The Forest Manor by Boris Pilniak
TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH BY
Dark, yellow snow still lay in the ravines from under which flowed
icy streamlets; on the surface it was thawing, and last year's grass
pointed up like stiff golden arrows to the cold Heavens. Here and
there, in bright sunny patches, appeared the first yellow flowers.
The sky was dull and overcast, laden with massy, leaden-coloured
A carrion-crow flew low over the trees and the twittering birds fell
silent. When the menace had passed they broke forth anew in
triumphant song, once more absorbed by the joy of living,
The swelling earth gurgled happily beneath the soft kiss of the warm
humid wind, and from somewhere afar came reverberating sounds of
spring; perchance from the people in the village across the water, or
perchance from the warbling birds over the streams.
Ivanov the forester came out on to the door-step which had already
dried, and lighted a cigarette; it burned but slowly in the moist
atmosphere of the deepening twilight.
"It will be hot, Mitrich, thank God!" remarked the watchman, Ignat,
as he passed by with some buckets…. "Snipe will be about to-morrow,
and we will have to hunt right into Easter."
He went into the cow-house, then returned, sat down on a step, and
rolled a cigarette.
The pungent odour of his bad tobacco mingled with the sweet aroma of
dying foliage and melting snow. Beyond the river a church bell was
ringing for the Lenten festival, and there was a melancholy thrill in
its notes as they crossed the water.
"That must be the seventh Gospel," said Ignat. "They will be coming
out with the candles soon." Then he added abruptly: "The river won't
reach to a man's waist in the summer and now it is like a torrent;
they have been hardly able to cross it in the long boat … Spring,
ah!… Well, I shall certainly have to clean out my double-barrelled
gun to-day." With a business-like air he spat into a puddle and
vigorously inhaled his cigarette smoke.
"The cranes will come down by the garden for the night, at dusk,
judging by all portents, and to-morrow we will go after the grouse,"
replied Ivanov, and listened intently to the myriad sounds of
Ignat also listened, bending his shaggy head sideways to the earth
and the sky. He caught some desired note and agreed:
"Yes, it must be so. I can hear the beat of their wings. I am truly
thankful. At dawn to-morrow we must get out the drosky. We will go to
the Ratchinsky wood and have a look. We can get through all right by
the upper road."
From the right of the steps, his daughter Aganka skipped gaily on to
the terrace and began beating the dust out of a sheep-skin
coat with thin brown sticks. It was cold and she commenced to dance
for warmth, singing in a shrill voice:
"The nightingale sings
In the branches above—
The nightingale brings
No rest to his love!"
Ignat gave her an indulgent look; nevertheless he said sternly:
"Come, come! That is sin … it is Lent and you singing!"
Aganka merely laughed.
"There is no sin now!" she retorted, turning her back to the steps
and propping up her right leg as she vigorously beat the sheepskin
Ignat playfully threatened her—then smiled and said to Ivanov: "A
fine girl, isn't she?… She is not yet sixteen and is already a
flirt! Its no use talking to her. She won't remain in the house at
night, but must go slipping off somewhere."
Aganka turned round sharply, tossing her head. "Well, I am not a dead
"You are not, my girl; indeed you are not—only hold your tongue!"
Ivanov glanced at her. She was like a little wild fawn with her fresh
young body and sparkling eyes, always so ready to bewitch. His own
weary eyes involuntarily saddened for a moment; then he said
cheerily, in a louder tone than necessary:
"Well, isn't that the right attitude? Isn't it the best way? Love
while you can, Aganka, have a happy time."
"Oh, yes, let her have a happy time by all means … it is young
blood's privilege." replied Ignat.
The bells again rang out for the Gospel. The sky grew darker and
darker. Ravens croaked hoarsely amidst the verdant foliage of the
trees. Ignat put his ear to the ground, listening. From the distance,
from the garden, the ravines, and the pasturage came the low cries of
cranes, barely audible amid the subdued rustling of the spring. Ignat
thrust forward his bearded face, it looked at first serious and
attentive, then it grew cunning and became animated with joy.
"The cranes have come down!" he cried in an excited whisper, as
though afraid of frightening them. Then he began to bustle about,
"I must grease the double-barrel…."
