of the heavy lump at her
heart, and the pricking pain which seemed to
fill her every limb. Presently the girl next
her, who had been rapturously singing "I
have a girl in Baltimore" in a sort of cross-tune
between the song's own melody and the
highly melancholy strains of a Hebrew
prayer, suddenly switched off into one of
the most Russian of Russian folk-songs,—
"By the little brook,
By the little bridge,
Grass was growing"
This she sang with such an un-Russian
flavor, and pronounced the words with such
a strong Yiddish accent, and so illiterately,
that Tanya gnashed her teeth as if touched
to the quick, and closed her eyes and ears.
The surroundings again grew terrible to
her. Commencement Day at the Kieff
Gymnasium loomed before her imagination,
and she beheld herself one of a group of
blooming young maidens, all in fresh brown
dresses with black aprons, singing that very
song, but in sturdy, ringing, charming Russian.
A cruel anguish choked her. Everybody
and everything about her was so
strange, so hideously hostile, so exile-like!
She once more saw the little home where
she had recently reigned. "How do I happen
here?" she asked herself. She thought
of Boris, and was tempted to run back to
him, to fly into his arms and beg him to establish
a home again. But presently came
the image of Dalsky, neat, polite, dignified,
and noiseless; and she once more fell to
her machine, and with a furious cruelty for
herself, she went on working the treadle.
Whereupon her mind gradually occupied
itself with the New Year's entertainment,
with the way the crowd would be commenting
upon her separation, and above all, with
her failure to appear on the platform to recite
in Little Russian and to evoke a storm
of applause in the presence of Dalsky.
At that time Boris was on his way from
work, in the direction of Madison Street.
It was the second day after he had cleared
the rooms by selling the furniture and cooking
utensils to the neighbors, who rushed at
them like flies at a drop of molasses. But
he still had his books and some other effects
to remove. When he entered the rooms,
there was light enough from the street to
show the unwonted darkness in them. A
silvery streak fell upon the black aperture
which had the day before been filled with
the pipe of a little parlor stove. This and
the weird gloom of the rest of the apartment
overwhelmed him with distress and terror.
He hastened to light the gas. The dead
emptiness of the three rooms which so recently
had been full of life, the floors littered
with traces of Tanya and their life
together—every corner and recess had a
look of doleful, mysterious reproach.
For the first time he seemed to realize
what had befallen him; and for the first
time in many years he burst into tears.
Hot tears they were, and they fell in vehement
drops, as, leaning his wearied form
against the door-post and burying his face
in his arm, he whispered brokenly, "Tanychka!