A RECKLESS CHARACTER
And Other Stories
Translated from the Russian by
ISABEL F. HAPGOOD
NEW YORK, CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS, 1907.
A RECKLESS CHARACTER
FATHER ALEXYÉI'S STORY
THE SONG OF LOVE TRIUMPHANT
POEMS IN PROSE
A RECKLESS CHARACTER
There were eight of us in the room, and we were discussing contemporary
matters and persons,
"I do not understand these gentlemen!" remarked A.—"They are fellows of
a reckless sort…. Really, desperate…. There has never been anything
of the kind before."
"Yes, there has," put in P., a grey-haired old man, who had been born
about the twenties of the present century;—"there were reckless men in
days gone by also. Some one said of the poet Yázykoff, that he had
enthusiasm which was not directed to anything, an objectless enthusiasm;
and it was much the same with those people—their recklessness was
without an object. But see here, if you will permit me, I will narrate
to you the story of my grandnephew, Mísha Pólteff. It may serve as a
sample of the recklessness of those days."
He made his appearance in God's daylight in the year 1828, I remember,
on his father's ancestral estate, in one of the most remote nooks of a
remote government of the steppes. I still preserve a distinct
recollection of Mísha's father, Andréi Nikoláevitch Pólteff. He was a
genuine, old-fashioned landed proprietor, a pious inhabitant of the
steppes, sufficiently well educated,—according to the standards of that
epoch,—rather crack-brained, if the truth must be told, and subject, in
addition, to epileptic fits…. That also is an old-fashioned malady….
However, Andréi Nikoláevitch's attacks were quiet, and they generally
terminated in a sleep and in a fit of melancholy.—He was kind of heart,
courteous in manner, not devoid of some pomposity: I have always
pictured to myself the Tzar Mikhaíl Feódorovitch as just that sort of a
Andréi Nikoláevitch's whole life flowed past in the punctual discharge
of all the rites established since time immemorial, in strict conformity
with all the customs of ancient-orthodox, Holy-Russian life. He rose and
went to bed, he ate and went to the bath, he waxed merry or wrathful (he
did both the one and the other rarely, it is true), he even smoked his
pipe, he even played cards (two great innovations!), not as suited his
fancy, not after his own fashion, but in accordance with the rule and
tradition handed down from his ancestors, in proper and dignified style.
He himself was tall of stature, of noble mien and brawny; he had a
quiet and rather hoarse voice, as is frequently the case with virtuous
Russians; he was neat about his linen and his clothing, wore white
neckerchiefs and long-skirted coats of snuff-brown hue, but his noble
blood made itself manifest notwithstanding; no one would have taken him
for a priest's son or a merchant! Andréi Nikoláevitch always knew, in
all possible circumstances and encounters, precisely how he ought to act
and exactly what expressions he must employ; he knew when he ought to
take medicine, and what medicine to take, which symptoms he should heed
and which might be disregarded … in a word, he knew everything that it
was proper to do…. It was as though he said: "Everything has been
foreseen and decreed by the old men—the only thing is not to devise
anything of your own…. And the chief thing of all is, don't go even as
far as the threshold without God's blessing!"—I am bound to admit that
deadly tedium reigned in his house, in those low-ceiled, warm, dark
rooms which so often resounded from the chanting of vigils and
prayer-services, with an odour of incense and fasting-viands,
which almost never left them!
Andréi Nikoláevitch had married, when he was no longer in his first
youth, a poor young noblewoman of the neighbourhood, a very nervous and
sickly person, who had been reared in one of the government institutes
for gentlewomen. She played far from badly on the piano; she spoke
French in boarding-school fashion; she was given to enthusiasm, and
still more addicted to melancholy, and even to tears…. In a word, she
was of an uneasy character. As she considered that her life had been
ruined, she could not love her husband, who, "as a matter of course,"
did not understand her; but she respected, she tolerated him; and as she
was a thoroughly honest and perfectly cold being, she never once so much
as thought of any other "object." Moreover, she was constantly engrossed
by anxieties: in the first place, over her really feeble health; in the
second place, over the health of her husband, whose fits always inspired
her with something akin to superstitious terror; and, in conclusion,
over her only son, Mísha, whom she reared herself with great zeal.
Andréi Nikoláevitch did not prevent his wife's busying herself with
Mísha—but on one condition: she was never, under any circumstances, to
depart from the limits, which had been defined once for all, wherein
everything in his house must revolve! Thus, for example: during the
Christmas holidays and Vasíly's evening preceding the New Year, Mísha
was not only permitted to dress up in costume along with the other
"lads,"—doing so was even imposed upon him as an obligation….
On the other hand, God forbid that he should do it at any other time!
And so forth, and so forth.
I remember this Mísha at the age of thirteen. He was a very comely lad
with rosy little cheeks and soft little lips (and altogether he was soft
and plump), with somewhat prominent, humid eyes; carefully brushed and
coifed—a regular little girl!—There was only one thing about him which
displeased me: he laughed rarely; but when he did laugh his teeth, which
were large, white, and pointed like those of a wild animal, displayed
themselves unpleasantly; his very laugh had a sharp and even
fierce—almost brutal—ring to it; and evil flashes darted athwart his
eyes. His mother always boasted of his being so obedient and polite, and
that he was not fond of consorting with naughty boys, but always was
more inclined to feminine society.
"He is his mother's son, an effeminate fellow," his father, Andréi
Nikoláevitch, was wont to say of him:—"but, on the other hand, he
likes to go to God's church…. And that delights me."
Only one old neighbour, a former commissary of the rural police, once
said in my presence concerning Mísha:—"Good gracious! he will turn out
a rebel." And I remember that that word greatly surprised me at the
time. The former commissary of police, it is true, had a habit of
descrying rebels everywhere.
Just this sort of exemplary youth did Mísha remain until the age of
eighteen,—until the death of his parents, whom he lost on almost one
and the same day. As I resided constantly in Moscow, I heard nothing
about my young relative. Some one who came to town from his government
did, it is true, inform me that Mísha had sold his ancestral estate for
a song; but this bit of news seemed to me altogether too
incredible!—And lo! suddenly, one autumn morning, into the courtyard of
my house dashes a calash drawn by a pair of splendid trotters, with a
monstrous coachman on the box; and in the calash, wrapped in a cloak of
military cut with a two-arshín beaver collar, and a fatigue-cap over
one ear—à la diable m'emporte—sits Mísha!
On catching sight of me (I was standing at the drawing-room window and
staring in amazement at the equipage which had dashed in), he burst into
his sharp laugh, and jauntily shaking the lapels of his cloak, he
sprang out of the calash and ran into the house.
"Mísha! Mikhaíl Andréevitch!" I was beginning … "is it you?"
"Call me 'thou' and 'Mísha,'" he interrupted me.—"'Tis I … 'tis I, in
person…. I have come to Moscow … to take a look at people … and to
show myself. So I have dropped in on you.—What do you think of my
trotters?… Hey?" Again he laughed loudly.
Although seven years had elapsed since I had seen Mísha for the last
time, yet I recognised him on the instant.—His face remained thoroughly
youthful and as comely as of yore; his moustache had not even sprouted;
but under his eyes on his cheeks a puffiness had made its appearance,
and an odour of liquor proceeded from his mouth.
"And hast thou been long in Moscow?" I inquired.—"I supposed that thou
wert off there in the country, managing thy estate…."
"Eh! I immediately got rid of the village!—As soon as my parents
died,—may the kingdom of heaven be theirs,"—(Mísha crossed himself
with sincerity, without the slightest hypocrisy)—"I instantly, without
the slightest delay … ein, zwei, drei! Ha-ha! I let it go cheap, the
rascally thing! Such a scoundrel turned up.—Well, never mind! At all
events, I shall live at my ease—and amuse others.—But why do you stare
at me so?—Do you really think that I ought to have spun the affair out
indefinitely?… My dear relative, can't I have a drink?"
Mísha talked with frightful rapidity, hurriedly and at the same time as
though half asleep.
"Good mercy, Mísha!"—I shouted: "Have the fear of God before thine
eyes! How dreadful is thine aspect, in what a condition thou art! And
thou wishest another drink! And to sell such a fine estate for a
"I always fear God and remember him," he caught me up.—"And he 's
good—God, I mean…. He'll forgive! And I also am good…. I have never
injured any one in my life as yet. And a drink is good also; and as for
hurting … it won't hurt anybody, either. And as for my looks, they are
all right…. If thou wishest, uncle, I'll walk a line on the floor. Or
shall I dance a bit?"
"Akh, please drop that!—What occasion is there for dancing? Thou hadst
better sit down."
"I don't mind sitting down…. But why don't you say something about my
greys? Just look at them, they're regular lions! I'm hiring them for the
time being, but I shall certainly buy them together with the coachman.
It is incomparably cheaper to own one's horses. And I did have the
money, but I dropped it last night at faro.—Never mind, I'll retrieve
my fortunes to-morrow. Uncle … how about that drink?"
I still could not collect myself.—"Good gracious! Mísha, how old art
thou? Thou shouldst not be occupying thyself with horses, or with
gambling … thou shouldst enter the university or the service."
Mísha first roared with laughter again, then he emitted a prolonged
"Well, uncle, I see that thou art in a melancholy frame of mind just
now. I'll call another time.—But see here: just look in at Sokólniki
some evening. I have pitched my tent there. The Gipsies sing…. Well,
well! One can hardly restrain himself! And on the tent there is a
pennant, and on the pennant is written in bi-i-ig letters: 'The Band of
Poltéva Gipsies.' The pennant undulates like a serpent; the letters
are gilded; any one can easily read them. The entertainment is whatever
any one likes!… They refuse nothing. It has kicked up a dust all over
Moscow … my respects…. Well? Will you come? I've got a Gipsy
there—a regular asp! Black as my boot, fierce as a dog, and eyes …
regular coals of fire! One can't possibly make out whether she is
kissing or biting…. Will you come, uncle?… Well, farewell for the
And abruptly embracing me and kissing me with a smack on my shoulder,
Mísha darted out into the court to his calash, waving his cap over his
head, and uttering a yell; the monstrous coachman bestowed upon him
an oblique glance across his beard, the trotters dashed forward, and all
On the following day, sinful man that I am, I did go to Sokólniki, and
actually did see the tent with the pennant and the inscription. The
tent-flaps were raised; an uproar, crashing, squealing, proceeded
thence. A crowd of people thronged around it. On the ground, on an
outspread rug, sat the Gipsy men and Gipsy women, singing, and thumping
tambourines; and in the middle of them, with a guitar in his hands, clad
in a red-silk shirt and full trousers of velvet, Mísha was gyrating like
a whirligig.—"Gentlemen! Respected sirs! Pray enter! The performance is
about to begin! Free!"—he was shouting in a cracked voice.—"Hey there!
Champagne! Bang! In the forehead! On the ceiling! Akh, thou rascal, Paul
de Kock!"—Luckily, he did not catch sight of me, and I hastily beat a
I shall not dilate, gentlemen, on my amazement at the sight of such a
change. And, as a matter of fact, how could that peaceable, modest lad
suddenly turn into a tipsy good-for-nothing? Was it possible that all
this had been concealed within him since his childhood, and had
immediately come to the surface as soon as the weight of parental
authority had been removed from him?—And that he had kicked up a dust
in Moscow, as he had expressed it, there could be no possible doubt,
either. I had seen rakes in my day; but here something frantic, some
frenzy of self-extermination, some sort of recklessness, had made itself
This diversion lasted for two months…. And lo! again I am standing at
the window of the drawing-room and looking out into the courtyard….
Suddenly—what is this?… Through the gate with quiet step enters a
novice…. His conical cap is pulled down on his brow, his hair is
combed smoothly and flows from under it to right and left … he wears a
long cassock and a leather girdle…. Can it be Mísha? It is!
I go out on the steps to meet him…. "What is the meaning of this
masquerade?" I ask.
"It is not a masquerade, uncle," Mísha answers me, with a deep
sigh;—"but as I have squandered all my property to the last kopék, and
as a mighty repentance has seized upon me, I have made up my mind to
betake myself to the Tróitzko-Sérgieva Lávra, to pray away my sins.
For what asylum is now left to me?… And so I have come to bid you
farewell, uncle, like the Prodigal Son…."
I gazed intently at Mísha. His face was the same as ever, fresh and rosy
(by the way, it never changed to the very end), and his eyes were humid
and caressing and languishing, and his hands were small and white….
But he reeked of liquor.
"Very well!" I said at last: "It is a good move if there is no other
issue. But why dost thou smell of liquor?"
"Old habit," replied Mísha, and suddenly burst out laughing, but
immediately caught himself up, and making a straight, low, monastic
obeisance, he added:—"Will not you contribute something for the
journey? For I am going to the monastery on foot…."
"To-day … at once."
"Why art thou in such a hurry?"
"Uncle! my motto has always been 'Hurry! Hurry!'"
"But what is thy motto now?"
"It is the same now…. Only 'Hurry—to good!'"
So Mísha went away, leaving me to meditate over the mutability of human
But he speedily reminded me of his existence. A couple of months after
his visit I received a letter from him,—the first of those letters with
which he afterward favoured me. And note this peculiarity: I have rarely
beheld a neater, more legible handwriting than was possessed by this
unmethodical man. The style of his letters also was very regular, and
slightly florid. The invariable appeals for assistance alternated with
promises of amendment, with honourable words and with oaths…. All this
appeared to be—and perhaps was—sincere. Mísha's signature at the end
of his letters was always accompanied by peculiar flourishes, lines and
dots, and he used a great many exclamation-points. In that first letter
Mísha informed me of a new "turn in his fortune." (Later on he called
these turns "dives" … and he dived frequently.) He had gone off to the
Caucasus to serve the Tzar and fatherland "with his breast," in the
capacity of a yunker. And although a certain benevolent aunt had
commiserated his poverty-stricken condition and had sent him an
insignificant sum, nevertheless he asked me to help him to equip
himself. I complied with his request, and for a period of two years
thereafter I heard nothing about him. I must confess that I entertained
strong doubts as to his having gone to the Caucasus. But it turned out
that he really had gone thither, had entered the T—— regiment as
yunker, through influence, and had served in it those two years. Whole
legends were fabricated there about him. One of the officers in his
regiment communicated them to me.
I learned a great deal which I had not expected from him. I was not
surprised, of course, that he had proved to be a poor, even a downright
worthless military man and soldier; but what I had not expected was,
that he had displayed no special bravery; that in battle he wore a
dejected and languid aspect, as though he were partly bored, partly
daunted. All discipline oppressed him, inspired him with sadness; he was
audacious to recklessness when it was a question of himself personally;
there was no wager too crazy for him to accept; but do evil to others,
kill, fight, he could not, perhaps because he had a good heart,—and
perhaps because his "cotton-wool" education (as he expressed it) had
enervated him. He was ready to exterminate himself in any sort of way at
any time…. But others—no. "The devil only can make him out," his
comrades said of him:—"he's puny, a rag—-and what a reckless fellow he
is—a regular dare-devil!"—I happened afterward to ask Mísha what evil
spirit prompted him, made him indulge in drinking-bouts, risk his life,
and so forth. He always had one answer: "Spleen."
"But why hast thou spleen?"
"Just because I have, good gracious! One comes to himself, recovers his
senses, and begins to meditate about poverty, about injustice, about
Russia…. Well, and that settles it! Immediately one feels such spleen
that he is ready to send a bullet into his forehead! One goes on a
"But why hast thou mixed up Russia with this?"
"What else could I do? Nothing!—That's why I am afraid to think."
"All that—that spleen—comes of thy idleness."
"But I don't know how to do anything, uncle! My dear relative! Here now,
if it were a question of taking and staking my life on a card,—losing
my all and shooting myself, bang! in the neck!—I can do that!—Here
now, tell me what to do, what to risk my life for.—I'll do it this very
"But do thou simply live…. Why risk thy life?"
"I can't!—You will tell me that I behave recklessly. What else can I
do?… One begins to think—and, O Lord, what comes into his head! 'T is
only the Germans who think!…"
What was the use of arguing with him? He was a reckless man—and that is
all there is to say!
I will repeat to you two or three of the Caucasian legends to which I
have alluded. One day, in the company of the officers, Mísha began to
brag of a Circassian sabre which he had obtained in barter.—"A genuine
Persian blade!"—The officers expressed doubt as to whether it were
really genuine. Mísha began to dispute.—"See here," he exclaimed at
last,—"they say that the finest judge of Circassian sabres is one-eyed
Abdulka. I will go to him and ask."—The officers were dumbfounded.
"What Abdulka? The one who lives in the mountains? The one who is not at
peace with us? Abdul-Khan?"
"The very man."
"But he will take thee for a scout, he will place thee in the
bug-house,—or he will cut off thy head with that same sabre. And how
wilt thou make thy way to him? They will seize thee immediately."
"But I will go to him, nevertheless."
"We bet that thou wilt not go!"
"I take your bet!"
And Mísha instantly saddled his horse and rode off to Abdulka. He was
gone for three days. All were convinced that he had come to some
dreadful end. And behold! he came back, somewhat tipsy, and with a
sabre, only not the one which he had carried away with him, but
another. They began to question him.
"It's all right," said he. "Abdulka is a kind man. At first he really
did order fetters to be riveted on my legs, and was even preparing to
impale me on a stake. But I explained to him why I had come. 'Do not
expect any ransom from me,' said I. 'I haven't a farthing to my
name—and I have no relatives.'—Abdulka was amazed; he stared at me
with his solitary eye.-'Well,' says he, 'thou art the chief of heroes,
Russian! Am I to believe thee?'—'Believe me,' said I; 'I never lie'
(and Mísha really never did lie).—Abdulka looked at me again.-'And dost
thou know how to drink wine?'-'I do,' said I; 'as much as thou wilt
give, so much will I drink.'—Again Abdulka was astonished, and
mentioned Allah. And then he ordered his daughter, or some pretty
maiden, whoever she was,—anyhow, she had the gaze of a jackal,—to
fetch a leathern bottle of wine.—And I set to work.—'But thy sabre is
spurious,' says he; 'here, take this genuine one. And now thou and I are
friends.'—And you have lost your wager, gentlemen, so pay up."
A second legend concerning Mísha runs as follows. He was passionately
fond of cards; but as he had no money and did not pay his gambling debts
(although he was never a sharper), no one would any longer sit down to
play with him. So one day he began to importune a brother officer, and
insisted upon the latter's playing with him.
"But thou wilt be sure to lose, and thou wilt not pay."
"I will not pay in money, that's true—but I will shoot a hole through
my left hand with this pistol here!"
"But what profit is there for me in that?"
"No profit whatever—but it's a curious thing, nevertheless."
This conversation took place after a carouse, in the presence of
witnesses. Whether Mísha's proposal really did strike the officer as
curious or not,—at all events, he consented. The cards were brought,
the game began. Mísha was lucky; he won one hundred rubles. And
thereupon his opponent smote himself on the forehead.
"What a blockhead I am!" he cried.—"On what a bait was I caught! If
thou hadst lost, much thou wouldst have shot thyself through the
hand!—so it's just an assault on my pocket!"
"That's where thou art mistaken," retorted Mísha:—"I have won—but I'll
shoot the hole through my hand."
He seized his pistol, and bang! shot himself through the hand. The
bullet went clear through … and a week later the wound was completely
On another occasion still, Mísha is riding along the road by night with
his comrades…. And they see yawning, right by the side of the road, a
narrow ravine in the nature of a cleft, dark, very dark, and the bottom
of it not visible.
"Here now," says one comrade, "Mísha is reckless enough about some
things, but he will not leap into this ravine."
"Yes, I will!"
"No, thou wilt not, because it is, probably, ten fathoms deep, and thou
mightest break thy neck."
His friend knew how to attack him—through his vanity…. Mísha had a
great deal of it.
"But I will leap, nevertheless! Wilt thou bet on it? Ten rubles."
And before his comrade had managed to finish the last word Mísha flew
off his horse into the ravine, and crashed down on the stones. They were
all fairly petrified with horror…. A good minute passed, and they
heard Mísha's voice proceeding as though from the bowels of the earth,
and very dull:
"I'm whole! I landed on sand…. But the descent was long! Ten rubles on
"Climb out!" shouted his comrades.
"Yes, climb out!"—returned Mísha. "Damn it! One can't climb out of
here! You will have to ride off now for ropes and lanterns. And in the
meanwhile, so that I may not find the waiting tedious, toss me down a
And so Mísha had to sit for five hours at the bottom of the ravine; and
when they dragged him out, it appeared that he had a dislocated
shoulder. But this did not daunt him in the least. On the following day
a blacksmith bone-setter set his shoulder, and he used it as though
nothing were the matter.
Altogether, his health was remarkable, unprecedented. I have already
told you that until his death he preserved an almost childish freshness
of complexion. He did not know what it was to be ill, in spite of all
his excesses; the vigour of his constitution was not affected in a
single instance. Where any other man would have fallen dangerously ill,
or even have died, he merely shook himself like a duck in the water, and
became more blooming than ever. Once—that also was in the Caucasus….
This legend is improbable, it is true, but from it one can judge what
Mísha was regarded as capable of doing…. So then, once, in the
Caucasus, when in a state of intoxication, he fell into a small stream
that covered the lower part of his body; his head and arms remained
exposed on the bank. The affair took place in winter; a rigorous frost
set in; and when he was found on the following morning, his legs and
body were visible beneath a stout crust of ice which had frozen over in
the course of the night—and he never even had a cold in the head in
consequence! On another occasion (this happened in Russia, near
Orél, and also during a severe frost), he chanced to go to a
suburban eating-house in company with seven young theological students.
These theological students were celebrating their graduation
examination, and had invited Mísha, as a charming fellow, "a man with a
sigh," as it was called then. They drank a great deal; and when, at
last, the merry crew were preparing to depart, Mísha, dead drunk, was
found to be already in a state of unconsciousness. The whole seven
theological students had between them only one tróika sledge with a high
back;—where were they to put the helpless body? Then one of the
young men, inspired by classical reminiscences, suggested that Mísha be
tied by the feet to the back of the sledge, as Hector was to the chariot
of Achilles! The suggestion was approved … and bouncing over the
hummocks, sliding sideways down the declivities, with his feet strung up
in the air, and his head dragging through the snow, our Mísha traversed
on his back the distance of two versts which separated the restaurant
from the town, and never even so much as coughed or frowned. With such
marvellous health had nature endowed him!
Leaving the Caucasus, he presented himself once more in Moscow, in a
Circassian coat, with cartridge-pouches on the breast, a dagger in his
belt, and a tall fur cap on his head. From this costume he did not part
until the end, although he was no longer in the military service, from
which he had been dismissed for not reporting on time. He called on me,
borrowed a little money … and then began his "divings," his progress
through the tribulations, or, as he expressed it, "through the seven
Semyóns"; then began his sudden absences and returns, the
despatching of beautifully-written letters addressed to all possible
persons, beginning with the Metropolitan and ending with riding-masters
and midwives! Then began the visits to acquaintances and strangers! And
here is one point which must be noted: in making his calls he did not
cringe and did not importune; but, on the contrary, he behaved himself
in decorous fashion, and even wore a cheery and pleasant aspect,
although an ingrained odour of liquor accompanied him everywhere—and
his Oriental costume was gradually reduced to rags.
"Give—God will reward you—although I do not deserve it," he was
accustomed to say, smiling brightly and blushing openly. "If you do not
give, you will be entirely in the right, and I shall not be angry in the
least. I shall support myself. God will provide! For there are many,
very many people who are poorer and more worthy than I!"
Mísha enjoyed particular success with women; he understood how to arouse
their compassion. And do not think that he was or imagined himself to be
a Lovelace…. Oh, no! In that respect he was very modest. Whether he
had inherited from his parents such cold blood, or whether herein was
expressed his disinclination to do evil to any one,—since, according to
his ideas, to consort with a woman means inevitably to insult the
woman,—I will not take it upon myself to decide; only, in his relations
with the fair sex he was extremely delicate. The women felt this, and
all the more willingly did they pity and aid him until he, at last,
repelled them by his sprees and hard drinking, by the recklessness of
which I have already spoken…. I cannot hit upon any other word.
On the other hand, in other respects he had already lost all delicacy
and had gradually descended to the extreme depths of degradation. He
once went so far that in the Assembly of Nobility of T—— he placed on
the table a jug with the inscription:
"Any one who finds it agreeable to tweak the nose of hereditary
nobleman Pólteff (whose authentic documents are herewith appended)
may satisfy his desire, on condition that he puts a ruble in this jug."
And it is said that there were persons who did care to tweak the
nobleman's nose! It is true that he first all but throttled one amateur
who, having put but one ruble in the jug, tweaked his nose twice, and
then made him sue for pardon; it is true also that he immediately
distributed to other tatterdemalions a portion of the money thus
secured … but, nevertheless, what outrageous conduct!
In the course of his wanderings through the seven Semyóns he had also
reached his ancestral nest, which he had sold for a song to a speculator
and usurer well known at that period. The speculator was at home, and on
learning of the arrival of the former owner, who had been transformed
into a tramp, he gave orders that he was not to be admitted into the
house, and that in case of need he was to be flung out by the scruff of
the neck. Mísha declared that he would not enter the house, defiled as
it was by the presence of a scoundrel; that he would allow no one to
throw him out; but that he was on his way to the churchyard to salute
the dust of his ancestors. This he did. At the churchyard he was joined
by an old house-serf, who had formerly been his man-nurse. The
speculator had deprived the old man of his monthly stipend and expelled
him from the home farm; from that time forth the man sought shelter in
the kennel of a peasant. Mísha had managed his estate for so short a
time that he had not succeeded in leaving behind him a specially good
memory of himself; but the old servitor had not been able to resist,
nevertheless, and on hearing of his young master's arrival, he had
immediately hastened to the churchyard, had found Mísha seated on the
ground among the mortuary stones, had begged leave to kiss his hand in
memory of old times, and had even melted into tears as he gazed at the
rags wherewith the once petted limbs of his nursling were swathed. Mísha
looked long and in silence at the old man.
"Timoféi!" he said at last.
Timoféi gave a start.
"What do you wish?"
"Hast thou a spade?"
"I can get one…. But what do you want with a spade, Mikhaílo
"I want to dig a grave for myself here, Timoféi; and lie down here
forever between my parents. For this is the only spot which is left to
me in the world. Fetch the spade!"
"I obey," said Timoféi; and went off and brought it.
And Mísha immediately began to dig up the earth, while Timoféi stood by
with his chin propped on his hand, repeating: "That's the only thing
left for thee and me, master!"
And Mísha dug and dug, inquiring from time to time: "Life isn't worth
living, is it, Timoféi?"
"It is not, dear little father."
The hole had already grown fairly deep. People saw Mísha's work and ran
to report about it to the speculator-owner. At first the speculator flew
into a rage, and wanted to send for the police. "What hypocrisy!" he
said. But afterward, reflecting, probably, that it would be inconvenient
to have a row with that lunatic, and that a scandal might be the result,
he betook himself in person to the churchyard, and approaching the
toiling Mísha, he made a polite obeisance to him. The latter continued
to dig, as though he had not noticed his successor.
"Mikhaíl Andréitch," began the speculator, "permit me to inquire what
you are doing there?"
"As you see—I am digging a grave for myself."
"Why are you doing that?"
"Because I do not wish to live any longer."
The speculator fairly flung apart his hands in surprise.—"You do not
wish to live?"
Mísha cast a menacing glance at the speculator:—"Does that surprise
you? Are not you the cause of it all?… Is it not you?… Is it not
thou?… Is it not thou, Judas, who hast robbed me, by taking
advantage of my youth? Dost not thou skin the peasants? Is it not thou
who hast deprived this decrepit old man of his daily bread? Is it not
thou?… O Lord! Everywhere there is injustice, and oppression, and
villainy…. So down with everything,—and with me also! I don't wish to
live—I don't wish to live any longer in Russia!"—And the spade made
swifter progress than ever in Mísha's hands.
"The devil knows the meaning of this!" thought the speculator: "he
actually is burying himself."—"Mikhaíl Andréitch,"—he began afresh,
"listen; I really am guilty toward you; people did not represent you
properly to me."
Mísha went on digging.
"But why this recklessness?"
Mísha went on digging—and flung the dirt on the speculator, as much as
to say: "Take that, earth-devourer!"
"Really, you have no cause for this. Will not you come to my house to
eat and rest?"
Mísha raised his head a little. "Now you're talking! And will there be
anything to drink?"
The speculator was delighted.—"Good gracious!… I should think so!"
"And dost thou invite Timoféi also?"
"But why … well, I invite him also."
Mísha reflected.—"Only look out … for thou didst turn me out of
doors…. Don't think thou art going to get off with one bottle!"
"Do not worry … there will be as much as you wish of everything."
Mísha flung aside his spade…. "Well, Timósha," he said, addressing his
old man-nurse, "let us honour the host…. Come along!"
"I obey," replied the old man.
And all three wended their way toward the house.
The speculator knew with whom he had to deal. Mísha made him promise as
a preliminary, it is true, that he would "allow all privileges" to the
peasants;—but an hour later that same Mísha, together with Timoféi,
both drunk, danced a gallopade through those rooms where the pious shade
of Andréi Nikoláitch seemed still to be hovering; and an hour later
still, Mísha, so sound asleep that he could not be waked (liquor was his
great weakness), was placed in a peasant-cart, together with his kazák
cap and his dagger, and sent off to the town, five-and-twenty versts
distant,—and there was found under a fence…. Well, and Timoféi, who
still kept his feet and merely hiccoughed, was "pitched out neck and
crop," as a matter of course. The master had made a failure of his
attempt. So they might as well let the servant pay the penalty!
Again considerable time elapsed and I heard nothing of Mísha…. God
knows where he had vanished.—One day, as I was sitting before the
samovár at a posting-station on the T—— highway, waiting for horses,
I suddenly heard, under the open window of the station-room, a hoarse
voice uttering in French:—"Monsieur … monsieur … prenez pitié d'un
pauvre gentilhomme ruiné!"…. I raised my head and looked…. The kazák
cap with the fur peeled off, the broken cartridge-pouches on the
tattered Circassian coat, the dagger in a cracked sheath, the bloated
but still rosy face, the dishevelled but still thick hair…. My God!
It was Mísha! He had already come to begging alms on the highways!—I
involuntarily uttered an exclamation. He recognised me, shuddered,
turned away, and was about to withdraw from the window. I stopped
him … but what was there that I could say to him? Certainly I could
not read him a lecture!… In silence I offered him a five-ruble
bank-note. With equal silence he grasped it in his still white and
plump, though trembling and dirty hand, and disappeared round the
corner of the house.
They did not furnish me with horses very promptly, and I had time to
indulge in cheerless meditations on the subject of my unexpected
encounter with Mísha. I felt conscience-stricken that I had let him go
in so unsympathetic a manner.—At last I proceeded on my journey, and
after driving half a verst from the posting-station I observed, ahead of
me on the road, a crowd of people moving along with a strange and as it
were measured tread. I overtook this crowd,—and what did I see?—Twelve
beggars, with wallets on their shoulders, were walking by twos, singing
and skipping as they went,—-and at their head danced Mísha, stamping
time with his feet and saying: "Natchiki-tchikaldi, tchuk-tchuk-tchuk!
As soon as my calash came on a level with him, and he caught sight of
me, he immediately began to shout, "Hurrah! Halt, draw up in line! Eyes
front, my guard of the road!"
The beggars took up his cry and halted,—while he, with his habitual
laugh, sprang upon the carriage-step, and again yelled: "Hurrah!"
"What is the meaning of this?" I asked, with involuntary amazement.
"This? This is my squad, my army; all beggars, God's people, my friends!
Each one of them, thanks to your kindness, has quaffed a cup of liquor:
and now we are all rejoicing and making merry!… Uncle! 'Tis only with
the beggars and God's poor that one can live in the world, you know …
by God, that's so!"
I made him no reply … but this time he seemed to me such a
good-natured soul, his face expressed such childlike ingenuousness … a
light suddenly seemed to dawn upon me, and there came a prick at my
"Get into the calash with me," I said to him.
He was amazed….
"What? Get into the calash?"
"Get in, get in!" I repeated. "I want to make thee a proposition. Get
in!… Drive on with me."
"Well, you command."—He got in.—"Come, and as for you, my dear
friends, respected comrades," he added to the beggars: "good-bye! Until
we meet again!"—Mísha took off his kazák cap and made a low bow.—The
beggars all seemed to be dumbfounded…. I ordered the coachman to whip
up the horses, and the calash rolled on.
This is what I wished to propose to Mísha: the idea had suddenly
occurred to me to take him into my establishment, into my country-house,
which was situated about thirty versts from that posting-station,—to
save him, or, at least, to make an effort to save him.
"Hearken, Mísha," said I; "wilt thou settle down with me?… Thou shalt
have everything provided for thee, clothes and under-linen shall be made
for thee, thou shalt be properly fitted out, and thou shalt receive
money for tobacco and so forth, only on one condition: not to drink
liquor!… Dost thou accept?"
Mísha was even frightened with joy. He opened his eyes very wide, turned
crimson, and suddenly falling on my shoulder, he began to kiss me and to
repeat in a spasmodic voice:—"Uncle … benefactor…. May God reward
you!…" He melted into tears at last, and doffing his kazák cap, began
to wipe his eyes, his nose, and his lips with it.
"Look out," I said to him. "Remember the condition—not to drink
"Why, damn it!" he exclaimed, flourishing both hands, and as a result
of that energetic movement I was still more strongly flooded with that
spirituous odour wherewith he was thoroughly impregnated…. "You see,
dear uncle, if you only knew my life…. If it were not for grief, cruel
Fate, you know…. But now I swear,—I swear that I will reform, and
will prove…. Uncle, I have never lied—ask any one you like if I
have…. I am an honourable, but an unhappy man, uncle; I have never
known kindness from any one…."
At this point he finally dissolved in sobs. I tried to soothe him and
succeeded, for when we drove up to my house Mísha had long been sleeping
the sleep of the dead, with his head resting on my knees.
He was immediately allotted a special room, and also immediately, as the
first measure, taken to the bath, which was absolutely indispensable.
All his garments, and his dagger and tall kazák cap and hole-ridden
shoes, were carefully laid away in the storehouse; clean linen was put
on him, slippers, and some of my clothing, which, as is always the case
with paupers, exactly fitted his build and stature. When he came to the
table, washed, neat, fresh, he seemed so much touched, and so happy, he
was beaming all over with such joyful gratitude, that I felt emotion
and joy…. His face was completely transfigured. Little boys of twelve
wear such faces at Easter, after the Communion, when, thickly pomaded,
clad in new round-jackets and starched collars, they go to exchange the
Easter greeting with their parents. Mísha kept feeling of himself
cautiously and incredulously, and repeating:—"What is this?… Am not I
in heaven?"—And on the following day he announced that he had not been
able to sleep all night for rapture!
In my house there was then living an aged aunt with her niece. They were
both greatly agitated when they heard of Mísha's arrival; they did not
understand how I could have invited him to my house! He bore a very bad
reputation. But, in the first place, I knew that he was always very
polite to ladies; and, in the second place, I trusted to his promise to
reform. And, as a matter of fact, during the early days of his sojourn
under my roof Mísha not only justified my expectations, but exceeded
them; and he simply enchanted my ladies. He played picquet with the old
lady; he helped her to wind yarn; he showed her two new games of
patience; he accompanied the niece, who had a small voice, on the piano;
he read her French and Russian poetry; he narrated diverting but
decorous anecdotes to both ladies;—in a word, he was serviceable to
them in all sorts of ways, so that they repeatedly expressed to me their
surprise, while the old woman even remarked: "How unjust people
sometimes are!… What all have not they said about him … while he is
so discreet and polite … poor Mísha!"
It is true that at table "poor Mísha" licked his lips in a
peculiarly-hasty way every time he even looked at a bottle. But all I
had to do was to shake my finger, and he would roll up his eyes, and
press his hand to his heart … as much as to say: "I have sworn…."
"I am regenerated now!" he assured me.—"Well, God grant it!" I thought
to myself…. But this regeneration did not last long.
During the early days he was very loquacious and jolly. But beginning
with the third day he quieted down, somehow, although, as before, he
kept close to the ladies and amused them. A half-sad, half-thoughtful
expression began to flit across his face, and the face itself grew pale
"Art thou ill?" I asked him.
"Yes," he answered;—"my head aches a little."
On the fourth day he became perfectly silent; he sat in a corner most of
the time, with dejectedly drooping head; and by his downcast aspect
evoked a feeling of compassion in the two ladies, who now, in their
turn, tried to divert him. At table he ate nothing, stared at his
plate, and rolled bread-balls. On the fifth day the feeling of pity in
the ladies began to be replaced by another—by distrust and even fear.
Mísha had grown wild, he avoided people and kept walking along the wall,
as though creeping stealthily, and suddenly darting glances around him,
as though some one had called him. And what had become of his rosy
complexion? It seemed to be covered with earth.
"Art thou still ill?" I asked him.
"No; I am well," he answered abruptly.
"Art thou bored?"
"Why should I be bored?"—But he turned away and would not look me in
"Or hast thou grown melancholy again?"—To this he made no reply.
On the following day my aunt ran into my study in a state of great
excitement, and declared that she and her niece would leave my house if
Mísha were to remain in it.
"Why, we feel afraid of him…. He is not a man,—he is a wolf, a
regular wolf. He stalks and stalks about, saying never a word, and has
such a wild look…. He all but gnashes his teeth. My Kátya is such a
nervous girl, as thou knowest…. She took a great interest in him the
first day…. I am afraid for her and for myself…."
I did not know what reply to make to my aunt. But I could not expel
Mísha, whom I had invited in.
He himself extricated me from this dilemma.
That very day—before I had even left my study—I suddenly heard a dull
and vicious voice behind me.
"Nikolái Nikoláitch, hey there, Nikolái Nikoláitch!"
I looked round. In the doorway stood Mísha, with a terrible, lowering,
"Nikolái Nikoláitch," he repeated … (it was no longer "dear uncle").
"What dost thou want?"
"Let me go … this very moment!"
"Let me go, or I shall commit a crime,—set the house on fire or cut
some one's throat."—Mísha suddenly fell to shaking.—"Order them to
restore my garments, and give me a cart to carry me to the highway, and
give me a trifling sum of money!"
"But art thou dissatisfied with anything?" I began.
"I cannot live thus!" he roared at the top of his voice.—"I cannot live
in your lordly, thrice-damned house! I hate, I am ashamed to live so
tranquilly!… How do you manage to endure it?!"
"In other words," I interposed, "thou wishest to say that thou canst not
live without liquor…."
"Well, yes! well, yes!" he yelled again.—"Only let me go to my
brethren, to my friends, to the beggars!… Away from your noble,
decorous, repulsive race!"
I wanted to remind him of his promise on oath, but the criminal
expression of Mísha's face, his unrestrained voice, the convulsive
trembling of all his limbs—all this was so frightful that I made haste
to get rid of him. I informed him that he should receive his clothing at
once, that a cart should be harnessed for him; and taking from a casket
a twenty-ruble bank-note, I laid it on the table. Mísha was already
beginning to advance threateningly upon me, but now he suddenly stopped
short, his face instantaneously became distorted, and flushed up; he
smote his breast, tears gushed from his eyes, and he stammered,
—"Uncle!—Angel! I am a lost man, you see!—-Thanks! Thanks!"—He
seized the bank-note and rushed out of the room.
An hour later he was already seated in a cart, again clad in his
Circassian coat, again rosy and jolly; and when the horses started off
he uttered a yell, tore off his tall kazák cap, and waving it above his
head, he made bow after bow. Immediately before his departure he
embraced me long and warmly, stammering:—"Benefactor, benefactor!… It
was impossible to save me!" He even ran in to see the ladies, and kissed
their hands over and over again, went down on his knees, appealed to
God, and begged forgiveness! I found Kátya in tears later on.
But the coachman who had driven Mísha reported to me, on his return,
that he had taken him to the first drinking establishment on the
highway, and that there he "had got stranded," had begun to stand treat
to every one without distinction, and had soon arrived at a state of
Since that time I have never met Mísha, but I learned his final fate in
the following manner.
Three years later I again found myself in the country; suddenly a
servant entered and announced that Madame Pólteff was inquiring for me.
I knew no Madame Pólteff, and the servant who made the announcement was
grinning in a sarcastic sort of way, for some reason or other. In reply
to my questioning glance he said that the lady who was asking for me was
young, poorly clad, and had arrived in a peasant-cart drawn by one
horse which she was driving herself! I ordered that Madame Pólteff
should be requested to do me the favour to step into my study.
I beheld a woman of five-and-twenty,—belonging to the petty burgher
class, to judge from her attire,—with a large kerchief on her head. Her
face was simple, rather round in contour, not devoid of agreeability;
her gaze was downcast and rather melancholy, her movements were
"Are you Madame Pólteff?" I asked, inviting her to be seated.
"Just so, sir," she answered, in a low voice, and without sitting
down.—"I am the widow of your nephew, Mikhaíl Andréevitch Pólteff."
"Is Mikhaíl Andréevitch dead? Has he been dead long?—But sit down, I
beg of you."
She dropped down on a chair.
"This is the second month since he died."
"And were you married to him long ago?"
"I lived with him one year in all."
"And whence come you now?"
"I come from the vicinity of Túla…. There is a village there called
Známenskoe-Glúshkovo—perhaps you deign to know it. I am the daughter of
the sexton there. Mikhaíl Andréitch and I lived there…. He settled
down with my father. We lived together a year in all." The young woman's
lips twitched slightly, and she raised her hand to them. She seemed to
be getting ready to cry, but conquered herself, and cleared her throat.
"The late Mikhaíl Andréitch, before his death," she went on, "bade me go
to you. 'Be sure to go,' he said. And he told me that I was to thank you
for all your goodness, and transmit to you … this … trifle" (she
drew from her pocket a small package), "which he always carried on his
person…. And Mikhaíl Andréitch said, Wouldn't you be so kind as to
accept it in memory—that you must not scorn it…. 'I have nothing else
to give him,' … meaning you … he said…."