Ivanov also bestirred himself. Because while tracking the cranes he
would be seeing her, Arina's image now came vividly before him—
broad, strong, ardent, with soft sensual lips, and wearing a red
"Get the drosky out at dawn to-morrow," he ordered Ignat. "We will go
to the Ratchinsky wood. I will go there now and have a look round."
The panelled walls and the stove with its cracked tiles were only
faintly visible in the soft twilight which filled Ivanov's study. By
the walls stood a sofa, and a desk whose green cloth was untidily
bestrewn with the accumulated litter of years and copiously spotted
with candle grease, reminiscent of the long, dreary nights Ivanov had
spent—a prey to loneliness.
A heap of horse trappings—collars, straps, saddles, bridles—lay by
the large, square, bare windows. During the winter nights wolves
watched the gleam of yellow candlelight within them. Now outside was
the tranquil, genial atmosphere of Spring with all its multi-coloured
splendour. Against a deep-blue sky with an orange streak like a
pencil line drawn across the horizon, showed the sharp, knotted twigs
of the crotegus and the lilac beneath the windows.
Ivanov lighted a candle and commenced manufacturing cartridges to
pass away the time. Lydia Constantinovna entered the room.
"Will you have tea here or in the dining-room?" she inquired.
Ivanov declined tea with a wave of his hand.
All through the years of the Revolution Lydia Constantinovna had
lived in the Crimea, coming to Marin-Brod for a fortnight the
previous summer, afterwards leaving for Moscow. Now she had returned
for the Easter holidays, but not alone—the artist Mintz accompanied
her. Ivanov had never heard of him before.
Mintz was clean-shaven and had long fair hair; he wore steel-rimmed
pince-nez over his cold grey eyes which he often took off and put on
again; when he did so his eyes changed, looking helpless and
malicious without the glasses, like those of little owlets in
daylight; his thin, shaven lips were closely compressed, and there
was often an expression of mistrust and decrepitude in his face; his
conversation and movements were noisy.
Lydia Constantinovna had arrived with Mintz the day before at dusk;
Ivanov was not at home. They had gone for a walk in the evening,
returning only at two o'clock when dawn was just about to break, and
a cold mist hung over the earth like a soft grey veil. They were met
by barking dogs which were quickly silenced by the lash of Ignat's
Ivanov had come home earlier, at eleven o'clock, and sat by his study
window alone, listening to the gentle sounds of night and the
ceaseless hootings of the owls in the park. Lydia Constantinovna did
not come to him, nor did he go in to her.
It was in the daytime that Ivanov first saw the artist. Mintz was
sitting in the park on a dried turf-bench, and gazing intently at the
river. Ivanov passed him. The artist's shrunken ruffled figure had an
air of desolation and abandonment.
The drawing-room was next to Ivanov's study. There still remained out
of the ruin a carpet and some armchairs near the large, dirty
windows, an old piano stood unmoved, and some portraits still hung on
Lydia Constantinovna and Mintz came in from the back-room. Lydia
walked with her usual brisk, even tread, carrying herself with the
smooth, elastic bearing and graceful swing of her beautiful body that
Ivanov remembered so well.
She raised the piano-cover and began playing a dashing bravura that
was strikingly out of place in the dismantled room, then she closed
the piano-lid with a slam.
Aganka entered with the tea on a tray.
Mintz walked about the dim room, tapping his heels on the parquet
floor, and though he spoke loudly, his voice held a note of yearning
"I was in the park just now. That pond, those maple avenues—
disintegrating, dying, disappearing—drive me melancholy mad. The ice
has already melted in the pond by the dam. Why can we not bring back
the romantic eighteenth century, and sit in dressing-gowns, musing
with delicious sadness over our pipes? Why are we not illustrious
Lydia Constantinovna smiled as she answered: "Why not indeed! That is
a poetic fancy. But the reality is very much worse. Marin-Brod has
never been a country house, it is a forest manor, a forestry-office
and nothing more … nothing more…. I always feel an interloper
here. This is only my second day and I am already depressed." Her
tone was sad, yet it held just a perceptible note of anger.
"Reality and Fancy? Certainly I am an artist, for I always see the
latter, the beautiful and spiritual side," Mintz declared; and added
in an undertone: "Do you remember yesterday … the park?"