In the packet was a small silver cup with the monogram of Mikhaíl's
mother. This tiny cup I had often seen in Mikhaíl's hands; and once he
had even said to me, in speaking of a pauper, that he must be stripped
bare, since he had neither cup nor bowl, "while I have this here," he
I thanked her, took the cup and inquired, "Of what malady did Mikhaíl
Here I bit my tongue, but the young woman understood my unspoken
thought…. She darted a swift glance at me, then dropped her eyes,
smiled sadly, and immediately said, "Akh, no! He had abandoned that
entirely from the time he made my acquaintance…. Only, what health had
he?!… It was utterly ruined. As soon as he gave up drinking, his
malady immediately manifested itself. He became so steady, he was always
wanting to help my father, either in the household affairs, or in the
vegetable garden … or whatever other work happened to be on hand …
in spite of the fact that he was of noble birth. Only, where was he to
get the strength?… And he would have liked to busy himself in the
department of writing also,—he knew how to do that beautifully, as you
are aware; but his hands shook so, and he could not hold the pen
properly…. He was always reproaching himself: 'I'm an idle dog,' he
said. 'I have done no one any good, I have helped no one, I have not
toiled!' He was very much afflicted over that same…. He used to say,
'Our people toil, but what are we doing?…' Akh, Nikolái Nikoláitch, he
was a fine man—and he loved me … and I…. Akh, forgive me…."
Here the young woman actually burst into tears. I would have liked to
comfort her, but I did not know how.
"Have you a baby?" I asked at last.
She sighed.—"No, I have not…. How could I have?"—And here tears
streamed worse than before.
So this was the end of Mísha's wanderings through tribulations [old P.
concluded his story].—You will agree with me, gentlemen, as a matter of
course, that I had a right to call him reckless; but you will probably
also agree with me that he did not resemble the reckless fellows of the
present day, although we must suppose that any philosopher would find
traits of similarity between him and them. In both cases there is the
thirst for self-annihilation, melancholy, dissatisfaction…. And what
that springs from I will permit precisely that philosopher to decide.
I was living with my mother at the time, in a small seaport town. I was
just turned seventeen, and my mother was only thirty-five; she had
married very young. When my father died I was only seven years old; but
I remembered him well. My mother was a short, fair-haired woman, with a
charming, but permanently-sad face, a quiet, languid voice, and timid
movements. In her youth she had borne the reputation of a beauty, and as
long as she lived she remained attractive and pretty. I have never
beheld more profound, tender, and melancholy eyes. I adored her, and she
loved me…. But our life was not cheerful; it seemed as though some
mysterious, incurable and undeserved sorrow were constantly sapping the
root of her existence. This sorrow could not be explained by grief for
my father alone, great as that was, passionately as my mother had loved
him, sacredly as she cherished his memory…. No! there was something
else hidden there which I did not understand, but which I felt,—felt
confusedly and strongly as soon as I looked at those quiet, impassive
eyes, at those very beautiful but also impassive lips, which were not
bitterly compressed, but seemed to have congealed for good and all.
I have said that my mother loved me; but there were moments when she
spurned me, when my presence was burdensome, intolerable to her. At such
times she felt, as it were, an involuntary aversion for me—and was
terrified afterward, reproaching herself with tears and clasping me to
her heart. I attributed these momentary fits of hostility to her
shattered health, to her unhappiness…. These hostile sentiments might
have been evoked, it is true, in a certain measure, by some strange
outbursts, which were incomprehensible even to me myself, of wicked and
criminal feelings which occasionally arose in me….
But these outbursts did not coincide with the moments of repulsion.—My
mother constantly wore black, as though she were in mourning. We lived
on a rather grand scale, although we associated with no one.
My mother concentrated upon me all her thoughts and cares. Her life was
merged in my life. Such relations between parents and children are not
always good for the children … they are more apt to be injurious.
Moreover I was my mother's only child … and only children generally
develop irregularly. In rearing them the parents do not think of
themselves so much as they do of them…. That is not practical. I did
not get spoiled, and did not grow obstinate (both these things happen
with only children), but my nerves were unstrung before their time; in
addition to which I was of rather feeble health—I took after my mother,
to whom I also bore a great facial resemblance. I shunned the society of
lads of my own age; in general, I was shy of people; I even talked very
little with my mother. I was fonder of reading than of anything else,
and of walking alone—and dreaming, dreaming! What my dreams were about
it would be difficult to say. It sometimes seemed to me as though I were
standing before a half-open door behind which were concealed hidden
secrets,—standing and waiting, and swooning with longing—yet not
crossing the threshold; and always meditating as to what there was
yonder ahead of me—and always waiting and longing … or falling into
slumber. If the poetic vein had throbbed in me I should, in all
probability, have taken to writing verses; if I had felt an inclination
to religious devoutness I might have become a monk; but there was
nothing of the sort about me, and I continued to dream—and to wait.
I have just mentioned that I sometimes fell asleep under the inspiration
of obscure thoughts and reveries. On the whole, I slept a great deal,
and dreams played a prominent part in my life; I beheld visions almost
every night. I did not forget them, I attributed to them significance, I
regarded them as prophetic, I strove to divine their secret import. Some
of them were repeated from time to time, which always seemed to me
wonderful and strange. I was particularly perturbed by one dream. It
seems to me that I am walking along a narrow, badly-paved street in an
ancient town, between many-storied houses of stone, with sharp-pointed
roofs. I am seeking my father who is not dead, but is, for some reason,
hiding from us, and is living in one of those houses. And so I enter a
low, dark gate, traverse a long courtyard encumbered with beams and
planks, and finally make my way into a small chamber with two circular
windows. In the middle of the room stands my father, clad in a
dressing-gown and smoking a pipe. He does not in the least resemble my
real father: he is tall, thin, black-haired, he has a hooked nose,
surly, piercing eyes; in appearance he is about forty years of age. He
is displeased because I have hunted him up; and I also am not in the
least delighted at the meeting—and I stand still, in perplexity. He
turns away slightly, begins to mutter something and to pace to and fro
with short steps…. Then he retreats a little, without ceasing to
mutter, and keeps constantly casting glances behind him, over his
shoulder; the room widens out and vanishes in a fog…. I suddenly grow
terrified at the thought that I am losing my father again. I rush after
him—but I no longer see him, and can only hear his angry, bear-like
growl…. My heart sinks within me. I wake up, and for a long time
cannot get to sleep again…. All the following day I think about that
dream and, of course, am unable to arrive at any conclusion.
The month of June had come. The town in which my mother and I lived
became remarkably animated at that season. A multitude of vessels
arrived at the wharves, a multitude of new faces presented themselves on
the streets. I loved at such times to stroll along the quay, past the
coffee-houses and inns, to scan the varied faces of the sailors and
other people who sat under the canvas awnings, at little white tables
with pewter tankards filled with beer.
One day, as I was passing in front of a coffee-house, I caught sight of
a man who immediately engrossed my entire attention. Clad in a long
black coat of peasant cut, with a straw hat pulled down over his eyes,
he was sitting motionless, with his arms folded on his chest. Thin
rings of black hair descended to his very nose; his thin lips gripped
the stem of a short pipe. This man seemed so familiar to me, every
feature of his swarthy, yellow face, his whole figure, were so
indubitably stamped on my memory, that I could not do otherwise than
halt before him, could not help putting to myself the question: "Who is
this man? Where have I seen him?" He probably felt my intent stare, for
he turned his black, piercing eyes upon me…. I involuntarily uttered a
cry of surprise….
This man was the father whom I had sought out, whom I had beheld in my
There was no possibility of making a mistake,—the resemblance was too
striking. Even the long-skirted coat, which enveloped his gaunt limbs,
reminded me, in colour and form, of the dressing-gown in which my father
had presented himself to me.
"Am not I dreaming?" I thought to myself…. "No…. It is daylight now,
a crowd is roaring round me, the sun is shining brightly in the blue
sky, and I have before me, not a phantom, but a living man."
I stepped up to an empty table, ordered myself a tankard of beer and a
newspaper, and seated myself at a short distance from this mysterious
Placing the sheets of the newspaper on a level with my face, I continued
to devour the stranger with my eyes.—He hardly stirred, and only raised
his drooping head a little from time to time. He was evidently waiting
for some one. I gazed and gazed…. Sometimes it seemed to me that I had
invented the whole thing, that in reality there was no resemblance
whatever, that I had yielded to the semi-involuntary deception of the
imagination … but "he" would suddenly turn a little on his chair,
raise his hand slightly, and again I almost cried aloud, again I beheld
before me my "nocturnal" father! At last he noticed my importunate
attention, and, first with surprise, then with vexation, he glanced in
my direction, started to rise, and knocked down a small cane which he
had leaned against the table. I instantly sprang to my feet, picked it
up and handed it to him. My heart was beating violently.
He smiled in a constrained way, thanked me, and putting his face close
to my face, he elevated his eyebrows and parted his lips a little, as
though something had struck him.
"You are very polite, young man," he suddenly began, in a dry, sharp,
snuffling voice.—"That is a rarity nowadays. Allow me to congratulate
you. You have been well brought up."
I do not remember precisely what answer I made to him; but the
conversation between us was started. I learned that he was a
fellow-countryman of mine, that he had recently returned from America,
where he had lived many years, and whither he was intending to return
shortly. He said his name was Baron…. I did not catch the name well.
He, like my "nocturnal" father, wound up each of his remarks with an
indistinct, inward growl. He wanted to know my name…. On hearing it he
again showed signs of surprise. Then he asked me if I had been living
long in that town, and with whom? I answered him that I lived with my
"And your father?"
"My father died long ago."
He inquired my mother's Christian name, and immediately burst into an
awkward laugh—and then excused himself, saying that he had that
American habit, and that altogether he was a good deal of an eccentric.
Then he asked where we lived. I told him.
The agitation which had seized upon me at the beginning of our
conversation had gradually subsided; I thought our intimacy rather
strange—that was all. I did not like the smile with which the baron
questioned me; neither did I like the expression of his eyes when he
fairly stabbed them into me…. There was about them something rapacious
and condescending … something which inspired dread. I had not seen
those eyes in my dream. The baron had a strange face! It was pallid,
fatigued, and, at the same time, youthful in appearance, but with a
disagreeable youthfulness! Neither had my "nocturnal" father that deep
scar, which intersected his whole forehead in a slanting direction, and
which I did not notice until I moved closer to him.
Before I had had time to impart to the baron the name of the street and
the number of the house where we lived, a tall negro, wrapped up in a
cloak to his very eyes, approached him from behind and tapped him softly
on the shoulder. The baron turned round, said: "Aha! At last!" and
nodding lightly to me, entered the coffee-house with the negro. I
remained under the awning. I wished to wait until the baron should come
out again, not so much for the sake of entering again into conversation
with him (I really did not know what topic I could start with), as for
the purpose of again verifying my first impression.—But half an hour
passed; an hour passed…. The baron did not make his appearance. I
entered the coffee-house, I made the circuit of all the rooms—but
nowhere did I see either the baron or the negro…. Both of them must
have taken their departure through the back door.
My head had begun to ache a little, and with the object of refreshing
myself I set out along the seashore to the extensive park outside the
town, which had been laid out ten years previously. After having
strolled for a couple of hours in the shade of the huge oaks and
plaintain-trees, I returned home.
Our maid-servant flew to meet me, all tremulous with agitation, as soon
as I made my appearance in the anteroom. I immediately divined, from the
expression of her face, that something unpleasant had occurred in our
house during my absence.—And, in fact, I learned that half an hour
before a frightful shriek had rung out from my mother's bedroom. When
the maid rushed in she found her on the floor in a swoon which lasted
for several minutes. My mother had recovered consciousness at last, but
had been obliged to go to bed, and wore a strange, frightened aspect;
she had not uttered a word, she had not replied to questions—she had
done nothing but glance around her and tremble. The servant had sent the
gardener for a doctor. The doctor had come and had prescribed a soothing
potion, but my mother had refused to say anything to him either. The
gardener asserted that a few moments after the shriek had rung out from
my mother's room he had seen a strange man run hastily across the
flower-plots of the garden to the street gate. (We lived in a one-story
house, whose windows looked out upon a fairly large garden.) The
gardener had not been able to get a good look at the man's face; but the
latter was gaunt, and wore a straw hat and a long-skirted coat…. "The
baron's costume!" immediately flashed into my head.—The gardener had
been unable to overtake him; moreover, he had been summoned, without
delay, to the house and despatched for the doctor.
I went to my mother's room; she was lying in bed, whiter than the pillow
on which her head rested…. At sight of me she smiled faintly, and put
out her hand to me. I sat down by her side, and began to question her;
at first she persistently parried my questions; but at last she
confessed that she had seen something which had frightened her greatly.
"Did some one enter here?" I asked.
"No," she answered hastily, "no one entered, but it seemed to me … I
thought I saw … a vision…."
She ceased speaking and covered her eyes with her hand. I was on the
point of communicating to her what I had heard from the gardener—and
my meeting with the baron also, by the way … but, for some reason or
other, the words died on my lips.
Nevertheless I did bring myself to remark to my mother that visions do
not manifest themselves in the daylight….
"Stop," she whispered, "please stop; do not torture me now. Some day
thou shalt know…." Again she relapsed into silence. Her hands were
cold, and her pulse beat fast and unevenly. I gave her a dose of her
medicine and stepped a little to one side, in order not to disturb her.
She did not rise all day. She lay motionless and quiet, only sighing
deeply from time to time, and opening her eyes in a timorous
fashion.—Every one in the house was perplexed.
Toward night a slight fever made its appearance, and my mother sent me
away. I did not go to my own chamber, however, but lay down in the
adjoining room on the divan. Every quarter of an hour I rose, approached
the door on tiptoe, and listened…. Everything remained silent—but my
mother hardly slept at all that night. When I went into her room early
in the morning her face appeared to me to be swollen, and her eyes were
shining with an unnatural brilliancy. In the course of the day she
became a little easier, but toward evening the fever increased again.
Up to that time she had maintained an obstinate silence, but now she
suddenly began to talk in a hurried, spasmodic voice. She was not
delirious, there was sense in her words, but there was no coherency in
them. Not long before midnight she raised herself up in bed with a
convulsive movement (I was sitting beside her), and with the same
hurried voice she began to narrate to me, continually drinking water in
gulps from a glass, feebly flourishing her hands, and not once looking
at me the while…. At times she paused, exerted an effort over herself,
and went on again…. All this was strange, as though she were doing it
in her sleep, as though she herself were not present, but as though some
other person were speaking with her lips, or making her speak.
"Listen to what I have to tell thee," she began. "Thou art no longer a
young boy; thou must know all. I had a good friend…. She married a man
whom she loved with all her heart, and she was happy with her husband.
But during the first year of their married life they both went to the
capital to spend a few weeks and enjoy themselves. They stopped at a
good hotel and went out a great deal to theatres and assemblies. My
friend was very far from homely; every one noticed her, all the young
men paid court to her; but among them was one in particular … an
officer. He followed her unremittingly, and wherever she went she beheld
his black, wicked eyes. He did not make her acquaintance, and did not
speak to her even once; he merely kept staring at her in a very strange,
insolent way. All the pleasures of the capital were poisoned by his
presence. She began to urge her husband to depart as speedily as
possible, and they had fully made up their minds to the journey. One day
her husband went off to the club; some officers—officers who belonged
to the same regiment as this man—had invited him to play cards…. For
the first time she was left alone. Her husband did not return for a long
time; she dismissed her maid and went to bed…. And suddenly a great
dread came upon her, so that she even turned cold all over and began to
tremble. It seemed to her that she heard a faint tapping on the other
side of the wall—like the noise a dog makes when scratching—and she
began to stare at that wall. In the corner burned a shrine-lamp; the
chamber was all hung with silken stuff…. Suddenly something began to
move at that point, rose, opened…. And straight out of the wall, all
black and long, stepped forth that dreadful man with the wicked eyes!
"She tried to scream and could not. She was benumbed with fright. He
advanced briskly toward her, like a rapacious wild beast, flung
something over her head, something stifling, heavy and white…. What
happened afterward I do not remember…. I do not remember! It was like
death, like murder…. When that terrible fog dispersed at last—when
I … my friend recovered her senses, there was no one in the room.
Again—and for a long time—she was incapable of crying out, but she did
shriek at last … then again everything grew confused….
"Then she beheld by her side her husband, who had been detained at the
club until two o'clock…. His face was distorted beyond recognition. He
began to question her, but she said nothing…. Then she fell ill….
But I remember that when she was left alone in the room she examined
that place in the wall…. Under the silken hangings there proved to be
a secret door. And her wedding-ring had disappeared from her hand. This
ring was of an unusual shape. Upon it seven tiny golden stars alternated
with seven tiny silver stars; it was an ancient family heirloom. Her
husband asked her what had become of her ring; she could make no reply.
Her husband thought that she had dropped it somewhere, hunted everywhere
for it, but nowhere could he find it. Gloom descended upon him, he
decided to return home as speedily as possible, and as soon as the
doctor permitted they quitted the capital…. But imagine! On the very
day of their departure they suddenly encountered, on the street, a
litter…. In that litter lay a man who had just been killed, with a
cleft skull—-and just imagine! that man was that same dreadful
nocturnal visitor with the wicked eyes…. He had been killed over a
game of cards!
"Then my friend went away to the country, and became a mother for the
first time … and lived several years with her husband. He never
learned anything about that matter, and what could she say? She herself
knew nothing. But her former happiness had vanished. Darkness had
invaded their life—and that darkness was never dispelled…. They had
no other children either before or after … but that son…."
My mother began to tremble all over, and covered her face with her
"But tell me now," she went on, with redoubled force, "whether my friend
was in any way to blame? With what could she reproach herself? She was
punished, but had not she the right to declare, in the presence of God
himself, that the punishment which overtook her was unjust? Then why can
the past present itself to her, after the lapse of so many years, in so
frightful an aspect, as though she were a sinner tortured by the
gnawings of conscience? Macbeth slew Banquo, so it is not to be
wondered at that he should have visions … but I…."
But my mother's speech became so entangled and confused that I ceased to
understand her … I no longer had any doubt that she was raving in
Any one can easily understand what a shattering effect my mother's
narration produced upon me! I had divined, at her very first word, that
she was speaking of herself, and not of any acquaintance of hers; her
slip of the tongue only confirmed me in my surmise. So it really was my
father whom I had sought out in my dream, whom I had beheld when wide
awake! He had not been killed, as my mother had supposed, but merely
wounded…. And he had come to her, and had fled, affrighted by her
fright. Everything suddenly became clear to me; the feeling of
involuntary repugnance for me which sometimes awoke in my mother, and
her constant sadness, and our isolated life…. I remember that my head
reeled, and I clutched at it with both hands, as though desirous of
holding it firmly in its place. But one thought had become riveted in it
like a nail. I made up my mind, without fail, at any cost, to find that
man again! Why? With what object?—I did not account to myself for
that; but to find him … to find him—that had become for me a question
of life or death!
On the following morning my mother regained her composure at last …
the fever passed off … she fell asleep. Committing her to the care of
our landlord and landlady and the servants, I set out on my quest.
First of all, as a matter of course, I betook myself to the coffee-house
where I had met the baron; but in the coffee-house no one knew him or
had even noticed him; he was a chance visitor. The proprietors had
noticed the negro—his figure had been too striking to escape notice;
but who he was, where he stayed, no one knew either. Leaving my address,
in case of an emergency, at the coffee-house, I began to walk about the
streets and the water-front of the town, the wharves, the boulevards; I
looked into all the public institutions, and nowhere did I find any one
who resembled either the baron or his companion…. As I had not caught
the baron's name, I was deprived of the possibility of appealing to the
police; but I privately gave two or three guardians of public order to
understand (they gazed at me in surprise, it is true, and did not
entirely believe me) that I would lavishly reward their zeal if they
should be successful in coming upon the traces of those two individuals,
whose personal appearance I tried to describe as minutely as possible.
Having strolled about in this manner until dinner-time, I returned home
thoroughly worn out. My mother had got out of bed; but with her habitual
melancholy there was mingled a new element, a sort of pensive
perplexity, which cut me to the heart like a knife. I sat with her all
the evening. We said hardly anything; she laid out her game of patience,
I silently looked at her cards. She did not refer by a single word to
her story, or to what had happened the day before. It was as though we
had both entered into a compact not to touch upon those strange and
terrifying occurrences…. She appeared to be vexed with herself and
ashamed of what had involuntarily burst from her; but perhaps she did
not remember very clearly what she had said in her semi-fevered
delirium, and hoped that I would spare her…. And, in fact, I did spare
her, and she was conscious of it; as on the preceding day she avoided
meeting my eyes.
A frightful storm had suddenly sprung up out of doors. The wind howled
and tore in wild gusts, the window-panes rattled and quivered;
despairing shrieks and groans were borne through the air, as though
something on high had broken loose and were flying with mad weeping
over the shaking houses. Just before dawn I lost myself in a doze …
when suddenly it seemed to me as though some one had entered my room and
called me, had uttered my name, not in a loud, but in a decided voice. I
raised my head and saw no one; but, strange to relate! I not only was
not frightened—I was delighted; there suddenly arose within me the
conviction that now I should, without fail, attain my end. I hastily
dressed myself and left the house.
The storm had subsided … but its last flutterings could still be felt.
It was early; there were no people in the streets; in many places
fragments of chimneys, tiles, boards of fences which had been rent
asunder, the broken boughs of trees, lay strewn upon the ground….
"What happened at sea last night?" I involuntarily thought at the sight
of the traces left behind by the storm. I started to go to the port, but
my feet bore me in another direction, as though in obedience to an
irresistible attraction. Before ten minutes had passed I found myself in
a quarter of the town which I had never yet visited. I was walking, not
fast, but without stopping, step by step, with a strange sensation at my
heart; I was expecting something remarkable, impossible, and, at the
same time, I was convinced that that impossible thing would come to
And lo, it came to pass, that remarkable, that unexpected thing! Twenty
paces in front of me I suddenly beheld that same negro who had spoken to
the baron in my presence at the coffee-house! Enveloped in the same
cloak which I had then noticed on him, he seemed to have popped up out
of the earth, and with his back turned toward me was walking with brisk
strides along the narrow sidewalk of the crooked alley! I immediately
dashed in pursuit of him, but he redoubled his gait, although he did not
glance behind him, and suddenly made an abrupt turn around the corner of
a projecting house. I rushed to that corner and turned it as quickly as
the negro had done…. Marvellous to relate! Before me stretched a long,
narrow, and perfectly empty street; the morning mist filled it with its
dim, leaden light,—but my gaze penetrated to its very extremity. I
could count all its buildings … and not a single living being was
anywhere astir! The tall negro in the cloak had vanished as suddenly as
he had appeared! I was amazed … but only for a moment. Another feeling
immediately took possession of me; that street which stretched out
before my eyes, all dumb and dead, as it were,—I recognised it! It was
the street of my dream. I trembled and shivered—the morning was so
chilly—and instantly, without the slightest wavering, with a certain
terror of confidence, I went onward.
I began to seek with my eyes…. Yes, there it is, yonder, on the right,
with a corner projecting on the sidewalk—yonder is the house of my
dream, yonder is the ancient gate with the stone scrolls on each
side…. The house is not circular, it is true, but square … but that
is a matter of no importance…. I knock at the gate, I knock once,
twice, thrice, ever more and more loudly…. The gate opens slowly, with
a heavy screech, as though yawning. In front of me stands a young
serving-maid with a dishevelled head and sleepy eyes. She has evidently
just waked up.
"Does the baron live here?" I inquire, as I run a swift glance over the
deep, narrow courtyard…. It is there; it is all there … there are
the planks which I had seen in my dream.
"No," the maid answers me, "the baron does not live here."
"What dost thou mean by that? It is impossible!"
"He is not here now. He went away yesterday."
"To America!" I involuntarily repeated. "But he is coming back?"
The maid looked suspiciously at me.
"I don't know. Perhaps he will not come back at all."
"But has he been living here long?"
"No, not long; about a week. Now he is not here at all."
"But what was the family name of that baron?"
The maid-servant stared at me.
"Don't you know his name? We simply called him the baron. Hey, there!
Piótr!" she cried, perceiving that I was pushing my way in.—"come
hither: some stranger or other is asking all sorts of questions."
From the house there presented itself the shambling figure of a robust
"What's the matter? What's wanted?" he inquired in a hoarse voice,—and
having listened to me with a surly mien, he repeated what the
maid-servant had said.
"But who does live here?" I said.
"And who is he?"
"A carpenter. They are all carpenters in this street."
"Can he be seen?"
"Impossible now, he is asleep."
"And cannot I go into the house?"
"No; go your way."
"Well, and can I see your master a little later?"
"Why not? Certainly. He can always be seen…. That's his business as a
dealer. Only, go your way now. See how early it is."
"Well, and how about that negro?" I suddenly asked.
The labourer stared in amazement, first at me, then at the maid-servant.
"What negro?" he said at last.—"Go away, sir. You can come back later.
Talk with the master."
I went out into the street. The gate was instantly banged behind me,
heavily and sharply, without squeaking this time.
I took good note of the street and house and went away, but not home.—I
felt something in the nature of disenchantment. Everything which had
happened to me was so strange, so remarkable—and yet, how stupidly it
had been ended! I had been convinced that I should behold in that house
the room which was familiar to me—and in the middle of it my father,
the baron, in a dressing-gown and with a pipe…. And instead of that,
the master of the house was a carpenter, and one might visit him as much
as one pleased,—and order furniture of him if one wished!
But my father had gone to America! And what was left for me to do
now?… Tell my mother everything, or conceal forever the very memory of
that meeting? I was absolutely unable to reconcile myself to the thought
that such a senseless, such a commonplace ending should be tacked on to
such a supernatural, mysterious beginning!
I did not wish to return home, and walked straight ahead, following my
nose, out of the town.
I walked along with drooping head, without a thought, almost without
sensation, but wholly engrossed in myself.—A measured, dull and angry
roar drew me out of my torpor. I raised my head: it was the sea roaring
and booming fifty paces from me. Greatly agitated by the nocturnal
storm, the sea was a mass of white-caps to the very horizon, and steep
crests of long breakers were rolling in regularly and breaking on the
flat shore, I approached it, and walked along the very line left by the
ebb and flow on the yellow, ribbed sand, strewn with fragments of
trailing seawrack, bits of shells, serpent-like ribbons of eel-grass.
Sharp-winged gulls with pitiful cry, borne on the wind from the distant
aerial depths, soared white as snow against the grey, cloudy sky,
swooped down abruptly, and as though skipping from wave to wave,
departed again and vanished like silvery flecks in the strips of
swirling foam. Some of them, I noticed, circled persistently around a
large isolated boulder which rose aloft in the midst of the monotonous
expanse of sandy shores. Coarse seaweed grew in uneven tufts on one side
of the rock; and at the point where its tangled stems emerged from the
yellow salt-marsh, there was something black, and long, and arched, and
not very large…. I began to look more intently…. Some dark object
was lying there—lying motionless beside the stone…. That object
became constantly clearer and more distinct the nearer I approached….
I was only thirty paces from the rock now…. Why, that was the outline
of a human body! It was a corpse; it was a drowned man, cast up by the
sea! I went clear up to the rock.
It was the corpse of the baron, my father! I stopped short, as though
rooted to the spot. Then only did I understand that ever since daybreak
I had been guided by some unknown forces—that I was in their
power,—and for the space of several minutes there was nothing in my
soul save the ceaseless crashing of the sea, and a dumb terror in the
presence of the Fate which held me in its grip….
He was lying on his back, bent a little to one side, with his left arm
thrown above his head … the right was turned under his bent body. The
sticky slime had sucked in the tips of his feet, shod in tall sailor's
boots; the short blue pea-jacket, all impregnated with sea-salt, had not
unbuttoned; a red scarf encircled his neck in a hard knot. The swarthy
face, turned skyward, seemed to be laughing; from beneath the upturned
upper lip small close-set teeth were visible; the dim pupils of the
half-closed eyes were hardly to be distinguished from the darkened
whites; covered with bubbles of foam the dirt-encrusted hair spread out
over the ground and laid bare the smooth forehead with the purplish line
of the scar; the narrow nose rose up like a sharp, white streak between
the sunken cheeks. The storm of the past night had done its work…. He
had not beheld America! The man who had insulted my mother, who had
marred her life, my father—yes! my father, I could cherish no doubt as
to that—lay stretched out helpless in the mud at my feet. I experienced
a sense of satisfied vengeance, and compassion, and repulsion, and
terror most of all … of twofold terror; terror of what I had seen, and
of what had come to pass. That evil, that criminal element of which I
have already spoken, those incomprehensible spasms rose up within
me … stifled me.
"Aha!" I thought to myself: "so that is why I am what I am…. That is
where blood tells!" I stood beside the corpse and gazed and waited, to
see whether those dead pupils would not stir, whether those benumbed
lips would not quiver. No! everything was motionless; the very seaweed,
among which the surf had cast him, seemed to have congealed; even the
gulls had flown away—there was not a fragment anywhere, not a plank or
any broken rigging. There was emptiness everywhere … only he—and
I—and the foaming sea in the distance. I cast a glance behind me; the
same emptiness was there; a chain of hillocks on the horizon … that
I dreaded to leave that unfortunate man in that loneliness, in the ooze
of the shore, to be devoured by fishes and birds; an inward voice told
me that I ought to hunt up some men and call them thither, if not to
aid—that was out of the question—at least for the purpose of laying
him out, of bearing him beneath an inhabited roof…. But indescribable
terror suddenly took possession of me. It seemed to me as though that
dead man knew that I had come thither, that he himself had arranged that
last meeting—it even seemed as though I could hear that dull, familiar
muttering…. I ran off to one side … looked behind me once more….
Something shining caught my eye; it brought me to a standstill. It was
a golden hoop on the outstretched hand of the corpse…. I recognised my
mother's wedding-ring. I remember how I forced myself to return, to go
close, to bend down…. I remember the sticky touch of the cold fingers,
I remember how I panted and puckered up my eyes and gnashed my teeth, as
I tugged persistently at the ring….
At last I got it off—and I fled—fled away, in headlong flight,—and
something darted after me, and overtook me and caught me.
Everything which I had gone through and endured was, probably, written
on my face when I returned home. My mother suddenly rose upright as soon
as I entered her room, and gazed at me with such insistent inquiry that,
after having unsuccessfully attempted to explain myself, I ended by
silently handing her the ring. She turned frightfully pale, her eyes
opened unusually wide and turned dim like his.—She uttered a faint
cry, seized the ring, reeled, fell upon my breast, and fairly swooned
there, with her head thrown back and devouring me with those wide, mad
eyes. I encircled her waist with both arms, and standing still on one
spot, never stirring, I slowly narrated everything, without the
slightest reservation, to her, in a quiet voice: my dream and the
meeting, and everything, everything…. She heard me out to the end,
only her breast heaved more and more strongly, and her eyes suddenly
grew more animated and drooped. Then she put the ring on her fourth
finger, and, retreating a little, began to get out a mantilla and a hat.
I asked where she was going. She raised a surprised glance to me and
tried to answer, but her voice failed her. She shuddered several times,
rubbed her hands as though endeavouring to warm herself, and at last she
said: "Let us go at once thither."
"Whither, mother dear?"
"Where he is lying…. I want to see … I want to know … I shall
I tried to persuade her not to go; but she was almost in hysterics. I
understood that it was impossible to oppose her desire, and we set out.
And lo, again I am walking over the sand of the dunes, but I am no
longer alone, I am walking arm in arm with my mother. The sea has
retreated, has gone still further away; it is quieting down; but even
its diminished roar is menacing and ominous. Here, at last, the solitary
rock has shown itself ahead of us—and there is the seaweed. I look
intently, I strive to distinguish that rounded object lying on the
ground—but I see nothing. We approach closer. I involuntarily retard my
steps. But where is that black, motionless thing? Only the stalks of the
seaweed stand out darkly against the sand, which is already dry…. We
go to the very rock…. The corpse is nowhere to be seen, and only on
the spot where it had lain there still remains a depression, and one can
make out where the arms and legs lay…. Round about the seaweed seems
tousled, and the traces of one man's footsteps are discernible; they go
across the down, then disappear on reaching the flinty ridge.
My mother and I exchange glances and are ourselves frightened at what we
read on our own faces….
Can he have got up of himself and gone away?
"But surely thou didst behold him dead?" she asks in a whisper.
I can only nod my head. Three hours have not elapsed since I stumbled
upon the baron's body…. Some one had discovered it and carried it
away.—I must find out who had done it, and what had become of him.
But first of all I must attend to my mother.
While she was on her way to the fatal spot she was in a fever, but she
controlled herself. The disappearance of the corpse had startled her as
the crowning misfortune. She was stupefied. I feared for her reason.
With great difficulty I got her home. I put her to bed again; again I
called the doctor for her; but as soon as my mother partly recovered her
senses she at once demanded that I should instantly set out in search of
"that man." I obeyed. But, despite all possible measures, I discovered
nothing. I went several times to the police-office, I visited all the
villages in the neighbourhood, I inserted several advertisements in the
newspapers, I made inquiries in every direction—all in vain! It is true
that I did hear that a drowned man had been found at one of the hamlets
on the seashore…. I immediately hastened thither, but he was already
buried, and from all the tokens he did not resemble the baron. I found
out on what ship he had sailed for America. At first every one was
positive that that ship had perished during the tempest; but several
months afterward rumours began to circulate to the effect that it had
been seen at anchor in the harbour of New York. Not knowing what to do,
I set about hunting up the negro whom I had seen.—I offered him,
through the newspapers, a very considerable sum of money if he would
present himself at our house. A tall negro in a cloak actually did come
to the house in my absence…. But after questioning the servant-maid,
he suddenly went away and returned no more.
And thus the trace of my … my father grew cold; thus did it vanish
irrevocably in the mute gloom. My mother and I never spoke of him. Only,
one day, I remember that she expressed surprise at my never having
alluded before to my strange dream; and then she added: "Of course, it
really …" and did not finish her sentence.
My mother was ill for a long time, and after her convalescence our
former relations were not reëstablished. She felt awkward in my presence
until the day of her death…. Precisely that, awkward. And there was no
way of helping her in her grief. Everything becomes smoothed down, the
memories of the most tragic family events gradually lose their force and
venom; but if a feeling of awkwardness has been set up between two
closely-connected persons, it is impossible to extirpate it!
I have never again had that dream which had been wont so to disturb me;
I no longer "search for" my father; but it has sometimes seemed to
me—and it seems so to me to this day—that in my sleep I hear distant
shrieks, unintermittent, melancholy plaints; they resound somewhere
behind a lofty wall, across which it is impossible to clamber; they
rend my heart—and I am utterly unable to comprehend what it is: whether
it is a living man groaning, or whether I hear the wild, prolonged roar
of the troubled sea. And now it passes once more into that beast-like
growl—and I awake with sadness and terror in my soul.
FATHER ALEXYÉI'S STORY
Twenty years ago I was obliged—in my capacity of private inspector—to
make the circuit of all my aunt's rather numerous estates. The parish
priests, with whom I regarded it as my duty to make acquaintance, proved
to be individuals of pretty much one pattern, and made after one model,
as it were. At length, in about the last of the estates which I was
inspecting, I hit upon a priest who did not resemble his brethren. He
was a very aged man, almost decrepit; and had it not been for the urgent
entreaties of his parishioners, who loved and respected him, he would
long before have petitioned to be retired that he might rest. Two
peculiarities impressed me in Father Alexyéi (that was the priest's
name). In the first place, he not only asked nothing for himself but
announced plainly that he required nothing; and, in the second place, I
have never beheld in any human face a more sorrowful, thoroughly
indifferent—what is called an "overwhelmed"—expression. The features
of that face were of the ordinary rustic type: a wrinkled forehead,
small grey eyes, a large nose, a wedge-shaped beard, a swarthy,
sunburned skin…. But the expression! … the expression!… In that
dim gaze life barely burned, and sadly at that; and his voice also was,
somehow, lifeless and dim.
I fell ill and kept my bed for several days. Father Alexyéi dropped in
to see me in the evenings, not to chat, but to play "fool." The game
of cards seemed to divert him more than it did me. One day, after having
been left "the fool" several times in succession (which delighted Father
Alexyéi not a little), I turned the conversation on his past life, on
the afflictions which had left on him such manifest traces. Father
Alexyéi remained obdurate for a long time at first, but ended by
relating to me his story. He must have taken a liking to me for some
reason or other. Otherwise he would not have been so frank with me.
I shall endeavour to transmit his story in his own words. Father Alexyéi
talked very simply and intelligently, without any seminary or provincial
tricks and turns of speech. It was not the first time I had noticed that
Russians, of all classes and callings, who have been violently shattered
and humbled express themselves precisely in such language.
… I had a good and sedate wife [thus he began], I loved her heartily,
and we begat eight children. One of my sons became a bishop, and died
not so very long ago, in his diocese. I shall now tell you about my
other son,—Yákoff was his name. I sent him to the seminary in the town
of T——, and soon began to receive the most comforting reports about
him. He was the best pupil in all the branches! Even at home, in his
boyhood, he had been distinguished for his diligence and discretion; a
whole day would sometimes pass without one's hearing him … he would be
sitting all the time over his book, reading. He never caused me and my
wife the slightest displeasure; he was a meek lad. Only sometimes he
was thoughtful beyond his years, and his health was rather weak. Once
something remarkable happened to him. He left the house at daybreak, on
St. Peter's day, and was gone almost all the morning. At last he
returned. My wife and I ask him: "Where hast thou been?"
"I have been for a ramble in the forest," says he, "and there I met a
certain little green old man, who talked a great deal with me, and gave
me such savoury nuts!"
"What little green old man art thou talking about?" we ask him.
"I don't know," says he; "I never saw him before. He was a little old
man with a hump, and he kept shifting from one to the other of his
little feet, and laughing—and he was all green, just like a leaf."
"What," say we, "and was his face green also?"
"Yes, his face, and his hair, and even his eyes."
Our son had never lied to us; but this time my wife and I had our
"Thou must have fallen asleep in the forest, in the heat of the day, and
have seen that old man in thy dreams."
"I wasn't asleep at all," says he. "Why, don't you believe me?" says
he. "See here, I have one of the nuts left in my pocket."
Yákoff pulled the nut out of his pocket and showed it to us.—The kernel
was small, in the nature of a chestnut, and rather rough; it did not
resemble our ordinary nuts. I laid it aside, and intended to show it to
the doctor … but it got lost…. I did not find it again.
Well, sir, so we sent him to the seminary, and, as I have already
informed you, he rejoiced us by his success. So my spouse and I assumed
that he would turn out a fine man! When he came for a sojourn at home it
was a pleasure to look at him; he was so comely, and there was no
mischief about him;—every one liked him, every one congratulated us.
Only he was still rather thin of body, and there was no real good
rosiness in his face. So then, he was already in his nineteenth year,
and his education would soon be finished. When suddenly we receive from
him a letter.—He writes to us: "Dear father and mother, be not wroth
with me, permit me to be a layman; my heart does not incline to the
ecclesiastical profession, I dread the responsibility, I am afraid I
shall sin—doubts have taken hold upon me! Without your parental
permission and blessing I shall venture on nothing—but one thing I will
tell you; I am afraid of myself, for I have begun to think a great
I assure you, my dear sir, that this letter made me very sad,—as though
a boar-spear had pricked my heart,—for I saw that I should have no one
to take my place! My eldest son was a monk; and this one wanted to
abandon his vocation altogether. I was also pained because priests from
our family have lived in our parish for close upon two hundred years.
But I thought to myself: "There's no use in kicking against the pricks;
evidently, so it was predestined for him. What sort of a pastor would he
be if he has admitted doubt to his mind?" I took counsel with my wife,
and wrote to him in the following sense:
"Think it over well, my son Yákoff; measure ten times before you cut
off once—there are great difficulties in the worldly service, cold and
hunger, and scorn for our caste! And thou must know beforehand that no
one will lend a hand to aid; so see to it that thou dost not repine
afterward. My desire, as thou knowest, has always been that thou
shouldst succeed me; but if thou really hast come to cherish doubts as
to thy calling and hast become unsteady in the faith, then it is not my
place to restrain thee. The Lord's will be done! Thy mother and I will
not refuse thee our blessing."
Yákoff answered me with a grateful letter. "Thou hast rejoiced me, dear
father," said he. "It is my intention to devote myself to the profession
of learning, and I have some protection; I shall enter the university
and become a doctor, for I feel a strong bent for science." I read
Yáshka's letter and became sadder than before; but I did not share my
grief with any one. My old woman caught a severe cold about that time
and died—from that same cold, or the Lord took her to Himself because
He loved her, I know not which. I used to weep and weep because I was a
lonely widower—but what help was there for that? So it had to be,
you know. And I would have been glad to go into the earth … but it is
hard … it will not open. And I was expecting my son; for he had
notified me: "Before I go to Moscow," he said, "I shall look in at
home." And he did come to the parental roof, but did not remain there
long. It seemed as though something were urging him on; he would have
liked, apparently, to fly on wings to Moscow, to his beloved university!
I began to question him as to his doubts. "What was the cause of them?"
I asked. But I did not get much out of him. One idea had pushed itself
into his head, and that was the end of it! "I want to help my
neighbours," he said.—Well, sir, he left me. I don't believe he took a
penny with him, only a few clothes. He had such reliance on himself! And
not without reason. He passed an excellent examination, matriculated as
student, obtained lessons in private houses…. He was very strong on
the ancient languages! And what think you? He took it into his head to
send me money. I cheered up a little,—not on account of the money, of
course,—I sent that back to him, and even scolded him; but I cheered up
because I saw that the young fellow would make his way in the world. But
my rejoicing did not last long….
He came to me for his first vacation…. And, what marvel is this? I do
not recognise my Yákoff! He had grown so tiresome and surly,—you
couldn't get a word out of him. And his face had changed also: he had
grown about ten years older. He had been taciturn before, there's no
denying that! At the slightest thing he would grow shy and blush like a
girl…. But when he raised his eyes, you could see that all was bright
in his soul! But now it was quite different. He was not shy, but he held
aloof, like a wolf, and was always looking askance. He had neither a
smile nor a greeting for any one—he was just like a stone! If I
undertook to interrogate him, he would either remain silent or snarl. I
began to wonder whether he had taken to drink—which God forbid!—or had
conceived a passion for cards; or whether something in the line of a
weakness for women had happened to him. In youth love-longings act
powerfully,—well, and in such a large city as Moscow bad examples and
occasions are not lacking. But no; nothing of that sort was discernible.
His drink was kvas and water; he never looked at the female sex—and
had no intercourse with people in general. And what was most bitter of
all to me, he did not have his former confidence in me; a sort of
indifference had made its appearance, just as though everything belonging
to him had become loathsome to him. I turned the conversation on the
sciences, on the university, but even there could get no real answer. He
went to church, but he was not devoid of peculiarities there also;
everywhere he was grim and scowling, but in church he seemed always
to be grinning.
After this fashion he spent six weeks with me, then went back to Moscow.
From Moscow he wrote to me twice, and it seemed to me, from his letters,
as though he were regaining his sensibilities. But picture to yourself
my surprise, my dear sir! Suddenly, in the very middle of the winter,
just before the Christmas holidays, he presents himself before me!
"How didst thou get here? How is this? What's the matter? I know that
thou hast no vacation at this time.—Dost thou come from Moscow?"—I
"And how about … the university?"
"I have left the university."
"Thou hast left it?"
"But art thou ill, pray, Yákoff?"
"No, father," says he, "I am not ill; but just don't bother me and
question me, dear father, or I will go away from here—and that's the
last thou wilt ever see of me."
Yákoff tells me that he is not ill, but his face is such that I am
fairly frightened. It was dreadful, dark—not human, actually!—His
cheeks were drawn, his cheek-bones projected, he was mere skin and bone;
his voice sounded as though it proceeded from a barrel … while his
eyes…. O Lord and Master! what eyes!—menacing, wild, incessantly
darting from side to side, and it was impossible to catch them; his
brows were knit, his lips seemed to be twisted on one side…. What had
happened to my Joseph Most Fair, to my quiet lad? I cannot
comprehend it. "Can he have gone crazy?" I say to myself. He roams about
like a spectre by night, he does not sleep,—and then, all of a sudden,
he will take to staring into a corner as though he were completely
benumbed…. It was enough to scare one!
Although he had threatened to leave the house if I did not leave him in
peace, yet surely I was his father! My last hope was ruined—yet I was
to hold my tongue! So one day, availing myself of an opportunity, I
began to entreat Yákoff with tears, I began to adjure him by the memory
of his dead mother:
"Tell me," I said, "as thy father in the flesh and in the spirit, Yásha,
what aileth thee? Do not kill me; explain thyself, lighten thy heart!
Can it be that thou hast ruined some Christian soul? If so, repent!"
"Well, dear father," he suddenly says to me (this took place toward
nightfall), "thou hast moved me to compassion. I will tell thee the
whole truth. I have not ruined any Christian soul—but my own soul is
going to perdition."
"How is that?"
"In this way…." And thereupon Yákoff raised his eyes to mine for the
first time.—"It is going on four months now," he began…. But suddenly
he broke off and began to breathe heavily.
"What about the fourth month? Tell me, do not make me suffer!"
"This is the fourth month that I have been seeing him."
"Him? Who is he?"
"Why, the person … whom it is awkward to mention at night."
I fairly turned cold all over and fell to quaking.
"What?!" I said, "dost thou see him?"
"And dost thou see him now?"
"Where?" And I did not dare to turn round, and we both spoke in a
"Why, yonder …" and he indicated the spot with his eyes … "yonder,
in the corner."
I summoned up my courage and looked at the corner; there was nothing
"Why, good gracious, there is nothing there, Yákoff!"
"Thou dost not see him, but I do."
Again I glanced round … again nothing. Suddenly there recurred to my
mind the little old man in the forest who had given him the chestnut.
"What does he look like?" I said…. "Is he green?"
"No, he is not green, but black."
"Has he horns?"
"No, he is like a man,—only all black."
As Yákoff speaks he displays his teeth in a grin and turns as pale as a
corpse, and huddles up to me in terror; and his eyes seem on the point
of popping out of his head, and he keeps staring at the corner.
"Why, it is a shadow glimmering faintly," I say. "That is the blackness
from a shadow, but thou mistakest it for a man."
"Nothing of the sort!—And I see his eyes: now he is rolling up the
whites, now he is raising his hand, he is calling me."
"Yákoff, Yákoff, thou shouldst try to pray; this obsession would
disperse. Let God arise and His enemies shall be scattered!"
"I have tried," says he, "but it has no effect."
"Wait, wait, Yákoff, do not lose thy courage. I will fumigate with
incense; I will recite a prayer; I will sprinkle holy water around
Yákoff merely waved his hand. "I believe neither in thy incense nor in
holy water; they don't help worth a farthing. I cannot get rid of him
now. Ever since he came to me last summer, on one accursed day, he has
been my constant visitor, and he cannot be driven away, Understand this,
father, and do not wonder any longer at my behaviour—and do not torment
"On what day did he come to thee?" I ask him, and all the while I am
making the sign of the cross over him. "Was it not when thou didst write
about thy doubts?"
Yákoff put away my hand.
"Let me alone, dear father," says he, "don't excite me to wrath lest
worse should come of it. I'm not far from laying hands on myself, as it
You can imagine, my dear sir, how I felt when I heard that…. I
remember that I wept all night. "How have I deserved such wrath from the
Lord?" I thought to myself.
At this point Father Alexyéi drew from his pocket a checked handkerchief
and began to blow his nose, and stealthily wiped his eyes, by the way.
A bad time began for us then [he went on]. I could think of but one
thing: how to prevent him from running away, or—which the Lord
forbid!—of actually doing himself some harm! I watched his every step,
and was afraid to enter into conversation.—And there dwelt near us at
that time a neighbour, the widow of a colonel, Márfa Sávishna was her
name; I cherished a great respect for her, because she was a quiet,
sensible woman, in spite of the fact that she was young and comely. I
was in the habit of going to her house frequently, and she did not
despise my vocation. Not knowing, in my grief and anguish, what to
do, I just told her all about it.—At first she was greatly alarmed, and
even thoroughly frightened; but later on she became thoughtful. For a
long time she deigned to sit thus, in silence; and then she expressed a
wish to see my son and converse with him. And I felt that I ought
without fail to comply with her wish; for it was not feminine curiosity
which prompted it in this case, but something else.
On returning home I began to persuade Yákoff. "Come with me to see the
colonel's widow," I said to him.
He began to flourish his legs and arms!
"I won't go to her," says he, "not on any account! What shall I talk to
her about?" He even began to shout at me. But at last I conquered him,
and hitching up my little sledge, I drove him to Márfa Sávishna's, and,
according to our compact, I left him alone with her. I was surprised at
his having consented so speedily. Well, never mind,—we shall see. Three
or four hours later my Yákoff returns.
"Well," I ask, "how did our little neighbour please thee?"
He made me no answer. I asked him again.
"She is a virtuous woman," I said.—"I suppose she was amiable with
"Yes," he says, "she is not like the others."
I saw that he seemed to have softened a little. And I made up my mind to
question him then and there….
"And how about the obsession?" I said.
Yákoff looked at me as though I had lashed him with a whip, and again
made no reply. I did not worry him further, and left the room; and an
hour later I went to the door and peeped through the keyhole…. And
what do you think?—My Yásha was asleep! He was lying on the couch and
sleeping. I crossed myself several times in succession. "May the Lord
send Márfa Sávishna every blessing!" I said. "Evidently, she has managed
to touch his embittered heart, the dear little dove!"
The next day I see Yákoff take his cap…. I think to myself: "Shall I
ask him whither he is going?—But no, better not ask … it certainly
must be to her!"… And, in point of fact, Yákoff did set off for Márfa
Sávishna's house—and sat with her still longer than before; and on the
day following he did it again! Then again, the next day but one! My
spirits began to revive, for I saw that a change was coming over my son,
and his face had grown quite different, and it was becoming possible to
look into his eyes: he did not turn away. He was just as depressed as
ever, but his former despair and terror had disappeared. But before I
had recovered my cheerfulness to any great extent everything again broke
off short! Yákoff again became wild, and again it was impossible to
approach him. He sat locked up in his little room, and went no more to
"Can it be possible," I thought, "that he has hurt her feelings in some
way, and she has forbidden him the house?—But no," I thought …
"although he is unhappy he would not dare to do such a thing; and
besides, she is not that sort of woman."
At last I could endure it no longer, and I interrogated him: "Well,
Yákoff, how about our neighbour?… Apparently thou hast forgotten her
But he fairly roared at me:—"Our neighbour? Dost thou want him to
jeer at me?"
"What?" I say.—Then he even clenched his fists and … got perfectly
"Yes!" he says; and formerly he had only towered up after a fashion, but
now he began to laugh and show his teeth.—"Away! Begone!"
To whom these words were addressed I know not! My legs would hardly bear
me forth, to such a degree was I frightened. Just imagine: his face was
the colour of red copper, he was foaming at the mouth, his voice was
hoarse, exactly as though some one were choking him!… And that very
same day I went—I, the orphan of orphans—to Márfa Sávishna … and
found her in great affliction. Even her outward appearance had undergone
a change: she had grown thin in the face. But she would not talk with me
about my son. Only one thing she did say: that no human aid could effect
anything in that case. "Pray, father," she said,—and then she presented
me with one hundred rubles,—"for the poor and sick of your parish," she
said. And again she repeated: "Pray!"—O Lord! As if I had not prayed
without that—prayed day and night!
Here Father Alexyéi again pulled out his handkerchief, and again wiped
away his tears, but not by stealth this time, and after resting for a
little while, he resumed his cheerless narrative.
Yákoff and I then began to descend as a snowball rolls down hill, and
both of us could see that an abyss lay at the foot of the hill; but how
were we to hold back, and what measures could we take? And it was
utterly impossible to conceal this; my entire parish was greatly
disturbed, and said: "The priest's son has gone mad; he is possessed of
devils,—and the authorities ought to be informed of all this."—And
people infallibly would have informed the authorities had not my
parishioners taken pity on me … for which I thank them. In the
meantime winter was drawing to an end, and spring was approaching.—And
such a spring as God sent!—fair and bright, such as even the old people
could not remember: the sun shone all day long, there was no wind, and
the weather was warm! And then a happy thought occurred to me: to
persuade Yákoff to go off with me to do reverence to Mitrofány, in
Vorónezh. "If that last remedy is of no avail," I thought, "well, then,
there is but one hope left—the grave!"
So I was sitting one day on the porch just before evening, and the
sunset glow was flaming in the sky, and the larks were warbling, and the
apple-trees were in bloom, and the grass was growing green…. I was
sitting and meditating how I could communicate my intention to Yákoff.
Suddenly, lo and behold! he came out on the porch; he stood, gazed
around, sighed, and sat down on the step by my side. I was even
frightened out of joy, but I did nothing except hold my tongue. But he
sits and looks at the sunset glow, and not a word does he utter either.
But it seemed to me as though he had become softened, the furrows on his
brow had been smoothed away, his eyes had even grown bright…. A little
more, it seemed, and a tear would have burst forth! On beholding such a
change in him I—excuse me!—grew bold.
"Yákoff," I said to him, "do thou hearken to me without anger…." And
then I informed him of my intention; how we were both to go to Saint
Mitrofány on foot; and it is about one hundred and fifty versts to
Vorónezh from our parts; and how pleasant it would be for us two, in the
spring chill, having risen before dawn, to walk and walk over the green
grass, along the highway; and how, if we made proper obeisance and
prayed before the shrine of the holy man, perhaps—who knows?—the Lord
God would show mercy upon us, and he would receive healing, of which
there had already been many instances. And just imagine my happiness, my
"Very well," says Yákoff, only he does not turn round, but keeps on
gazing at the sky.—"I consent. Let us go."
I was fairly stupefied….
"My friend," I say, "my dear little dove, my benefactor!"… But he asks
"When shall we set out?"
"Why, to-morrow, if thou wilt," I say.
So on the following day we started. We slung wallets over our shoulders,
took staves in our hands, and set forth. For seven whole days we trudged
on, and all the while the weather favoured us, and was even downright
wonderful! There was neither sultry heat nor rain; the flies did not
bite, the dust did not make us itch. And every day my Yákoff acquired a
better aspect. I must tell you that Yákoff had not been in the habit of
seeing that one in the open air, but had felt him behind him, close to
his back, or his shadow had seemed to be gliding alongside, which
troubled my son greatly. But on this occasion nothing of that sort
happened, and nothing made its appearance. We talked very little
together … but how greatly at our ease we felt—especially I! I saw
that my poor boy was coming to life again. I cannot describe to you, my
dear sir, what my feelings were then.—Well, we reached Vorónezh at
last. We cleaned up ourselves and washed ourselves, and went to the
cathedral, to the holy man. For three whole days we hardly left the
temple. How many prayer-services we celebrated, how many candles we
placed before the holy pictures! And everything was going well,
everything was fine; the days were devout, the nights were tranquil; my
Yákoff slept like an infant. He began to talk to me of his own accord.
He would ask: "Dost thou see nothing, father dear?" and smile. "No, I
see nothing," I would answer.—What more could be demanded? My gratitude
to the saint was unbounded.
Three days passed; I said to Yákoff: "Well, now, dear son, the matter
has been set in order; there's a festival in our street. One thing
remains to be done; do thou make thy confession and receive the
communion; and then, with God's blessing, we will go our way, and after
having got duly rested, and worked a bit on the farm to increase thy
strength, thou mayest bestir thyself and find a place—and Márfa
Sávishna will certainly help us in that," I said.
"No," said Yákoff, "why should we trouble her? But I will take her a
ring from Mitrofány's hand."
Thereupon I was greatly encouraged. "See to it," I said, "that thou
takest a silver ring, not a gold one,—not a wedding-ring!"
My Yákoff flushed up and merely repeated that it was not proper to
trouble her, but immediately assented to all the rest.—We went to the
cathedral on the following day; my Yákoff made his confession, and
prayed so fervently before it! And then he went forward to take the
communion. I was standing a little to one side, and did not feel the
earth under me for joy…. It is no sweeter for the angels in heaven!
But as I look—what is the meaning of that?—My Yákoff has received the
communion, but does not go to sip the warm water and wine! He is
standing with his back to me…. I go to him.
"Yákoff," I say, "why art thou standing here?"
He suddenly wheels round. Will you believe it, I sprang back, so
frightened was I!—His face had been dreadful before, but now it had
become ferocious, frightful! He was as pale as death, his hair stood on
end, his eyes squinted…. I even lost my voice with terror. I tried to
speak and could not; I was perfectly benumbed…. And he fairly rushed
out of the church! I ran after him … but he fled straight to the
tavern where we had put up, flung his wallet over his shoulder, and away
"Whither?" I shouted to him. "Yákoff, what aileth thee? Stop, wait!"
But Yákoff never uttered a word in reply to me, but ran like a hare, and
it was utterly impossible to overtake him! He disappeared from sight. I
immediately turned back, hired a cart, and trembled all over, and all I
could say was: "O Lord!" and, "O Lord!" And I understood nothing: some
calamity had descended upon us! I set out for home, for I thought, "He
has certainly fled thither."—And so he had. Six versts out of the town
I espied him; he was striding along the highway. I overtook him, jumped
out of the cart, and rushed to him.
"Yásha! Yásha!"—He halted, turned his face toward me, but kept his eyes
fixed on the ground and compressed his lips. And say what I would to
him, he stood there just like a statue, and one could just see that he
was breathing. And at last he trudged on again along the highway.—What
was there to do? I followed him….
Akh, what a journey that was, my dear sir! Great as had been our joy on
the way to Vorónezh, just so great was the horror of the return! I would
try to speak to him, and he would begin to gnash his teeth at me over
his shoulder, precisely like a tiger or a hyena! Why I did not go mad I
do not understand to this day! And at last, one night, in a peasant's
chicken-house, he was sitting on the platform over the oven and dangling
his feet and gazing about on all sides, when I fell on my knees before
him and began to weep, and besought him with bitter entreaty:
"Do not slay thy old father outright," I said; "do not let him fall
into despair—tell me what has happened to thee?"
He glanced at me as though he did not see who was before him, and
suddenly began to speak, but in such a voice that it rings in my ears
"Listen, daddy," said he. "Dost thou wish to know the whole truth? When
I had taken the communion, thou wilt remember, and still held the
particle in my mouth, suddenly he (and that was in the church, in
the broad daylight!) stood in front of me, just as though he had sprung
out of the ground, and whispered to me … (but he had never spoken to
me before)—whispered: 'Spit it out, and grind it to powder!' I did so;
I spat it out, and ground it under foot. And now it must be that I am
lost forever, for every sin shall be forgiven, save the sin against the
And having uttered these dreadful words, my son threw himself back on
the platform and I dropped down on the floor of the hut…. My legs
Father Alexyéi paused for a moment, and covered his eyes with his hand.
But why should I weary you longer [he went on], and myself? My son and I
dragged ourselves home, and there he soon afterward expired, and I lost
my Yásha. For several days before his death he neither ate nor drank,
but kept running back and forth in the room and repeating that there
could be no forgiveness for his sin…. But he never saw him again.
"He has ruined my soul," he said; "and why should he come any more
now?" And when Yákoff took to his bed, he immediately sank into
unconsciousness, and thus, without repentance, like a senseless worm,
he went from this life to life eternal….
But I will not believe that the Lord judged harshly….
And among other reasons why I do not believe it is, that he looked so
well in his coffin; he seemed to have grown young again and resembled
the Yákoff of days gone by. His face was so tranquil and pure, his hair
curled in little rings, and there was a smile on his lips. Márfa
Sávishna came to look at him, and said the same thing. She encircled him
all round with flowers, and laid flowers on his heart, and set up the
gravestone at her own expense.
And I was left alone…. And that is why, my dear sir, you have beheld
such great grief on my face…. It will never pass off—-and it cannot.
I wanted to speak a word of comfort to Father Alexyéi … but could
think of none. We parted soon after.
About forty versts from our village there dwelt, many years ago, the
great-uncle of my mother, a retired Sergeant of the Guards and a fairly
wealthy landed proprietor, Alexyéi Sergyéitch Telyégin, on his ancestral
estate, Sukhodól. He never went anywhere himself, and therefore did not
visit us; but I was sent to pay my respects to him a couple of times a
year, at first with my governor, and later on alone. Alexyéi Sergyéitch
always received me very cordially, and I spent three or four days with
him. He was already an old man when I made his acquaintance; I remember
that I was twelve years old at my first visit, and he was already over
seventy. He had been born under the Empress Elizabeth, in the last year
of her reign. He lived alone with his wife, Malánya Pávlovna; she was
ten years younger than he. They had had two daughters who had been
married long before, and rarely visited Sukhodól; there had been
quarrels between them and their parents, and Alexyéi Sergyéitch
hardly ever mentioned them.
I see that ancient, truly noble steppe home as though it stood before me
now. Of one story, with a huge mezzanine, erected at the beginning
of the present century from wonderfully thick pine beams—such beams
were brought at that epoch from the Zhízdrin pine forests; there is no
trace of them nowadays!—it was very spacious and contained a multitude
of rooms, which were decidedly low-ceiled and dark, it is true, and the
windows were mere slits in the walls, for the sake of warmth. As was
proper, the offices and the house-serfs' cottages surrounded the
manor-house on all sides, and a park adjoined it, small but with fine
fruit-trees, pellucid apples and seedless pears; for ten versts round
about stretched out the flat, black-loam steppe. There was no lofty
object for the eye: neither a tree nor a belfry; only here and there a
windmill reared itself aloft with holes in its wings; it was a regular
Sukhodól! (Dry Valley). Inside the house the rooms were filled with
ordinary, plain furniture; rather unusual was a verst-post which stood
on a window-sill in the hall, and bore the following inscription:
"If thou walkest 68 times around this hall, thou wilt have gone a
verst; if thou goest 87 times from the extreme corner of the
drawing-room to the right corner of the billiard-room, thou wilt have
gone a verst,"—and so forth. But what most impressed the guest who
arrived for the first time was the great number of pictures hung on the
walls, for the most part the work of so-called Italian masters: ancient
landscapes, and mythological and religious subjects. But as all these
pictures had turned very black, and had even become warped, all that met
the eye was patches of flesh-colour, or a billowy red drapery on an
invisible body—or an arch which seemed suspended in the air, or a
dishevelled tree with blue foliage, or the bosom of a nymph with a large
nipple, like the cover of a soup-tureen; a sliced watermelon, with black
seeds; a turban, with a feather above a horse's head; or the gigantic,
light-brown leg of some apostle or other, with a muscular calf and
up-turned toes, suddenly protruded itself. In the drawing-room, in the
place of honour, hung a portrait of the Empress Katherine II, full
length, a copy from Lampi's well-known portrait—the object of special
reverence, one may say adoration, for the master of the house. From the
ceiling depended crystal chandeliers in bronze fittings, very small and
Alexyéi Sergyéitch himself was a very squat, pot-bellied, little old
man, with a plump, but agreeable face all of one colour, with sunken
lips and very vivacious little eyes beneath lofty eyebrows. He brushed
his scanty hair over the back of his head; it was only since the year
1812 that he had discarded powder. Alexyéi Sergyéitch always wore a grey
"redingote" with three capes which fell over his shoulders, a striped
waistcoat, chamois-leather breeches and dark-red morocco short boots
with a heart-shaped cleft, and a tassel at the top of the leg; he wore a
white muslin neckerchief, a frill, lace cuffs, and two golden English
"onions," one in each pocket of his waistcoat. In his right hand he
generally held an enamelled snuff-box with "Spanish" snuff, while his
left rested on a cane with a silver handle which had been worn quite
smooth with long use. Alexyéi Sergyéitch had a shrill, nasal voice, and
was incessantly smiling, amiably, but somewhat patronisingly, not
without a certain self-satisfied pompousness. He also laughed in an
amiable manner, with a fine, thin laugh like a string of wax pearls. He
was courteous and affable, in the ancient manner of Katherine's day, and
moved his hands slowly and with a circular motion, also in ancient
style. On account of his weak legs he could not walk, but he was wont
to trip with hurried little steps from one arm-chair to another
arm-chair, in which he suddenly seated himself—or, rather, he fell into
it, as softly as though he had been a pillow.
As I have already said, Alexyéi Sergyéitch never went anywhere, and
associated very little with the neighbours, although he was fond of
society,—for he was loquacious! He had plenty of society in his own
house, it is true: divers Nikanór Nikanóritches, Sevastyéi
Sevastyéitches, Fedúlitches, and Mikhéitches, all poverty-stricken petty
nobles, in threadbare kazák coats and short jackets, frequently from his
own noble shoulders, dwelt beneath his roof, not to mention the poor
gentlewomen in cotton-print gowns, with black kerchiefs on their
shoulders, and worsted reticules in their tightly-clenched
fingers,—divers Avdótiya Sávishnas, Pelagéya Mirónovnas, and plain
Feklúskas and Arínkas, who received asylum in the women's wing. No less
than fifteen persons ever sat down to Alexyéi Sergyéitch's table … he
was so hospitable!—Among all these parasites two individuals stood
forth with special prominence: a dwarf named Janus or the Two-faced, a
Dane,—or, as some asserted, of Jewish extraction,—and crazy Prince L.
In contrast to the customs of that day the dwarf did not in the least
serve as a butt for the guests, and was not a jester; on the contrary,
he maintained constant silence, wore an irate and surly mien,
contracted his brows in a frown, and gnashed his teeth as soon as any
one addressed a question to him. Alexyéi Sergyéitch also called him a
philosopher, and even respected him. At table he was always the first to
be served after the guests and the master and mistress of the
house.—"God has wronged him," Alexyéi Sergyéitch was wont to say: "that
was the Lord's will; but it is not my place to wrong him."
"Why is he a philosopher?" I asked one day. (Janus did not like me. No
sooner would I approach him, than he would begin to snarl and growl
hoarsely, "Stranger! don't bother me!")
"But God have mercy, why isn't he a philosopher?" replied Alexyéi
Sergyéitch. "Just observe, my little gentleman, how finely he holds his
"But why is he two-faced?"
"Because, my young sir, he has one face outside; there it is for you,
ninny, and judge it…. But the other, the real one, he hides. And I am
the only one who knows that face, and for that I love him…. Because 't
is a good face. Thou, for example, gazest and beholdest nothing … but
even without words, I see when he is condemning me for anything; for he
is strict! And always with reason. Which thing thou canst not
understand, young sir; but just believe me, an old man!"
The true history of the two-faced Janus—whence he had come, how he had
got into Alexyéi Sergyéitch's house—no one knew. On the other hand, the
story of Prince L. was well known to all. As a young man of twenty, he
had come from a wealthy and distinguished family to Petersburg, to serve
in a regiment of the Guards; the Empress Katherine noticed him at the
first Court reception, and halting in front of him and pointing to him
with her fan, she said, in a loud voice, addressing one of her
favourites: "Look, Adám Vasílievitch, see what a beauty! A regular
doll!" The blood flew to the poor young fellow's head. On reaching home
he ordered his calash to be harnessed up, and donning his ribbon of the
Order of Saint Anna, he started out to drive all over the town, as
though he had actually fallen into luck.—"Crush every one who does not
get out of the way!" he shouted to his coachman.—All this was
immediately brought to the Empress's knowledge; an order was issued that
he was to be adjudged insane and given in charge of his two brothers;
and the latter, without the least delay, carried him off to the country
and chained him up in a stone bag.—As they were desirous to make use of
his property, they did not release the unfortunate man even when he
recovered his senses and came to himself, but continued to keep him
incarcerated until he really did lose his mind.—But their wickedness
profited them nothing. Prince L. outlived his brothers, and after long
sufferings, found himself under the guardianship of Alexyéi Sergyéitch,
who was a connection of his. He was a fat, perfectly bald man, with a
long, thin nose and blue goggle-eyes. He had got entirely out of the way
of speaking—he merely mumbled something unintelligible; but he sang the
ancient Russian ballads admirably, having retained, to extreme old age,
his silvery freshness of voice, and in his singing he enunciated every
word clearly and distinctly. Something in the nature of fury came over
him at times, and then he became terrifying. He would stand in one
corner, with his face to the wall, and all perspiring and
crimson,—crimson all over his bald head to the nape of his neck.
Emitting a malicious laugh, and stamping his feet, he would issue orders
that some one was to be castigated,—probably his brothers.—"Thrash!"—
he yelled hoarsely, choking and coughing with laughter,—"scourge, spare
not, thrash, thrash, thrash the monsters my malefactors! That's right!
That's right!" Just before he died he greatly amazed and frightened
Alexyéi Sergyéitch. He entered the latter's room all pale and quiet, and
inclining his body in obeisance to the girdle, he first returned thanks
for the asylum and oversight, and then requested that a priest might be
sent for; for Death had come to him—he had beheld her—and he must
pardon all men and whiten himself.
"How was it that thou didst see her?" muttered the astounded Alexyéi
Sergyéitch, who now heard a coherent speech from him for the first
time.—"What is she like? Has she a scythe?"
"No," replied Prince L.—"She's a plain old woman in a loose gown—only
she has but one eye in her forehead, and that eye has no lid."
And on the following day Prince L. actually expired, after having
fulfilled all his religious obligations and taken leave of every one
intelligently and with emotion.
"That's the way I shall die also," Alexyéi Sergyéitch was wont to
remark. And, in fact, something similar happened with him—of which,
But now let us return to our former subject. Alexyéi Sergyéitch did not
consort with the neighbours, as I have already said; and they did not
like him any too well, calling him eccentric, arrogant, a mocker, and
even a Martinist who did not recognise the authorities, without
themselves understanding, of course, the meaning of the last word. To a
certain extent the neighbours were right. Alexyéi Sergyéitch had resided
for nearly seventy years in succession in his Sukhodól, having almost no
dealings whatever with the superior authorities, with the military
officials, or the courts. "The court is for the bandit, the military
officer for the soldier," he was wont to say; "but I, God be thanked, am
neither a bandit nor a soldier." Alexyéi Sergyéitch really was somewhat
eccentric, but the soul within him was not of the petty sort. I will
narrate a few things about him.
I never found out authoritatively what were his political views, if,
indeed, one can apply to him such a very new-fangled expression; but he
was, in his way, rather an aristocrat than a nobly-born master of serfs.
More than once he complained because God had not given him a son and
heir "for the honour of the race, for the continuation of the family."
On the wall of his study hung the genealogical tree of the Telyégins,
with very profuse branches, and multitudinous circles in the shape of
apples, enclosed in a gilt frame.
"We Telyégins," he said, "are a very ancient stock, existing from
remote antiquity; there have been a great many of us Telyégins, but we
have not run after foreigners, we have not bowed our backs, we have not
wearied ourselves by standing on the porches of the mighty, we have not
nourished ourselves on the courts, we have not earned wages, we have not
pined for Moscow, we have not intrigued in Peter; we have sat
still, each on his place, his own master on his own land … thrifty,
domesticated birds, my dear sir!—Although I myself have served in the
Guards, yet it was not for long, I thank you!"
Alexyéi Sergyéitch preferred the olden days.—"Things were freer then,
more seemly, I assure you on my honour! But ever since the year one
thousand and eight hundred" (why precisely from that year he did not
explain), "this warring and this soldiering have come into fashion, my
dear fellow. These military gentlemen have mounted upon their heads some
sort of plumes made of cocks' tails, and made themselves like cocks;
they have drawn their necks up tightly, very tightly … they speak in
hoarse tones, their eyes are popping out of their heads—and how can
they help being hoarse? The other day some police corporal or other came
to see me.—'I have come to you, Your Well-Born,' quoth he…. (A pretty
way he had chosen to surprise me! … for I know myself that I am
well-born….) 'I have a matter of business with you.' But I said to him:
'Respected sir, first undo the hooks on thy collar. Otherwise, which God
forbid, thou wilt sneeze! Akh, what will become of thee! What will
become of thee!—Thou wilt burst like a puff-ball…. And I shall be
responsible for it!' And how they drink, those military
gentlemen—o-ho-ho! I generally give orders that they shall be served
with champagne from the Don, because Don champagne and Pontacq are all
the same to them; it slips down their throats so smoothly and so
fast—how are they to distinguish the difference? And here's another
thing: they have begun to suck that sucking-bottle, to smoke tobacco. A
military man will stick that same sucking-bottle under his moustache,
between his lips, and emit smoke through his nostrils, his mouth, and
even his ears—and think himself a hero! There are my horrid
sons-in-law, for example; although one of them is a senator, and the
other is some sort of a curator, they suck at the sucking-bottle
also,—and yet they regard themselves as clever men!…"
Alexyéi Sergyéitch could not endure smoking tobacco, nor dogs,
especially small dogs.—"Come, if thou art a Frenchman, then keep a
lap-dog. Thou runnest, thou skippest hither and thither, and it follows
thee, with its tail in the air … but of what use is it to fellows like
me?"—He was very neat and exacting. He never spoke of the Empress
Katherine otherwise than with enthusiasm, and in a lofty, somewhat
bookish style: "She was a demi-god, not a human being!—Only contemplate
yon smile, my good sir," he was wont to add, pointing at the Lampi
portrait, "and admit that she was a demi-god! I, in my lifetime, have
been so happy as to have been vouchsafed the bliss of beholding yon
smile, and to all eternity it will never be erased from my heart!"—And
thereupon he would impart anecdotes from the life of Katherine such as
it has never been my lot to read or hear anywhere. Here is one of them.
Alexyéi Sergyéitch did not permit the slightest hint at the failings of
the great Empress. "Yes, and in conclusion," he cried: "is it possible
to judge her as one judges other people?—One day, as she was sitting in
her powder-mantle, at the time of her morning toilet, she gave orders
that her hair should be combed out…. And what happened? The
waiting-woman passes the comb through it, and electric sparks fly from
it in a perfect shower!—Then she called to her the body physician,
Rodgerson, who was present on duty, and says to him: 'I know that people
condemn me for certain actions; but dost thou see this electricity?
Consequently, with such a nature and constitution as mine, thou mayest
thyself judge, for thou art a physician, that it is unjust to condemn
me, but they should understand me!'"
The following incident was ineffaceably retained in the memory of
Alexyéi Sergyéitch. He was standing one day on the inner watch in the
palace, and he was only sixteen years of age. And lo, the Empress passes
him—he presents arms…. "And she," cried Alexyéi Sergyéitch, again with
rapture, "smiling at my youth and my zeal, deigned to give me her hand
to kiss, and patted me on the cheek, and inquired who I was, and whence
I came, and from what family? And then …" (here the old man's voice
generally broke) … "then she bade me give my mother her compliments
and thank her for rearing her children so well. And whether I was in
heaven or on earth, and how and whither she withdrew,—whether she
soared up on high, or passed into another room,—I know not to this
I often tried to question Alexyéi Sergyéitch about those olden days,
about the men who surrounded the Empress…. But he generally evaded the
subject. "What's the use of talking about old times?"—he said … "one
only tortures himself. One says to himself,—'Thou wert a young man
then, but now thy last teeth have vanished from thy mouth.' And there's
no denying it—the old times were good … well, and God be with them!
And as for those men—I suppose, thou fidgety child, that thou art
talking about the accidental men? Thou hast seen a bubble spring forth
on water? So long as it is whole and lasts, what beautiful colours play
upon it! Red and yellow and blue; all one can say is, ''Tis a rainbow
or a diamond!'—But it soon bursts, and no trace of it remains. And
that's what those men were like."
"Well, and how about Potyómkin?" I asked one day.
Alexyéi Sergyéitch assumed a pompous mien. "Potyómkin, Grigóry
Alexándritch, was a statesman, a theologian, a nursling of Katherine's,
her offspring, one must say…. But enough of that, my little sir!"
Alexyéi Sergyéitch was a very devout man and went to church regularly,
although it was beyond his strength. There was no superstition
perceptible in him; he ridiculed signs, the evil eye, and other
"twaddle," yet he did not like it when a hare ran across his path, and
it was not quite agreeable for him to meet a priest. He was very
respectful to ecclesiastical persons, nevertheless, and asked their
blessing, and even kissed their hand every time, but he talked with them
reluctantly.—"They emit a very strong odour," he explained; "but I,
sinful man that I am, have grown effeminate beyond measure;—their hair
is so long and oily, and they comb it out in all directions,
thinking thereby to show me respect, and they clear their throats loudly
in the middle of conversation, either out of timidity or because they
wish to please me in that way also. Well, but they remind me of my hour
of death. But be that as it may, I want to live a while longer. Only,
little sir, don't repeat these remarks of mine; respect the
ecclesiastical profession—only fools do not respect it; and I am to
blame for talking nonsense in my old age."
Alexyéi Sergyéitch had received a scanty education, like all nobles
of that epoch; but he had completed it, to a certain degree, by reading.
He read only Russian books of the end of the last century; he considered
the newer writers unleavened and weak in style. During his reading he
placed beside him, on a round, one-legged little table, a silver jug
filled with a special effervescent kvas flavoured with mint, whose
pleasant odour disseminated itself through all the rooms. He placed
large, round spectacles on the tip of his nose; but in his later years
he did not so much read as stare thoughtfully over the rims of the
spectacles, elevating his brows, mowing with his lips and sighing. Once
I caught him weeping, with a book on his knees, which greatly surprised
me, I admit.
He recalled the following wretched doggerel:
O all-conquering race of man!
Rest is unknown to thee!
Thou findest it only
When thou swallowest the dust of the grave….
Bitter, bitter is this rest!
Sleep, ye dead…. But weep, ye living!
These verses were composed by a certain Górmitch-Gormítzky, a roving
poetaster, whom Alexyéi Sergyéitch had harboured in his house because he
seemed to him a delicate and even subtle man; he wore shoes with knots
of ribbon, pronounced his o's broadly, and, raising his eyes to
heaven, he sighed frequently. In addition to all these merits,
Górmitch-Gormítzky spoke French passably well, for he had been educated
in a Jesuit college, while Alexyéi Sergyéitch only "understood" it. But
having once drunk himself dead-drunk in a dram-shop, this same subtle
Gormítzky displayed outrageous violence. He thrashed "to flinders"
Alexyéi Sergyéitch's valet, the cook, two laundresses who happened
along, and even an independent carpenter, and smashed several panes in
the windows, yelling lustily the while: "Here now, I'll just show these
Russian sluggards, these unlicked katzápy!"—And what strength that
puny little man displayed! Eight men could hardly control him! For this
turbulence Alexyéi Sergyéitch gave orders that the rhymster should be
flung out of the house, after he had preliminarily been rolled in the
snow (it happened in the winter), to sober him.
"Yes," Alexyéi Sergyéitch was wont to say, "my day is over; the horse is
worn out. I used to keep poets at my expense, and I used to buy pictures
and books from the Jews—and my geese were quite as good as those of
Mukhán, and I had genuine slate-coloured tumbler-pigeons…. I was an
amateur of all sorts of things! Except that I never was a dog-fancier,
because of the drunkenness and the clownishness! I was mettlesome,
untamable! God forbid that a Telyégin should be anything but first-class
in everything! And I had a splendid horse-breeding establishment…. And
those horses came … whence, thinkest thou, my little sir?—From those
very renowned studs of the Tzar Iván Alexyéitch, the brother of Peter
the Great…. I'm telling you the truth! All stallions, dark brown in
colour, with manes to their knees, tails to their hoofs…. Lions!
Vanity of vanities, all is vanity! But what's the use of regretting it?
Every man has his limit fixed for him.—You cannot fly higher than
heaven, nor live in the water, nor escape from the earth…. Let us live
on a while longer, at any rate!"
And again the old man smiled and took a pinch of his Spanish tobacco.
His peasants loved him. Their master was kind, according to them, and
not a heart-breaker.—Only, they also repeated that he was a worn-out
steed. Formerly Alexyéi Sergyéitch had gone into everything himself: he
had ridden out into the fields, and to the flour-mill, and to the
oil-mill and the storehouses, and looked in to the peasants' cottages;
every one was familiar with his racing-drozhky, upholstered in
crimson plush and drawn by a well-grown horse with a broad blaze
extending clear across its forehead, named "Lantern"—from that same
famous breeding establishment. Alexyéi Sergyéitch drove him himself with
the ends of the reins wound round his fists. But when his seventieth
birthday came the old man gave up everything, and entrusted the
management of his estate to the peasant bailiff Antíp, of whom he
secretly stood in awe and called Micromegas (memories of Voltaire!), or
"Well, robber, hast thou gathered a big lot of stolen goods?" he would
say, looking the robber straight in the eye.
"Everything is according to your grace," Antíp would reply merrily.
"Grace is all right, only just look out for thyself, Micromegas! Don't
dare to touch my peasants, my subjects behind my back! They will make
complaint … my cane is not far off, seest thou?"
"I always keep your little cane well in mind, dear little father Alexyéi
Sergyéitch," replied Antíp-Micromegas, stroking his beard.
"That's right, keep it in mind!" and master and bailiff laughed in each
With his house-serfs, with his serfs in general, with his "subjects"
(Alexyéi Sergyéitch loved that word), he dealt gently.—"Because, judge
for thyself, little nephew, if thou hast nothing of thine own save the
cross on thy neck, and that a brass one, don't hanker after other
folks' things…. What sense is there in that?" There is no denying the
fact that no one even thought of the so-called problem of the serfs at
that epoch; and it could not disturb Alexyéi Sergyéitch. He very calmly
ruled his "subjects"; but he condemned bad landed proprietors and called
them the enemies of their class.
He divided the nobles in general into three categories: the judicious,
"of whom there are not many"; the profligate, "of whom there is a goodly
number"; and the licentious, "of whom there are enough to dam a pond."
And if any one of them was harsh and oppressive to his subjects, that
man was guilty in the sight of God, and culpable in the sight of
men!—Yes; the house-serfs led an easy life in the old man's house; the
"subjects behind his back" were less well off, as a matter of course,
despite the cane wherewith he threatened Micromegas.—And how many there
were of them—of those house-serfs—in his manor! And for the most part
they were old, sinewy, hairy, grumbling, stoop-shouldered, clad in
long-skirted nankeen kaftans, and imbued with a strong acrid odour! And
in the women's department nothing was to be heard but the trampling of
bare feet, and the rustling of petticoats.—The head valet was named
Irinárkh, and Alexyéi Sergyéitch always summoned him with a
long-drawn-out call: "I-ri-na-a-árkh!"—He called the others: "Young
fellow! Boy! What subject is there?!"—He could not endure bells. "God
have mercy, this is no tavern!" And what amazed me was, that no matter
at what time Alexyéi Sergyéitch called his valet, the man instantly
presented himself, just as though he had sprung out of the earth, and
placing his heels together, and putting his hands behind his back, stood
before his master a grim and, as it were, an irate but zealous servant!
Alexyéi Sergyéitch was lavish beyond his means; but he did not like to
be called "benefactor."—"What sort of a benefactor am I to you, sir?…
I'm doing myself a favour, not you, my good sir!" (When he was angry or
indignant he always called people "you.")—"To a beggar give once, give
twice, give thrice," he was wont to say…. "Well, and if he returns for
the fourth time—give to him yet again, only add therewith: 'My good
man, thou shouldst work with something else besides thy mouth all the
"Uncle," I used to ask him, "what if the beggar should return for the
fifth time after that?"
"Why, then, do thou give to him for the fifth time."
The sick people who appealed to him for aid he had cured at his own
expense, although he himself did not believe in doctors, and never sent
for them.—"My deceased mother," he asserted, "used to heal all maladies
with olive-oil and salt; she both administered it internally and rubbed
it on externally, and everything passed off splendidly. And who was my
mother? She had her birth under Peter the First—only think of that!"
Alexyéi Sergyéitch was a Russian man in every respect; he loved Russian
viands, he loved Russian songs, but the accordion, "a factory
invention," he detested; he loved to watch the maidens in their choral
songs, the women in their dances. In his youth, it was said, he had sung
rollickingly and danced with agility. He loved to steam himself in the
bath,—and steamed himself so energetically that Irinárkh, who served
him as bath-attendant, thrashed him with a birch-besom soaked in beer,
rubbed him down with shredded linden bark, then with a bit of
woollen cloth, rolled a soap bladder over his master's shoulders,—this
faithfully-devoted Irinárkh was accustomed to say every time, as he
climbed down from the shelf as red as "a new brass statue": "Well, for
this time I, the servant of God, Irinárkh Tolobyéeff, am still whole….
What will happen next time?"
And Alexyéi Sergyéitch spoke splendid Russian, somewhat old-fashioned,
but piquant and pure as spring water, constantly interspersing his
speech with his pet words: "honour bright," "God have mercy," "at any
rate," "sir," and "little sir."…
Enough concerning him, however. Let us talk about Alexyéi Sergyéitch's
spouse, Malánya Pávlovna.
Malánya Pávlovna was a native of Moscow, and had been accounted the
greatest beauty in town, la Vénus de Moscou.—When I knew her she was
already a gaunt old woman, with delicate but insignificant features,
little curved hare-like teeth in a tiny little mouth, with a multitude
of tight little curls on her forehead, and dyed eyebrows. She constantly
wore a pyramidal cap with rose-coloured ribbons, a high ruff around her
neck, a short white gown and prunella shoes with red heels; and over her
gown she wore a jacket of blue satin, with the sleeve depending from
the right shoulder. She had worn precisely such a toilet on St. Peter's
day, 1789! On that day, being still a maiden, she had gone with her
relatives to the Khodýnskoe Field, to see the famous prize-fight
arranged by the Orlóffs.