"Oh, yes, the park," Lydia replied in a tired, subdued tone. "They
hold the Twelfth Gospel Service to-day; when I was a young girl, how
I used to love standing in church with a candle—I felt so good. And
now I love nothing!"
It was already quite dark in the drawing room. A wavering, greenish-
golden light streamed in through the windows and played on the dim
walls. Ivanov came out of his study. He was wearing high boots and a
leather jacket, and carried a rifle under his arm. He went silently
to the door. Lydia Constantinovna stopped him.
"Are you going out again, Sergius? Is it to hunt?"
Ivanov stood still and Lydia went up to him. She had dark shadows
under her eyes, and the hand of time—already bearing away her youth
and beauty—lay upon her marvellously white skin, at her lips and on
her cheeks, in faint, scarcely visible wrinkles. Ivanov noticed it
"Does one hunt at night—in the dark? I did not know that," Lydia
said, repeating "I did not know…."
"I am going to the wood."
"I have come back here after not having seen you for months, and we
have not yet spoken a word…."
Ivanov did not reply, but went out. His footsteps echoed through the
great house, finally dying away in the distance. The front-door
slammed, shaking the whole mansion, which was old and falling to
Lydia Constantinovna remained in the middle of the room, her face
turned to the door. Mintz approached, took her hand, and raised it to
"You must not take it to heart, Lit," he said softly and kindly.
She freed her hand and laid it on Mintz's shoulder.
"No, one should not take it to heart," she assented in a low voice,
"One should not…. But listen, Mintz…. How strange it all is! Once
he loved me very much, though I never loved him…. But my youth was
spent here, and now I feel unhappy…. I remember all that happened
in this drawing-room, it was the first time. If only I could have all
over again! Perhaps I should act differently then. I feel sorry now
for my youth and inexperience, though formerly I cursed them, and I
am far from regretting all that followed afterwards. But I need a
refuge now…. If you only knew how much he loved me in those
Lydia Constantinovna was silent a moment, her head bent, then
flinging it back she gave a hollow sardonic laugh.
"Oh, what nonsense I talk! Well, we will be cheerful yet. I am tired,
that is all. How stuffy it is in here!… Open the windows, Mintz …
Now let down the blinds … They live on milk and black bread here
and are happy—but I have a bottle of brandy in my trunk. Get it out!
Light the chandelier."
Mintz opened the windows. From outside came a cool, refreshing breeze
laden with the moist and fragrant perfumes of spring. Dusk had crept
over the sky, which was flecked with warm vernal clouds.
The heavens were a glorious, triumphant, impenetrable blue; there was
a faint glimmer of greenish light on the Western horizon over which
brooded damp low clouds. The air was humid, soft, and redolent with
the aroma of earth and melting snow. From all around came a faint
medley of echoing sounds…. The wind fell completely, not a tree
stirred; the ferns stood motionless with all the magic of the
springtime among their roots. So calm and still was the night, the
earth herself, it seemed, stopped turning in that wonderful
Ivanov lighted a cigarette, and as the match flared between his
fingers, illuminating his black beard, his trembling hands were
distinctly visible. His pointer Gek came out of the darkness and
fawned round his legs.
Through the darkness of the windless night rang the church bell
tolling for the last Gospel Service; it seemed to peal just outside
the manor. The yard was silent, but once or twice Aganka's voice
could be heard from the cattle-shed calling to the cows, and the
sound of milk falling into her pail was faintly audible.
Ivanov listened to the church chimes and the subdued sounds of night
round the manor, then noiselessly, well accustomed to the obscurity,
he descended the steps; only Gek was at his side, the other dogs did
not hear him.
Cold raindrops fell from the trees in tiny shining globules of
iridescent light, close by him an owl fluttered in a tangle of
branches, uttering its dreadful cry of joy as it flashed past.
Ivanov walked through the fields, descended by a chalky ribbon of a
footpath to the ravine, crossed over it by a narrow shadow-dappled
pathway hidden among a maze of trees, and made his way along its
further ridge to a forest watch-house. It stood in a bare open space,
exposed to the swift rushing Dance of the Winds, and close to the
naked trunks of three ancient pines that still reared their grim,
shaggy heads to the sky and spilled their pungent balsam perfumes
into the air. Behind it loomed the faint grey shadow of an
A dog at the watch-house began to bark. Gek growled in return and
suddenly disappeared. The dogs became silent. A man appeared on the
step with a lantern.