"And Count Alexyéi Grigórievitch …" (oh, how many times did I hear
that tale!), … "having descried me, approached, made a low obeisance,
holding his hat in both hands, and spake thus: 'My stunning beauty, why
dost thou allow that sleeve to hang from thy shoulder? Is it that thou
wishest to have a match at fisticuffs with me?… With pleasure; only I
tell thee beforehand that thou hast vanquished me—I surrender!—and I
am thy captive!'—and every one stared at us and marvelled."
And so she had worn that style of toilet ever since.
"Only, I wore no cap then, but a hat à la bergère de Trianon; and
although I was powdered, yet my hair gleamed through it like gold!"
Malánya Pávlovna was stupid to sanctity, as the saying goes; she
chattered at random, and did not herself quite know what issued from her
mouth—but it was chiefly about Orlóff.—Orlóff had become, one may say,
the principal interest of her life. She usually entered—no! she
floated into—the room, moving her head in a measured way like a
peacock, came to a halt in the middle of it, with one foot turned out in
a strange sort of way, and holding the pendent sleeve in two fingers
(that must have been the pose which had pleased Orlóff once on a time),
she looked about her with arrogant carelessness, as befits a beauty,—
she even sniffed and whispered "The idea!" exactly as though some
important cavalier-adorer were besieging her with compliments,—then
suddenly walked on, clattering her heels and shrugging her shoulders.—
She also took Spanish snuff out of a tiny bonbon box, scooping it out
with a tiny golden spoon, and from time to time, especially when a new
person made his appearance, she raised—not to her eyes, but to her nose
(her vision was excellent)—a double lorgnette in the shape of a pair of
horns, showing off and twisting about her little white hand with one
finger standing out apart.
How many times did Malánya Pávlovna describe to me her wedding in the
Church of the Ascension, "which is on the Arbát Square—such a fine
church!—and all Moscow was present at it … there was such a crush! 'T
was frightful! There were equipages drawn by six horses, golden
carriages, runners … one of Count Zavadóvsky's runners even fell under
the wheels! And the bishop himself married us, and what an address
he delivered! Everybody wept—wherever I looked there was nothing but
tears, tears … and the Governor-General's horses were
tiger-coloured…. And how many, many flowers people brought!… They
overwhelmed us with flowers! And one foreigner, a rich, very rich man,
shot himself for love on that occasion, and Orlóff was present also….
And approaching Alexyéi Sergyéitch he congratulated him and called him a
lucky dog…. 'Thou art a lucky dog, brother gaper!' he said. And in
reply Alexyéi Sergyéitch made such a wonderful obeisance, and swept the
plume of his hat along the floor from left to right … as much as to
say: 'There is a line drawn now, Your Radiance, between you and my
spouse which you must not step across!'—And Orlóff, Alexyéi
Grigórievitch, immediately understood and lauded him.—Oh, what a man he
was! What a man! And then, on another occasion, Alexis and I were at a
ball in his house—I was already married—and what magnificent diamond
buttons he wore! And I could not restrain myself, but praised them.
'What splendid diamonds you have, Count!' And thereupon he took a knife
from the table, cut off one button and presented it to me—saying: 'You
have in your eyes, my dear little dove, diamonds a hundredfold finer;
just stand before the mirror and compare them.' And I did stand there,
and he stood beside me.—'Well? Who is right?'—says he—and keeps
rolling his eyes all round me. And then Alexyéi Sergyéitch was greatly
dismayed; but I said to him: 'Alexis,' I said to him, 'please do not be
dismayed; thou shouldst know me better!' And he answered me: 'Be at
ease, Mélanie!'—And those same diamonds I now have encircling a
medallion of Alexyéi Grigórievitch—I think, my dear, that thou hast
seen me wear it on my shoulder on festival days, on a ribbon of St.
George—because he was a very brave hero, a cavalier of the Order of St.
George: he burned the Turks!"
Notwithstanding all this, Malánya Pávlovna was a very kind woman; she
was easy to please.—"She doesn't nag you, and she doesn't sneer at
you," the maids said of her.—Malánya Pávlovna was passionately fond of
all sweets, and a special old woman, who occupied herself with nothing
but the preserves, and therefore was called the preserve-woman, brought
to her, half a score of times in a day, a Chinese plate now with
candied rose-leaves, again with barberries in honey, or orange sherbet.
Malánya Pávlovna feared solitude—dreadful thoughts come then—and was
almost constantly surrounded by female hangers-on whom she urgently
entreated: "Talk, talk! Why do you sit there and do nothing but warm
your seats?"—and they began to twitter like canary-birds. Being no less
devout than Alexyéi Sergyéitch, she was very fond of praying; but as,
according to her own words, she had not learned to recite prayers well,
she kept for that purpose the widow of a deacon, who prayed so tastily!
She would never stumble to all eternity! And, in fact, that deacon's
widow understood how to utter prayerful words in an irrepressible sort
of way, without a break even when she inhaled or exhaled her breath—and
Malánya Pávlovna listened and melted with emotion. She had another widow
also attached to her service; the latter's duty consisted in telling her
stories at night,—"but only old ones," entreated Malánya Pávlovna,
"those I already know; all the new ones are spurious."
Malánya Pávlovna was very frivolous and sometimes suspicious. All of a
sudden she would take some idea into her head. She did not like the
dwarf Janus, for example; it always seemed to her as though he would
suddenly start in and begin to shriek: "But do you know who I am? A
Buryát Prince! So, then, submit!"—And if she did not, he would set fire
to the house out of melancholy. Malánya Pávlovna was as lavish as
Alexyéi Sergyéitch; but she never gave money—she did not wish to soil
her pretty little hands—but kerchiefs, ear-rings, gowns, ribbons, or
she would send a patty from the table, or a bit of the roast, or if not
that, a glass of wine. She was also fond of regaling the peasant-women
on holidays. They would begin to dance, and she would click her heels
and strike an attitude.
Alexyéi Sergyéitch was very well aware that his wife was stupid; but he
had trained himself, almost from the first year of his married life, to
pretend that she was very keen of tongue and fond of saying stinging
things. As soon as she got to chattering he would immediately shake his
little finger at her and say: "Okh, what a naughty little tongue! What a
naughty little tongue! Won't it catch it in the next world! It will be
pierced with red-hot needles!"—But Malánya Pávlovna did not take
offence at this; on the contrary, she seemed to feel flattered at
hearing such remarks—as much as to say: "Well, I can't help it! It
isn't my fault that I was born witty!"
Malánya Pávlovna worshipped her husband, and all her life remained an
exemplary and faithful wife. But there had been an "object" in her life
also, a young nephew, a hussar, who had been slain, so she assumed, in
a duel on her account—-but, according to more trustworthy information,
he had died from a blow received on the head from a billiard-cue, in
tavern company. The water-colour portrait of this "object" was preserved
by her in a secret casket. Malánya Pávlovna crimsoned to the very ears
every time she alluded to Kapítonushka—that was the "object's"
name;—while Alexyéi Sergyéitch scowled intentionally, again menaced his
wife with his little finger and said, "Trust not a horse in the meadow,
a wife in the house! Okh, that Kapítonushka, Kupidónushka!"—Then
Malánya Pávlovna bristled up all over and exclaimed:
"Alexis, shame on you, Alexis!—You yourself probably flirted with
divers little ladies in your youth—and so you take it for granted…."
"Come, that will do, that will do, Malániushka," Alexyéi Sergyéitch
interrupted her, with a smile;—"thy gown is white, and thy soul is
"It is whiter, Alexis; it is whiter!"
"Okh, what a naughty little tongue, on my honour, what a naughty little
tongue!" repeated Alexyéi Sergyéitch, tapping her on the cheek.
To mention Malánya Pávlovna's "convictions" would be still more out of
place than to mention those of Alexyéi Sergyéitch; but I once chanced to
be the witness of a strange manifestation of my aunt's hidden feelings.
I once chanced, in the course of conversation, to mention the well-known
Sheshkóvsky. Malánya Pávlovna suddenly became livid in the face,—as
livid as a corpse,—turned green, despite the layer of paint and powder,
and in a dull, entirely-genuine voice (which very rarely happened with
her—as a general thing she seemed always somewhat affected, assumed an
artificial tone and lisped) said: "Okh! whom hast thou mentioned! And at
nightfall, into the bargain!—Don't utter that name!" I was amazed; what
significance could that name possess for such an inoffensive and
innocent being, who would not have known how to devise, much less to
execute, anything reprehensible?—This alarm, which revealed itself
after a lapse of nearly half a century, induced in me reflections which
were not altogether cheerful.
Alexyéi Sergyéitch died in his eighty-eighth year, in the year 1848,
which evidently disturbed even him. And his death was rather strange.
That morning he had felt well, although he no longer quitted his
arm-chair at all. But suddenly he called to his wife: "Malániushka, come
"What dost thou want, Alexis?"
"It is time for me to die, that's what, my darling."
"God be with you, Alexyéi Sergyéitch! Why so?"
"This is why. In the first place, one must show moderation; and more
than that; I was looking at my legs a little while ago … they were
strange legs—and that settles it!—I looked at my hands—-and those
were strange also! I looked at my belly—and the belly belonged to some
one else!—Which signifies that I am devouring some other person's
life. Send for the priest; and in the meanwhile, lay me on my bed,
from which I shall not rise again."
Malánya Pávlovna was in utter consternation, but she put the old man to
bed, and sent for the priest. Alexyéi Sergyéitch made his confession,
received the holy communion, took leave of the members of his household,
and began to sink into a stupor. Malánya Pávlovna was sitting beside his
"Alexis!" she suddenly shrieked, "do not frighten me, do not close thy
dear eyes! Hast thou any pain?"
The old man looked at his wife.—"No, I have no pain … but I find
it … rather difficult … difficult to breathe." Then, after a brief
pause:—"Malániushka," he said, "now life has galloped past—but dost
thou remember our wedding … what a fine young couple we were?"
"We were, my beauty, Alexis my incomparable one!"
Again the old man remained silent for a space.
"And shall we meet again in the other world, Malániushka?"
"I shall pray to God that we may, Alexis."—And the old woman burst into
"Come, don't cry, silly one; perchance the Lord God will make us young
again there—and we shall again be a fine young pair!"
"He will make us young, Alexis!"
"Everything is possible to Him, to the Lord," remarked Alexyéi
Sergyéitch.—"He is a worker of wonders!—I presume He will make thee a
clever woman also…. Come, my dear, I was jesting; give me thy hand to
"And I will kiss thine."
And the two old people kissed each other's hands.
Alexyéi Sergyéitch began to quiet down and sink into a comatose state.
Malánya Pávlovna gazed at him with emotion, brushing the tears from her
eyelashes with the tip of her finger. She sat thus for a couple of
"Has he fallen asleep?" asked in a whisper the old woman who knew how to
pray so tastily, peering out from behind Irinárkh, who was standing as
motionless as a pillar at the door, and staring intently at his dying
"Yes," replied Malánya Pávlovna, also in a whisper. And suddenly Alexyéi
Sergyéitch opened his eyes.
"My faithful companion," he stammered, "my respected spouse, I would
like to bow myself to thy feet for all thy love and faithfulness—but
how am I to rise? Let me at least sign thee with the cross."
Malánya Pávlovna drew nearer, bent over…. But the hand which had been
raised fell back powerless on the coverlet, and a few moments later
Alexyéi Sergyéitch ceased to be.
His daughters with their husbands only arrived in time for the funeral;
neither one of them had any children. Alexyéi Sergyéitch had not
discriminated against them in his will, although he had not referred to
them on his death-bed.
"My heart is locked against them," he had said to me one day. Knowing
his kind-heartedness, I was surprised at his words.—It is a difficult
matter to judge between parents and children.—"A vast ravine begins
with a tiny rift," Alexyéi Sergyéitch had said to me on another
occasion, referring to the same subject. "A wound an arshín long will
heal over, but if you cut off so much as a nail, it will not grow
I have an idea that the daughters were ashamed of their eccentric old
A month later Malánya Pávlovna expired also. She hardly rose from her
bed again after the day of Alexyéi Sergyéitch's death, and did not
array herself; but they buried her in the blue jacket, and with the
medal of Orlóff on her shoulder, only minus the diamonds. The daughters
shared those between them, under the pretext that those diamonds were to
be used for the setting of holy pictures; but as a matter of fact they
used them to adorn their own persons.
And now how vividly do my old people stand before me, and what a good
memory I cherish of them! And yet, during my very last visit to them (I
was already a student at the time) an incident occurred which injected
some discord into the harmoniously-patriarchal mood with which the
Telyégin house inspired me.
Among the number of the household serfs was a certain Iván, nicknamed
"Sukhíkh—the coachman, or the little coachman, as he was called, on
account of his small size, in spite of his years, which were not few. He
was a tiny scrap of a man, nimble, snub-nosed, curly-haired, with a
perennial smile on his infantile countenance, and little, mouse-like
eyes. He was a great joker and buffoon; he was able to acquire any
trick; he set off fireworks, snakes, played all card-games, galloped his
horse while standing erect on it, flew higher than any one else in the
swing, and even knew how to present Chinese shadows. There was no one
who could amuse children better than he, and he would have been only
too glad to occupy himself with them all day long. When he got to
laughing he set the whole house astir. People would answer him from this
point and that—every one would join in…. They would both abuse him
and laugh.—Iván danced marvellously—especially 'the fish.'—The chorus
would thunder out a dance tune, the young fellow would step into the
middle of the circle, and begin to leap and twist about and stamp his
feet, and then come down with a crash on the ground—and there represent
the movements of a fish which has been thrown out of the water upon the
dry land; and he would writhe about this way and that, and even bring
his heels up to his neck; and then, when he sprang to his feet and began
to shout, the earth would simply tremble beneath him! Alexyéi Sergyéitch
was extremely fond of choral songs and dances, as I have already said;
he could never refrain from shouting: 'Send hither Vániushka! the little
coachman! Give us 'the fish,' be lively!'—and a minute later he would
whisper in ecstasy: 'Akh, what a devil of a man he is!'"
Well, then,—on my last visit this same Iván Sukhíkh comes to me in my
room, and without uttering a word plumps down on his knees.
"What is the matter with thee, Iván?"
"Save me, master!"
"Why, what's the trouble?"
And thereupon Iván related to me his grief.
He had been swapped twenty years previously by the Messrs. Sukhóy for
another serf, a man belonging to the Telyégins—he had simply been
exchanged, without any formalities and documents. The man who had been
given in exchange for him had died, but the Messrs. Sukhóy had forgotten
all about Iván and had left him in Alexyéi Sergyéitch's house as his
property; his nickname alone served as a reminder of his
origin.—But lo and behold! his former owners had died also, their
estate had fallen into other hands, and the new owner, concerning whom
rumours were in circulation to the effect that he was a cruel man, a
torturer, having learned that one of his serfs was to be found at
Alexyéi Sergyéitch's without any passport and right, began to demand his
return; in case of refusal he threatened to have recourse to the courts
and a penalty—and he did not threaten idly, as he himself held the rank
of Privy Councillor, and had great weight in the government.
Iván, in his affright, darted to Alexyéi Sergyéitch. The old man was
sorry for his dancer, and he offered to buy Iván from the privy
councillor at a good price; but the privy councillor would not hear of
such a thing; he was a Little Russian and obstinate as the devil. The
poor fellow had to be surrendered.
"I have got used to living here, I have made myself at home here, I have
eaten bread here, and here I wish to die," Ivan said to me—and there
was no grin on his face now; on the contrary, he seemed turned into
stone…. "But now I must go to that malefactor…. Am I a dog that I am
to be driven from one kennel to another with a slip-noose round my
neck—and a 'take that'? Save me, master; entreat your uncle,—remember
how I have always amused you…. Or something bad will surely come of
it; the matter will not pass off without sin."
"Without what sin, Iván?"
"Why, I will kill that gentleman.—When I arrive I shall say to him:
'Let me go back, master; otherwise, look out, beware…. I will kill
If a chaffinch or a bullfinch could talk and had begun to assure me that
it would claw another bird, it would not have caused me greater
astonishment than did Iván on that occasion.—What! Ványa Sukhíkh, that
dancer, jester, buffoon, that favourite of the children, and a child
himself—that kindest-hearted of beings—a murderer! What nonsense! I
did not believe him for a single moment. I was startled in the extreme
that he should have been able to utter such a word! Nevertheless, I
betook myself to Alexyéi Sergyéitch. I did not repeat to him what Iván
had said to me, but I tried in every way to beg him to see whether he
could not set the matter right.
"My little sir," the old man replied to me, "I would be only too
delighted, but how can I?—I have offered that Topknot huge
remuneration. I offered him three hundred rubles, I assure thee on my
honour! but in vain. What is one to do? We had acted illegally, on
faith, after the ancient fashion … and now see what a bad thing has
come of it! I am sure that Topknot will take Iván from me by force the
first thing we know; he has a strong hand, the Governor eats sour
cabbage-soup with him—the Topknot will send a soldier! I'm afraid of
those soldiers! In former days, there's no denying it, I would have
defended Iván,—but just look at me now, how decrepit I have grown. How
am I to wage war?"—And, in fact, during my last visit I found that
Alexyéi Sergyéitch had aged very greatly; even the pupils of his eyes
had acquired a milky hue—like that in infants—and on his lips there
appeared not the discerning smile of former days, but that
strainedly-sweet, unconscious smirk which never leaves the faces of very
old people even in their sleep.
I imparted Alexyéi Sergyéitch's decision to Iván. He stood a while, held
his peace, and shook his head.—"Well," he said at last, "what is fated
to be cannot be avoided. Only my word is firm. That is to say: only one
thing remains for me … play the wag to the end.—Master, please give
me something for liquor!" I gave it; he drank himself drunk—and on that
same day he danced "the fish" in such wise that the maidens and married
women fairly squealed with delight, so whimsically amusing was he.
The next day I went home, and three months later—when I was already in
Petersburg—I learned that Iván had actually kept his word!—He had been
sent to his new master; his master had summoned him to his study and
announced to him that he was to serve as his coachman, that he entrusted
him with a tróika of Vyátka horses, and that he should exact a
strict account from him if he treated them badly, and, in general, if he
were not punctual.—"I'm not fond of jesting," he said.—Iván listened
to his master, first made obeisance to his very feet, and then informed
him that it was as his mercy liked, but he could not be his
servant.—"Release me on quit-rent, Your High-Born," he said, "or make a
soldier of me; otherwise there will be a catastrophe before long."
The master flared up.—"Akh, damn thee! What is this thou darest to say
to me?—Know, in the first place, that I am 'Your Excellency,' and not
'Your High-Born'; in the second place, thou art beyond the age, and thy
size is not such that I can hand thee over as a soldier; and, in
conclusion,—what calamity art thou threatening me with? Art thou
preparing to commit arson?"
"No, your Excellency, not to commit arson."
"To kill me, then, pray?"
Iván maintained a stubborn silence.—"I will not be your servant," he
said at last.
"Here, then, I'll show thee," roared the gentleman, "whether thou wilt
be my servant or not!"—And after having cruelly flogged Iván, he
nevertheless ordered that the tróika of Vyátka horses should be placed
in his charge, and appointed him a coachman at the stables.
Iván submitted, to all appearances; he began to drive as coachman. As he
was a proficient in that line his master speedily took a fancy to
him,—the more so as Iván behaved very discreetly and quietly, and the
horses throve under his care; he tended them so that they became as
plump as cucumbers,—one could never leave off admiring them! The master
began to drive out more frequently with him than with the other
coachmen. He used to ask: "Dost thou remember, Iván, how unpleasant was
thy first meeting with me? I think thou hast got rid of thy folly?" But
to these words Iván never made any reply.
So, then, one day, just before the Epiphany, the master set out for the
town with Iván in his tróika with bells, in a broad sledge lined with
rugs. The horses began to ascend a hill at a walk, while Iván descended
from the box and went back to the sledge, as though he had dropped
something.—The cold was very severe. The master sat there all wrapped
up, and with his beaver cap drawn down over his ears. Then Iván pulled a
hatchet out from under the skirts of his coat, approached his master
from behind, knocked off his cap, and saying: "I warned thee, Piótr
Petróvitch—now thou hast thyself to thank for this!"—he laid open his
head with one slash. Then he brought the horses to a standstill, put the
cap back on his murdered master's head, and again mounting the box, he
drove him to the town, straight to the court-house.
"Here's the general from Sukhóy for you, murdered; and I killed him.—I
told him I would do it, and I have done it. Bind me!"
They seized Iván, tried him, condemned him to the knout and then to
penal servitude.—The merry, bird-like dancer reached the mines—and
there vanished forever….
Yes; involuntarily—although in a different sense,—one repeats with
Alexyéi Sergyéitch:—"The old times were good … well, yes, but God be
with them! I want nothing to do with them!"
THE SONG OF LOVE TRIUMPHANT
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF GUSTAVE FLAUBERT
Wage du zu irren und zu träumen!
The following is what I read in an Italian manuscript:
About the middle of the sixteenth century there dwelt in Ferrara—(it
was then flourishing under the sceptre of its magnificent dukes, the
patrons of the arts and of poetry)—there dwelt two young men, named
Fabio and Muzio. Of the same age and nearly related, they were almost
never separated; a sincere friendship had united them since their early
childhood, and a similarity of fate had strengthened this bond. Both
belonged to ancient families; both were wealthy, independent, and
without family; the tastes and inclinations of both were similar. Muzio
occupied himself with music, Fabio with painting. All Ferrara was proud
of them as the finest ornaments of the Court, of society, and of the
city. But in personal appearance they did not resemble each other,
although both were distinguished for their stately, youthful beauty.
Fabio was the taller of the two, white of complexion, with ruddy-gold
hair, and had blue eyes. Muzio, on the contrary, had a swarthy face,
black hair, and in his dark-brown eyes there was not that merry gleam,
on his lips not that cordial smile, which Fabio had; his thick eyebrows
over-hung his narrow eyelids, while Fabio's golden brows rose in slender
arches on his pure, smooth forehead. Muzio was less animated in
conversation also; nevertheless both friends were equally favoured by
the ladies; for not in vain were they models of knightly courtesy and
At one and the same time with them there dwelt in Ferrara a maiden named
Valeria. She was considered one of the greatest beauties in the city,
although she was to be seen only very rarely, as she led a retired life
and left her house only to go to church;—and on great festivals for a
walk. She lived with her mother, a nobly-born but not wealthy widow, who
had no other children. Valeria inspired in every one whom she met a
feeling of involuntary amazement and of equally involuntary tender
respect: so modest was her mien, so little aware was she, to all
appearance, of the full force of her charms. Some persons, it is true,
thought her rather pale; the glance of her eyes, which were almost
always lowered, expressed a certain shyness and even timidity; her lips
smiled rarely, and then but slightly; hardly ever did any one hear her
voice. But a rumour was in circulation to the effect that it was very
beautiful, and that, locking herself in her chamber, early in the
morning, while everything in the city was still sleeping, she loved to
warble ancient ballads to the strains of a lute, upon which she herself
played. Despite the pallor of her face, Valeria was in blooming health;
and even the old people, as they looked on her, could not refrain from
thinking:—"Oh, how happy will be that young man for whom this bud still
folded in its petals, still untouched and virgin, shall at last unfold
Fabio and Muzio beheld Valeria for the first time at a sumptuous popular
festival, got up at the command of the Duke of Ferrara, Ercole, son of
the famous Lucrezia Borgia, in honour of some distinguished grandees who
had arrived from Paris on the invitation of the Duchess, the daughter of
Louis XII, King of France. Side by side with her mother sat Valeria in
the centre of an elegant tribune, erected after drawings by Palladius
on the principal square of Ferrara for the most honourable ladies of the
city. Both Fabio and Muzio fell passionately in love with her that day;
and as they concealed nothing from each other, each speedily learned
what was going on in his comrade's heart. They agreed between themselves
that they would both try to make close acquaintance with Valeria, and if
she should deign to choose either one of them the other should submit
without a murmur to her decision.
Several weeks later, thanks to the fine reputation which they rightfully
enjoyed, they succeeded in penetrating into the not easily accessible
house of the widow; she gave them permission to visit her. From that
time forth they were able to see Valeria almost every day and to
converse with her;—and with every day the flame kindled in the hearts
of both young men blazed more and more vigorously. But Valeria displayed
no preference for either of them, although their presence evidently
pleased her. With Muzio she occupied herself with music; but she chatted
more with Fabio: she was less shy with him. At last they decided to
learn their fate definitely, and sent to Valeria a letter wherein they
asked her to explain herself and say on whom she was prepared to bestow
her hand. Valeria showed this letter to her mother, and informed her
that she was content to remain unmarried; but if her mother thought it
was time for her to marry, she would wed the man of her mother's
choice. The honourable widow shed a few tears at the thought of parting
from her beloved child; but there was no reason for rejecting the
suitors: she considered them both equally worthy of her daughter's hand.
But as she secretly preferred Fabio, and suspected that he was more to
Valeria's taste also, she fixed upon him. On the following day Fabio
learned of his happiness: and all that was left to Muzio was to keep his
word and submit.
This he did; but he was not able to be a witness to the triumph of his
friend, his rival. He immediately sold the greater part of his property,
and collecting a few thousand ducats, he set off on a long journey to
the Orient. On taking leave of Fabio he said to him that he would not
return until he should feel that the last traces of passion in him had
vanished. It was painful for Fabio to part from the friend of his
childhood and his youth … but the joyful anticipation of approaching
bliss speedily swallowed up all other sentiments—and he surrendered
himself completely to the transports of happy love.
He soon married Valeria, and only then did he learn the full value of
the treasure which it had fallen to his lot to possess. He had a very
beautiful villa at a short distance from Ferrara; he removed thither
with his wife and her mother. A bright time then began for them. Wedded
life displayed in a new and captivating light all Valeria's perfections.
Fabio became a remarkable artist,—-no longer a mere amateur, but a
master. Valeria's mother rejoiced and returned thanks to God as she
gazed at the happy pair. Four years flew by unnoticed like a blissful
dream. One thing alone was lacking to the young married couple, one
thing caused them grief: they had no children … but hope had not
deserted them. Toward the end of the fourth year a great, and this time
a genuine grief, visited them: Valeria's mother died, after an illness
of a few days.
Valeria shed many tears; for a long time she could not reconcile herself
to her loss. But another year passed; life once more asserted its rights
and flowed on in its former channel. And, lo! one fine summer evening,
without having forewarned any one, Muzio returned to Ferrara.
During the whole five years which had elapsed since his departure, no
one had known anything about him. All rumours concerning him had died
out, exactly as though he had vanished from the face of the earth. When
Fabio met his friend on one of the streets in Ferrara he came near
crying out aloud, first from fright, then from joy, and immediately
invited him to his villa. There, in the garden, was a spacious, detached
pavilion; he suggested that his friend should settle down in that
pavilion. Muzio gladly accepted, and that same day removed thither with
his servant, a dumb Malay—dumb but not deaf, and even, judging from the
vivacity of his glance, a very intelligent man…. His tongue had been
cut out. Muzio had brought with him scores of chests filled with divers
precious things which he had collected during his prolonged wanderings.
Valeria was delighted at Muzio's return; and he greeted her in a
cheerfully-friendly but composed manner. From everything it was obvious
that he had kept the promise made to Fabio. In the course of the day he
succeeded in installing himself in his pavilion; with the aid of his
Malay he set out the rarities he had brought—rugs, silken tissues,
garments of velvet and brocade, weapons, cups, dishes, and beakers
adorned with enamel, articles of gold and silver set with pearls and
turquoises, carved caskets of amber and ivory, faceted flasks, spices,
perfumes, pelts of wild beasts, the feathers of unknown birds, and a
multitude of other objects, the very use of which seemed mysterious and
incomprehensible. Among the number of all these precious things there
was one rich pearl necklace which Muzio had received from the Shah of
Persia for a certain great and mysterious service; he asked Valeria's
permission to place this necklace on her neck with his own hand; it
seemed to her heavy, and as though endowed with a strange sort of warmth
… it fairly adhered to the skin. Toward evening, after dinner, as they
sat on the terrace of the villa, in the shade of oleanders and laurels,
Muzio began to narrate his adventures. He told of the distant lands
which he had seen, of mountains higher than the clouds, of rivers like
unto seas; he told of vast buildings and temples, of trees thousands of
years old, of rainbow-hued flowers and birds; he enumerated the cities
and peoples he had visited…. (their very names exhaled something
magical). All the Orient was familiar to Muzio: he had traversed Persia
and Arabia, where the horses are more noble and beautiful than all other
living creatures; he had penetrated the depths of India, where is a race
of people resembling magnificent plants; he had attained to the confines
of China and Tibet, where a living god, the Dalai Lama by name, dwells
upon earth in the form of a speechless man with narrow eyes. Marvellous
were his tales! Fabio and Valeria listened to him as though enchanted.
In point of fact, Muzio's features had undergone but little change:
swarthy from childhood, his face had grown still darker,—had been
burned beneath the rays of a more brilliant sun,—his eyes seemed more
deeply set than of yore, that was all; but the expression of that face
had become different: concentrated, grave, it did not grow animated even
when he alluded to the dangers to which he had been subjected by night
in the forests, deafened by the roar of tigers, by day on deserted roads
where fanatics lie in wait for travellers and strangle them in honour of
an iron goddess who demands human blood. And Muzio's voice had grown
more quiet and even; the movements of his hands, of his whole body, had
lost the flourishing ease which is peculiar to the Italian race.
With the aid of his servant, the obsequiously-alert Malay, he showed his
host and hostess several tricks which he had been taught by the Brahmins
of India. Thus, for example, having preliminarily concealed himself
behind a curtain, he suddenly appeared sitting in the air, with his legs
doubled up beneath him, resting the tips of his fingers lightly on a
bamboo rod set upright, which not a little amazed and even alarmed Fabio
and Valeria…. "Can it be that he is a magician?" the thought occurred
to her.—But when he set to calling out tame snakes from a covered
basket by whistling on a small flute,—when, wiggling their fangs, their
dark, flat heads made their appearance from beneath the motley stuff,
Valeria became frightened and begged Muzio to hide away those horrors as
quickly as possible.
At supper Muzio regaled his friends with wine of Shiraz from a round
flask with a long neck; extremely fragrant and thick, of a golden hue,
with greenish lights, it sparkled mysteriously when poured into the tiny
jasper cups. In taste it did not resemble European wines: it was very
sweet and spicy; and, quaffed slowly, in small sips, it produced in all
the limbs a sensation of agreeable drowsiness. Muzio made Fabio and
Valeria drink a cup apiece, and drank one himself. Bending over her cup,
he whispered something and shook his fingers. Valeria noticed this; but
as there was something strange and unprecedented in all Muzio's ways in
general, and in all his habits, she merely thought: "I wonder if he has
not accepted in India some new faith, or whether they have such customs
there?"—Then, after a brief pause, she asked him: "Had he continued to
occupy himself with music during the time of his journeys?"—In reply
Muzio ordered the Malay to bring him his Indian violin. It resembled
those of the present day, only, instead of four strings it had three; a
bluish snake-skin was stretched across its top, and the slender bow of
reed was semi-circular in form, and on its very tip glittered a pointed
Muzio first played several melancholy airs,—which were, according to
his assertion, popular ballads,—strange and even savage to the Italian
ear; the sound of the metallic strings was plaintive and feeble. But
when Muzio began the last song, that same sound suddenly strengthened,
quivered powerfully and resonantly; the passionate melody poured forth
from beneath the broadly-handled bow,—poured forth with beautiful
undulations, like the snake which had covered the top of the violin with
its skin; and with so much fire, with so much triumphant joy did this
song beam and blaze that both Fabio and Valeria felt a tremor at their
heart, and the tears started to their eyes … while Muzio, with his
head bent down and pressed against his violin, with pallid cheeks, and
brows contracted into one line, seemed still more concentrated and
serious than ever, and the diamond at the tip of the bow scattered
ray-like sparks in its flight, as though it also were kindled with the
fire of that wondrous song. And when Muzio had finished and, still
holding the violin tightly pressed between his chin and his shoulder,
dropped his hand which held the bow—"What is that? What hast thou been
playing to us?" Fabio exclaimed.—Valeria uttered not a word, but her
whole being seemed to repeat her husband's question. Muzio laid the
violin on the table, and lightly shaking back his hair, said, with a
courteous smile: "That? That melody … that song I heard once on the
island of Ceylon. That song is known there, among the people, as the
song of happy, satisfied love."
"Repeat it," whispered Fabio.
"No; it is impossible to repeat it," replied Muzio. "And it is late now.
Signora Valeria ought to rest; and it is high time for me also…. I am
All day long Muzio had treated Valeria in a respectfully-simple manner,
like a friend of long standing; but as he took leave he pressed her hand
very hard, jamming his fingers into her palm, staring so intently into
her face the while that she, although she did not raise her eyelids,
felt conscious of that glance on her suddenly-flushing cheeks. She said
nothing to Muzio, but drew away her hand, and when he was gone she
stared at the door through which he had made his exit. She recalled how,
in former years also, she had been afraid of him … and now she was
perplexed. Muzio went off to his pavilion; the husband and wife withdrew
to their bed-chamber.
Valeria did not soon fall asleep; her blood was surging softly and
languidly, and there was a faint ringing in her head … from that
strange wine, as she supposed, and, possibly, also from Muzio's tales,
from his violin playing…. Toward morning she fell asleep at last, and
had a remarkable dream.
It seems to her that she enters a spacious room with a low, vaulted
ceiling…. She has never seen such a room in her life. All the walls
are set with small blue tiles bearing golden patterns; slender carved
pillars of alabaster support the marble vault; this vault and the
pillars seem semi-transparent…. A pale, rose-coloured light penetrates
the room from all directions, illuminating all the objects mysteriously
and monotonously; cushions of gold brocade lie on a narrow rug in the
very middle of the floor, which is as smooth as a mirror. In the
corners, barely visible, two tall incense-burners, representing
monstrous animals, are smoking; there are no windows anywhere; the door,
screened by a velvet drapery, looms silently black in a niche of the
wall. And suddenly this curtain softly slips aside, moves away … and
Muzio enters. He bows, opens his arms, smiles…. His harsh arms
encircle Valeria's waist; his dry lips have set her to burning all
over…. She falls prone on the cushions….
* * * * *
Moaning with fright, Valeria awoke after long efforts.—Still not
comprehending where she is and what is the matter with her, she half
raises herself up in bed and looks about her…. A shudder runs through
her whole body…. Fabio is lying beside her. He is asleep; but his
face, in the light of the round, clear moon, is as pale as that of a
corpse … it is more melancholy than the face of a corpse. Valeria
awoke her husband—and no sooner had he cast a glance at her than he
exclaimed: "What is the matter with thee?"
"I have seen … I have seen a dreadful dream," she whispered, still
But at that moment, from the direction of the pavilion, strong sounds
were wafted to them—and both Fabio and Valeria recognised the melody
which Muzio had played to them, calling it the Song of Love
Triumphant.—Fabio cast a glance of surprise at Valeria…. She closed
her eyes, and turned away—and both, holding their breath, listened to
the song to the end. When the last sound died away the moon went behind
a cloud, it suddenly grew dark in the room…. The husband and wife
dropped their heads on their pillows, without exchanging a word, and
neither of them noticed when the other fell asleep.
On the following morning Muzio came to breakfast; he seemed pleased,
and greeted Valeria merrily. She answered him with confusion,—
scrutinised him closely, and was startled by that pleased, merry
face, those piercing and curious eyes. Muzio was about to begin his
stories again … but Fabio stopped him at the first word.
"Evidently, thou wert not able to sleep in a new place? My wife and I
heard thee playing the song of last night."
"Yes? Did you hear it?"—said Muzio.—"I did play it, in fact; but I had
been asleep before that, and I had even had a remarkable dream."
Valeria pricked up her ears.—"What sort of a dream?" inquired Fabio.
"I seemed," replied Muzio, without taking his eyes from Valeria, "to see
myself enter a spacious apartment with a vaulted ceiling, decorated in
Oriental style. Carved pillars supported the vault; the walls were
covered with tiles, and although there were no windows nor candles, yet
the whole room was filled with a rosy light, just as though it had all
been built of transparent stone. In the corners Chinese incense-burners
were smoking; on the floor lay cushions of brocade, along a narrow rug.
I entered through a door hung with a curtain, and from another door
directly opposite a woman whom I had once loved made her appearance. And
she seemed to me so beautiful that I became all aflame with my love of
days gone by…."
Muzio broke off significantly. Valeria sat motionless, only paling
slowly … and her breathing grew more profound.
"Then," pursued Muzio, "I woke up and played that song."
"But who was the woman?" said Fabio.
"Who was she? The wife of an East Indian. I met her in the city of
Delhi…. She is no longer among the living. She is dead."
"And her husband?" asked Fabio, without himself knowing why he did so.
"Her husband is dead also, they say. I soon lost sight of them."
"Strange!" remarked Fabio.—"My wife also had a remarkable dream last
night—which she did not relate to me," added Fabio.
But at this point Valeria rose and left the room. Immediately after
breakfast Muzio also went away, asserting that he was obliged to go to
Ferrara on business, and that he should not return before evening.
Several weeks before Muzio's return Fabio had begun a portrait of his
wife, depicting her with the attributes of Saint Cecilia.—He had made
noteworthy progress in his art; the famous Luini, the pupil of Leonardo
da Vinci, had come to him in Ferrara, and aiding him with his own
advice, had also imparted to him the precepts of his great master. The
portrait was almost finished; it only remained for him to complete the
face by a few strokes of the brush, and then Fabio might feel justly
proud of his work.
When Muzio departed to Ferrara, Fabio betook himself to his studio,
where Valeria was generally awaiting him; but he did not find her there;
he called to her—she did not respond. A secret uneasiness took
possession of Fabio; he set out in quest of her. She was not in the
house; Fabio ran into the garden—and there, in one of the most remote
alleys, he descried Valeria. With head bowed upon her breast, and hands
clasped on her knees, she was sitting on a bench, and behind her,
standing out against the dark green of a cypress, a marble satyr, with
face distorted in a malicious smile, was applying his pointed lips to
his reed-pipes. Valeria was visibly delighted at her husband's
appearance, and in reply to his anxious queries she said that she had a
slight headache, but that it was of no consequence, and that she was
ready for the sitting. Fabio conducted her to his studio, posed her, and
took up his brush; but, to his great vexation, he could not possibly
finish the face as he would have liked. And that not because it was
somewhat pale and seemed fatigued … no; but he did not find in it
that day the pure, holy expression which he so greatly loved in it, and
which had suggested to him the idea of representing Valeria in the form
of Saint Cecilia. At last he flung aside his brush, told his wife that
he was not in the mood, that ft would do her good to lie down for a
while, as she was not feeling quite well, to judge by her looks,—and
turned his easel so that the portrait faced the wall. Valeria agreed
with him that she ought to rest, and repeating her complaint of
headache, she retired to her chamber.
Fabio remained in the studio. He felt a strange agitation which was
incomprehensible even to himself. Muzio's sojourn under his roof, a
sojourn which he, Fabio, had himself invited, embarrassed him. And it
was not that he was jealous … was it possible to be jealous of
Valeria?—but in his friend he did not recognise his former comrade. All
that foreign, strange, new element which Muzio had brought with him from
those distant lands—and which, apparently, had entered into his very
flesh and blood,—-all those magical processes, songs, strange
beverages, that dumb Malay, even the spicy odour which emanated from
Muzio's garments, from his hair, his breath,—all this inspired in Fabio
a feeling akin to distrust, nay, even to timidity. And why did that
Malay, when serving at table, gaze upon him, Fabio, with such
disagreeable intentness? Really, one might suppose that he understood
Italian. Muzio had said concerning him, that that Malay, in paying the
penalty with his tongue, had made a great sacrifice, and in compensation
now possessed great power.—What power? And how could he have acquired
it at the cost of his tongue? All this was very strange! Very
Fabio went to his wife in her chamber; she was lying on the bed fully
dressed, but was not asleep.—On hearing his footsteps she started, then
rejoiced again to see him, as she had done in the garden. Fabio sat down
by the bed, took Valeria's hand, and after a brief pause, he asked her,
"What was that remarkable dream which had frightened her during the past
night? And had it been in the nature of that dream which Muzio had
Valeria blushed and said hastily—"Oh, no! no! I saw … some sort of a
monster, which tried to rend me."
"A monster? In the form of a man?" inquired Fabio.
"No, a wild beast … a wild beast!"—And Valeria turned away and hid
her flaming face in the pillows. Fabio held his wife's hand for a while
longer; silently he raised it to his lips, and withdrew.
The husband and wife passed a dreary day. It seemed as though something
dark were hanging over their heads … but what it was, they could not
tell. They wanted to be together, as though some danger were menacing
them;—but what to say to each other, they did not know. Fabio made an
effort to work at the portrait, to read Ariosto, whose poem, which had
recently made its appearance in Ferrara, was already famous throughout
Italy; but he could do nothing…. Late in the evening, just in time for
supper, Muzio returned.
He appeared calm and contented—but related few stories; he chiefly
interrogated Fabio concerning their mutual acquaintances of former days,
the German campaign, the Emperor Charles; he spoke of his desire to go
to Rome, to have a look at the new Pope. Again he offered Valeria wine
of Shiraz—and in reply to her refusal he said, as though to himself,
"It is not necessary now."
On returning with his wife to their bedroom Fabio speedily fell
asleep … and waking an hour later was able to convince himself that no
one shared his couch: Valeria was not with him. He hastily rose, and at
the selfsame moment he beheld his wife, in her night-dress, enter the
room from the garden. The moon was shining brightly, although not long
before a light shower had passed over.—With widely-opened eyes, and an
expression of secret terror on her impassive face, Valeria approached
the bed, and fumbling for it with her hands, which were outstretched in
front of her, she lay down hurriedly and in silence. Fabio asked her a
question, but she made no reply; she seemed to be asleep. He touched
her, and felt rain-drops on her clothing, on her hair, and grains of
sand on the soles of her bare feet. Then he sprang up and rushed into
the garden through the half-open door. The moonlight, brilliant to
harshness, inundated all objects. Fabio looked about him and descried on
the sand of the path traces of two pairs of feet; one pair was bare; and
those tracks led to an arbour covered with jasmin, which stood apart,
between the pavilion and the house. He stopped short in perplexity; and
lo! suddenly the notes of that song which he had heard on the preceding
night again rang forth! Fabio shuddered, and rushed into the
pavilion…. Muzio was standing in the middle of the room, playing on
his violin. Fabio darted to him.
"Thou hast been in the garden, thou hast been out, thy clothing is damp
"No…. I do not know … I do not think … that I have been out of
doors …" replied Muzio, in broken accents, as though astonished at
Fabio's advent, and at his agitation.
Fabio grasped him by the arm.—"And why art thou playing that melody
again? Hast thou had another dream?"
Muzio glanced at Fabio with the same surprise as before, and made no
"Come, answer me!"
"The moon is steel, like a circular shield….
The river gleams like a snake….
The friend is awake, the enemy sleeps—
The hawk seizes the chicken in his claws….
mumbled Muzio, in a singsong, as though in a state of unconsciousness.
Fabio retreated a couple of paces, fixed his eyes on Muzio, meditated
for a space … and returned to his house, to the bed-chamber.
With her head inclined upon her shoulder, and her arms helplessly
outstretched, Valeria was sleeping heavily. He did not speedily succeed
in waking her … but as soon as she saw him she flung herself on his
neck, and embraced him convulsively; her whole body was quivering.
"What aileth thee, my dear one, what aileth thee?" said Fabio
repeatedly, striving to soothe her.
But she continued to lie as in a swoon on his breast. "Akh, what
dreadful visions I see!" she whispered, pressing her face against him.
Fabio attempted to question her … but she merely trembled….
The window-panes were reddening with the first gleams of dawn when, at
last, she fell asleep in his arms.
On the following day Muzio disappeared early in the morning, and Valeria
informed her husband that she intended to betake herself to the
neighbouring monastery, where dwelt her spiritual father—an aged and
stately monk, in whom she cherished unbounded confidence. To Fabio's
questions she replied that she desired to alleviate by confession her
soul, which was oppressed with the impressions of the last few days. As
he gazed at Valeria's sunken visage, as he listened to her faint voice,
Fabio himself approved of her plan: venerable Father Lorenzo might be
able to give her useful advice, disperse her doubts…. Under the
protection of four escorts, Valeria set out for the monastery, but Fabio
remained at home; and while awaiting the return of his wife, he roamed
about the garden, trying to understand what had happened to her, and
feeling the unremitting terror and wrath and pain of indefinite
suspicions…. More than once he entered the pavilion; but Muzio had not
returned, and the Malay stared at Fabio like a statue, with an
obsequious inclination of his head, and a far-away grin—at least, so it
seemed to Fabio—a far-away grin on his bronze countenance.
In the meantime Valeria had narrated everything in confession to her
confessor, being less ashamed than frightened. The confessor listened to
her attentively, blessed her, absolved her from her involuntary
sins,—but thought to himself: "Magic, diabolical witchcraft … things
cannot be left in this condition"…. and accompanied Valeria to her
villa, ostensibly for the purpose of definitely calming and comforting
At the sight of the confessor Fabio was somewhat startled; but the
experienced old man had already thought out beforehand how he ought to
proceed. On being left alone with Fabio, he did not, of course, betray
the secrets of the confessional; but he advised him to banish from his
house, if that were possible, his invited guest who, by his tales,
songs, and his whole conduct, had upset Valeria's imagination. Moreover,
in the old man's opinion, Muzio had not been firm in the faith in days
gone by, as he now recalled to mind; and after having sojourned so long
in regions not illuminated by the light of Christianity, he might have
brought thence the infection of false doctrines; he might even have
dabbled in magic; and therefore, although old friendship did assert its
rights, still wise caution pointed to parting as indispensable.
Fabio thoroughly agreed with the venerable monk. Valeria even beamed all
over when her husband communicated to her her confessor's counsel; and
accompanied by the good wishes of both husband and wife, and provided
with rich gifts for the monastery and the poor, Father Lorenzo wended
his way home.
Fabio had intended to have an explanation with Muzio directly after
supper, but his strange guest did not return to supper. Then Fabio
decided to defer the interview with Muzio until the following day, and
husband and wife withdrew to their bed-chamber.
Valeria speedily fell asleep; but Fabio could not get to sleep. In the
nocturnal silence all that he had seen, all that he had felt, presented
itself to him in a still more vivid manner; with still greater
persistence did he ask himself questions, to which, as before, he found
no answer. Was Muzio really a magician? And had he already poisoned
Valeria? She was ill … but with what malady? While he was engrossed in
painful meditations, with his head propped on his hand and restraining
his hot breathing, the moon again rose in the cloudless sky; and
together with its rays, through the semi-transparent window-panes, in
the direction of the pavilion, there began to stream in—or did Fabio
merely imagine it?—there began to stream in a breath resembling a
faint, perfumed current of air….
Now an importunate, passionate whisper began to make itself heard …
and at that same moment he noticed that Valeria was beginning to stir
slightly. He started, gazed; she rose, thrust first one foot, then the
other from the bed, and, like a somnambulist, with her dull eyes
strained straight ahead, and her arms extended before her, she advanced
toward the door into the garden! Fabio instantly sprang through the
other door of the bedroom, and briskly running round the corner of the
house, he closed the one which led into the garden…. He had barely
succeeded in grasping the handle when he felt some one trying to open
the door from within, throwing their force against it … more and more
strongly … then frightened moans resounded.
* * * * *
"But Muzio cannot have returned from the town, surely," flashed through
Fabio's head, and he darted into the pavilion….
What did he behold?
Coming to meet him, along the path brilliantly flooded with the radiance
of the moonlight, also with arms outstretched and lifeless eyes staring
widely—was Muzio…. Fabio ran up to him, but the other, without
noticing him, walked on, advancing with measured steps, and his
impassive face was smiling in the moonlight like the face of the Malay.
Fabio tried to call him by name … but at that moment he heard a window
bang in the house behind him…. He glanced round….
In fact, the window of the bedroom was open from top to bottom, and with
one foot thrust across the sill stood Valeria in the window … and her
arms seemed to be seeking Muzio, her whole being was drawn toward him.
Unspeakable wrath flooded Fabio's breast in a suddenly-invading
torrent.—"Accursed sorcerer!" he yelled fiercely, and seizing Muzio by
the throat with one hand, he fumbled with the other for the dagger in
his belt, and buried its blade to the hilt in his side.
Muzio uttered a piercing shriek, and pressing the palm of his hand to
the wound, fled, stumbling, back to the pavilion…. But at that same
instant, when Fabio stabbed him, Valeria uttered an equally piercing
shriek and fell to the ground like one mowed down.
Fabio rushed to her, raised her up, carried her to the bed, spoke to
For a long time she lay motionless; but at last she opened her eyes,
heaved a deep sigh, convulsively and joyously, like a person who has
just been saved from inevitable death,—caught sight of her husband, and
encircling his neck with her arms, pressed herself to his breast.
"Thou, thou, it is thou," she stammered. Gradually the clasp of her arms
relaxed, her head sank backward, and whispering, with a blissful
smile:—"Thank God, all is over…. But how weary I am!"—she fell into
a profound but not heavy slumber.
Fabio sank down beside her bed, and never taking his eyes from her pale,
emaciated, but already tranquil face, he began to reflect upon what had
taken place … and also upon how he ought to proceed now. What was he
to do? If he had slain Muzio—and when he recalled how deeply the blade
of his dagger had penetrated he could not doubt that he had done
so—then it was impossible to conceal the fact. He must bring it to the
knowledge of the Duke, of the judges … but how was he to explain, how
was he to narrate such an incomprehensible affair? He, Fabio, had slain
in his own house his relative, his best friend! People would ask, "What
for? For what cause?…" But what if Muzio were not slain?—Fabio had
not the strength to remain any longer in uncertainty, and having made
sure that Valeria was asleep, he cautiously rose from his arm-chair,
left the house, and directed his steps toward the pavilion. All was
silent in it; only in one window was a light visible. With sinking heart
he opened the outer door—(a trace of bloody fingers still clung to it,
and on the sand of the path drops of blood made black patches)—
raversed the first dark chamber … and halted on the threshold,
petrified with astonishment.
In the centre of the room, on a Persian rug, with a brocade cushion
under his head, covered with a wide scarlet shawl with black figures,
lay Muzio, with all his limbs stiffly extended. His face, yellow as wax,
with closed eyes and lids which had become blue, was turned toward the
ceiling, and no breath was to be detected: he seemed to be dead. At his
feet, also enveloped in a scarlet shawl, knelt the Malay. He held in his
left hand a branch of some unfamiliar plant, resembling a fern, and
bending slightly forward, he was gazing at his master, never taking his
eyes from him. A small torch, thrust into the floor, burned with a
greenish flame, and was the only light in the room. Its flame did not
flicker nor smoke.
The Malay did not stir at Fabio's entrance, but merely darted a glance
at him and turned his eyes again upon Muzio. From time to time he
raised himself a little, and lowered the branch, waving it through the
air,—and his dumb lips slowly parted and moved, as though uttering
inaudible words. Between Muzio and the Malay there lay upon the floor
the dagger with which Fabio had stabbed his friend. The Malay smote the
blood-stained blade with his bough. One minute passed … then another.
Fabio approached the Malay, and bending toward him, he said in a low
voice: "Is he dead?"—The Malay bowed his head, and disengaging his
right hand from beneath the shawl, pointed imperiously to the door.
Fabio was about to repeat his question, but the imperious hand repeated
its gesture, and Fabio left the room, raging arid marvelling but
He found Valeria asleep, as before, with a still more tranquil face. He
did not undress, but seated himself by the window, propped his head on
his hand, and again became immersed in thought. The rising sun found him
still in the same place. Valeria had not wakened.
Fabio was intending to wait until she should awake, and then go to
Ferrara—when suddenly some one tapped lightly at the door of the
bedroom. Fabio went out and beheld before him his aged major-domo,
"Signor," began the old man, "the Malay has just informed us that Signor
Muzio is ailing and desires to remove with all his effects to the town;
and therefore he requests that you will furnish him with the aid of some
persons to pack his things—and that you will send, about dinner-time,
both pack-and saddle-horses and a few men as guard. Do you permit?"
"Did the Malay tell thee that?" inquired Fabio. "In what manner? For he
"Here, signor, is a paper on which he wrote all this in our language,
"And Muzio is ill, sayest thou?"
"Yes, very ill, and he cannot be seen."
"Has not a physician been sent for?"
"No; the Malay would not allow it."
"And was it the Malay who wrote this for thee?"
"Yes, it was he."
Fabio was silent for a space.
"Very well, take the necessary measures," he said at last.
Fabio stared after his servant in perplexity.—"So he was not
killed?"—he thought … and he did not know whether to rejoice or to
grieve.—"He is ill?"—But a few hours ago he had beheld him a corpse!
Fabio returned to Valeria. She was awake, and raised her head. The
husband and wife exchanged a long, significant look.
"Is he already dead?" said Valeria suddenly.—Fabio shuddered.
"What … he is not?—Didst thou…. Has he gone away?" she went on.
Fabio's heart was relieved.—"Not yet; but he is going away to-day."
"And I shall never, never see him again?"
"And those visions will not be repeated?"
Valeria heaved another sigh of relief; a blissful smile again made its
appearance on her lips. She put out both hands to her husband.
"And we shall never speak of him, never, hearest thou, my dear one. And
I shall not leave this room until he is gone. But now do thou send me my
serving-women … and stay: take that thing!"—she pointed to a pearl
necklace which lay on the night-stand, the necklace which Muzio had
given her,—-"and throw it immediately into our deep well. Embrace me—I
am thy Valeria—and do not come to me until … that man is gone."
Fabio took the necklace—its pearls seemed to have grown dim—and
fulfilled his wife's behest. Then he began to roam about the garden,
gazing from a distance at the pavilion, around which the bustle of
packing was already beginning. Men were carrying out chests, lading
horses … but the Malay was not among them. An irresistible feeling
drew Fabio to gaze once more on what was going on in the pavilion. He
recalled the fact that in its rear façade there was a secret door
through which one might penetrate to the interior of the chamber where
Muzio had been lying that morning. He stole up to that door, found it
unlocked, and pushing aside the folds of a heavy curtain, darted in an
Muzio was no longer lying on the rug. Dressed in travelling attire, he
was sitting in an arm-chair, but appeared as much of a corpse as at
Fabio's first visit. The petrified head had fallen against the back of
the chair, the hands lay flat, motionless, and yellow on the knees. His
breast did not heave. Round about the chair, on the floor strewn with
dried herbs, stood several flat cups filled with a dark liquid which
gave off a strong, almost suffocating odour,—the odour of musk. Around
each cup was coiled a small, copper-coloured serpent, which gleamed here
and there with golden spots; and directly in front of Muzio, a couple of
paces distant from him, rose up the tall figure of the Malay, clothed in
a motley-hued mantle of brocade, girt about with a tiger's tail, with a
tall cap in the form of a horned tiara on his head.
But he was not motionless: now he made devout obeisances and seemed to
be praying, again he drew himself up to his full height, even stood on
tiptoe; now he threw his hands apart in broad and measured sweep, now he
waved them urgently in the direction of Muzio, and seemed to be menacing
or commanding with them, as he contracted his brows in a frown and
stamped his foot. All these movements evidently cost him great effort,
and even caused him suffering: he breathed heavily, the sweat streamed
from his face. Suddenly he stood stock-still on one spot, and inhaling
the air into his lungs and scowling, he stretched forward, then drew
toward him his clenched fists, as though he were holding reins in
them … and to Fabio's indescribable horror, Muzio's head slowly
separated itself from the back of the chair and reached out after the
Malay's hands…. The Malay dropped his hands, and Muzio's head again
sank heavily backward; the Malay repeated his gestures, and the obedient
head repeated them after him. The dark liquid in the cups began to
seethe with a faint sound; the very cups themselves emitted a faint
tinkling, and the copper snakes began to move around each of them in
undulating motion. Then the Malay advanced a pace, and elevating his
eyebrows very high and opening his eyes until they were of huge size, he
nodded his head at Muzio … and the eyelids of the corpse began to
flutter, parted unevenly, and from beneath them the pupils, dull as lead,
revealed themselves. With proud triumph and joy—a joy that was almost
malicious—beamed the face of the Malay; he opened his lips widely, and
from the very depths of his throat a prolonged roar wrested itself with
an effort…. Muzio's lips parted also, and a faint groan trembled on
them in reply to that inhuman sound.
But at this point Fabio could endure it no longer: he fancied that he
was witnessing some devilish incantations! He also uttered a shriek and
started off at a run homeward, without looking behind him,—homeward as
fast as he could go, praying and crossing himself as he ran.
Three hours later Antonio presented himself before him with the report
that everything was ready, all the things were packed, and Signor Muzio
was preparing to depart. Without uttering a word in answer to his
servant, Fabio stepped out on the terrace, whence the pavilion was
visible. Several pack-horses were grouped in front of it; at the porch
itself a powerful black stallion, with a roomy saddle adapted for two
riders, was drawn up. There also stood the servants with bared heads and
the armed escort. The door of the pavilion opened and, supported by the
Malay, Muzio made his appearance. His face was deathlike, and his arms
hung down like those of a corpse,—but he walked … yes! he put one
foot before the other, and once mounted on the horse, he held himself
upright, and got hold of the reins by fumbling. The Malay thrust his
feet into the stirrups, sprang up behind him on the saddle, encircled
his waist with his arm,—and the whole procession set out. The horses
proceeded at a walk, and when they made the turn in front of the house,
Fabio fancied that on Muzio's dark countenance two small white patches
gleamed…. Could it be that he had turned his eyes that way?—The Malay
alone saluted him … mockingly, but as usual.
Did Valeria see all this? The shutters of her windows were closed …
but perhaps she was standing behind them.
At dinner-time she entered the dining-room, and was very quiet and
affectionate; but she still complained of being weary. Yet there was no
agitation about her, nor any of her former constant surprise and secret
fear; and when, on the day after Muzio's departure, Fabio again set
about her portrait, he found in her features that pure expression, the
temporary eclipse of which had so disturbed him … and his brush flew
lightly and confidently over the canvas.
Husband and wife began to live their life as of yore. Muzio had vanished
for them as though he had never existed. And both Fabio and Valeria
seemed to have entered into a compact not to recall him by a single
sound, not to inquire about his further fate; and it remained a mystery
for all others as well. Muzio really did vanish, as though he had sunk
through the earth. One day Fabio thought himself bound to relate to
Valeria precisely what had occurred on that fateful night … but she,
probably divining his intention, held her breath, and her eyes narrowed
as though she were anticipating a blow…. And Fabio understood her: he
did not deal her that blow.
One fine autumnal day Fabio was putting the finishing touches to the
picture of his Cecilia; Valeria was sitting at the organ, and her
fingers were wandering over the keys…. Suddenly, contrary to her own
volition, from beneath her fingers rang out that Song of Love Triumphant
which Muzio had once played,—and at that same instant, for the first
time since her marriage, she felt within her the palpitation of a new,
germinating life…. Valeria started and stopped short….
What was the meaning of this? Could it be….
With this word the manuscript came to an end.
In the spring of 1878 there lived in Moscow, in a small wooden house on
Shabólovka Street, a young man five-and-twenty years of age, Yákoff
Arátoff by name. With him lived his aunt, an old maid, over fifty years
of age, his father's sister, Platonída Ivánovna. She managed his
housekeeping and took charge of his expenditures, of which Arátoff was
utterly incapable. He had no other relations. Several years before, his
father, a petty and not wealthy noble of the T—— government, had
removed to Moscow, together with him and Platonída Ivánovna who, by the
way, was always called Platósha; and her nephew called her so too. When
he quitted the country where all of them had constantly dwelt hitherto,
old Arátoff had settled in the capital with the object of placing his
son in the university, for which he had himself prepared him; he
purchased for a trifling sum a small house on one of the remote streets,
and installed himself therein with all his books and "preparations." And
of books and preparations he had many, for he was a man not devoid of
learning … "a supernatural eccentric," according to the words of his
neighbours. He even bore among them the reputation of a magician: he had
even received the nickname of "the insect-observer." He busied himself
with chemistry, mineralogy, entomology, botany, and medicine; he treated
voluntary patients with herbs and metallic powders of his own
concoction, after the method of Paracelsus. With those same powders he
had sent into the grave his young, pretty, but already too delicate
wife, whom he had passionately loved, and by whom he had had an only
son. With those same metallic powders he had wrought considerable havoc
with the health of his son also, which, on the contrary, he had wished
to reinforce, as he detected in his organisation anæmia and a tendency
to consumption inherited from his mother. The title of "magician" he had
acquired, among other things, from the fact that he considered himself a
great-grandson—not in the direct line, of course—of the famous Bruce,
in whose honour he had named his son Yákoff. He was the sort of man
who is called "very good-natured," but of a melancholy temperament,
fussy, and timid, with a predilection for everything that was mysterious
or mystical…. "Ah!" uttered in a half-whisper was his customary
exclamation; and he died with that exclamation on his lips, two years
after his removal to Moscow.
His son Yákoff did not, in outward appearance, resemble his father, who
had been homely in person, clumsy and awkward; he reminded one rather of
his mother. There were the same delicate, pretty features, the same soft
hair of ashblonde hue, the same plump, childish lips, and large,
languishing, greenish-grey eyes, and feathery eyelashes. On the other
hand in disposition he resembled his father; and his face, which did not
resemble his father's, bore the stamp of his father's expression; and he
had angular arms, and a sunken chest, like old Arátoff, who, by the way,
should hardly be called an old man, since he did not last to the age of
fifty. During the latter's lifetime Yákoff had already entered the
university, in the physico-mathematical faculty; but he did not finish
his course,—not out of idleness, but because, according to his ideas, a
person can learn no more in the university than he can teach himself at
home; and he did not aspire to a diploma, as he was not intending to
enter the government service. He avoided his comrades, made acquaintance
with hardly any one, was especially shy of women, and lived a very
isolated life, immersed in his books. He was shy of women, although he
had a very tender heart, and was captivated by beauty…. He even
acquired the luxury of an English keepsake, and (Oh, for shame!) admired
the portraits of divers, bewitching Gulnares and Medoras which "adorned"
it…. But his inborn modesty constantly restrained him. At home he
occupied his late father's study, which had also been his bedroom; and
his bed was the same on which his father had died.
The great support of his whole existence, his unfailing comrade and
friend, was his aunt, that Platósha, with whom he exchanged barely ten
words a day, but without whom he could not take a step. She was a
long-visaged, long-toothed being, with pale eyes in a pale face, and an
unvarying expression partly of sadness, partly of anxious alarm.
Eternally attired in a grey gown, and a grey shawl which was redolent of
camphor, she wandered about the house like a shadow, with noiseless
footsteps; she sighed, whispered prayers—especially one, her favourite,
which consisted of two words: "Lord, help!"—and managed the
housekeeping very vigorously, hoarding every kopék and buying everything
herself. She worshipped her nephew; she was constantly fretting about
his health, was constantly in a state of alarm, not about herself but
about him, and as soon as she thought there was anything the matter with
him, she would quietly approach and place on his writing-table a cup of
herb-tea, or stroke his back with her hands, which were as soft as
This coddling did not annoy Yákoff, but he did not drink the herb-tea,
and only nodded approvingly. But neither could he boast of his health.
He was extremely sensitive, nervous, suspicious; he suffered from
palpitation of the heart, and sometimes from asthma. Like his father, he
believed that there existed in nature and in the soul of man secrets, of
which glimpses may sometimes be caught, though they cannot be
understood; he believed in the presence of certain forces and
influences, sometimes well-disposed but more frequently hostile … and
he also believed in science,—in its dignity and worth. Of late he had
conceived a passion for photography. The odour of the ingredients used
in that connection greatly disturbed his old aunt,—again not on her own
behalf, but for Yásha's sake, on account of his chest. But with all his
gentleness of disposition he possessed no small portion of stubbornness,
and he diligently pursued his favourite occupation. "Platósha"
submitted, and merely sighed more frequently than ever, and whispered
"Lord, help!" as she gazed at his fingers stained with iodine.
Yákoff, as has already been stated, shunned his comrades; but with one
of them he struck up a rather close friendship, and saw him frequently,
even after that comrade, on leaving the university, entered the
government service, which, however, was not very exacting: to use his
own words, he had "tacked himself on" to the building of the Church of
the Saviour without, of course, knowing anything whatever about
architecture. Strange to say, that solitary friend of Arátoff's, Kupfer
by name, a German who was Russified to the extent of not knowing a
single word of German, and even used the epithet "German" as a term
of opprobrium,—that friend had, to all appearance, nothing in common
with him. He was a jolly, rosy-cheeked young fellow with black, curly
hair, loquacious, and very fond of that feminine society which Arátoff
so shunned. Truth to tell, Kupfer breakfasted and dined with him rather
often, and even—as he was not a rich man—borrowed small sums of money
from him; but it was not that which made the free-and-easy German so
diligently frequent the little house on Shabólovka Street. He had taken
a liking to Yákoff's spiritual purity, his "ideality,"—possibly as a
contrast to what he daily encountered and beheld;—or, perhaps, in that
same attraction toward "ideality" the young man's German blood revealed
itself. And Yákoff liked Kupfer's good-natured frankness; and in
addition to this, his tales of the theatres, concerts, and balls which
he constantly attended—in general of that alien world into which Yákoff
could not bring himself to penetrate—secretly interested and even
excited the young recluse, yet without arousing in him a desire to test
all this in his own experience. And Platósha liked Kupfer; she sometimes
thought him too unceremonious, it is true; but instinctively feeling and
understanding that he was sincerely attached to her beloved Yásha, she
not only tolerated the noisy visitor, but even felt a kindness for him.
At the time of which we are speaking, there was in Moscow a certain
widow, a Georgian Princess,—a person of ill-defined standing and almost
a suspicious character. She was about forty years of age; in her youth
she had, probably, bloomed with that peculiar oriental beauty, which so
quickly fades; now she powdered and painted herself, and dyed her hair a
yellow hue. Various, not altogether favourable, and not quite definite,
rumours were in circulation about her; no one had known her husband—and
in no one city had she lived for any length of time. She had neither
children nor property; but she lived on a lavish scale,—on credit or
otherwise. She held a salon, as the saying is, and received a decidedly
mixed company—chiefly composed of young men. Her whole establishment,
beginning with her own toilette, furniture, and table, and ending with
her equipage and staff of servants, bore a certain stamp of inferiority,
artificiality, transitoriness … but neither the Princess herself nor
her guests, apparently, demanded anything better. The Princess was
reputed to be fond of music and literature, to be a patroness of actors
and artists; and she really did take an interest in these "questions,"
even to an enthusiastic degree—and even to a pitch of rapture which was
not altogether simulated. She indubitably did possess the æsthetic
chord. Moreover, she was very accessible, amiable, devoid of
pretensions, of affectation, and—a fact which many did not suspect—in
reality extremely kind, tender-hearted and obliging…. Rare qualities,
and therefore all the more precious, precisely in individuals of that
"A frivolous woman!" one clever person said concerning her, "and she
will infallibly get into paradise! For she forgives everything—and
everything will be forgiven her!"—It was also said concerning her that
when she disappeared from any town, she always left behind her as many
creditors as persons whom she had loaded with benefits. A soft heart can
be pressed in any direction you like.
Kupfer, as was to be expected, was a visitor at her house, and became
very intimate with her … altogether too intimate, so malicious tongues
asserted. But he always spoke of her not only in a friendly manner, but
also with respect; he lauded her as a woman of gold—interpret that as
you please!—and was a firm believer in her love for art, and in her
comprehension of art!—So then, one day after dinner, at the Arátoffs',
after having discussed the Princess and her evening gatherings, he began
to urge Yákoff to break in upon his life of an anchorite for once, and
permit him, Kupfer, to introduce him to his friend. At first Yákoff
would not hear to anything of the sort.
"Why, what idea hast thou got into thy head?" exclaimed Kupfer at last.
"What sort of a presentation is in question? I shall simply take thee,
just as thou art now sitting there, in thy frock-coat, and conduct thee
to her evening. They do not stand on ceremony in the least there,
brother! Here now, thou art learned, and thou art fond of music" (there
actually was in Arátoff's study a small piano, on which he occasionally
struck a few chords in diminished sevenths)—"and in her house there is
any quantity of that sort of thing!… And there thou wilt meet
sympathetic people, without any airs! And, in conclusion, it is not
right that at thy age, with thy personal appearance" (Arátoff dropped
his eyes and waved his hand)—"yes, yes, with thy personal appearance,
thou shouldst shun society, the world, in this manner! I'm not going to
take thee to call on generals, seest thou! Moreover, I don't know any
generals myself!… Don't be stubborn, my dear fellow! Morality is a
good thing, a thing worthy of respect…. But why give thyself up to
asceticism? Assuredly, thou art not preparing to become a monk!"
Arátoff continued, nevertheless, to resist; but Platonída Ivánovna
unexpectedly came to Kupfer's assistance. Although she did not quite
understand the meaning of the word "asceticism," still she also thought
that it would not be a bad idea for Yáshenka to divert himself, to take
a look at people,—and show himself.—"The more so," she added, "that I
have confidence in Feódor Feódoritch! He will not take thee to any bad
"I'll restore him to thee in all his pristine purity!" cried Kupfer, at
whom Platonída Ivánovna, in spite of her confidence, kept casting
uneasy glances; Arátoff blushed to his very ears—but he ceased to
It ended in Kupfer taking him, on the following day, to the Princess's
evening assembly. But Arátoff did not remain there long. In the first
place, he found at her house about twenty guests, men and women, who
were, presumably, sympathetic, but who were strangers to him,
nevertheless; and this embarrassed him, although he was obliged to talk
very little: but he feared this most of all. In the second place, he did
not like the hostess herself, although she welcomed him very cordially
and unaffectedly. Everything about her displeased him; her painted face,
and her churned-up curls, and her hoarsely-mellifluous voice, her shrill
laugh, her way of rolling up her eyes, her too décolleté bodice—and
those plump, shiny fingers with a multitude of rings!… Slinking off
into a corner, he now swiftly ran his eyes over the faces of all the
guests, as though he did not even distinguish one from another; again he
stared persistently at his own feet. But when, at last, an artist who
had just come to town, with a drink-sodden countenance, extremely long
hair, and a bit of glass under his puckered brow, seated himself at the
piano, and bringing down his hands on the keys and his feet on the
pedals, with a flourish, began to bang out a fantasia by Liszt on a
Wagnerian theme, Arátoff could stand it no longer, and slipped away,
bearing in his soul a confused and oppressive impression, athwart which,
nevertheless, there pierced something which he did not understand, but
which was significant and even agitating.
Kupfer came on the following day to dinner; but he did not enlarge upon
the preceding evening, he did not even reproach Arátoff for his hasty
flight, and merely expressed regret that he had not waited for supper,
at which champagne had been served! (of Nízhegorod fabrication, we
may remark in parenthesis).
Kupfer probably understood that he had made a mistake in trying to
rouse his friend, and that Arátoff was a man who positively was not
adapted to that sort of society and manner of life. On his side, Arátoff
also did not allude to the Princess or to the night before. Platonída
Ivánovna did not know whether to rejoice at the failure of this first
attempt or to regret it. She decided, at last, that Yásha's health might
suffer from such expeditions, and regained her complacency. Kupfer went
away directly after dinner, and did not show himself again for a whole
week. And that not because he was sulking at Arátoff for the failure of
his introduction,—the good-natured fellow was incapable of such a
thing,—but he had, evidently, found some occupation which engrossed all
his time, all his thoughts;—for thereafter he rarely came to the
Arátoffs', wore an abstracted aspect, and soon vanished…. Arátoff
continued to live on as before; but some hitch, if we may so express
ourselves, had secured lodgment in his soul. He still recalled something
or other, without himself being quite aware what it was precisely,—and
that "something" referred to the evening which he had spent at the
Princess's house. Nevertheless, he had not the slightest desire to
return to it; and society, a section of which he had inspected in her
house, repelled him more than ever. Thus passed six weeks.
And lo! one morning, Kupfer again presented himself to him, this time
with a somewhat embarrassed visage.
"I know," he began, with a forced laugh, "that thy visit that evening
was not to thy taste; but I hope that thou wilt consent to my proposal
nevertheless … and wilt not refuse my request."
"What art thou talking about?" inquired Arátoff.
"See here," pursued Kupfer, becoming more and more animated; "there
exists here a certain society of amateurs and artists, which from time
to time organises readings, concerts, even theatrical representations,
for philanthropic objects…."
"And the Princess takes part?" interrupted Arátoff.
"The Princess always takes part in good works—but that is of no
consequence. We have got up a literary and musical morning … and at
that performance thou mayest hear a young girl … a remarkable young
girl!—We do not quite know, as yet, whether she will turn out a Rachel
or a Viardot … for she sings splendidly, and declaims and acts…. She
has talent of the first class, my dear fellow! I am not
exaggerating.—So here now … wilt not thou take a ticket?—Five rubles
if thou wishest the first row."
"And where did this wonderful young girl come from?" asked Arátoff.
Kupfer grinned.—"That I cannot say…. Of late she has found an asylum
with the Princess. The Princess, as thou knowest, is a patron of all
such people…. And it is probable that thou sawest her that evening."
Arátoff started inwardly, faintly … but made no answer.
"She has even acted somewhere in country districts," went on Kupfer,
"and, on the whole, she was created for the theatre. Thou shalt see for
"Is her name Clara?" asked Arátoff.
"Clara!" interrupted Arátoff again.—"It cannot be!"
"Why not?—Clara it is, … Clara Mílitch; that is not her real name …
but that is what she is called. She is to sing a romance by Glinka …
and one by Tchaikóvsky, and then she will recite the letter from 'Evgény
Onyégin'—Come now! Wilt thou take a ticket?"
"But when is it to be?"
"To-morrow … to-morrow, at half-past one, in a private hall, on
Ostozhyónka Street…. I will come for thee. A ticket at five rubles?…
Here it is…. No, this is a three-ruble ticket.—Here it is.—And here
is the affiche.—I am one of the managers."
Arátoff reflected. Platonída Ivánovna entered the room at that moment
and, glancing at his face, was suddenly seized with agitation.—"Yásha,"
she exclaimed, "what ails thee? Why art thou so excited? Feódor
Feódorovitch, what hast thou been saying to him?"
But Arátoff did not give his friend a chance to answer his aunt's
question, and hastily seizing the ticket which was held out to him, he
ordered Platonída Ivánovna to give Kupfer five rubles on the instant.
She was amazed, and began to blink her eyes…. Nevertheless, she handed
Kupfer the money in silence. Yáshenka had shouted at her in a very
"She's a marvel of marvels, I tell thee!" cried Kupfer, darting toward
the door.—"Expect me to-morrow!"
"Has she black eyes?" called Arátoff after him.
"As black as coal!" merrily roared Kupfer, and disappeared.
Arátoff went off to his own room, while Platonída Ivánovna remained
rooted to the spot, repeating: "Help, Lord! Lord, help!"
The large hall in a private house on Ostozhyónka Street was already half
filled with spectators when Arátoff and Kupfer arrived. Theatrical
representations were sometimes given in that hall, but on this occasion
neither stage-scenery nor curtain were visible. Those who had organised
the "morning" had confined themselves to erecting a platform at one end,
placing thereon a piano and a couple of music-racks, a few chairs, a
table with a carafe of water and a glass, and hanging a curtain of red
cloth over the door which led to the room set apart for the artists. In
the first row the Princess was already seated, clad in a bright green
gown; Arátoff placed himself at some distance from her, after barely
exchanging a bow with her. The audience was what is called motley; it
consisted chiefly of young men from various institutions of learning.
Kupfer, in his quality of a manager, with a white ribbon on the lapel of
his dress-coat, bustled and fussed about with all his might; the
Princess was visibly excited, kept looking about her, launching smiles
in all directions, and chatting with her neighbours … there were only
men in her immediate vicinity.
The first to make his appearance on the platform was a flute-player of
consumptive aspect, who spat out … that is to say, piped out a piece
which was consumptive like himself. Two persons shouted "Bravo!" Then a
fat gentleman in spectacles, very sedate and even grim of aspect,
recited in a bass voice a sketch by Shtchedrín; the audience
applauded the sketch, not him.—Then the pianist, who was already known
to Arátoff, presented himself, and pounded out the same Liszt fantasia;
the pianist was favoured with a recall. He bowed, with his hand resting
on the back of a chair, and after each bow he tossed back his hair
exactly like Liszt! At last, after a decidedly long intermission, the
red cloth over the door at the rear of the platform moved, was drawn
widely apart, and Clara Mílitch made her appearance. The hall rang with
applause. With unsteady steps she approached the front of the platform,
came to a halt, and stood motionless, with her large, red, ungloved
hands crossed in front of her, making no curtsey, neither bending her
head nor smiling.
She was a girl of nineteen, tall, rather broad-shouldered, but well
built. Her face was swarthy, partly Hebrew, partly Gipsy in type; her
eyes were small and black beneath thick brows which almost met, her nose
was straight, slightly up-turned, her lips were thin with a beautiful
but sharp curve; she had a huge braid of black hair, which was heavy
even to the eye, a low, impassive, stony brow, tiny ears … her whole
countenance was thoughtful, almost surly. A passionate, self-willed
nature,—not likely to be either kindly or even intelligent,—but
gifted, was manifested by everything about her.
For a while she did not raise her eyes, but suddenly gave a start and
sent her intent but not attentive glance, which seemed to be buried in
herself, along the rows of spectators.
"What tragic eyes!" remarked a certain grey-haired fop, who sat behind
Arátoff, with the face of a courtesan from Revel,—one of Moscow's
well-known first-nighters and rounders. The fop was stupid and intended
to utter a bit of nonsense … but he had spoken the truth! Arátoff, who
had never taken his eyes from Clara since she had made her appearance,
only then recalled that he actually had seen her at the Princess's; and
had not only seen her, but had even noticed that she had several times
looked at him with particular intentness out of her dark, watchful eyes.
And on this occasion also … or did he merely fancy that it was so?—on
catching sight of him in the first row, she seemed to be delighted,
seemed to blush—and again she gazed intently at him. Then, without
turning round, she retreated a couple of paces in the direction of the
piano, at which the accompanist, the long-haired foreigner, was already
seated. She was to execute Glinka's romance, "As soon as I recognised
thee…." She immediately began to sing, without altering the position
of her hands and without glancing at the notes. Her voice was soft and
resonant,—a contralto,—she pronounced her words distinctly and
forcibly, and sang monotonously, without shading but with strong
"The lass sings with conviction," remarked the same fop who sat behind
Arátoff,—and again he spoke the truth.
Shouts of "Bis!" "Bravo!" resounded all about, but she merely darted a
swift glance at Arátoff, who was neither shouting nor clapping,—he had
not been particularly pleased by her singing,—made a slight bow and
withdrew, without taking the arm of the hairy pianist which he had
crooked out like a cracknel. She was recalled … but it was some time
before she made her appearance, advanced to the piano with the same
uncertain tread as before, and after whispering a couple of words to her
accompanist, who was obliged to get and place on the rack before him not
the music he had prepared but something else,—she began Tchaikóvsky's
romance: "No, only he who hath felt the thirst of meeting"…. This
romance she sang in a different way from the first—in an undertone, as
though she were weary … and only in the line before the last, "He will
understand how I have suffered,"—did a ringing, burning cry burst from
her. The last line, "And how I suffer…." she almost whispered, sadly
prolonging the final word. This romance produced a slighter impression
on the audience than Glinka's; but there was a great deal of
applause…. Kupfer, in particular, distinguished himself: he brought
his hands together in a peculiar manner, in the form of a cask, when he
clapped, thereby producing a remarkably sonorous noise. The Princess
gave him a large, dishevelled bouquet, which he was to present to the
songstress; but the latter did not appear to perceive Kupfer's bowed
figure, and his hand outstretched with the bouquet, and she turned and
withdrew, again without waiting for the pianist, who had sprung to his
feet with still greater alacrity than before to escort her, and who,
being thus left in the lurch, shook his hair as Liszt himself, in all
probability, never shook his!
During the whole time she was singing Arátoff had been scanning Clara's
face. It seemed to him that her eyes, athwart her contracted lashes,
were again turned on him. But he was particularly struck by the
impassiveness of that face, that forehead, those brows, and only when
she uttered her passionate cry did he notice a row of white, closely-set
teeth gleaming warmly from between her barely parted lips. Kupfer
stepped up to him.
"Well, brother, what dost thou think of her?" he asked, all beaming with
"She has a fine voice," replied Arátoff, "but she does not know how to
sing yet, she has had no real school." (Why he said this and what he
meant by "school" the Lord only knows!)
Kupfer was surprised.—"She has no school," he repeated slowly….
"Well, now…. She can still study. But on the other hand, what soul!
But just wait until thou hast heard her recite Tatyána's letter."
He ran away from Arátoff, and the latter thought: "Soul! With that
impassive face!"—He thought that she bore herself and moved like a
hypnotised person, like a somnambulist…. And, at the same time, she
was indubitably…. Yes! she was indubitably staring at him.
Meanwhile the "morning" went on. The fat man in spectacles presented
himself again; despite his serious appearance he imagined that he was a
comic artist and read a scene from Gógol, this time without evoking a
single token of approbation. The flute-player flitted past once more;
again the pianist thundered; a young fellow of twenty, pomaded and
curled, but with traces of tears on his cheeks, sawed out some
variations on his fiddle. It might have appeared strange that in the
intervals between the recitations and the music the abrupt notes of a
French horn were wafted, now and then, from the artists' room; but this
instrument was not used, nevertheless. It afterward came out that the
amateur who had offered to perform on it had been seized with a panic at
the moment when he should have made his appearance before the audience.
So at last, Clara Mílitch appeared again.
She held in her hand a small volume of Púshkin; but during her reading
she never once glanced at it…. She was obviously frightened; the
little book shook slightly in her fingers. Arátoff also observed the
expression of dejection which now overspread her stern features. The
first line: "I write to you … what would you more?" she uttered with
extreme simplicity, almost ingenuously,—stretching both arms out in
front of her with an ingenuous, sincere, helpless gesture. Then she
began to hurry a little; but beginning with the line: "Another! Nay! to
none on earth could I have given e'er my heart!" she regained her
self-possession, and grew animated; and when she reached the words:
"All, all life hath been a pledge of faithful meeting thus with
thee,"—her hitherto rather dull voice rang out enthusiastically and
boldly, and her eyes riveted themselves on Arátoff with a boldness and
directness to match. She went on with the same enthusiasm, and only
toward the close did her voice again fall, and in it and in her face her
previous dejection was again depicted. She made a complete muddle, as
the saying is, of the last four lines,—the little volume of Púshkin
suddenly slipped from her hands, and she beat a hasty retreat.
The audience set to applauding and recalling her in desperate
fashion…. One theological student,—a Little Russian,—among others,
bellowed so loudly: "Muíluitch! Muíluitch!" that his neighbour
politely and sympathetically begged him to "spare himself, as a future
proto-deacon!" But Arátoff immediately rose and betook himself to
the entrance. Kupfer overtook him….
"Good gracious, whither art thou going?" he yelled:—"I'll introduce
thee to Clara if thou wishest—shall I?"
"No, thanks," hastily replied Arátoff, and set off homeward almost at a
Strange emotions, which were not clear even to himself, agitated him. In
reality, Clara's recitation had not altogether pleased him either …
altogether he could not tell precisely why. It had troubled him, that
recitation, it had seemed to him harsh, unmelodious…. Somehow it
seemed to have broken something within him, to have exerted some sort of
violence. And those importunate, persistent, almost insolent
glances—what had caused them? What did they signify?
Arátoff's modesty did permit him even a momentary thought that he might
have pleased that strange young girl, that he might have inspired her
with a sentiment akin to love, to passion!… And he had imagined to
himself quite otherwise that as yet unknown woman, that young girl, to
whom he would surrender himself wholly, and who would love him, become
his bride, his wife…. He rarely dreamed of this: he was chaste both in
body and soul;—but the pure image which rose up in his imagination at
such times was evoked under another form,—the form of his dead mother,
whom he barely remembered, though he cherished her portrait like a
sacred treasure. That portrait had been painted in water-colours, in a
rather inartistic manner, by a friendly neighbour, but the likeness was
striking, as every one averred. The woman, the young girl, whom as yet
he did not so much as venture to expect, must possess just such a tender
profile, just such kind, bright eyes, just such silky hair, just such a
smile, just such a clear understanding….