"Who is there?" he asked quietly.
"It is I," said Ivanov.
"You, Sergius Mitrich?… Aha! But Arina is still at church … went
off there … busy with her nonsense." The watchman paused. "Shall I
go in and turn off the light? The express will soon be passing. Will
you come in? Arina will be back before long. The wife's at home."
"No, I'm going into the forest."
"As you wish." The watchman passed along the embankment with his
lantern and approached the bridge.
Ivanov left the watch-house, and went into the forest, walking along
the edge of the ravine towards the river slope. A train rushed out
from the forest on the further side of the river, its flaming eyes
reflected in the dark shiny water; it moved forward, rolling loudly
and harshly over the bridge.
It was that hour of spring-time when, despite the many noises, there
was still an atmosphere of peace, and the burgeoning, luxuriantly-
clad earth could almost be heard breathing as it absorbed the vernal
moisture; the clash of the stream as it struck the rocks in the
ravine was hushed for the night. Nevertheless it seemed as though the
bold-browed, rugged wood-demon—awakened by spring—was shaking his
wings in the water.
Beyond the ravine and wood, beyond the river to the right, left,
behind, and before, the birds still chirruped over the currents.
Below, not many steps away, the stream flowed almost noiselessly;
only, as though immeasurably remote the confused gurgle of its waters
broke the profound quiet. Far away rose a soft murmur. The air hummed
and shook with the roar of distant rapids.
Ivanov leaned against a birch tree, laid his rifle beside him, struck
a match and began to smoke. The flickering light illuminated the
white trunks of the trees, the withered herbage of last year's growth
and a path leading down the embankment. Arina had descended it many
The church bells in the village were ringing for evensong. From the
church precincts twinkled the yellow lights of candles and lanterns,
then there was the hum of people's voices. Many of the lights
dispersed to the right and left, others moved down to the river side.
There was the sound of foot-falls on the bottom of a boat and the
splashing of oars. Someone called out:
"Wai … ait … Mitri … ich!"
There was a clanking of iron—a boat-chain; then stillness. Only the
lights showed that the boat had been launched into the middle of the
river and was floating down stream. Soon the murmur of voices again,
and the plash of oars, and now these sounds were quite close to
Ivanov. One of the men was teasing the girls, the latter laughed at
first, then all at once they were silent.
The boat was made fast to the bridge, the passengers bustling about
for a long time on landing. The ferryman collected his paper roubles,
the men continued merry-making with the girls. Their rugged forms—
their chest, knees and chins were clearly discernible in the lights
they carried. They all strolled up a narrow pathway, but one light
withdrew from the rest and moved along a short cut that led to the
watch-house—it was Arina's. Ivanov held Gek in tightly, the dog was
straining to rush down the embankment.
Arina slowly ascended the steep incline, planting her broad, short
heavily-shod feet firmly in the sticky mud; her breath came
pantingly. She wore a red jacket, unbuttoned in the front through
which her large bosom was visible in the lantern-light. The
reflection shone upon her bent face, illuminating her lips, her
bluish cheek-bones and dark arched brows; only her eyes were
invisible in the darkness, and their cavities seemed enormous. The
night's density gave way before the light of her lantern and the
silvery trunks of birch trees glimmered ahead.
Ivanov crossed the road in front of her. Arina stopped with a sudden
gasp, and he felt the touch of her warm breath.
"How you scared me!" she exclaimed quickly, stretching out her hand.
"How are you? I have been at the church service. How you scared me!"
Ivanov was about to draw her hand towards him, but she withdrew it,
saying sternly: "No, you musn't, I'm in a hurry to get home, I have
no time. Let me go."
Ivanov smiled faintly, and dropped her hands.
"All right, it does not matter, I will come to-morrow at dusk." Then
in a low voice he added: "Will you come?"
Arina moved closer to him, and she too spoke under her breath: "Yes,
come this way. And we will have a walk … Bother my father! But go
now, I am in a hurry … there is the house to put straight…. I
feel the baby under my heart. Go!"