But this was a black-visaged, swarthy creature, with coarse hair, and a
moustache on her lip; she must certainly be bad-tempered, giddy…. "A
gipsy" (Arátoff could not devise a worse expression)—what was she to
And in the meantime, Arátoff was unable to banish from his mind that
black-visaged gipsy, whose singing and recitation and even whose
personal appearance were disagreeable to him. He was perplexed, he was
angry with himself. Not long before this he had read Walter Scott's
romance "Saint Ronan's Well" (there was a complete edition of Walter
Scott's works in the library of his father, who revered the English
romance-writer as a serious, almost a learned author). The heroine of
that romance is named Clara Mowbray. A poet of the '40's, Krásoff, wrote
a poem about her, which wound up with the words:
"Unhappy Clara! foolish Clara!
Unhappy Clara Mowbray!"
Arátoff was acquainted with this poem also…. And now these words kept
incessantly recurring to his memory…. "Unhappy Clara! foolish
Clara!…" (That was why he had been so surprised when Kupfer mentioned
Clara Mílitch to him.) Even Platósha noticed, not precisely a change in
Yákoff's frame of mind—as a matter of fact, no change had taken
place—but something wrong about his looks, in his remarks. She
cautiously interrogated him about the literary morning at which he had
been present;—she whispered, sighed, scrutinised him from in front,
scrutinised him from the side, from behind—and suddenly, slapping her
hands on her thighs, she exclaimed:
"Well, Yáshal—I see what the trouble is!"
"What dost thou mean?" queried Arátoff in his turn.
"Thou hast certainly met at that morning some one of those
tail-draggers" (that was what Platonída Ivánovna called all ladies who
wore fashionable gowns)…. "She has a comely face—and she puts on airs
like this,—and twists her face like this" (Platósha depicted all
this in her face), "and she makes her eyes go round like this…." (she
mimicked this also, describing huge circles in the air with her
forefinger)…. "And it made an impression on thee, because thou art not
used to it…. But that does not signify anything, Yásha … it does not
signify anything! Drink a cup of herb-tea when thou goest to bed, and
that will be the end of it!… Lord, help!"
Platósha ceased speaking and took herself off…. She probably had never
made such a long and animated speech before since she was born … but
"I do believe my aunt is right…. It is all because I am not used to
such things…." (He really had attracted the attention of the female
sex to himself for the first time … at any rate, he had never noticed
it before.) "I must not indulge myself."
So he set to work at his books, and drank some linden-flower tea when he
went to bed, and even slept well all that night, and had no dreams. On
the following morning he busied himself with his photography, as though
nothing had happened….
But toward evening his spiritual serenity was again disturbed.
To wit: a messenger brought him a note, written in a large, irregular
feminine hand, which ran as follows:
"If you guess who is writing to you, and if it does not bore you, come
to-morrow, after dinner, to the Tver boulevard—about five o'clock—and
wait. You will not be detained long. But it is very important. Come."
There was no signature. Arátoff instantly divined who his correspondent
was, and that was precisely what disturbed him.—"What nonsense!" he
said, almost aloud. "This is too much! Of course I shall not
go."—Nevertheless, he ordered the messenger to be summoned, and from
him he learned merely that the letter had been handed to him on the
street by a maid. Having dismissed him, Arátoff reread the letter, and
flung it on the floor…. But after a while he picked it up and read it
over again; a second time he cried: "Nonsense!" He did not throw the
letter on the floor this time, however, but put it away in a drawer.
Arátoff went about his customary avocations, busying himself now with
one, now with another; but his work did not make progress, was not a
success. Suddenly he noticed that he was waiting for Kupfer, that he
wanted to interrogate him, or even communicate something to him…. But
Kupfer did not make his appearance. Then Arátoff got Púshkin and read
Tatyána's letter and again felt convinced that that "gipsy" had not in
the least grasped the meaning of the letter. But there was that jester
Kupfer shouting: "A Rachel! A Viardot!" Then he went to his piano,
raised the cover in an abstracted sort of way, tried to search out in
his memory the melody of Tchaikóvsky's romance; but he immediately
banged to the piano-lid with vexation and went to his aunt, in her own
room, which was always kept very hot, and was forever redolent of mint,
sage, and other medicinal herbs, and crowded with such a multitude of
rugs, étagères, little benches, cushions and various articles of
softly-stuffed furniture that it was difficult for an inexperienced
person to turn round in it, and breathing was oppressive. Platonída
Ivánovna was sitting by the window with her knitting-needles in her hand
(she was knitting a scarf for Yáshenka—the thirty-eighth, by actual
count, during the course of his existence!)—and was greatly surprised.
Arátoff rarely entered her room, and if he needed anything he always
shouted in a shrill voice from his study: "Aunt Platósha!"—But she made
him sit down and, in anticipation of his first words, pricked up her
ears, as she stared at him through her round spectacles with one eye,
and above them with the other. She did not inquire after his health, and
did not offer him tea, for she saw that he had not come for that.
Arátoff hesitated for a while … then began to talk … to talk about
his mother, about the way she had lived with his father, and how his
father had made her acquaintance. He knew all this perfectly well …
but he wanted to talk precisely about that. Unluckily for him, Platósha
did not know how to converse in the least; she made very brief replies,
as though she suspected that Yásha had not come for that purpose.
"Certainly!"—she kept repeating hurriedly, as she plied her
knitting-needles almost in an angry way. "Every one knows that thy
mother was a dove … a regular dove…. And thy father loved her as a
husband should love, faithfully and honourably, to the very grave; and
he never loved any other woman,"—she added, elevating her voice and
removing her spectacles.
"And was she of a timid disposition?" asked Arátoff, after a short
"Certainly she was. As is fitting for the female sex. The bold ones are
a recent invention."
"And were there no bold ones in your time?"
"There were such even in our day … of course there were! But who were
they? Some street-walker, or shameless hussy or other. She would drag
her skirts about, and fling herself hither and thither at random….
What did she care? What anxiety had she? If a young fool came along, he
fell into her hands. But steady-going people despised them. Dost thou
remember ever to have beheld such in our house?"
Arátoff made no reply and returned to his study. Platonída Ivánovna
gazed after him, shook her head and again donned her spectacles, again
set to work on her scarf … but more than once she fell into thought
and dropped her knitting-needles on her knee.
And Arátoff until nightfall kept again and again beginning, with the
same vexation, the same ire as before, to think about "the gipsy," the
appointed tryst, to which he certainly would not go! During the night
also she worried him. He kept constantly seeing her eyes, now narrowed,
now widely opened, with their importunate gaze riveted directly on him,
and those impassive features with their imperious expression.
On the following morning he again kept expecting Kupfer, for some reason
or other; he came near writing him a letter … however, he did
nothing … but spent most of his time pacing to and fro in his study.
Not for one instant did he even admit to himself the thought that he
would go to that stupid "rendezvous" … and at half-past four, after
having swallowed his dinner in haste, he suddenly donned his overcoat
and pulling his cap down on his brows, he stole out of the house without
letting his aunt see him and wended his way to the Tver boulevard.
Arátoff found few pedestrians on the boulevard. The weather was raw and
quite cold. He strove not to think of what he was doing. He forced
himself to turn his attention to all the objects he came across and
pretended to assure himself that he had come out to walk precisely like
the other people…. The letter of the day before was in his
side-pocket, and he was uninterruptedly conscious of its presence. He
walked the length of the boulevard a couple of times, darting keen
glances at every feminine form which approached him, and his heart
thumped, thumped violently…. He began to feel tired, and sat down on a
bench. And suddenly the idea occurred to him: "Come now, what if that
letter was not written by her but by some one else, by some other
woman?" In point of fact, that should have made no difference to him …
and yet he was forced to admit to himself that he did not wish this. "It
would be very stupid," he thought, "still more stupid than that!" A
nervous restlessness began to take possession of him; he began to feel
chilly, not outwardly but inwardly. Several times he drew out his watch
from his waistcoat pocket, glanced at the face, put it back again,—and
every time forgot how many minutes were lacking to five o'clock. It
seemed to him as though every one who passed him stared at him in a
peculiar manner, surveying him with a certain sneering surprise and
curiosity. A wretched little dog ran up, sniffed at his legs and began
to wag its tail. He flourished his arms angrily at it. He was most
annoyed of all by a small boy from a factory in a bed-ticking jacket,
who seated himself on the bench and first whistled, then scratched his
head, dangling his legs, encased in huge, broken boots, the while, and
staring at him from time to time. "His employer is certainly expecting
him," thought Arátoff, "and here he is, the lazy dog, wasting his time
But at that same moment it seemed to him as though some one had
approached and taken up a stand close behind him … a warm current
He glanced round…. It was she!
He recognised her immediately, although a thick, dark-blue veil
concealed her features. He instantly sprang from the bench, and remained
standing there, unable to utter a word. She also maintained silence. He
felt greatly agitated … but her agitation was as great as his: Arátoff
could not help seeing even through the veil how deadly pale she grew.
But she was the first to speak.
"Thank you," she began in a broken voice, "thank you for coming. I did
not hope…." She turned away slightly and walked along the boulevard.
Arátoff followed her.
"Perhaps you condemn me," she went on, without turning her head.—"As a
matter of fact, my action is very strange…. But I have heard a great
deal about you … but no! I … that was not the cause…. If you only
knew…. I wanted to say so much to you, my God!… But how am I to do
it?… How am I to do it!"
Arátoff walked by her side, but a little in the rear. He did not see her
face; he saw only her hat and a part of her veil … and her long,
threadbare cloak. All his vexation against her and against himself
suddenly returned to him; all the absurdity, all the awkwardness of this
tryst, of these explanations between utter strangers, on a public
boulevard, suddenly presented itself to him.
"I have come hither at your behest," he began in his turn, "I have come,
my dear madame" (her shoulders quivered softly, she turned into a side
path, and he followed her), "merely for the sake of having an
explanation, of learning in consequence of what strange misunderstanding
you were pleased to appeal to me, a stranger to you, who … who only
guessed, as you expressed it in your letter, that it was precisely you
who had written to him … because he guessed that you had tried, in the
course of that literary morning to show him too much … too much
Arátoff uttered the whole of this little speech in the same resonant but
firm voice in which men who are still very young answer at examinations
on questions for which they are well prepared…. He was indignant; he
was angry…. And that wrath had loosed his tongue which was not very
fluent on ordinary occasions.
She continued to advance along the path with somewhat lagging steps….
Arátoff followed her as before, and as before saw only her little old
mantilla and her small hat, which was not quite new either. His vanity
suffered at the thought that she must now be thinking: "All I had to do
was to make a sign, and he immediately hastened to me!"
Arátoff lapsed into silence … he expected that she would reply to him;
but she did not utter a word.
"I am ready to listen to you," he began again, "and I shall even be very
glad if I can be of service to you in any way … although, I must
confess, nevertheless, that I find it astonishing … that considering
my isolated life…."
But at his last words Clara suddenly turned to him and he beheld the
same startled, profoundly-sorrowful visage, with the same large, bright
tears in its eyes, with the same woful expression around the parted
lips; and the visage was so fine thus that he involuntarily broke off
short and felt within himself something akin to fright, and pity and
"Akh, why … why are you like this? …" she said with irresistibly
sincere and upright force—and what a touching ring there was to her
voice!—"Is it possible that my appeal to you can have offended you?…
Is it possible that you have understood nothing?… Ah, yes! You have
not understood anything, you have not understood what I said to you. God
knows what you have imagined about me, you have not even reflected what
it cost me to write to you!… You have been anxious only on your own
account, about your own dignity, your own peace!… But did I…." (she
so tightly clenched her hands which she had raised to her lips that her
fingers cracked audibly)…. "As though I had made any demands upon you,
as though explanations were requisite to begin with…. 'My dear
madame'…. 'I even find it astonishing'…. 'If I can be of service to
you'…. Akh, how foolish I have been!—I have been deceived in you, in
your face!… When I saw you for the first time…. There…. There you
stand…. And not one word do you utter! Have you really not a word to
She had been imploring…. Her face suddenly flushed, and as suddenly
assumed an evil and audacious expression,—"O Lord! how stupid this
is!"—she cried suddenly, with a harsh laugh.—"How stupid our tryst is!
How stupid I am! … and you, too!… Fie!"
She made a disdainful gesture with her hand as though sweeping him out
of her path, and passing around him she ran swiftly from the boulevard
That gesture of the hand, that insulting laugh, that final exclamation
instantly restored Arátoff to his former frame of mind and stifled in
him the feeling which had risen in his soul when she turned to him with
tears in her eyes. Again he waxed wroth, and came near shouting after
the retreating girl: "You may turn out a good actress, but why have you
taken it into your head to play a comedy on me?"
With great strides he returned home, and although he continued to be
indignant and to rage all the way thither, still, at the same time,
athwart all these evil, hostile feelings there forced its way the memory
of that wondrous face which he had beheld only for the twinkling of an
eye…. He even put to himself the question: "Why did not I answer her
when she demanded from me at least one word?"—"I did not have time,"
… he thought…. "She did not give me a chance to utter that word….
And what would I have uttered?"
But he immediately shook his head and said, "An actress!"
And yet, at the same time, the vanity of the inexperienced, nervous
youth, which had been wounded at first, now felt rather flattered at
the passion which he had inspired….
"But on the other hand," he pursued his reflections, "all that is at an
end of course…. I must have appeared ridiculous to her."….
This thought was disagreeable to him, and again he grew angry … both
at her … and at himself. On reaching home he locked himself in his
study. He did not wish to encounter Platósha. The kind old woman came to
his door a couple of times, applied her ear to the key-hole, and merely
sighed and whispered her prayer….
"It has begun!" she thought…. "And he is only five-and-twenty…. Akh,
it is early, early!"
Akátoff was very much out of sorts all the following day.
"What is the matter, Yásha?" Platonída Ivánovna said to him. "Thou
seemest to be tousled to-day, somehow."… In the old woman's peculiar
language this quite accurately defined Arátoff's moral condition. He
could not work, but even he himself did not know what he wanted. Now he
was expecting Kupfer again (he suspected that it was precisely from
Kupfer that Clara had obtained his address … and who else could have
"talked a great deal" about him?); again he wondered whether his
acquaintance with her was to end in that way? … again he imagined that
she would write him another letter; again he asked himself whether he
ought not to write her a letter, in which he might explain everything to
her,—-as he did not wish to leave an unpleasant impression of
himself…. But, in point of fact, what was he to explain?—Now he
aroused in himself something very like disgust for her, for her
persistence, her boldness; again that indescribably touching face
presented itself to him and her irresistible voice made itself heard;
and yet again he recalled her singing, her recitation—and did not know
whether he was right in his wholesale condemnation.—In one word: he was
a tousled man! At last he became bored with all this and decided, as the
saying is, "to take it upon himself" and erase all that affair, as it
undoubtedly was interfering with his avocations and disturbing his peace
of mind.—He did not find it so easy to put his resolution into
effect…. More than a week elapsed before he got back again into his
ordinary rut. Fortunately, Kupfer did not present himself at all, any
more than if he had not been in Moscow. Not long before the "affair"
Arátoff had begun to busy himself with painting for photographic ends;
he devoted himself to this with redoubled zeal.
Thus, imperceptibly, with a few "relapses" as the doctors express it,
consisting, for example in the fact that he once came very near going to
call on the Princess, two weeks … three weeks passed … and Arátoff
became once more the Arátoff of old. Only deep down, under the surface
of his life, something heavy and dark secretly accompanied him in all
his comings and goings. Thus does a large fish which has just been
hooked, but has not yet been drawn out, swim along the bottom of a deep
river under the very boat wherein sits the fisherman with his stout rod
And lo! one day as he was skimming over some not quite fresh numbers of
the Moscow News, Arátoff hit upon the following correspondence:
"With great sorrow," wrote a certain local literary man from Kazán, "we
insert in our theatrical chronicle the news of the sudden death of our
gifted actress, Clara Mílitch, who had succeeded in the brief space of
her engagement in becoming the favourite of our discriminating public.
Our sorrow is all the greater because Miss Mílitch herself put an end to
her young life, which held so much of promise, by means of poison. And
this poisoning is all the more dreadful because the actress took the
poison on the stage itself! They barely got her home, where, to
universal regret, she died. Rumours are current in the town to the
effect that unrequited love led her to that terrible deed."
Arátoff softly laid the newspaper on the table. To all appearances he
remained perfectly composed … but something smote him simultaneously
in his breast and in his head, and then slowly diffused itself through
all his members. He rose to his feet, stood for a while on one spot, and
again seated himself, and again perused the letter. Then he rose once
more, lay down on his bed and placing his hands under his head, he
stared for a long time at the wall like one dazed. Little by little that
wall seemed to recede … to vanish … and he beheld before him the
boulevard beneath grey skies and her in her black mantilla … then
her again on the platform … he even beheld himself by her side.—That
which had smitten him so forcibly in the breast at the first moment, now
began to rise up … to rise up in his throat…. He tried to cough, to
call some one, but his voice failed him, and to his own amazement, tears
which he could not restrain gushed from his eyes…. What had evoked
those tears? Pity? Regret? Or was it simply that his nerves had been
unable to withstand the sudden shock? Surely, she was nothing to him?
Was not that the fact?
"But perhaps that is not true," the thought suddenly occurred to him. "I
must find out! But from whom? From the Princess?—No, from Kupfer …
from Kupfer? But they say he is not in Moscow.—Never mind! I must apply
to him first!"
With these ideas in his head Arátoff hastily dressed himself, summoned a
cab and dashed off to Kupfer.
He had not hoped to find him … but he did. Kupfer actually had been
absent from Moscow for a time, but had returned about a week previously
and was even preparing to call on Arátoff again. He welcomed him with
his customary cordiality, and began to explain something to him … but
Arátoff immediately interrupted him with the impatient question:
"Hast thou read it?—Is it true?"
"Is what true?" replied the astounded Kupfer.
"About Clara Mílitch?"
Kupfer's face expressed compassion.—"Yes, yes, brother, it is true; she
has poisoned herself. It is such a misfortune!"
Arátoff held his peace for a space.—"But hast thou also read it in the
newspaper?" he asked:—"Or perhaps thou hast been to Kazán thyself?"
"I have been to Kazán, in fact; the Princess and I conducted her
thither. She went on the stage there, and had great success. Only I did
not remain there until the catastrophe…. I was in Yaroslávl."
"Yes; I escorted the Princess thither…. She has settled in Yaroslávl
"But hast thou trustworthy information?"
"The most trustworthy sort … at first hand! I made acquaintance in
Kazán with her family.—But stay, my dear fellow … this news seems to
agitate thee greatly.—But I remember that Clara did not please thee
that time! Thou wert wrong! She was a splendid girl—only her head! She
had an ungovernable head! I was greatly distressed about her!"
Arátoff did not utter a word, but dropped down on a chair, and after
waiting a while he asked Kupfer to tell him … he hesitated.
"What?" asked Kupfer.
"Why … everything," replied Arátoff slowly.—"About her family, for
instance … and so forth. Everything thou knowest!"
"But does that interest thee?—Certainly!"
Kupfer, from whose face it was impossible to discern that he had
grieved so greatly over Clara, began his tale.
From his words Arátoff learned that Clara Mílitch's real name had been
Katerína Milovídoff; that her father, now dead, had been an official
teacher of drawing in Kazán, had painted bad portraits and official
images, and moreover had borne the reputation of being a drunkard and a
domestic tyrant … "and a cultured man into the bargain!"…. (Here
Kupfer laughed in a self-satisfied manner, by way of hinting at the pun
he had made);—that he had left at his death, in the first place, a
widow of the merchant class, a thoroughly stupid female, straight out of
one of Ostróvsky's comedies; and in the second place, a daughter
much older than Clara and bearing no resemblance to her—a very clever
girl and "greatly developed, my dear fellow!" That the two—widow and
daughter—lived in easy circumstances, in a decent little house which
had been acquired by the sale of those wretched portraits and holy
pictures; that Clara … or Kátya, whichever you choose to call her, had
astonished every one ever since her childhood by her talent, but was of
an insubordinate, capricious disposition, and was constantly quarrelling
with her father; that having an inborn passion for the theatre, she had
run away from the parental house at the age of sixteen with an
"With an actor?" interjected Arátoff.
"No, not with an actor, but an actress; to whom she had become
attached…. This actress had a protector, it is true, a wealthy
gentleman already elderly, who only refrained from marrying her because
he was already married—while the actress, it appeared, was married
Further, Kupfer informed Arátoff that, prior to her arrival in Moscow,
Clara had acted and sung in provincial theatres; that on losing her
friend the actress (the gentleman had died also, it seems, or had made
it up with his wife—precisely which Kupfer did not quite remember …),
she had made the acquaintance of the Princess, "that woman of gold, whom
thou, my friend Yákoff Andréitch," the narrator added with feeling,
"wert not able to appreciate at her true worth"; that finally Clara had
been offered an engagement in Kazán, and had accepted it, although she
had previously declared that she would never leave Moscow!—But how the
people of Kazán had loved her—it was fairly amazing! At every
representation she received bouquets and gifts! bouquets and gifts!—A
flour merchant, the greatest bigwig in the government, had even
presented her with a golden inkstand!—Kupfer narrated all this with
great animation, but without, however, displaying any special
sentimentality, and interrupting his speech with the question:—"Why
dost thou want to know that?" … or "To what end is that?" when
Arátoff, after listening to him with devouring attention, demanded more
and still more details. Everything was said at last, and Kupfer ceased
speaking, rewarding himself for his toil with a cigar.
"But why did she poison herself?" asked Arátoff. "The newspaper
Kupfer waved his hands.—"Well…. That I cannot say…. I don't know.
But the newspaper lies, Clara behaved in an exemplary manner … she had
no love-affairs…. And how could she, with her pride! She was as proud
as Satan himself, and inaccessible! An insubordinate head! Firm as a
rock! If thou wilt believe me,—I knew her pretty intimately, seest
thou,—I never beheld a tear in her eyes!"
"But I did," thought Arátoff to himself.
"Only there is this to be said," went on Kupfer:—"I noticed a great
change in her of late: she became so depressed, she would remain silent
for hours at a time; you couldn't get a word out of her. I once asked
her: 'Has any one offended you, Katerína Semyónovna?' Because I knew her
disposition: she could not endure an insult. She held her peace, and
that was the end of it! Even her success on the stage did not cheer her
up; they would shower her with bouquets … and she would not smile! She
gave one glance at the gold inkstand,—and put it aside!—She complained
that no one would write her a genuine part, as she conceived it. And she
gave up singing entirely. I am to blame, brother!… I repeated to her
that thou didst not think she had any school. But nevertheless … why
she poisoned herself is incomprehensible! And the way she did it
"In what part did she have the greatest success?"…. Arátoff wanted to
find out what part she had played that last time, but for some reason or
other he asked something else.
"In Ostróvsky's' Grúnya' I believe. But I repeat to thee: she had no
love-affairs! Judge for thyself by one thing: she lived in her mother's
house…. Thou knowest what some of those merchants' houses are like; a
glass case filled with holy images in every corner and a shrine lamp in
front of the case; deadly, stifling heat; a sour odour; in the
drawing-room nothing but chairs ranged along the wall, and geraniums in
the windows;—and when a visitor arrives, the hostess begins to groan as
though an enemy were approaching. What chance is there for love-making,
and amours in such a place? Sometimes it happened that they would not
even admit me. Their maid-servant, a robust peasant-woman, in a Turkey
red cotton sarafan, and pendulous breasts, would place herself
across the path in the anteroom and roar: 'Whither away?' No, I
positively cannot understand what made her poison herself. She must have
grown tired of life," Kupfer philosophically wound up his remarks.
Arátoff sat with drooping head.—"Canst thou give me the address of
that house in Kazán?" he said at last.
"I can; but what dost thou want of it?—Dost thou wish to send a letter
"Well, as thou wilt. Only the old woman will not answer thee. Her sister
might … the clever sister!—But again, brother, I marvel at thee! Such
indifference formerly … and now so much attention! All that comes of
living a solitary life, my dear fellow!"
Arátoff made no reply to this remark and went away, after having
procured the address in Kazán.
Agitation, surprise, expectation had been depicted on his face when he
went to Kupfer…. Now he advanced with an even gait, downcast eyes, and
hat pulled low down over his brows; almost every one he met followed him
with a searching gaze … but he paid no heed to the passers-by … it
was quite different from what it had been on the boulevard!…
"Unhappy Clara! Foolish Clara!" resounded in his soul.
Nevertheless, Arátoff passed the following day in a fairly tranquil
manner. He was even able to devote himself to his customary occupations.
There was only one thing: both during his busy time and in his leisure
moments he thought incessantly of Clara, of what Kupfer had told him the
day before. Truth to tell, his thoughts were also of a decidedly pacific
nature. It seemed to him that that strange young girl interested him
from a psychological point of view, as something in the nature of a
puzzle, over whose solution it was worth while to cudgel one's
brains,—"She ran away from home with a kept actress," he thought, "she
placed herself under the protection of that Princess, in whose house she
lived,—and had no love-affairs? It is improbable!… Kupfer says it was
pride! But, in the first place, we know" (Arátoff should have said: "we
have read in books") … "that pride is compatible with light-minded
conduct; and in the second place, did not she, such a proud person,
appoint a meeting with a man who might show her scorn … and appoint it
in a public place, into the bargain … on the boulevard!"—At this
point there recurred to Arátoff's mind the whole scene on the boulevard,
and he asked himself: "Had he really shown scorn for Clara?"—"No," he
decided…. That was another feeling … a feeling of perplexity … of
distrust, in short!—"Unhappy Clara!" again rang through his
brain.—"Yes, she was unhappy," he decided again … that was the most
"But if that is so, I was unjust. She spoke truly when she said that I
did not understand her. 'Tis a pity!—It may be that a very remarkable
being has passed so close to me … and I did not take advantage of the
opportunity, but repulsed her…. Well, never mind! My life is still
before me. I shall probably have other encounters of a different sort!
"But what prompted her to pick out me in particular?"—He cast a
glance at a mirror which he was passing at the moment. "What is there
peculiar about me? And what sort of a beauty am I?—My face is like
everybody else's face…. However, she was not a beauty either.
"She was not a beauty … but what an expressive face she had! Impassive
… but expressive! I have never before seen such a face.—And she has
talent … that is to say, she had talent, undoubted talent. Wild,
untrained, even coarse … but undoubted.—And in that case also I was
unjust to her."—Arátoff mentally transported himself to the musical
morning … and noticed that he remembered with remarkable distinctness
every word she had sung or recited, every intonation…. That would not
have been the case had she been devoid of talent.
"And now all that is in the grave, where she has thrust herself…. But
I have nothing to do with that…. I am not to blame! It would even be
absurd to think that I am to blame."—Again it flashed into Arátoff's
mind that even had she had "anything of that sort" about her, his
conduct during the interview would indubitably have disenchanted her.
That was why she had broken into such harsh laughter at parting.—And
where was the proof that she had poisoned herself on account of an
unhappy love? It is only newspaper correspondents who attribute every
such death to unhappy love!—But life easily becomes repulsive to people
with character, like Clara … and tiresome. Yes, tiresome. Kupfer was
right: living simply bored her.
"In spite of her success, of her ovations?"—Arátoff meditated.—The
psychological analysis to which he surrendered himself was even
agreeable to him. Unaccustomed as he had been, up to this time, to all
contact with women, he did not suspect how significant for him was this
tense examination of a woman's soul.
"Consequently," he pursued his meditations, "art did not satisfy her,
did not fill the void of her life. Genuine artists exist only for art,
for the theatre…. Everything else pales before that which they regard
as their vocation…. She was a dilettante!"
Here Arátoff again became thoughtful.—No, the word "dilettante" did not
consort with that face, with the expression of that face, of those
And again there rose up before him the image of Clara with her
tear-filled eyes riveted upon him, and her clenched hands raised to her
"Akh, I won't think of it, I won't think of it …" he whispered….
"What is the use?"
In this manner the whole day passed. During dinner Arátoff chatted a
great deal with Platósha, questioned her about old times, which, by the
way, she recalled and transmitted badly, as she was not possessed of a
very glib tongue, and had noticed hardly anything in the course of her
life save her Yáshka. She merely rejoiced that he was so good-natured
and affectionate that day!—Toward evening Arátoff quieted down to such
a degree that he played several games of trumps with his aunt.
Thus passed the day … but the night was quite another matter!
It began well; he promptly fell asleep, and when his aunt entered his
room on tiptoe for the purpose of making the sign of the cross over him
thrice as he slept—she did this every night—he was lying and breathing
as quietly as a child.—But before daybreak he had a vision.
He dreamed that he was walking over the bare steppes, sown with stones,
beneath a low-hanging sky. Between the stones wound a path; he was
advancing along it.
Suddenly there rose up in front of him something in the nature of a
delicate cloud. He looked intently at it; the little cloud turned into a
woman in a white gown, with a bright girdle about her waist. She was
hurrying away from him. He did not see either her face or her hair … a
long piece of tissue concealed them. But he felt bound to overtake her
and look into her eyes. Only, no matter how much haste he made, she
still walked more quickly than he.
On the path lay a broad, flat stone, resembling a tomb-stone. It barred
her way. The woman came to a halt. Arátoff ran up to her. She turned
toward him—but still he could not see her eyes … they were closed.
Her face was white,—white as snow; her arms hung motionless. She
resembled a statue.
Slowly, without bending a single limb, she leaned backward and sank down
on that stone…. And now Arátoff was lying beside her, outstretched
like a mortuary statue,—and his hands were folded like those of a
But at this point the woman suddenly rose to her feet and went away.
Arátoff tried to rise also … but he could not stir, he could not
unclasp his hands, and could only gaze after her in despair.
Then the woman suddenly turned round, and he beheld bright, vivacious
eyes in a living face, which was strange to him, however. She was
laughing, beckoning to him with her hand … and still he was unable to
She laughed yet once again, and swiftly retreated, merrily nodding her
head, on which a garland of tiny roses gleamed crimson.
Arátoff strove to shout, strove to break that frightful nightmare….
Suddenly everything grew dark round about … and the woman returned to
But she was no longer a statue whom he knew not … she was Clara. She
halted in front of him, folded her arms, and gazed sternly and
attentively at him. Her lips were tightly compressed, but it seemed to
Arátoff that he heard the words:
"If thou wishest to know who I am, go thither!"
"Whither?" he asked.
"Thither!"—the moaning answer made itself audible.—"Thither!"
He sat up in bed, lighted a candle which stood on his night-stand, but
did not rise, and sat there for a long time slowly gazing about him. It
seemed to him that something had taken place within him since he went to
bed; that something had taken root within him … something had taken
possession of him. "But can that be possible?" he whispered
unconsciously. "Can it be that such a power exists?"
He could not remain in bed. He softly dressed himself and paced his
chamber until daylight. And strange to say! He did not think about Clara
for a single minute,—and he did not think about her because he had made
up his mind to set off for Kazán that very day!
He thought only of that journey, of how it was to be made, and what he
ought to take with him,—and how he would there ferret out and find out
everything,—and regain his composure.
"If thou dost not go," he argued with himself, "thou wilt surely lose
thy reason!" He was afraid of that; he was afraid of his nerves. He was
convinced that as soon as he should see all that with his own eyes, all
obsessions would flee like a nocturnal nightmare.—"And the journey will
occupy not more than a week in all," he thought…. "What is a week? And
there is no other way of ridding myself of it."
The rising sun illuminated his room; but the light of day did not
disperse the shades of night which weighed upon him, did not alter his
Platósha came near having an apoplectic stroke when he communicated his
decision to her. She even squatted down on her heels … her legs gave
way under her. "To Kazán? Why to Kazán?" she whispered, protruding her
eyes which were already blind enough without that. She would not have
been any more astounded had she learned that her Yásha was going to
marry the neighbouring baker's daughter, or depart to America.—"And
shalt thou stay long in Kazán?"
"I shall return at the end of a week," replied Arátoff, as he stood
half-turned away from his aunt, who was still sitting on the floor.
Platósha tried to remonstrate again, but Arátoff shouted at her in an
utterly unexpected and unusual manner:
"I am not a baby," he yelled, turning pale all over, while his lips
quivered and his eyes flashed viciously.—"I am six-and-twenty years of
age. I know what I am about,—I am free to do as I please!—I will not
permit any one…. Give me money for the journey; prepare a trunk with
linen and clothing … and do not bother me! I shall return at the end
of a week, Platósha," he added, in a softer tone.
Platósha rose to her feet, grunting, and, making no further opposition,
wended her way to her chamber. Yásha had frightened her.—"I have not a
head on my shoulders," she remarked to the cook, who was helping her to
pack Yásha's things,—"not a head—but a bee-hive … and what bees are
buzzing there I do not know! He is going away to Kazán, my mother, to
The cook, who had noticed their yard-porter talking for a long time to
the policeman about something, wanted to report this circumstance to her
mistress, but she did not dare, and merely thought to herself: "To
Kazán? If only it isn't some place further away!"—And Platonída
Ivánovna was so distracted that she did not even utter her customary
prayer.—In such a catastrophe as this even the Lord God could be of no
That same day Arátoff set off for Kazán.
No sooner had he arrived in that town and engaged a room at the hotel,
than he dashed off in search of the widow Milovídoff's house. During the
whole course of his journey he had been in a sort of stupor, which,
nevertheless, did not in the least prevent his taking all proper
measures,—transferring himself at Nizhni Nóvgorod from the railway to
the steamer, eating at the stations, and so forth. As before, he was
convinced that everything would be cleared up there, and accordingly
he banished from his thoughts all memories and speculations, contenting
himself with one thing,—the mental preparation of the speech in which
he was to set forth to Clara Mílitch's family the real reason of his
trip.—And now, at last, he had attained to the goal of his yearning,
and ordered the servant to announce him. He was admitted—with surprise
and alarm—but he was admitted.
The widow Milovídoff's house proved to be in fact just as Kupfer had
described it; and the widow herself really did resemble one of
Ostróvsky's women of the merchant class, although she was of official
rank; her husband had been a Collegiate Assessor. Not without some
difficulty did Arátoff, after having preliminarily excused himself for
his boldness, and the strangeness of his visit, make the speech which he
had prepared, to the effect that he wished to collect all the necessary
information concerning the gifted actress who had perished at such an
early age; that he was actuated not by idle curiosity, but by a profound
sympathy for her talent, of which he was a worshipper (he said exactly
that—"a worshipper"); that, in conclusion, it would be a sin to leave
the public in ignorance of the loss it had sustained,—and why its hopes
had not been realized!
Madame Milovídoff did not interrupt Arátoff; it is hardly probable that
she understood very clearly what this strange visitor was saying to her,
and she merely swelled a little with pride, and opened her eyes widely
at him on perceiving that he had a peaceable aspect, and was decently
clad, and was not some sort of swindler … and was not asking for any
"Are you saying that about Kátya?" she asked, as soon as Arátoff ceased
"Exactly so … about your daughter."
"And you have come from Moscow for that purpose?"
"Yes, from Moscow."
"Merely for that?"
"Merely for that."
Madame Milovídoff suddenly took fright.—"Why, you—are an author? Do
you write in the newspapers?"
"No, I am not an author,—and up to the present time, I have never
written for the newspapers."
The widow bent her head. She was perplexed.
"Consequently … it is for your own pleasure?" she suddenly inquired.
Arátoff did not immediately hit upon the proper answer.
"Out of sympathy, out of reverence for talent," he said at last.
The word "reverence" pleased Madame Milovídoff. "Very well!" she
ejaculated with a sigh…. "Although I am her mother, and grieved very
greatly over her…. It was such a catastrophe, you know!… Still, I
must say, that she was always a crazy sort of girl, and ended up in the
same way! Such a disgrace…. Judge for yourself: what sort of a thing
is that for a mother? We may be thankful that they even buried her in
Christian fashion…." Madame Milovídoff crossed herself.—"From the
time she was a small child she submitted to no one,—she abandoned the
paternal roof … and finally, it is enough to say that she became an
actress! Every one knows that I did not turn her out of the house; for I
loved her! For I am her mother, all the same! She did not have to live
with strangers,—and beg alms!…" Here the widow melted into
tears.—"But if you, sir," she began afresh, wiping her eyes with the
ends of her kerchief, "really have that intention, and if you will not
concoct anything dishonourable about us,—but if, on the contrary, you
wish to show us a favour,—then you had better talk with my other
daughter. She will tell you everything better than I can…."
"Ánnotchka!" called Madame Milovídoff:—"Ánnotchka, come hither! There's
some gentleman or other from Moscow who wants to talk about Kátya!"
There was a crash in the adjoining room, but no one
appeared.—"Ánnotchka!" cried the widow again—"Anna Semyónovna! come
hither, I tell thee!"
The door opened softly and on the threshold appeared a girl no longer
young, of sickly aspect, and homely, but with very gentle and sorrowful
eyes. Arátoff rose from his seat to greet her, and introduced himself,
at the same time mentioning his friend Kupfer.—"Ah! Feódor
Feódoritch!" ejaculated the girl softly, as she softly sank down on a
"Come, now, talk with the gentleman," said Madame Milovídoff, rising
ponderously from her seat: "He has taken the trouble to come expressly
from Moscow,—he wishes to collect information about Kátya. But you must
excuse me, sir," she added, turning to Arátoff…. "I shall go away, to
attend to domestic affairs. You can have a good explanation with
Ánnotchka—she will tell you about the theatre … and all that sort of
thing. She's my clever, well-educated girl: she speaks French and reads
books quite equal to her dead sister. And she educated her sister, I may
say…. She was the elder—well, and so she taught her."
Madame Milovídoff withdrew. When Arátoff was left alone with Anna
Semyónovna he repeated his speech; but from the first glance he
understood that he had to deal with a girl who really was cultured, not
with a merchant's daughter,—and so he enlarged somewhat, and employed
different expressions;—and toward the end he became agitated, flushed,
and felt conscious that his heart was beating hard. Anna Semyónovna
listened to him in silence, with her hands folded; the sad smile did not
leave her face … bitter woe which had not ceased to cause pain, was
expressed in that smile.
"Did you know my sister?" she asked Arátoff.
"No; properly speaking, I did not know her," he replied. "I saw and
heard your sister once … but all that was needed was to hear and see
your sister once, in order to…."
"Do you mean to write her biography?" Anna put another question.
Arátoff had not expected that word; nevertheless, he immediately
answered "Why not?" But the chief point was that he wished to acquaint
Anna stopped him with a gesture of her hand.
"To what end? The public caused her much grief without that; and Kátya
had only just begun to live. But if you yourself" (Anna looked at him
and again smiled that same sad smile, only now it was more cordial …
apparently she was thinking: "Yes, thou dost inspire me with
confidence") … "if you yourself cherish such sympathy for her, then
permit me to request that you come to us this evening … after dinner.
I cannot now … so suddenly…. I will collect my forces…. I will
make an effort…. Akh, I loved her too greatly!"
Anna turned away; she was on the point of bursting into sobs.
Arátoff rose alertly from his chair, thanked her for her proposal, said
that he would come without fail … without fail! and went away, bearing
in his soul an impression of a quiet voice, of gentle and sorrowful
eyes—and burning with the languor of anticipation.
Arátoff returned to the Milovídoffs' house that same day, and conversed
for three whole hours with Anna Semyónovna. Madame Milovídoff went to
bed immediately after dinner—at two o'clock—and "rested" until evening
tea, at seven o'clock. Arátoff's conversation with Clara's sister was
not, properly speaking, a conversation: she did almost the whole of the
talking, at first with hesitation, with confusion, but afterward with
uncontrollable fervour. She had, evidently, idolised her sister. The
confidence wherewith Arátoff had inspired her waxed and strengthened;
she was no longer embarrassed; she even fell to weeping softly, twice,
in his presence. He seemed to her worthy of her frank revelations and
effusions. Nothing of that sort had ever before come into her own dull
life!… And he … he drank in her every word.
This, then, is what he learned … much of it, as a matter of course,
from what she refrained from saying … and much he filled out for
In her youth Clara had been, without doubt, a disagreeable child; and as
a young girl she had been only a little softer: self-willed,
hot-tempered, vain, she had not got on particularly well with her
father, whom she despised for his drunkenness and incapacity. He was
conscious of this and did not pardon it in her. Her musical faculties
showed themselves at an early age; her father repressed them,
recognising painting as the sole art,—wherein he himself had had so
little success, but which had nourished him and his family. Clara had
loved her mother … in a careless way, as she would have loved a nurse;
she worshipped her sister, although she squabbled with her, and bit
her…. It is true that afterward she had been wont to go down on her
knees before her and kiss the bitten places. She was all fire, all
passion, and all contradiction: vengeful and kind-hearted, magnanimous
and rancorous; "she believed in Fate, and did not believe in God" (these
words Anna whispered with terror); she loved everything that was
beautiful, and dressed herself at haphazard; she could not endure to
have young men pay court to her, but in books she read only those pages
where love was the theme; she did not care to please, she did not like
petting and never forgot caresses as she never forgot offences; she was
afraid of death, and she had killed herself! She had been wont to say
sometimes, "I do not meet the sort of man I want—and the others I will
not have!"—"Well, and what if you should meet the right sort?" Anna had
asked her.—"If I do … I shall take him."—"But what if he will not
give himself?"—"Well, then … I will make an end of myself. It will
mean that I am good for nothing."
Clara's father … (he sometimes asked his wife when he was drunk: "Who
was the father of that black-visaged little devil of thine?—I was
not!")—Clara's father, in the endeavour to get her off his hands as
promptly as possible, undertook to betroth her to a wealthy young
merchant, a very stupid fellow,—one of the "cultured" sort. Two weeks
before the wedding (she was only sixteen years of age), she walked up to
her betrothed, folded her arms, and drumming with her fingers on her
elbows (her favourite pose), she suddenly dealt him a blow, bang! on his
rosy cheek with her big, strong hand! He sprang to his feet, and merely
gasped,—it must be stated that he was dead in love with her…. He
asked: "What is that for?" She laughed and left the room.—"I was
present in the room," narrated Anna, "and was a witness. I ran after her
and said to her: 'Good gracious, Kátya, why didst thou do that?'—But
she answered me: 'If he were a real man he would have thrashed me, but
as it is, he is a wet hen!' And he asks what it is for, to boot. If he
loved me and did not avenge himself, then let him bear it and not ask:
'what is that for?' He'll never get anything of me, unto ages of ages!'
And so she did not marry him. Soon afterward she made the acquaintance
of that actress, and left our house. My mother wept, but my father only
said: 'Away with the refractory goat from the flock!' and would take no
trouble, or try to hunt her up. Father did not understand Clara. On the
eve of her flight," added Anna, "she almost strangled me in her embrace,
and kept repeating: 'I cannot! I cannot do otherwise!… My heart may
break in two, but I cannot! our cage is too small … it is not large
enough for my wings! And one cannot escape his fate'"….