The first warm rain drops fell from the invisible sky as Ivanov
walked across the meadows; at first they were sparse, pattering
noisily on his leather jacket; then they began to fall more heavily
and he was soon enveloped in the sonorous downpour of a vernal
shower. Close to the manor Gek darted aside and disappeared down the
ravine, from whence arose the rustling of wings, and the perturbed
cries of cranes. Gek barked, some dogs on a neighbouring farm
answered him; to these, others responded from a distant village, and
then again, from far away there was borne over the earth the clear
springtime baying of other dogs.
On entering the main avenue of the park, Ivanov noticed the glow of a
cigarette suddenly disappearing down a side-walk; afterwards he
encountered Aganka at a gate.
"You!" he exclaimed. "On the run as usual? So you have made friends
with a smoker this time?"
The girl giggled loudly and ran off, splashing through the mud
towards the cow-shed; then she called out innocently:
"I have put the milk by the window in your study."
Ivanov lingered a while on the doorstep scraping the mud off his
boots, then stretched himself vigorously, working the muscles of his
arms and reflecting that it was high time for him to be in bed, in a
sound healthy sleep, so as to be up at dawn on the morrow.
In the drawing-room a chandelier hung above the sofa and round table
near the piano; it had not been lighted for many years, indeed not
since the last Christmas before the Revolution. Now once again it was
illumined, and the dull yellow flare of its candles—dimly shining
out of their dust-laden pendants—lit up the near side of the room
and its contents; at the further side, however, where doors led into
the hall and a sittingroom, there was a complete wreckage. The
chairs, armchairs, and couches had vanished through the agency of
unknown hands, leaving only fragments of broken furniture, and odds
and ends of utensils heaped together in casual profusion in a dark
corner, only penetrated by grey, ghostlike shadows. The curtains were
closely drawn; outside the rain pattered drearily on the windows.
Lydia Constantinovna played a long while on the piano, at first a
bravura from the operas, then some classical pieces, Liszt's "Twelfth
Rhapsody," and finally ended with the artless music of Oppel's "A
Summer's Night in Berezovka"—a piece she used to play to Ivanov when
she was his fiancée.
She played it through twice; then broke off abruptly, rising from her
seat and shaking with gusts of malicious laughter. Still laughing
loudly and evilly, she began to sip brandy out of a high narrow
Her eyes were still beautiful, with the beauty of lakes in autumn
when the trees are shedding their leaves. She seated herself on the
sofa, and lay back among its cushions, her hands clasped behind her
head, in an attitude of utter abandonment. Her legs in their open-
work stockings were plainly visible under her black silk skirt, and
she crossed them, leisurely placing her feet, encased in their patent
leather shoes, upon a low footstool.
She drank a great deal of brandy in slow sips, and as she pressed her
beautiful lips to the glass she vilified everybody and everything—
Ivanov, the Revolution, Moscow, the Crimea, Marin-Brod, Mintz, and
Then she became silent, her eyes grew dull, she began to speak
quietly and sadly, with a foolish helpless smile.
Mintz was drinking and pacing up and down the room, speaking volubly
with noisy derision. The brandy flowed through his veins, warming his
sluggish blood; his thoughts grew vivid and spiteful, engendering
sarcastic, malicious remarks. Whenever he took a drink, he removed
his pince-nez for a moment, and his eyes became evil, vacant and
Lydia Constantinovna sat in the corner of the sofa, covered her
shoulders with a plaid shawl, and crossed her legs in the Turkish
"What a smell of chipre there is, Mintz," she murmured in a low
voice. "I think I must be tipsy. Yes, I must be. When I drink a great
deal I always begin to think there are too many perfumes about. They
suffocate me, I get their taste in my mouth, they sing in my ears and
I feel ill…. What a smell of chipre … it is my favourite perfume:
do you smell it?"
She looked at Mintz with a half dazed stare, then continued:
"In an hour's time I shall be having hysterics. It is always the way
when I drink too much. I don't feel cheerful any longer, I feel
melancholy now, Mintz. I feel now as though … as though I have wept
on this sofa all through the night … Oh, how happy we used to be
once upon a time," she sighed tearfully, then added with a giggle.
"Why I hardly know what I am saying!"
Mintz was walking up and down the room, measuring his steps extremely
carefully. He halted in front of Lydia Constantinovna, removed his
glasses and scowled:
"But I, when I drink, I begin to see things with extraordinary
clearness: I see that we are melancholy because the devil only knows
why or for what we are living; I see that life is impossible without
faith; that our hearts and minds are exhausted with the endless
discussions in cafes, attics and promenades. I realise that no matter
what happens, villainy will always exist. I see, too, that we have
been drinking because we feel lonely and dull—yes, even though we
have been joking and laughing boisterously; I see that there is now
the great joy and beauty of spring outside—so different from the
distorted images visible to warped minds and clouded eyes; I see,
moreover, that the Revolution has passed us by after throwing us
aside, even though the New Economic Policy may put on us our feet
again for a while, and that … that …" Mintz did not finish, but
turned round abruptly and strode away with an air of self-assertion,
into the remote end of the room, where the debris was littered.
"Yes, that is true … you are right," answered Lydia Constantinovna.
"But then I do not love Sergius, I never have done."
"Of course I am right," Mintz retorted severely from his dim corner.
"People never love others. They love themselves—through others."
Ivanov came in from the hall in his cap and muddy boots, carrying his
rifle. Without a single word he passed through the room and went into
his study. Mintz watched him in severe silence, then followed him.
Inside he leaned against the door-post with a wry smile:
"You are shunning me all this time. Why?"
"You imagine it," returned Ivanov.
He lighted a candle on his desk, took off his coat, changed his boots
and clothes, hung up his rifle.
"That is ridiculous!" Mintz replied coldly. "I very seldom imagine
things. I want to say how very comfortable you seem here, because
this is the very essence of comfort…. Look at me! I have painted
pictures, sold them, painted more in order to sell those also—though
I ceased painting long ago—and I lived in garrets because I must
have light, and by myself because my wife will not come to such a
place…. True, she is no longer with me, she deserted me long ago!
Now I have only mistresses…. And I envy you because … because it
is very cold in garrets…. You understand me?"
Mintz took off his pince-nez and his eyes looked bewildered and
malignant: "In the name of all who had been tortured, all who have
exchanged the springtime beauty of the parks for the erotic
atmosphere of boudoirs; all who in the soft luxury of their homes
forgot, and have now lost their claim on Russia—I say you are
supremely comfortable, and we envy you! One may work here, one may
even … marry … You have never painted, have you?"
Mintz was silent, then suddenly said in a low tone: "Look here! We
have some brandy. Shall we have a drink?"
"No, thank you. I want to sleep. Good night."
"I want to talk!"
Ivanov extinguished the candle, through custom finding his bread and
milk in the dark, and hastily consumed it without sitting down. Mintz
stood a moment by the door; then went out, slamming it behind him.
Lydia Constantinovna now had her feet on the carpet and her head was
bowed. Her eyes under their long lashes were blank and limpid, like
lakes amid reeds. Her hands were clasped round her knees.
"How was Sergius?" she enquired, without raising her head.
"Boorish, he has gone to bed," answered Mintz.
He was about to sit beside her, but she rose, arranged her hair
mechanically, and smiled faintly and tenderly—not at Mintz, but into
the empty space.
"To bed? Well, it is time. Good rest!" she said softly. "Ah, how the
perfume torments me. I feel giddy."
She went to the other end of the room, Mintz following her, and
halted on the threshold. In the stillness of the night the pattering
rain could be heard distinctly. Lydia Constantinovna leaned against
the white door, throwing back her head, and began to speak; avoiding
Mintz's eyes, she endeavoured to express herself simply and clearly,
but the words seemed dry as they fell from her lips:
"I am very tired, Mintz, I am going to bed at once. You go too.
Goodbye until tomorrow. We shall not meet again to-night. Do you
understand, Mintz? It is my wish."
Mintz stood still, his legs wide apart, his arms akimbo, his head
hanging. Then with a sad, submissive smile he answered in an
unexpectedly mild tone: "Very well, then, All right, I understand
you. It is quite all right."
Lydia Constantinovna stretched out her hand, speaking in the
unaffected, friendly way she had desired earlier: "I know you are a
malicious, bored, lonely cynic, like … like an old homeless dog …
But you are kind and intelligent…. You know I will never leave you—
we are so…. But now I am going in to him … just for the last
Mintz kissed her hand without speaking, then his tall, bony, somewhat
stooping figure disappeared down the corridor.