"After that," remarked Anna, "we rarely saw each other…. When father
died she came to us for a couple of days, took nothing from the
inheritance, and again disappeared. She found it oppressive with us….
I saw that. Then she returned to Kazán as an actress."
Arátoff began to interrogate Anna concerning the theatre, the parts in
which Clara had appeared, her success…. Anna answered in detail, but
with the same sad, although animated enthusiasm. She even showed Arátoff
a photographic portrait, which represented Clara in the costume of one
of her parts. In the portrait she was looking to one side, as though
turning away from the spectators; the ribbon intertwined with her thick
hair fell like a serpent on her bare arm. Arátoff gazed long at that
portrait, thought it a good likeness, inquired whether Clara had not
taken part in public readings, and learned that she had not; that she
required the excitement of the theatre, of the stage … but another
question was burning on his lips.
"Anna Semyónovna!" he exclaimed at last, not loudly, but with peculiar
force, "tell me, I entreat you, why she … why she made up her mind to
that frightful step?"
Anna dropped her eyes.—"I do not know!" she said, after the lapse of
several minutes.—"God is my witness, I do not know!" she continued
impetuously, perceiving that Arátoff had flung his hands apart as though
he did not believe her…. "From the very time she arrived here she
seemed to be thoughtful, gloomy. Something must infallibly have happened
to her in Moscow, which I was not able to divine! But, on the contrary,
on that fatal day, she seemed … if not more cheerful, at any rate more
tranquil than usual. I did not even have any forebodings," added Anna
with a bitter smile, as though reproaching herself for that.
"You see," she began again, "it seemed to have been written in Kátya's
fate, that she should be unhappy. She was convinced of it herself from
her early youth. She would prop her head on her hand, meditate, and say:
'I shall not live long!' She had forebodings. Just imagine, she even saw
beforehand,—sometimes in a dream, sometimes in ordinary wise,—what was
going to happen to her! 'I cannot live as I wish, so I will not live at
all,' … was her adage.—'Our life is in our own hands, you know!' And
she proved it."
Anna covered her face with her hands and ceased speaking.
"Anna Semyónovna," began Arátoff, after waiting a little: "perhaps you
have heard to what the newspapers attributed…."
"To unhappy love?" interrupted Anna, removing her hands from her face
with a jerk. "That is a calumny, a calumny, a lie!… My unsullied,
unapproachable Kátya … Kátya! … and an unhappy, rejected love? And
would not I have known about that?… Everybody, everybody fell in love
with her … but she…. And whom could she have fallen in love with
here? Who, out of all these men, was worthy of her? Who had attained to
that ideal of honour, uprightness, purity,—most of all, purity,—which
she constantly held before her, in spite of all her defects?… Reject
her … her…."
Anna's voice broke…. Her fingers trembled slightly. Suddenly she
flushed scarlet all over … flushed with indignation, and at that
moment—and only at that moment—did she resemble her sister.
Arátoff attempted to apologise.
"Listen," broke in Anna once more:—"I insist upon it that you shall not
believe that calumny yourself, and that you shall dissipate it, if
possible! Here, you wish to write an article about her, or something of
that sort:—here is an opportunity for you to defend her memory! That is
why I am talking so frankly with you. Listen: Kátya left a diary…."
Arátoff started.—"A diary," he whispered.
"Yes, a diary … that is to say, a few pages only.—Kátya was not fond
of writing … for whole months together she did not write at all …
and her letters were so short! But she was always, always truthful, she
never lied…. Lie, forsooth, with her vanity! I … I will show you
that diary! You shall see for yourself whether it contains a single hint
of any such unhappy love!"
Anna hastily drew from the table-drawer a thin copy-book, about ten
pages in length, no more, and offered it to Arátoff. The latter grasped
it eagerly, recognised the irregular, bold handwriting,—the handwriting
of that anonymous letter,—opened it at random, and began at the
"Moscow—Tuesday … June. I sang and recited at a literary
morning. To-day is a significant day for me. It must decide my
fate." (These words were doubly underlined.) "Once more I have
seen…." Here followed several lines which had been carefully
blotted out.—And then: "No! no! no!… I must return to my former
idea, if only…."
Arátoff dropped the hand in which he held the book, and his head sank
quietly on his breast.
"Read!" cried Anna.—"Why don't you read? Read from the beginning….
You can read the whole of it in five minutes, though this diary extends
over two whole years. In Kazán she wrote nothing…."
Arátoff slowly rose from his chair, and fairly crashed down on his knees
She was simply petrified with amazement and terror.
"Give … give me this diary," said Arátoff in a fainting voice.—"Give
it to me … and the photograph … you must certainly have another—but
I will return the diary to you…. But I must, I must…."
In his entreaty, in the distorted features of his face there was
something so despairing that it even resembled wrath, suffering…. And
in reality he was suffering. It seemed as though he had not been able to
foresee that such a calamity would descend upon him, and was excitedly
begging to be spared, to be saved….
"Give it to me," he repeated.
"But … you … you were not in love with my sister?" said Anna at
Arátoff continued to kneel.
"I saw her twice in all … believe me!… and if I had not been
impelled by causes which I myself cannot clearly either understand or
explain … if some power that is stronger than I were not upon me…. I
would not have asked you…. I would not have come hither…. I must …
I ought … why, you said yourself that I was bound to restore her
"And you were not in love with my sister?" asked Anna for the second
Arátoff did not reply at once, and turned away slightly, as though with
"Well, yes! I was! I was!—And I am in love with her now…." he
exclaimed with the same desperation as before.
Footsteps became audible in the adjoining room.
"Rise … rise …" said Anna hastily. "My mother is coming."
"And take the diary and the picture. God be with you!—Poor, poor
Kátya!… But you must return the diary to me," she added with
animation.—"And if you write anything, you must be sure to send it to
me…. Do you hear?"
The appearance of Madame Milovídoff released Arátoff from the necessity
of replying.—He succeeded, nevertheless, in whispering:—"You are an
angel! Thanks! I will send all that I write…."
Madame Milovídoff was too drowsy to divine anything. And so Arátoff left
Kazán with the photographic portrait in the side-pocket of his coat. He
had returned the copy-book to Anna, but without her having detected it,
he had cut out the page on which stood the underlined words.
On his way back to Moscow he was again seized with a sort of stupor.
Although he secretly rejoiced that he had got what he went for, yet he
repelled all thoughts of Clara until he should reach home again. He
meditated a great deal more about her sister Anna.—"Here now," he said
to himself, "is a wonderful, sympathetic being! What a delicate
comprehension of everything, what a loving heart, what absence of
egoism! And how comes it that such girls bloom with us, and in the
provinces,—and in such surroundings into the bargain! She is both
sickly, and ill-favoured, and not young,—but what a capital wife she
would make for an honest, well-educated man! That is the person with
whom one ought to fall in love!…" Arátoff meditated thus … but on
his arrival in Moscow the matter took quite another turn.
Platonída Ivánova was unspeakably delighted at the return of her nephew.
She had thought all sorts of things during his absence!—"At the very
least he has gone to Siberia!" she whispered, as she sat motionless in
her little chamber: "for a year at the very least!"—Moreover the cook
had frightened her by imparting the most authentic news concerning the
disappearance of first one, then another young man from the
neighbourhood. Yásha's complete innocence and trustworthiness did not in
the least serve to calm the old woman.—"Because … much that
signifies!—he busies himself with photography … well, and that is
enough! Seize him!" And now here was her Yáshenka come back to her safe
and sound! She did notice, it is true, that he appeared to have grown
thin, and his face seemed to be sunken—that was comprehensible … he
had had no one to look after him. But she did not dare to question him
concerning his trip. At dinner she inquired:
"And is Kazán a nice town?"
"Yes," replied Arátoff.
"Tatárs live there, I believe?"
"Not Tatárs only."
"And hast not thou brought a khalát thence?"
"No, I have not."
And there the conversation ended.
But as soon as Arátoff found himself alone in his study he immediately
felt as though something were embracing him round about, as though he
were again in the power,—precisely that, in the power of another
life, of another being. Although he had told Anna—in that outburst of
sudden frenzy—that he was in love with Clara, that word now seemed to
him devoid of sense and whimsical.—No, he was not in love; and how
could he fall in love with a dead woman, whom, even during her lifetime
he had not liked, whom he had almost forgotten?—No! But he was in the
power of … in her power … he no longer belonged to himself. He had
been taken possession of. Taken possession of to such a point that he
was no longer trying to free himself either by ridiculing his own
stupidity, or by arousing in himself if not confidence, at least hope
that all this would pass over, that it was nothing but nerves,—or by
seeking proofs of it,—or in any other way!—"If I meet him I shall take
him" he recalled Clara's words reported by Anna … and so now he had
But was not she dead? Yes; her body was dead … but how about her
soul?—Was not that immortal … did it require bodily organs to
manifest its power? Magnetism has demonstrated to us the influence of
the living human soul upon another living human soul…. Why should not
that influence be continued after death, if the soul remains alive?—But
with what object? What might be the result of this?—But do we, in
general, realise the object of everything which goes on around us?
These reflections occupied Arátoff to such a degree that at tea he
suddenly asked Platósha whether she believed in the immortality of the
soul. She did not understand at first what it was he had asked; but
afterward she crossed herself and replied, "of course. How could the
soul be otherwise than immortal?"
"But if that is so, can it act after death?" Arátoff put a second
The old woman replied that it could … that is to say, it can pray for
us; when it shall have passed through all sorts of tribulations, and is
awaiting the Last Judgment. But during the first forty days it only
hovers around the spot where its death occurred.
"During the first forty days?"
"Yes; and after that come its tribulations."
Arátoff was surprised at his aunt's erudition, and went off to his own
room.—And again he felt the same thing, that same power upon him. The
power was manifested thus—that the image of Clara incessantly presented
itself to him, in its most minute details,—details which he did not
seem to have observed during her lifetime; he saw … he saw her
fingers, her nails, the bands of hair on her cheeks below her temples, a
small mole under the left eye; he saw the movement of her lips, her
nostrils, her eyebrows … and what sort of a gait she had, and how she
held her head a little on the right side … he saw everything!—He did
not admire all this at all; he simply could not help thinking about it
and seeing it.—Yet he did not dream about her during the first night
after his return … he was very weary and slept like one slain. On the
other hand, no sooner did he awake than she again entered his room, and
there she remained, as though she had been its owner; just as though she
had purchased for herself that right by her voluntary death, without
asking him or requiring his permission.
He took her photograph; he began to reproduce it, to enlarge it. Then it
occurred to him to arrange it for the stereoscope. It cost him a great
deal of trouble, but at last he succeeded. He fairly started when he
beheld through the glass her figure which had acquired the semblance of
bodily substance. But that figure was grey, as though covered with
dust … and moreover, the eyes … the eyes still gazed aside, as
though they were averting themselves. He began to gaze at them for a
long, long time, as though expecting that they might, at any moment,
turn themselves in his direction … he even puckered up his eyes
deliberately … but the eyes remained motionless, and the whole figure
assumed the aspect of a doll. He went away, threw himself into an
arm-chair, got out the leaf which he had torn from her diary, with the
underlined words, and thought: "They say that people in love kiss the
lines which have been written by a beloved hand; but I have no desire to
do that—and the chirography appears to me ugly into the bargain. But in
that line lies my condemnation."—At this point there flashed into his
mind the promise he had made to Anna about the article. He seated
himself at his table, and set about writing it; but everything he wrote
turned out so rhetorical … worst of all, so artificial … just as
though he did not believe in what he was writing, or in his own feelings
… and Clara herself seemed to him unrecognisable, incomprehensible!
She would not yield herself to him.
"No," he thought, throwing aside his pen, "either I have no talent for
writing in general, or I must wait a while yet!"
He began to call to mind his visit to the Milovídoffs, and all the
narration of Anna, of that kind, splendid Anna…. The word she had
uttered: "unsullied!" suddenly struck him. It was exactly as though
something had scorched and illuminated him.
"Yes," he said aloud, "she was unsullied and I am unsullied…. That is
what has given her this power!"
Thoughts concerning the immortality of the soul, the life beyond the
grave, again visited him. "Is it not said in the Bible: 'O death, where
is thy sting?' And in Schiller: 'And the dead also shall live!' (Auch
die Todten sollen leben!)—Or here again, in Mickiewicz, 'I shall love
until life ends … and after life ends!'—While one English writer has
said: 'Love is stronger than death!'"—The biblical sentence acted with
peculiar force on Arátoff. He wanted to look up the place where those
words were to be found…. He had no Bible; he went to borrow one from
Platósha. She was astonished; but she got out an old, old book in a
warped leather binding with brass clasps, all spotted with wax, and
handed it to Arátoff. He carried it off to his own room, but for a long
time could not find that verse … but on the other hand, he hit upon
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life
for his friends"…. (the Gospel of John, Chap. XV, verse 13).
He thought: "That is not properly expressed.—It should read: 'Greater
power hath no man!'"….
"But what if she did not set her soul on me at all? What if she killed
herself merely because life had become a burden to her?—What if she, in
conclusion, did not come to that tryst with the object of obtaining
declarations of love at all?"
But at that moment Clara before her parting on the boulevard rose up
before him…. He recalled that sorrowful expression on her face, and
those tears, and those words:—"Akh, you have understood nothing!"
No! He could not doubt for what object and for what person she had laid
down her life….
Thus passed that day until nightfall.
Arátoff went early to bed, without feeling particularly sleepy; but he
hoped to find rest in bed. The strained condition of his nerves caused
him a fatigue which was far more intolerable than the physical weariness
of the journey and the road. But great as was his fatigue, he could not
get to sleep. He tried to read … but the lines got entangled before
his eyes. He extinguished his candle, and darkness took possession of
his chamber.—But he continued to lie there sleepless, with closed
eyes…. And now it seemed to him that some one was whispering in his
ear…. "It is the beating of my heart, the rippling of the blood," he
thought…. But the whisper passed into coherent speech. Some one was
talking Russian hurriedly, plaintively, and incomprehensibly. It was
impossible to distinguish a single separate word…. But it was Clara's
Arátoff opened his eyes, rose up in bed, propped himself on his
elbows…. The voice grew fainter, but continued its plaintive, hurried,
unintelligible speech as before….
It was indubitably Clara's voice!
Some one's fingers ran over the keys of the piano in light arpeggios….
Then the voice began to speak again. More prolonged sounds made
themselves audible … like moans … always the same. And then words
began to detach themselves….
"Roses … roses … roses."….
"Roses," repeated Arátoff in a whisper.—
"Akh, yes! The roses which I saw on the head of that woman in my
"Roses," was audible again.
"Is it thou?" asked Arátoff, whispering as before.
The voice suddenly ceased.
Arátoff waited … waited—and dropped his head on his pillow. "A
hallucination of hearing," he thought. "Well, and what if … what if
she really is here, close to me?… What if I were to see her, would I
be frightened? But why should I be frightened? Why should I rejoice?
Possibly because it would be a proof that there is another world, that
the soul is immortal.—But, however, even if I were to see anything,
that also might be a hallucination of the sight"….
Nevertheless he lighted his candle, and shot a glance over the whole
room not without some trepidation … and descried nothing unusual in
it. He rose, approached the stereoscope … and there again was the same
grey doll, with eyes which gazed to one side. The feeling of alarm in
Arátoff was replaced by one of vexation. He had been, as it were,
deceived in his expectations … and those same expectations appeared to
him absurd.—"Well, this is downright stupid!" he muttered as he got
back into bed, and blew out his light. Again profound darkness reigned
in the room.
Arátoff made up his mind to go to sleep this time…. But a new
sensation had cropped up within him. It seemed to him as though some one
were standing in the middle of the room, not far from him, and breathing
in a barely perceptible manner. He hastily turned round, opened his
eyes…. But what could be seen in that impenetrable darkness?—He began
to fumble for a match on his night-stand … and suddenly it seemed to
him as though some soft, noiseless whirlwind dashed across the whole
room, above him, through him—and the words: "'Tis I!" rang plainly in
his ears. "'Tis I! 'Tis I!…"
Several moments passed before he succeeded in lighting a match.
Again there was no one in the room, and he no longer heard anything
except the violent beating of his own heart. He drank a glass of water,
and remained motionless, with his head resting on his hand.
He said to himself: "I will wait. Either this is all nonsense … or she
is here. She will not play with me like a cat with a mouse!" He waited,
waited a long time … so long that the hand on which he was propping
his head became numb … but not a single one of his previous sensations
was repeated. A couple of times his eyes closed…. He immediately
opened them … at least, it seemed to him that he opened them.
Gradually they became riveted on the door and so remained. The candle
burned out and the room became dark once more … but the door gleamed
like a long, white spot in the midst of the gloom. And lo! that spot
began to move, it contracted, vanished … and in its place, on the
threshold, a female form made its appearance. Arátoff looked at it
intently … it was Clara! And this time she was gazing straight at him,
she moved toward him…. On her head was a wreath of red roses…. It
kept undulating, rising….
Before him stood his aunt in her nightcap, with a broad red ribbon, and
in a white wrapper.
"Platósha!" he enunciated with difficulty.—"Is it you?"
"It is I," replied Platonída Ivánovna…. "It is I, Yashyónotchek, it is
"Why have you come?"
"Why, thou didst wake me. At first thou seemedst to be moaning all the
while … and then suddenly thou didst begin to shout: 'Save me! Help
"Yes, thou didst shout, and so hoarsely: 'Save me!'—I thought: 'O Lord!
Can he be ill?' So I entered. Art thou well?"
"Come, that means that thou hast had a bad dream. I will fumigate with
incense if thou wishest—shall I?"
Again Arátoff gazed intently at his aunt, and burst into a loud
laugh…. The figure of the kind old woman in nightcap and wrapper, with
her frightened, long-drawn face, really was extremely comical. All that
mysterious something which had surrounded him, had stifled him, all
those delusions dispersed on the instant.
"No, Platósha, my dear, it is not necessary," he said.—"Forgive me for
having involuntarily alarmed you. May your rest be tranquil—and I will
go to sleep also."
Platonída Ivánovna stood a little while longer on the spot where she
was, pointed at the candle, grumbled: "Why dost thou not extinguish
it? … there will be a catastrophe before long!"—and as she retired,
could not refrain from making the sign of the cross over him from afar.
Arátoff fell asleep immediately, and slept until morning. He rose in a
fine frame of mind … although he regretted something…. He felt
light and free. "What romantic fancies one does devise," he said to
himself with a smile. He did not once glance either at the stereoscope
or the leaf which he had torn out. But immediately after breakfast he
set off to see Kupfer.
What drew him thither … he dimly recognised.
Arátoff found his sanguine friend at home. He chatted a little with him,
reproached him for having quite forgotten him and his aunt, listened to
fresh laudations of the golden woman, the Princess, from whom Kupfer had
just received,—from Yaroslávl,—a skull-cap embroidered with
fish-scales … and then suddenly sitting down in front of Kupfer, and
looking him straight in the eye, he announced that he had been to Kazán.
"Thou hast been to Kazán? Why so?"
"Why, because I wished to collect information about that … Clara
"The girl who poisoned herself?"
Kupfer shook his head.—"What a fellow thou art! And such a sly one!
Thou hast travelled a thousand versts there and back … and all for
what? Hey? If there had only been some feminine interest there! Then I
could understand everything! every sort of folly!"—Kupfer ruffled up
his hair.—"But for the sake of collecting materials, as you learned men
put it…. No, I thank you! That's what the committee of statistics
exists for!—Well, and what about it—didst thou make acquaintance with
the old woman and with her sister? She's a splendid girl, isn't she?"
"Splendid," assented Arátoff.—"She communicated to me many curious
"Did she tell thee precisely how Clara poisoned herself?"
"Thou meanest … what dost thou mean?"
"Why, in what manner?"
"No…. She was still in such affliction…. I did not dare to question
her too much. But was there anything peculiar about it?"
"Of course there was. Just imagine: she was to have acted that very
day—and she did act. She took a phial of poison with her to the
theatre, drank it before the first act, and in that condition played
through the whole of that act. With the poison inside her! What dost
thou think of that strength of will? What character, wasn't it? And they
say that she never sustained her role with so much feeling, with so much
warmth! The audience suspected nothing, applauded, recalled her…. But
as soon as the curtain fell she dropped down where she stood on the
stage. She began to writhe … and writhe … and at the end of an hour
her spirit fled! But is it possible I did not tell thee that? It was
mentioned in the newspapers also."
Arátoff's hands suddenly turned cold and his chest began to heave. "No,
thou didst not tell me that," he said at last.—"And dost thou not know
what the piece was?"
Kupfer meditated.—"I was told the name of the piece … a young girl
who has been betrayed appears in it…. It must be some drama or other.
Clara was born for dramatic parts. Her very appearance…. But where art
thou going?" Kupfer interrupted himself, perceiving that Arátoff was
picking up his cap.
"I do not feel quite well," replied Arátoff. "Good-bye…. I will drop
in some other time."
Kupfer held him back and looked him in the face.—"What a nervous fellow
thou art, brother! Just look at thyself…. Thou hast turned as white as
"I do not feel well," repeated Arátoff, freeing himself from Kupfer's
hands and going his way. Only at that moment did it become clear to him
that he had gone to Kupfer with the sole object of talking about
"About foolish, about unhappy Clara"….
But on reaching home he speedily recovered his composure to a certain
The circumstances which had attended Clara's death at first exerted a
shattering impression upon him … but later on that acting "with the
poison inside her," as Kupfer had expressed it, seemed to him a
monstrous phrase, a piece of bravado, and he tried not to think of it,
fearing to arouse within himself a feeling akin to aversion. But at
dinner, as he sat opposite Platósha, he suddenly remembered her
nocturnal apparition, recalled that bob-tailed wrapper, that cap with
the tall ribbon (and why should there be a ribbon on a night-cap?), the
whole of that ridiculous figure, at which all his visions had dispersed
into dust, as though at the whistle of the machinist in a fantastic
ballet! He even made Platósha repeat the tale of how she had heard him
shout, had taken fright, had leaped out of bed, had not been able at
once to find either her own door or his, and so forth. In the evening he
played cards with her and went off to his own room in a somewhat sad but
fairly tranquil state of mind.
Arátoff did not think about the coming night, and did not fear it; he
was convinced that he should pass it in the best possible manner. The
thought of Clara awoke in him from time to time; but he immediately
remembered that she had killed herself in a "spectacular" manner, and
turned away. That "outrageous" act prevented other memories from rising
in him. Giving a cursory glance at the stereoscope it seemed to him that
she was looking to one side because she felt ashamed. Directly over the
stereoscope on the wall, hung the portrait of his mother. Arátoff
removed it from its nail, kissed it, and carefully put it away in a
drawer. Why did he do this? Because that portrait must not remain in the
vicinity of that woman … or for some other reason—Arátoff did not
quite know. But his mother's portrait evoked in him memories of his
father … of that father whom he had seen dying in that same room, on
that very bed. "What dost thou think about all this, father?" he
mentally addressed him. "Thou didst understand all this; thou didst also
believe in Schiller's world of spirits.—Give me counsel!"
"My father has given me counsel to drop all these follies," said Arátoff
aloud, and took up a book. But he was not able to read long, and feeling
a certain heaviness all through his body, he went to bed earlier than
usual, in the firm conviction that he should fall asleep immediately.
And so it came about … but his hopes for a peaceful night were not
Before the clock struck midnight he had a remarkable, a menacing dream.
It seemed to him that he was in a sumptuous country-house of which he
was the owner. He had recently purchased the house, and all the estates
attached to it. And he kept thinking: "It is well, now it is well, but
disaster is coming!" Beside him was hovering a tiny little man, his
manager; this man kept making obeisances, and trying to demonstrate to
Arátoff how admirably everything about his house and estate was
arranged.—"Please, please look," he kept reiterating, grinning at every
word, "how everything is flourishing about you! Here are horses … what
magnificent horses!" And Arátoff saw a row of huge horses. They were
standing with their backs to him, in stalls; they had wonderful manes
and tails … but as soon as Arátoff walked past them the horses turned
their heads toward him and viciously displayed their teeth.
"It is well," thought Arátoff, "but disaster is coming!"
"Please, please," repeated his manager again; "please come into the
garden; see what splendid apples we have!"
The apples really were splendid, red, and round; but as soon as Arátoff
looked at them, they began to shrivel and fall…. "Disaster is coming!"
"And here is the lake," murmurs the manager: "how blue and smooth it is!
And here is a little golden boat!… Would you like to have a sail in
it?… It moves of itself."
"I will not get into it!" thought Arátoff; "a disaster is coming!" and
nevertheless he did seat himself in the boat. On the bottom, writhing,
lay a little creature resembling an ape; in its paws it was holding a
phial filled with a dark liquid.
"Pray do not feel alarmed," shouted the manager from the shore…. "That
is nothing! That is death! A prosperous journey!"
The boat darted swiftly onward … but suddenly a hurricane arose, not
like the one of the day before, soft and noiseless—no; it is a black,
terrible, howling hurricane!—Everything is in confusion round
about;—and amid the swirling gloom Arátoff beholds Clara in theatrical
costume: she is raising the phial to her lips, a distant "Bravo! bravo!"
is audible, and a coarse voice shouts in Arátoff's ear:
"Ah! And didst thou think that all this would end in a comedy?—No! it
is a tragedy! a tragedy!"
Arátoff awoke all in a tremble. It was not dark in the room…. A faint
and melancholy light streamed from somewhere or other, impassively
illuminating all objects. Arátoff did not try to account to himself for
the light…. He felt but one thing: Clara was there in that room … he
felt her presence … he was again and forever in her power!
A shriek burst from his lips: "Clara, art thou here?"
"Yes!" rang out clearly in the middle of the room illuminated with the
Arátoff doubly repeated his question….
"Yes!" was audible once more.
"Then I want to see thee!" he cried, springing out of bed.
For several moments he stood in one spot, treading the cold floor with
his bare feet. His eyes roved: "But where? Where?" whispered his
Nothing was to be seen or heard.
He looked about him, and noticed that the faint light which filled the
room proceeded from a night-light, screened by a sheet of paper, and
placed in one corner, probably by Platósha while he was asleep. He even
detected the odour of incense also, in all probability, the work of her
He hastily dressed himself. Remaining in bed, sleeping, was not to be
thought of.—Then he took up his stand in the centre of the room and
folded his arms. The consciousness of Clara's presence was stronger than
ever within him.
And now he began to speak, in a voice which was not loud, but with the
solemn deliberation wherewith exorcisms are uttered:
"Clara,"—thus did he begin,—"if thou art really here, if thou seest
me, if thou hearest me, reveal thyself!… If that power which I feel
upon me is really thy power,—reveal thyself! If thou understandest how
bitterly I repent of not having understood thee, of having repulsed
thee,—reveal thyself!—If that which I have heard is really thy voice;
if the feeling which has taken possession of me is love; if thou art now
convinced that I love thee,—I who up to this time have not loved, and
have not known a single woman;—if thou knowest that after thy death I
fell passionately, irresistibly in love with thee, if thou dost not wish
me to go mad—reveal thyself!"
No sooner had Arátoff uttered this last word than he suddenly felt some
one swiftly approach him from behind, as on that occasion upon the
boulevard—and lay a hand upon his shoulder. He wheeled round—and saw
no one. But the consciousness of her presence became so distinct, so
indubitable, that he cast another hasty glance behind him….
What was that?! In his arm-chair, a couple of paces from him, sat a
woman all in black. Her head was bent to one side, as in the
stereoscope…. It was she! It was Clara! But what a stern, what a
Arátoff sank down gently upon his knees.—Yes, he was right, then;
neither fear, nor joy was in him, nor even surprise…. His heart even
began to beat more quietly;—The only thing in him was the feeling: "Ah!
At last! At last!"
"Clara," he began in a faint but even tone, "why dost thou not look at
me? I know it is thou … but I might, seest thou, think that my
imagination had created an image like that one…." (He pointed in the
direction of the stereoscope)…. "Prove to me that it is thou…. Turn
toward me, look at me, Clara!"
Clara's hand rose slowly … and fell again.
"Clara! Clara! Turn toward me!"
And Clara's head turned slowly, her drooping lids opened, and the dark
pupils of her eyes were fixed on Arátoff.
He started back, and uttered a tremulous, long-drawn: "Ah!"
Clara gazed intently at him … but her eyes, her features preserved
their original thoughtfully-stern, almost displeased expression. With
precisely that expression she had presented herself on the platform upon
the day of the literary morning, before she had caught sight of Arátoff.
And now, as on that occasion also, she suddenly flushed scarlet, her
face grew animated, her glance flashed, and a joyful, triumphant smile
parted her lips….
"I am forgiven!"—cried Arátoff.—"Thou hast conquered…. So take me!
For I am thine, and thou art mine!"
He darted toward her, he tried to kiss those smiling, those triumphant
lips,—and he did kiss them, he felt their burning touch, he felt even
the moist chill of her teeth, and a rapturous cry rang through the
Platonída Ivánovna ran in and found him in a swoon. He was on his knees;
his head was lying on the arm-chair; his arms, outstretched before him,
hung powerless; his pale face breathed forth the intoxication of
Platonída Ivánovna threw herself beside him, embraced him, stammered:
"Yásha! Yáshenka! Yashenyónotchek!!" tried to lift him up with her
bony arms … he did not stir. Then Platonída Ivánovna set to screaming
in an unrecognisable voice. The maid-servant ran in. Together they
managed somehow to lift him up, seated him in a chair, and began to dash
water on him—and water in which a holy image had been washed at
He came to himself; but merely smiled in reply to his aunt's queries,
and with such a blissful aspect that she became more perturbed than
ever, and kept crossing first him and then herself…. At last Arátoff
pushed away her hand, and still with the same beatific expression on his
countenance, he said:—
"What is the matter with you, Platósha?"
"What ails thee, Yáshenka?"
"Me?—I am happy … happy, Platósha … that is what ails me. But now I
want to go to bed and sleep."
He tried to rise, but felt such a weakness in his legs and in all his
body that he was not in a condition to undress and get into bed himself
without the aid of his aunt and of the maid-servant. But he fell asleep
very quickly, preserving on his face that same blissfully-rapturous
expression. Only his face was extremely pale.
When Platonída Ivánovna entered his room on the following morning he was
in the same condition … but his weakness had not passed off, and he
even preferred to remain in bed. Platonída Ivánovna did not like the
pallor of his face in particular.
"What does it mean, O Lord!" she thought. "There isn't a drop of blood
in his face, he refuses his beef-tea; he lies there and laughs, and
keeps asserting that he is quite well!"
He refused breakfast also.—"Why dost thou do that, Yásha?" she asked
him; "dost thou intend to lie like this all day?"
"And what if I do?" replied Arátoff, affectionately.
This very affection also did not please Platonída Ivánovna. Arátoff
wore the aspect of a man who has learned a great secret, which is very
agreeable to him, and is jealously clinging to it and reserving it for
himself. He was waiting for night, not exactly with impatience but with
"What comes next?" he asked himself;—"what will happen?" He had ceased
to be surprised, to be perplexed; he cherished no doubt as to his having
entered into communication with Clara; that they loved each other … he
did not doubt, either. Only … what can come of such a love?—He
recalled that kiss … and a wondrous chill coursed swiftly and sweetly
through all his limbs.—"Romeo and Juliet did not exchange such a kiss
as that!" he thought. "But the next time I shall hold out better…. I
shall possess her…. She will come with the garland of tiny roses in
her black curls….
"But after that what? For we cannot live together, can we? Consequently
I must die in order to be with her? Was not that what she came for,—and
is it not in that way she wishes to take me?
"Well, and what of that? If I must die, I must. Death does not terrify
me in the least now. For it cannot annihilate me, can it? On the
contrary, only thus and there shall I be happy … as I have never
been happy in my lifetime, as she has never been in hers…. For we are
both unsullied!—Oh, that kiss!"
* * * * *
Platonída Ivánovna kept entering Arátoff's room; she did not worry him
with questions, she merely took a look at him, whispered, sighed, and
went out again.—But now he refused his dinner also…. Things were
getting quite too bad. The old woman went off to her friend, the medical
man of the police-district, in whom she had faith simply because he did
not drink and was married to a German woman. Arátoff was astonished when
she brought the man to him; but Platonída Ivánovna began so insistently
to entreat her Yáshenka to permit Paramón Paramónitch (that was the
medical man's name) to examine him—come, now, just for her sake!—that
Arátoff consented. Paramón Paramónitch felt his pulse, looked at his
tongue, interrogated him after a fashion, and finally announced that it
was indispensably necessary to "auscultate" him. Arátoff was in such a
submissive frame of mind that he consented to this also. The doctor
delicately laid bare his breast, delicately tapped it, listened, smiled,
prescribed some drops and a potion, but chief of all, advised him to be
quiet, and refrain from violent emotions.
"You don't say so!" thought Arátoff…. "Well, brother, thou hast
bethought thyself too late!"
"What ails Yásha?" asked Platonída Ivánovna, as she handed Paramón
Paramónitch a three-ruble bank-note on the threshold. The district
doctor, who, like all contemporary doctors,—especially those of them
who wear a uniform,—was fond of showing off his learned terminology,
informed her that her nephew had all the dioptric symptoms of nervous
cardialgia, and that febris was present also.
"But speak more simply, dear little father," broke in Platonída
Ivánovna; "don't scare me with Latin; thou art not in an apothecary's
"His heart is out of order," explained the doctor;—"well, and he has
fever also," … and he repeated his advice with regard to repose and
"But surely there is no danger?" sternly inquired Platonída Ivánovna, as
much as to say: "Look out and don't try your Latin on me again!"
"Not at present!"
The doctor went away, and Platonída Ivánovna took to grieving….
Nevertheless she sent to the apothecary for the medicine, which Arátoff
would not take, despite her entreaties. He even refused herb-tea.
"What makes you worry so, dear?" he said to her. "I assure you I am now
the most perfectly healthy and happy man in the whole world!"
Platonída Ivánovna merely shook her head. Toward evening he became
slightly feverish; yet he still insisted upon it that she should not
remain in his room, and should go away to her own to sleep. Platonída
Ivánovna obeyed, but did not undress, and did not go to bed; she sat up
in an arm-chair and kept listening and whispering her prayer.
She was beginning to fall into a doze, when suddenly a dreadful,
piercing shriek awakened her. She sprang to her feet, rushed into
Arátoff's study, and found him lying on the floor, as upon the night
But he did not come to himself as he had done the night before, work
over him as they would. That night he was seized with a high fever,
complicated by inflammation of the heart.
A few days later he died.
A strange circumstance accompanied his second swoon. When they lifted
him up and put him to bed, there proved to be a small lock of woman's
black hair clutched in his right hand. Where had that hair come from?
Anna Semyónovna had such a lock, which she had kept after Clara's death;
but why should she have given to Arátoff an object which was so precious
to her? Could she have laid it into the diary, and not noticed the fact
when she gave him the book?
In the delirium which preceded his death Arátoff called himself
Romeo … after the poison; he talked about a marriage contracted,
consummated;—said that now he knew the meaning of delight. Especially
dreadful for Platonída Ivánovna was the moment when Arátoff, recovering
consciousness, and seeing her by his bedside, said to her:
"Aunty, why art thou weeping? Is it because I must die? But dost thou
not know that love is stronger than death?… Death! O Death, where is
thy sting? Thou must not weep, but rejoice, even as I rejoice…."
And again the face of the dying man beamed with that same blissful smile
which had made the poor old woman shudder so.
POEMS IN PROSE
From the Editor of the "European Messenger"
In compliance with our request, Iván Sergyéevitch Turgénieff has given
his consent to our sharing now with the readers of our journal, without
delay, those passing comments, thoughts, images which he had noted down,
under one impression or another of current existence, during the last
five years,—those which belong to him personally, and those which
pertain to society in general. They, like many others, have not found a
place in those finished productions of the past which have already been
presented to the world, and have formed a complete collection in
themselves. From among these the author has made fifty selections.
In the letter accompanying the pages which we are now about to print, I.
S. Turgénieff says, in conclusion:
"… Let not your reader peruse these 'Poems in Prose' at one sitting;
he will probably be bored, and the book will fall from his hands. But
let him read them separately,—to-day one, to-morrow another,—and then
perchance some one of them may leave some trace behind in his soul…."
The pages have no general title; the author has written on their
wrapper: "Senilia—An Old Man's Jottings,"—but we have preferred the
words carelessly dropped by the author in the end of his letter to us,
quoted above,—"Poems in Prose"—and we print the pages under that
general title. In our opinion, it fully expresses the source from which
such comments might present themselves to the soul of an author well
known for his sensitiveness to the various questions of life, as well as
the impression which they may produce on the reader, "leaving behind in
his soul" many things. They are, in reality, poems in spite of the fact
that they are written in prose. We place them in chronological order,
beginning with the year 1878.
October 28, 1882.
The last day of July; for a thousand versts round about lies Russia, the
The whole sky is suffused with an even azure; there is only one little
cloud in it, which is half floating, half melting. There is no wind, it
is warm … the air is like new milk!
Larks are carolling; large-cropped pigeons are cooing; the swallows dart
past in silence; the horses neigh and munch, the dogs do not bark, but
stand peaceably wagging their tails.
And there is an odour of smoke abroad, and of grass,—and a tiny whiff
of tan,—and another of leather.—The hemp-patches, also, are in their
glory, and emit their heavy but agreeable fragrance.
A deep but not long ravine. Along its sides, in several rows, grow
bulky-headed willows, stripped bare at the bottom. Through the ravine
runs a brook; on its bottom tiny pebbles seem to tremble athwart its
pellucid ripples.—Far away, at the spot where the rims of earth and sky
come together, is the bluish streak of a large river.
Along the ravine, on one side are neat little storehouses, and buildings
with tightly-closed doors; on the other side are five or six pine-log
cottages with board roofs. Over each roof rises a tall pole with a
starling house; over each tiny porch is an openwork iron horse's head
with a stiff mane. The uneven window-panes sparkle with the hues of
the rainbow. Jugs holding bouquets are painted on the shutters. In front
of each cottage stands sedately a precise little bench; on the earthen
banks around the foundations of the house cats lie curled in balls, with
their transparent ears pricked up on the alert; behind the lofty
thresholds the anterooms look dark and cool.
I am lying on the very brink of the ravine, on an outspread horse-cloth;
round about are whole heaps of new-mown hay, which is fragrant to the
point of inducing faintness. The sagacious householders have spread out
the hay in front of their cottages: let it dry a little more in the hot
sun, and then away with it to the barn! It will be a glorious place for
The curly heads of children project from each haycock; crested hens are
searching in the hay for gnats and small beetles; a white-toothed puppy
is sprawling among the tangled blades of grass.
Ruddy-curled youths in clean, low-girt shirts, and heavy boots with
borders, are bandying lively remarks as they stand with their breasts
resting on the unhitched carts, and display their teeth in a grin.
From a window a round-faced lass peeps out; she laughs, partly at their
words, and partly at the pranks of the children in the heaped-up hay.
Another lass with her sturdy arms is drawing a huge, dripping bucket
from the well…. The bucket trembles and rocks on the rope, scattering
long, fiery drops.
In front of me stands an aged housewife in a new-checked petticoat of
homespun and new peasant-shoes.
Large inflated beads in three rows encircle her thin, swarthy neck; her
grey hair is bound about with a yellow kerchief with red dots; it droops
low over her dimmed eyes.
But her aged eyes smile in cordial wise; her whole wrinkled face smiles.
The old woman must be in her seventh decade … and even now it can be
seen that she was a beauty in her day!
With the sunburned fingers of her right hand widely spread apart, she
holds a pot of cool, unskimmed milk, straight from the cellar; the sides
of the pot are covered with dewdrops, like small pearl beads. On the
palm of her left hand the old woman offers me a big slice of bread still
warm from the oven. As much as to say: "Eat, and may health be thine,
thou passing guest!"
A cock suddenly crows and busily flaps his wings; an imprisoned calf
lows without haste, in reply.
"Hey, what fine oats!" the voice of my coachman makes itself heard….
O Russian contentment, repose, plenty! O free village! O tranquillity
And I thought to myself: "What care we for the cross on the dome of
Saint Sophia in Constantinople, and all the other things for which we
strive, we people of the town?"
"Never yet has human foot trod either the
Jungfrau or the Finsteraarhorn."
The summits of the Alps…. A whole chain of steep cliffs…. The very
heart of the mountains.
Overhead a bright, mute, pale-green sky. A hard, cruel frost; firm,
sparkling snow; from beneath the snow project grim blocks of ice-bound,
Two huge masses, two giants rise aloft, one on each side of the horizon:
the Jungfrau and the Finsteraarhorn.
And the Jungfrau says to its neighbour: "What news hast thou to tell?
Thou canst see better.—What is going on there below?"
Several thousand years pass by like one minute. And the Finsteraarhorn
rumbles in reply: "Dense clouds veil the earth…. Wait!"
More thousands of years elapse, as it were one minute.
"Well, what now?" inquires the Jungfrau.
"Now I can see; down yonder, below, everything is still the same:
party-coloured, tiny. The waters gleam blue; the forests are black;
heaps of stones piled up shine grey. Around them small beetles are still
bustling,—thou knowest, those two-legged beetles who have as yet been
unable to defile either thou or me."
Thousands of years pass, as it were one minute.
"Well, and what now?" asks the Jungfrau.
"I seem to see fewer of the little beetles," thunders the
Finsteraarhorn. "Things have become clearer down below; the waters have
contracted; the forests have grown thinner."
More thousands of years pass, as it were one minute.
"What dost thou see?" says the Jungfrau.
"Things seem to have grown clearer round us, close at hand," replies
the Finsteraarhorn; "well, and yonder, far away, in the valleys there is
still a spot, and something is moving."
"And now?" inquires the Jungfrau, after other thousands of years, which
are as one minute.
"Now it is well," replies the Finsteraarhorn; "it is clean everywhere,
quite white, wherever one looks…. Everywhere is our snow, level snow
and ice. Everything is congealed. It is well now, and calm."
"Good," said the Jungfrau.—"But thou and I have chattered enough, old
fellow. It is time to sleep."
"It is time!"
The huge mountains slumber; the green, clear heaven slumbers over the
earth which has grown dumb forever.
THE OLD WOMAN
I was walking across a spacious field, alone.
And suddenly I thought I heard light, cautious footsteps behind my
back…. Some one was following me.
I glanced round and beheld a tiny, bent old woman, all enveloped in grey
rags. The old woman's face was visible from beneath them: a yellow,
wrinkled, sharp-nosed, toothless face.
I stepped up to her…. She halted.