Lydia Constantinovna's bedroom was cold and gloomy. As formerly, it
contained a huge four-poster, a chest of drawers, a dressing table
and a wardrobe. The rain beat fiercely against the window panes
running down in tiny glass globules.
Lydia lighted two candles, and placed them beside the tarnished
mirror. Some toilette belongings, relics of her childhood, lay on the
chest-of-drawers, and the contents of the baggage she had brought
with her the previous day were scattered about the room. The candles
burnt dimly, their yellow tongues flickering unsteadily over the
She changed her garments and put on a loose green neglige, then re-
arranged her hair into plaits, forming them into a coronet which made
her head appear very small and graceful.
From force of habit she opened a bottle of perfume, moistened the
palms of her hands and rubbed them over her neck and bosom. At once
she felt giddy, even the cold, dampish sheets on her bed seemed to
smell of chipre.
Lydia sat down on the edge of her bed in her green negligé, listening
to the sounds around her. Outside, there was a continuous howling and
barking of dogs, now and then she could distinguish the croaking of
half-awakened crows in the park.
The clock struck eleven, then half-past, someone passed along the
corridor, Aganka cleared up in the dining-room, Mintz walked to and
fro in the drawing-room, then all became quiet.
Lydia Constantinovna went to the window and gazed out for a long
time. Then, quietly, she left her bedroom and crept down to Ivanov's
study. All around her it was dark, cold and silent as she passed
through the empty, spacious rooms. A forgotten candle still burnt
wanly in the drawing-room, and a rat ran out from under the table.
She was again plunged in darkness when she entered Ivanov's study,
and she was greeted by a smell of horse trappings and joiners' glue.
Ivanov was asleep on the sofa. He lay on his back, his arms extended;
the outlines of his body could just be discerned. Lydia sat down
quietly beside him and laid her hand on his breast. Ivanov sighed,
drew in his arms and raised his head quickly from the pillow:
"Who is there?"
"It is I, Sergius—me—Lida," answered Lydia Constantinovna in a
rapid whisper. "I know you do not wish to speak to me. I am bored …
I returned here in a happy mood, not even thinking of you, and now
all at once I feel wretched…. Oh, those perfumes! How they torment
me…." She passed her hand over her face, then was silent. Ivanov
"What is the matter Lida? What do you want?" he asked drowsily, and
he lighted a cigarette. The light shone on them as they sat half-
dressed on the sofa. Ivanov had a rugged, lumbering look.
"What do I want?" Lydia Constantinovna murmured. "Age creeps on me,
Sergius, and a lonely old age is terrible … I feel so weary…. I
came here happy enough, now I am miserable. I can think of nothing
but the time you and I spent here together … I am always playing" A
Summer's Night in Berezovka "—do you remember? I used to play it to
you in those days…. Well, so there you see…. Age creeps on and I
am longing for a home…. To-day they had the Twelfth Gospel
Service…. Surely we still have a word for each other?" Her face
clouded in sudden doubt. "You have been with Arina then?" she
Ivanov did not answer immediately.
"I have grieved and worried greatly, Lida," he said at last, "but
that does not matter. These four years I have lived alone, and have
placed the past behind me. It is gone for ever. These four years I
have struggled against death, and struggled for my daily bread. You
know nothing of all this, we are as strangers…. Yes, I have been
with Arina. Soon I shall have a son. I do not know if I am broken or
merely tired, but for the moment I feel all right. I am going to
bring Arina here, she will be my wife and keep house for me. And I
shall live…. I am keeping step with some elemental Force . . . I
shall have a son…. It will be a totally different life for me,
"And for me Moscow—as ever—wine, theatres, cafes, Mintz, an eternal
hurly-burly … I am sick of it!"
"I cannot help you, Lida. I too am sick of all that, but now I am at
peace. We must all work out our own salvation."
Ivanov spoke very quietly and simply. Lydia Constantinovna sat bowed
and motionless, as if fearing to move, clasping her knees with both
hands. When Ivanov ceased speaking she rose noiselessly and went
towards the door. She stood on the threshold a brief moment then,
went out. The candle still burnt fitfully in the drawing-room. The
house was wrapt in silence.