"Who art thou? What dost thou want? Art thou a beggar? Dost thou expect
The old woman made no answer. I bent down to her and perceived that both
her eyes were veiled with a semi-transparent, whitish membrane or film,
such as some birds have; therewith they protect their eyes from too
brilliant a light.
But in the old woman's case that film did not move and reveal the
pupils … from which I inferred that she was blind.
"Dost thou want alms?" I repeated my question.—"Why art thou following
me?"—But, as before, the old woman did not answer, and merely shrank
back almost imperceptibly.
I turned from her and went my way.
And lo! again I hear behind me those same light, measured footsteps
which seem to be creeping stealthily up.
"There's that woman again!" I said to myself.—"Why has she attached
herself to me?"—But at this point I mentally added: "Probably, owing to
her blindness, she has lost her way, and now she is guiding herself by
the sound of my steps, in order to come out, in company with me, at some
inhabited place. Yes, yes; that is it."
But a strange uneasiness gradually gained possession of my thoughts: it
began to seem to me as though that old woman were not only following
me, but were guiding me,—that she was thrusting me now to the right,
now to the left, and that I was involuntarily obeying her.
Still I continue to walk on … but now, in front of me, directly in my
road, something looms up black and expands … some sort of pit…. "The
grave!" flashes through my mind.—"That is where she is driving me!"
I wheel abruptly round. Again the old woman is before me … but she
sees! She gazes at me with large, evil eyes which bode me ill … the
eyes of a bird of prey…. I bend down to her face, to her eyes….
Again there is the same film, the same blind, dull visage as before….
"Akh!" I think … "this old woman is my Fate—that Fate which no man
"I cannot get away! I cannot get away!—What madness…. I must make an
effort." And I dart to one side, in a different direction.
I advance briskly…. But the light footsteps, as before, rustle behind
me, close, close behind me…. And in front of me again the pit yawns.
Again I turn in another direction…. And again there is the same
rustling behind me, the same menacing spot in front of me.
And no matter in what direction I dart, like a hare pursued … it is
always the same, the same!
"Stay!" I think.—"I will cheat her! I will not go anywhere at
all!"—and I instantaneously sit down on the ground.
The old woman stands behind me, two paces distant.—I do not hear her,
but I feel that she is there.
And suddenly I behold that spot which had loomed black in the distance,
gliding on, creeping up to me itself!
O God! I glance behind me…. The old woman is looking straight at me,
and her toothless mouth is distorted in a grin….
"Thou canst not escape!"
There are two of us in the room, my dog and I…. A frightful storm is
raging out of doors.
The dog is sitting in front of me, and gazing straight into my eyes.
And I, also, am looking him straight in the eye.
He seems to be anxious to say something to me. He is dumb, he has no
words, he does not understand himself—but I understand him.
I understand that, at this moment, both in him and in me there dwells
one and the same feeling, that there is no difference whatever between
us. We are exactly alike; in each of us there burns and glows the
selfsame tremulous flame.
Death is swooping down upon us, it is waving its cold, broad wings….
"And this is the end!"
Who shall decide afterward, precisely what sort of flame burned in each
one of us?
No! it is not an animal and a man exchanging glances….
It is two pairs of eyes exactly alike fixed on each other.
And in each of those pairs, in the animal and in the man, one and the
same life is huddling up timorously to the other.
I had a comrade-rival; not in our studies, not in the service or in
love; but our views did not agree on any point, and every time we met,
interminable arguments sprang up.
We argued about art, religion, science, about the life of earth and
matters beyond the grave,—especially life beyond the grave.
He was a believer and an enthusiast. One day he said to me: "Thou
laughest at everything; but if I die before thee, I will appear to thee
from the other world…. We shall see whether thou wilt laugh then."
And, as a matter of fact, he did die before me, while he was still young
in years; but years passed, and I had forgotten his promise,—his
One night I was lying in bed, and could not get to sleep, neither did I
wish to do so.
It was neither light nor dark in the room; I began to stare into the
And suddenly it seemed to me that my rival was standing between the two
windows, and nodding his head gently and sadly downward from above.
I was not frightened, I was not even surprised … but rising up
slightly in bed, and propping myself on my elbow, I began to gaze with
redoubled attention at the figure which had so unexpectedly presented
The latter continued to nod its head.
"What is it?" I said at last.—"Art thou exulting? Or art thou
pitying?—What is this—a warning or a reproach?… Or dost thou wish to
give me to understand that thou wert in the wrong? That we were both in
the wrong? What art thou experiencing? The pains of hell? The bliss of
paradise? Speak at least one word!"
But my rival did not utter a single sound—and only went on nodding his
head sadly and submissively, as before, downward from above.
I burst out laughing … he vanished.
THE BEGGAR MAN
I was passing along the street when a beggar, a decrepit old man,
Swollen, tearful eyes, blue lips, bristling rags, unclean sores…. Oh,
how horribly had poverty gnawed that unhappy being!
He stretched out to me a red, bloated, dirty hand…. He moaned, he
bellowed for help.
I began to rummage in all my pockets…. Neither purse, nor watch, nor
even handkerchief did I find…. I had taken nothing with me.
And the beggar still waited … and extended his hand, which swayed and
Bewildered, confused, I shook that dirty, tremulous hand heartily….
"Blame me not, brother; I have nothing, brother."
The beggar man fixed his swollen eyes upon me; his blue lips smiled—and
in his turn he pressed my cold fingers.
"Never mind, brother," he mumbled. "Thanks for this also, brother.—This
also is an alms, brother."
I understood that I had received an alms from my brother.
"THOU SHALT HEAR THE JUDGMENT OF THE DULLARD…."
"Thou shalt hear the judgment of the dullard…." Thou hast always
spoken the truth, thou great writer of ours; thou hast spoken it this
"The judgment of the dullard and the laughter of the crowd."… Who is
there that has not experienced both the one and the other?
All this can—and must be borne; and whosoever hath the strength,—let
him despise it.
But there are blows which beat more painfully on the heart itself…. A
man has done everything in his power; he has toiled arduously, lovingly,
honestly…. And honest souls turn squeamishly away from him; honest
faces flush with indignation at his name. "Depart! Begone!" honest young
voices shout at him.—"We need neither thee nor thy work, thou art
defiling our dwelling—thou dost not know us and dost not understand
us…. Thou art our enemy!"
What is that man to do then? Continue to toil, make no effort to defend
himself—and not even expect a more just estimate.
In former days tillers of the soil cursed the traveller who brought them
potatoes in place of bread, the daily food of the poor man…. They
snatched the precious gift from the hands outstretched to them, flung it
in the mire, trod it under foot.
Now they subsist upon it—and do not even know the name of their
So be it! What matters his name to them? He, although he be nameless,
has saved them from hunger.
Let us strive only that what we offer may be equally useful food.
Bitter is unjust reproach in the mouths of people whom one loves…. But
even that can be endured….
"Beat me—but hear me out!" said the Athenian chieftain to the Spartan
"Beat me—but be healthy and full fed!" is what we ought to say.
THE CONTENTED MAN
Along a street of the capital is skipping a man who is still young.—His
movements are cheerful, alert; his eyes are beaming, his lips are
smiling, his sensitive face is pleasantly rosy…. He is all contentment
What has happened to him? Has he come into an inheritance? Has he been
elevated in rank? Is he hastening to a love tryst? Or, simply, has he
breakfasted well, and is it a sensation of health, a sensation of
full-fed strength which is leaping for joy in all his limbs? Or they may
have hung on his neck thy handsome, eight-pointed cross, O Polish King
No. He has concocted a calumny against an acquaintance, he has
assiduously disseminated it, he has heard it—that same calumny—from
the mouth of another acquaintance—and has believed it himself.
Oh, how contented, how good even at this moment is that nice,
highly-promising young man.
THE RULE OF LIFE
"If you desire thoroughly to mortify and even to injure an opponent,"
said an old swindler to me, "reproach him with the very defect or vice
of which you feel conscious in yourself.—Fly into a rage … and
"In the first place, that makes other people think that you do not
possess that vice.
"In the second place, your wrath may even be sincere…. You may profit
by the reproaches of your own conscience.
"If, for example, you are a renegade, reproach your adversary with
having no convictions!
"If you yourself are a lackey in soul, say to him with reproof that he
is a lackey … the lackey of civilisation, of Europe, of socialism!"
"You may even say, the lackey of non-lackeyism!" I remarked.
"You may do that also," chimed in the old rascal.
THE END OF THE WORLD
It seems to me as though I am somewhere in Russia, in the wilds, in a
plain country house.
The chamber is large, low-ceiled, with three windows; the walls are
smeared with white paint; there is no furniture. In front of the house
is a bare plain; gradually descending, it recedes into the distance; the
grey, monotoned sky hangs over it like a canopy.
I am not alone; half a score of men are with me in the room. All plain
folk, plainly clad; they are pacing up and down in silence, as though by
stealth. They avoid one another, and yet they are incessantly exchanging
Not one of them knows why he has got into this house, or who the men are
with him. On all faces there is disquiet and melancholy … all, in
turn, approach the windows and gaze attentively about them, as though
expecting something from without.
Then again they set to roaming up and down. Among us a lad of short
stature is running about; from time to time he screams in a shrill,
monotonous voice: "Daddy, I'm afraid!"—This shrill cry makes me sick at
heart—and I also begin to be afraid…. Of what? I myself do not know.
Only I feel that a great, great calamity is on its way, and is drawing
And the little lad keeps screaming. Akh, if I could only get away from
here! How stifling it is! How oppressive!… But it is impossible to
That sky is like a shroud. And there is no wind…. Is the air dead?
Suddenly the boy ran to the window and began to scream with the same
plaintive voice as usual: "Look! Look! The earth has fallen in!"
"What? Fallen in?"—In fact: there had been a plain in front of the
house, but now the house is standing on the crest of a frightful
mountain!—The horizon has fallen, has gone down, and from the very
house itself a black, almost perpendicular declivity descends.
We have all thronged to the window…. Horror freezes our
hearts.—"There it is … there it is!" whispers my neighbour.
And lo! along the whole distant boundary of the earth something has
begun to stir, some small, round hillocks have begun to rise and fall.
"It is the sea!" occurs to us all at one and the same moment.—"It will
drown us all directly…. Only, how can it wax and rise up? On that
And nevertheless it does wax, and wax hugely…. It is no longer
separate hillocks which are tumbling in the distance…. A dense,
monstrous wave engulfs the entire circle of the horizon.
It is flying, flying upon us!—Like an icy hurricane it sweeps on,
swirling with the outer darkness. Everything round about has begun to
quiver,—and yonder, in that oncoming mass,—there are crashing and
thunder, and a thousand-throated, iron barking….
Ha! What a roaring and howling! It is the earth roaring with terror….
It is the end of it! The end of all things!
The boy screamed once more…. I tried to seize hold of my comrades, but
we, all of us, were already crushed, buried, drowned, swept away by that
icy, rumbling flood, as black as ink.
Darkness … eternal darkness!
Gasping for breath, I awoke.
When I was living in Petersburg,—many years ago,—whenever I had
occasion to hire a public cabman I entered into conversation with him.
I was specially fond of conversing with the night cabmen,—poor
peasants of the suburbs, who have come to town with their ochre-tinted
little sledges and miserable little nags in the hope of supporting
themselves and collecting enough money to pay their quit-rent to their
So, then, one day I hired such a cabman…. He was a youth of twenty
years, tall, well-built, a fine, dashing young fellow; he had blue eyes
and rosy cheeks; his red-gold hair curled in rings beneath a wretched
little patched cap, which was pulled down over his very eyebrows. And
how in the world was that tattered little coat ever got upon those
shoulders of heroic mould!
But the cabman's handsome, beardless face seemed sad and lowering.
I entered into conversation with him. Sadness was discernible in his
"What is it, brother?" I asked him.—"Why art not thou cheerful? Hast
thou any grief?"
The young fellow did not reply to me at once.
"I have, master, I have," he said at last.—"And such a grief that it
would be better if I were not alive. My wife is dead."
"Didst thou love her … thy wife?"
The young fellow turned toward me; only he bent his head a little.
"I did, master. This is the eighth month since … but I cannot forget.
It is eating away my heart … so it is! And why must she die? She was
young! Healthy!… In one day the cholera settled her."
"And was she of a good disposition?"
"Akh, master!" sighed the poor fellow, heavily.—"And on what friendly
terms she and I lived together! She died in my absence. When I heard
here that they had already buried her, I hurried immediately to the
village, home. It was already after midnight when I arrived. I entered
my cottage, stopped short in the middle of it, and said so softly:
'Masha! hey, Masha!' Only a cricket shrilled.—Then I fell to weeping,
and sat down on the cottage floor, and how I did beat my palm against
the ground!—'Thy bowels are insatiable!' I said…. 'Thou hast devoured
her … devour me also!'—Akh, Masha!"
"Masha," he added in a suddenly lowered voice. And without letting his
rope reins out of his hands, he squeezed a tear out of his eye with his
mitten, shook it off, flung it to one side, shrugged his shoulders—and
did not utter another word.
As I alighted from the sledge I gave him an extra fifteen kopéks. He
made me a low obeisance, grasping his cap in both hands, and drove off
at a foot-pace over the snowy expanse of empty street, flooded with the
grey mist of the January frost.
Once upon a time a fool lived in the world.
For a long time he lived in clover; but gradually rumours began to reach
him to the effect that he bore the reputation everywhere of a brainless
The fool was disconcerted and began to fret over the question how he was
to put an end to those unpleasant rumours.
A sudden idea at last illumined his dark little brain…. And without
the slightest delay he put it into execution.
An acquaintance met him on the street and began to praise a well-known
artist…. "Good gracious!" exclaimed the fool, "that artist was
relegated to the archives long ago…. Don't you know that?—I did not
expect that of you…. You are behind the times."
The acquaintance was frightened, and immediately agreed with the fool.
"What a fine book I have read to-day!" said another acquaintance to him.
"Good gracious!" cried the fool.—"Aren't you ashamed of yourself? That
book is good for nothing; everybody dropped it in disgust long
ago.—Don't you know that?—You are behind the times."
And that acquaintance also was frightened and agreed with the fool.
"What a splendid man my friend N. N. is!" said a third acquaintance to
the fool.—"There's a truly noble being for you!"
"Good gracious!"—exclaimed the fool,—"it is well known that N. N. is a
scoundrel! He has robbed all his relatives. Who is there that does not
know it? You are behind the times."
The third acquaintance also took fright and agreed with the fool, and
renounced his friend. And whosoever or whatsoever was praised in the
fool's presence, he had the same retort for all.
He even sometimes added reproachfully: "And do you still believe in the
"A malicious person! A bilious man!" his acquaintances began to say
about the fool.—"But what a head!"
"And what a tongue!" added others.
"Oh, yes; he is talented!"
It ended in the publisher of a newspaper proposing to the fool that he
should take charge of his critical department.
And the fool began to criticise everything and everybody, without making
the slightest change in his methods, or in his exclamations.
Now he, who formerly shrieked against authorities, is an authority
himself,—and the young men worship him and fear him.
But what are they to do, poor fellows? Although it is not
proper—generally speaking—to worship … yet in this case, if one does
not do it, he will find himself classed among the men who are behind
There is a career for fools among cowards.
AN ORIENTAL LEGEND
Who in Bagdad does not know the great Giaffar, the sun of the universe?
One day, many years ago, when he was still a young man, Giaffar was
strolling in the suburbs of Bagdad.
Suddenly there fell upon his ear a hoarse cry: some one was calling
desperately for help.
Giaffar was distinguished among the young men of his own age for his
good sense and prudence; but he had a compassionate heart, and he
trusted to his strength.
He ran in the direction of the cry, and beheld a decrepit old man pinned
against the wall of the city by two brigands who were robbing him.
Giaffar drew his sword and fell upon the malefactors. One he slew, the
other he chased away.
The old man whom he had liberated fell at his rescuer's feet, and
kissing the hem of his garment, exclaimed: "Brave youth, thy magnanimity
shall not remain unrewarded. In appearance I am a beggar; but only in
appearance. I am not a common man.—Come to-morrow morning early to the
chief bazaar; I will await thee there at the fountain—and thou shalt
convince thyself as to the justice of my words."
Giaffar reflected: "In appearance this man is a beggar, it is true; but
all sorts of things happen. Why should not I try the experiment?"—and
he answered: "Good, my father, I will go."
The old man looked him in the eye and went away.
On the following morning, just as day was breaking, Giaffar set out for
the bazaar. The old man was already waiting for him, with his elbows
leaning on the marble basin of the fountain.
Silently he took Giaffar by the hand and led him to a small garden,
surrounded on all sides by high walls.
In the very centre of this garden, on a green lawn, grew a tree of
It resembled a cypress; only its foliage was of azure hue.
Three fruits—three apples—hung on the slender up-curving branches. One
of medium size was oblong in shape, of a milky-white hue; another was
large, round, and bright red; the third was small, wrinkled and
The whole tree was rustling faintly, although there was no wind. It
tinkled delicately and plaintively, as though it were made of glass; it
seemed to feel the approach of Giaffar.
"Youth!"—said the old man, "pluck whichever of these fruits thou wilt,
and know that if thou shalt pluck and eat the white one, thou shalt
become more wise than all men; if thou shalt pluck and eat the red one,
thou shalt become as rich as the Hebrew Rothschild; if thou shalt pluck
and eat the yellow one, thou shalt please old women. Decide! … and
delay not. In an hour the fruits will fade, and the tree itself will
sink into the dumb depths of the earth!"
Giaffar bowed his head and thought.—"What am I to do?" he articulated
in a low tone, as though arguing with himself.—"If one becomes too
wise, he will not wish to live, probably; if he becomes richer than all
men, all will hate him; I would do better to pluck and eat the third,
the shrivelled apple!"
And so he did; and the old man laughed a toothless laugh and said: "Oh,
most wise youth! Thou hast chosen the good part!—What use hast thou for
the white apple? Thou art wiser than Solomon as thou art.—And neither
dost thou need the red apple…. Even without it thou shalt be rich.
Only no one will be envious of thy wealth."
"Inform me, old man," said Giaffar, with a start, "where the respected
mother of our God-saved Caliph dwelleth?"
The old man bowed to the earth, and pointed out the road to the youth.
Who in Bagdad doth not know the sun of the universe, the great, the
TWO FOUR-LINE STANZAS
There existed once a city whose inhabitants were so passionately fond of
poetry that if several weeks passed and no beautiful new verses had made
their appearance they regarded that poetical dearth as a public
At such times they donned their worst garments, sprinkled ashes on their
heads, and gathering in throngs on the public squares, they shed tears,
and murmured bitterly against the Muse for having abandoned them.
On one such disastrous day the young poet Junius, presented himself on
the square, filled to overflowing with the sorrowing populace.
With swift steps he ascended a specially-constructed tribune and made a
sign that he wished to recite a poem.
The lictors immediately brandished their staves. "Silence! Attention!"
they shouted in stentorian tones.
"Friends! Comrades!" began Junius, in a loud, but not altogether firm
"Friends! Comrades! Ye lovers of verses!
Admirers of all that is graceful and fair!
Be not cast down by a moment of dark sadness!
The longed-for instant will come … and light
will disperse the gloom!"
Junius ceased speaking … and in reply to him, from all points of the
square, clamour, whistling, and laughter arose.
All the faces turned toward him flamed with indignation, all eyes
flashed with wrath, all hands were uplifted, menaced, were clenched into
"A pretty thing he has thought to surprise us with!" roared angry
voices. "Away from the tribune with the talentless rhymster! Away with
the fool! Hurl rotten apples, bad eggs, at the empty-pated idiot! Give
us stones! Fetch stones!"
Junius tumbled headlong from the tribune … but before he had succeeded
in fleeing to his own house, outbursts of rapturous applause, cries of
laudation and shouts reached his ear.
Filled with amazement, but striving not to be detected (for it is
dangerous to irritate an enraged wild beast), Junius returned to the
And what did he behold?
High above the throng, above its shoulders, on a flat gold shield, stood
his rival, the young poet Julius, clad in a purple mantle, with a
laurel wreath on his waving curls…. And the populace round about was
roaring: "Glory! Glory! Glory to the immortal Julius! He hath comforted
us in our grief, in our great woe! He hath given us verses sweeter than
honey, more melodious than the cymbals, more fragrant than the rose,
more pure than heaven's azure! Bear him in triumph; surround his
inspired head with a soft billow of incense; refresh his brow with the
waving of palm branches; lavish at his feet all the spices of Arabia!
Junius approached one of the glorifiers.—"Inform me, O my
fellow-townsman! With what verses hath Julius made you happy?—Alas, I
was not on the square when he recited them! Repeat them, if thou canst
recall them, I pray thee!"
"Such verses—and not recall them?" briskly replied the man
interrogated.—"For whom dost thou take me? Listen—and rejoice, rejoice
together with us!"
'Ye lovers of verses!'—thus began the divine Julius….
"'Ye lovers of verses! Comrades! Friends!
Admirers of all that is graceful, melodious, tender!
Be not east down by a moment of heavy grief!
The longed-for moment will come—and day will chase away the night!'
"What dost thou think of that?"
"Good gracious!" roared Junius. "Why, those are my lines!—Julius must
have been in the crowd when I recited them; he heard and repeated them,
barely altering—and that, of course, not for the better—a few
"Aha! Now I recognise thee…. Thou art Junius," retorted the citizen
whom he had accosted, knitting his brows.—"Thou art either envious or a
fool!… Only consider just one thing, unhappy man! Julius says in such
lofty style: 'And day will chase away the night!'…. But with thee it
is some nonsense or other: 'And the light will disperse the
gloom!?'—What light?! What darkness?!"
"But is it not all one and the same thing…." Junius was beginning….
"Add one word more," the citizen interrupted him, "and I will shout to
the populace, and it will rend thee asunder."
Junius prudently held his peace, but a grey-haired old man, who had
overheard his conversation with the citizen, stepped up to the poor
poet, and laying his hand on his shoulder, said:
"Junius! Thou hast said thy say at the wrong time; but the other man
said his at the right time.—consequently, he is in the right, while for
thee there remain the consolations of thine own conscience."
But while his conscience was consoling Junius to the best of its
ability,—and in a decidedly-unsatisfactory way, if the truth must be
told,—far away, amid the thunder and patter of jubilation, in the
golden dust of the all-conquering sun, gleaming with purple, darkling
with laurel athwart the undulating streams of abundant incense, with
majestic leisureliness, like an emperor marching to his empire, the
proudly-erect figure of Julius moved forward with easy grace … and
long branches of the palm-tree bent in turn before him, as though
expressing by their quiet rising, their submissive obeisance, that
incessantly-renewed adoration which filled to overflowing the hearts of
his fellow-citizens whom he had enchanted!
I had returned from the chase and was walking along one of the alleys in
the garden. My hound was running on in front of me.
Suddenly he retarded his steps and began to crawl stealthily along as
though he detected game ahead.
I glanced down the alley and beheld a young sparrow, with a yellow ring
around its beak and down on its head. It had fallen from the nest (the
wind was rocking the trees of the alley violently), and sat motionless,
impotently expanding its barely-sprouted little wings.
My hound was approaching it slowly when, suddenly wrenching itself from
a neighbouring birch, an old black-breasted sparrow fell like a stone in
front of my dog's very muzzle—and, with plumage all ruffled, contorted,
with a despairing and pitiful cry, gave a couple of hops in the
direction of the yawning jaws studded with big teeth.
It had flung itself down to save, it was shielding, its offspring …
but the whole of its tiny body was throbbing with fear, its voice was
wild and hoarse, it was swooning, it was sacrificing itself!
What a huge monster the dog must have appeared to it! And yet it could
not have remained perched on its lofty, secure bough…. A force greater
than its own will had hurled it thence.
My Trésor stopped short, retreated…. Evidently he recognised that
I hastened to call off the discomfited hound, and withdrew with
Yes; do not laugh. I felt reverential before that tiny, heroic bird,
before its loving impulse.
Love, I thought, is stronger than death.—Only by it, only by love, does
life support itself and move.
A sumptuous, luxuriously illuminated ball-room; a multitude of
cavaliers and ladies.
All faces are animated, all speeches are brisk…. A rattling
conversation is in progress about a well-known songstress. The people
are lauding her as divine, immortal…. Oh, how finely she had executed
her last trill that evening!
And suddenly—as though at the wave of a magic wand—from all the heads,
from all the faces, a thin shell of skin flew off, and instantly there
was revealed the whiteness of skulls, the naked gums and cheek-bones
dimpled like bluish lead.
With horror did I watch those gums and cheek-bones moving and
stirring,—those knobby, bony spheres turning this way and that, as they
gleamed in the light of the lamps and candles, and smaller spheres—the
spheres of the eyes bereft of sense—rolling in them.
I dared not touch my own face, I dared not look at myself in a mirror.
But the skulls continued to turn this way and that, as before…. And
with the same clatter as before, the brisk tongues, flashing like red
rags from behind the grinning teeth, murmured on, how wonderfully, how
incomparably the immortal … yes, the immortal songstress had executed
her last trill!
THE TOILER AND THE LAZY MAN
Why dost thou bother us? What dost thou want? Thou art not one of us….
THE LAZY MAN
I am one of you, brethren!
Nothing of the sort; thou art not one of us! What an invention! Just
look at my hands. Dost thou see how dirty they are? And they stink of
dung, and tar,—while thy hands are white. And of what do they smell?
THE LAZY MAN—offering his hands
THE TOILER—smelling the hands
What's this? They seem to give off an odour of iron.
THE LAZY MAN
Iron it is. For the last six years I have worn fetters on them.
And what was that for?
THE LAZY MAN
Because I was striving for your welfare, I wanted to liberate you, the
coarse, uneducated people; I rebelled against your oppressors, I
mutinied…. Well, and so they put me in prison.
They put you in prison? It served you right for rebelling!
Two Years Later
THE SAME TOILER TO ANOTHER TOILER
Hearken, Piótra!… Dost remember one of those white-handed lazy men was
talking to thee the summer before last?
THE OTHER TOILER
I remember…. What of it?
They're going to hang him to-day, I hear; that's the order which has
Has he kept on rebelling?
Yes…. Well, see here, brother Mitry: can't we get hold of a bit of
that rope with which they are going to hang him? Folks say that that
brings the greatest good luck to a house.
Thou'rt right about that. We must try, brother Piótra.
The last days of August…. Autumn had already come.
The sun had set. A sudden, violent rain, without thunder and without
lightning, had just swooped down upon our broad plain.
The garden in front of the house burned and smoked, all flooded with the
heat of sunset and the deluge of rain.
She was sitting at a table in the drawing-room and staring with stubborn
thoughtfulness into the garden, through the half-open door.
I knew what was going on then in her soul. I knew that after a brief
though anguished conflict, she would that same instant yield to the
feeling which she could no longer control.
Suddenly she rose, walked out briskly into the garden and disappeared.
One hour struck … then another; she did not return.
Then I rose, and emerging from the house, I bent my steps to the alley
down which—I had no doubt as to that—she had gone.
Everything had grown dark round about; night had already descended. But
on the damp sand of the path, gleaming scarlet amid the encircling
gloom, a rounded object was visible.
I bent down. It was a young, barely-budded rose. Two hours before I had
seen that same rose on her breast.
I carefully picked up the flower which had fallen in the mire, and
returning to the drawing-room, I laid it on the table, in front of her
And now, at last, she returned, and traversing the whole length of the
room with her light footsteps, she seated herself at the table.
Her face had grown pale and animated; swiftly, with merry confusion, her
lowered eyes, which seemed to have grown smaller, darted about in all
She caught sight of the rose, seized it, glanced at its crumpled petals,
glanced at me—and her eyes, coming to a sudden halt, glittered with
"What are you weeping about?" I asked.
"Why, here, about this rose. Look what has happened to it."
At this point I took it into my head to display profundity of thought.
"Your tears will wash away the mire," I said with a significant
"Tears do not wash, tears scorch," she replied, and, turning toward the
fireplace, she tossed the flower into the expiring flame.
"The fire will scorch it still better than tears," she exclaimed, not
without audacity,—and her beautiful eyes, still sparkling with tears,
laughed boldly and happily.
I understood that she had been scorched also.
IN MEMORY OF J. P. VRÉVSKY
In the mire, on damp, stinking straw, under the pent-house of an old
carriage-house which had been hastily converted into a field military
hospital in a ruined Bulgarian hamlet, she had been for more than a
fortnight dying of typhus fever.
She was unconscious—and not a single physician had even glanced at her;
the sick soldiers whom she had nursed as long as she could keep on her
feet rose by turns from their infected lairs, in order to raise to her
parched lips a few drops of water in a fragment of a broken jug.
She was young, handsome; high society knew her; even dignitaries
inquired about her. The ladies envied her, the men courted her … two
or three men loved her secretly and profoundly. Life smiled upon her;
but there are smiles which are worse than tears,
A tender, gentle heart … and such strength, such a thirst for
sacrifice! To help those who needed help … she knew no other happiness
… she knew no other and she tasted no other. Every other happiness
passed her by. But she had long since become reconciled to that, and all
flaming with the fire of inextinguishable faith, she dedicated herself
to the service of her fellow-men. What sacred treasures she held hidden
there, in the depths of her soul, in her own secret recesses, no one
ever knew—and now no one will ever know.
And to what end? The sacrifice has been made … the deed is done.
But it is sorrowful to think that no one said "thank you" even to her
corpse, although she herself was ashamed of and shunned all thanks.
May her dear shade be not offended by this tardy blossom, which I
venture to lay upon her grave!
THE LAST MEETING
We were once close, intimate friends…. But there came an evil moment
and we parted like enemies.
Many years passed…. And lo! on entering the town where he lived I
learned that he was hopelessly ill, and wished to see me.
I went to him, I entered his chamber…. Our glances met.
I hardly recognised him. O God! How disease had changed him!
Yellow, shrivelled, with his head completely bald, and a narrow, grey
beard, he was sitting in nothing but a shirt, cut out expressly…. He
could not bear the pressure of the lightest garment. Abruptly he
extended to me his frightfully-thin hand, which looked as though it had
been gnawed away, with an effort whispered several incomprehensible
words—whether of welcome or of reproach, who knows? His exhausted chest
heaved; over the contracted pupils of his small, inflamed eyes two
scanty tears of martyrdom flowed down.
My heart sank within me…. I sat down on a chair beside him, and
involuntarily dropping my eyes in the presence of that horror and
deformity, I also put out my hand.
But it seemed to me that it was not his hand which grasped mine.
It seemed to me as though there were sitting between us a tall, quiet,
white woman. A long veil enveloped her from head to foot. Her deep, pale
eyes gazed nowhere; her pale, stern lips uttered no sound….
That woman joined our hands…. She reconciled us forever.
Yes…. It was Death who had reconciled us….
I was sitting at the open window … in the morning, early in the
morning, on the first of May.
The flush of dawn had not yet begun; but the dark, warm night was
already paling, already growing chill.
No fog had risen, no breeze was straying, everything was of one hue and
silent … but one could scent the approach of the awakening, and in the
rarefied air the scent of the dew's harsh dampness was abroad.
Suddenly, into my chamber, through the open window, flew a large bird,
lightly tinkling and rustling.
I started, looked more intently…. It was not a bird: it was a tiny,
winged woman, clad in a long, close-fitting robe which billowed out at
She was all grey, the hue of mother-of-pearl; only the inner side of her
wings glowed with a tender flush of scarlet, like a rose bursting into
blossom; a garland of lilies-of-the-valley confined the scattered curls
of her small, round head,—and two peacock feathers quivered amusingly,
like the feelers of a butterfly, above the fair, rounded little
She floated past a couple of times close to the ceiling: her tiny face
was laughing; laughing also were her huge, black, luminous eyes. The
merry playfulness of her capricious flight shivered their diamond rays.
She held in her hand a long frond of a steppe flower—"Imperial
sceptre" the Russian folk call it; and it does, indeed, resemble a
As she flew rapidly above me she touched my head with that flower.
I darted toward her…. But she had already fluttered through the
window, and away she flew headlong….
In the garden, in the wilderness of the lilac-bushes, a turtle-dove
greeted her with its first cooing; and at the spot where she had
vanished the milky-white sky flushed a soft crimson.
I recognised thee, goddess of fancy! Thou hast visited me by
accident—thou hast flown in to young poets.
O poetry! O youth! O virginal beauty of woman! Only for an instant can
ye gleam before me,—in the early morning of the early spring!
A tall, bony old woman with an iron face and a dull, impassive gaze is
walking along with great strides, and pushing before her, with her hand
as harsh as a stick, another woman.
This woman, of vast size, powerful, corpulent, with the muscles of a
Hercules, and a tiny head on a bull-like neck-and blind—is pushing on
in her turn a small, thin young girl.
This girl alone has eyes which see; she resists, turns backward,
elevates her thin red arms; her animated countenance expresses
impatience and hardihood…. She does not wish to obey, she does not
wish to advance in the direction whither she is being impelled … and,
nevertheless, she must obey and advance.
Whoever likes may interpret this.
In the vicinity of a great city, on the broad, much-travelled road, an
aged, ailing man was walking.
He was staggering as he went; his emaciated legs, entangling themselves,
trailing and stumbling, trod heavily and feebly, exactly as though they
belonged to some one else; his clothing hung on him in rags; his bare
head drooped upon his breast…. He was exhausted.
He squatted down on a stone by the side of the road, bent forward,
propped his elbows on his knees, covered his face with both hands, and
between his crooked fingers the tears dripped on the dry, grey dust.
He was remembering….
He remembered how he had once been healthy and rich,—and how he had
squandered his health, and distributed his wealth to others, friends and
enemies…. And lo! now he had not a crust of bread, and every one had
abandoned him, his friends even more promptly than his enemies…. Could
he possibly humble himself to the point of asking alms? And he felt
bitter and ashamed at heart.
And the tears still dripped and dripped, mottling the grey dust.
Suddenly he heard some one calling him by name. He raised his weary
head and beheld in front of him a stranger: a face calm and dignified,
but not stern; eyes not beaming, but bright; a gaze penetrating, but not
"Thou hast given away all thy wealth," an even voice made itself
heard…. "But surely thou art not regretting that thou hast done good?"
"I do not regret it," replied the old man, with a sigh, "only here am I
"And if there had been no beggars in the world to stretch out their
hands to thee," pursued the stranger, "thou wouldst have had no one to
whom to show thy beneficence; thou wouldst not have been able to
exercise thyself therein?"
The old man made no reply, and fell into thought.
"Therefore, be not proud now, my poor man," spoke up the stranger again.
"Go, stretch out thy hand, afford to other good people the possibility
of proving by their actions that they are good."
The old man started, and raised his eyes … but the stranger had
already vanished,—but far away, on the road, a wayfarer made his
The old man approached him, and stretched out his hand.—The wayfarer
turned away with a surly aspect and gave him nothing.
But behind him came another, and this one gave the old man a small alms.
And the old man bought bread for himself with the copper coins which had
been given him, and sweet did the bit which he had begged seem to him,
and there was no shame in his heart—but, on the contrary, a tranquil
joy overshadowed him.
I dreamed that a score of us were sitting in a large room with open
Among us were women, children, old men…. We were all talking about
some very unfamiliar subject—talking noisily and unintelligibly.
Suddenly, with a harsh clatter, a huge insect, about three inches and a
half long, flew into the room … flew in, circled about and alighted on
It resembled a fly or a wasp.—Its body was of a dirty hue; its flat,
hard wings were of the same colour; it had extended, shaggy claws and a
big, angular head, like that of a dragon-fly; and that head and the
claws were bright red, as though bloody.
This strange insect kept incessantly turning its head downward, upward,
to the right, to the left, and moving its claws about … then suddenly
it wrested itself from the wall, flew clattering through the room,—and
again alighted, again began to move in terrifying and repulsive manner,
without stirring from the spot. It evoked in all of us disgust, alarm,
even terror…. None of us had ever seen anything of the sort; we all
cried: "Expel that monster!" We all flourished our handkerchiefs at it
from a distance … for no one could bring himself to approach it …
and when the insect had flown in we had all involuntarily got out of the
Only one of our interlocutors, a pale-faced man who was still young,
surveyed us all with surprise.—He shrugged his shoulders, he smiled, he
positively could not understand what had happened to us and why we were
so agitated. He had seen no insect, he had not heard the ominous clatter
of its wings.
Suddenly the insect seemed to rivet its attention on him, soared into
the air, and swooping down upon his head, stung him on the brow, a
little above the eyes…. The young man emitted a faint cry and fell
The dreadful fly immediately flew away…. Only then did we divine what
sort of a visitor we had had.
The son of a widowed peasant-woman died—a young fellow aged twenty, the
best labourer in the village.
The lady-proprietor of that village, on learning of the peasant-woman's
affliction, went to call upon her on the very day of the funeral.
She found her at home.
Standing in the middle of her cottage, in front of the table, she was
ladling out empty cabbage-soup from the bottom of a smoke-begrimed
pot, in a leisurely way, with her right hand (her left hung limply by
her side), and swallowing spoonful after spoonful.
The woman's face had grown sunken and dark; her eyes were red and
swollen … but she carried herself independently and uprightly, as in
"O Lord!" thought the lady; "she can eat at such a moment … but what
coarse feelings they have!"
And then the lady-mistress recalled how, when she had lost her own
little daughter, aged nine months, a few years before, she had refused,
out of grief, to hire a very beautiful villa in the vicinity of
Petersburg, and had passed the entire summer in town!—But the
peasant-woman continued to sip her cabbage-soup.
At last the lady could endure it no longer.—"Tatyána!" said she….
"Good gracious!—I am amazed! Is it possible that thou didst not love
thy son? How is it that thy appetite has not disappeared?—How canst
thou eat that cabbage-soup?"
"My Vásya is dead," replied the woman softly, and tears of suffering
again began to stream down her sunken cheeks,—"and, of course, my own
end has come also: my head has been taken away from me while I am still
alive. But the cabbage-soup must not go to waste; for it is salted"
The lady-mistress merely shrugged her shoulders and went away. She got
THE AZURE REALM
O azure realm! O realm of azure, light, youth, and happiness! I have
beheld thee … in my dreams.
There were several of us in a beautiful, decorated boat. Like the breast
of a swan the white sail towered aloft beneath fluttering pennants.
I did not know who my companions were; but with all my being I felt that
they were as young, as merry, as happy as I was!
And I paid no heed to them. All about me I beheld only the shoreless
azure sea, all covered with a fine rippling of golden scales, and
over-head an equally shoreless azure sea, and in it, triumphantly and,
as it were, smilingly, rolled on the friendly sun.
And among us, from time to time, there arose laughter, ringing and
joyous as the laughter of the gods!
Or suddenly, from some one's lips, flew forth words, verses replete with
wondrous beauty and with inspired power … so that it seemed as though
the very sky resounded in reply to them, and round about the sea
throbbed with sympathy…. And then blissful silence began again.
Diving lightly through the soft waves, our swift boat glided on. It was
not propelled by the breeze; it was ruled by our own sportive hearts.
Whithersoever we wished, thither did it move, obediently, as though it
were gifted with life.
We encountered islands, magical, half-transparent islands with the hues
of precious stones, jacinths and emeralds. Intoxicating perfumes were
wafted from the surrounding shores; some of these islands pelted us with
a rain of white roses and lilies-of-the-valley; from others there rose
up suddenly long-winged birds, clothed in rainbow hues.
The birds circled over our heads, the lilies and roses melted in the
pearly foam, which slipped along the smooth sides of our craft.
In company with the flowers and the birds, sweet, sweet sounds were
wafted to our ears…. We seemed to hear women's voices in them…. And
everything round about,—the sky, the sea, the bellying of the sail up
aloft, the purling of the waves at the stern,—everything spoke of love,
of blissful love.
And she whom each one of us loved—she was there … invisibly and near
at hand. Yet another moment and lo! her eyes would beam forth, her smile
would blossom out…. Her hand would grasp thy hand, and draw thee after
her into an unfading paradise!
O azure realm! I have beheld thee … in my dream!
TWO RICH MEN
When men in my presence extol Rothschild, who out of his vast revenues
allots whole thousands for the education of children, the cure of the
sick, the care of the aged, I laud and melt in admiration.
But while I laud and melt I cannot refrain from recalling a
poverty-stricken peasant's family which received an orphaned niece into
its wretched, tumble-down little hovel.
"If we take Kátka," said the peasant-woman; "we shall spend our last
kopéks on her, and there will be nothing left wherewith to buy salt for
"But we will take her … and unsalted porridge," replied the
peasant-man, her husband.
Rothschild is a long way behind that peasant-man!
THE OLD MAN
The dark, distressing days have come….
One's own maladies, the ailments of those dear to him, cold and the
gloom of old age. Everything which thou hast loved, to which thou hast
surrendered thyself irrevocably, collapses and falls into ruins. The
road has taken a turn down hill.
But what is to be done? Grieve? Lament? Thou wilt help neither thyself
nor others in that way….
On the withered, bent tree the foliage is smaller, more scanty—but the
verdure is the same as ever.
Do thou also shrivel up, retire into thyself, into thy memories, and
there, deep, very deep within, at the very bottom of thy concentrated
soul, thy previous life, accessible to thee alone, will shine forth
before thee with its fragrant, still fresh verdure, and the caress and
strength of the springtime!
But have a care … do not look ahead, poor old man!
Two friends are sitting at a table and drinking tea.
A sudden noise has arisen in the street. Plaintive moans, violent oaths,
outbursts of malicious laughter have become audible.
"Some one is being beaten," remarked one of the friends, after having
cast a glance out of the window.
"A criminal? A murderer?" inquired the other.—"See here, no matter who
it is, such chastisement without trial is not to be tolerated. Let us go
and defend him."
"But it is not a murderer who is being beaten."
"Not a murderer? A thief, then? Never mind, let us go, let us rescue him
from the mob."
"It is not a thief, either."
"Not a thief? Is it, then, a cashier, a railway employee, an army
contractor, a Russian Mæcenas, a lawyer, a well-intentioned editor, a
public philanthropist?… At any rate, let us go, let us aid him!"
"No … they are thrashing a correspondent."
"A correspondent?—Well, see here now, let's drink a glass of tea
It was a vision….
Two angels presented themselves before me … two spirits.
I say angels … spirits, because neither of them had any garments on
their naked bodies, and from the shoulders of both sprang long, powerful
Both are youths. One is rather plump, smooth of skin, with black curls.
He has languishing brown eyes with thick eyelashes; his gaze is
ingratiating, cheerful, and eager. A charming, captivating countenance a
trifle bold, a trifle malicious. His full red lips tremble slightly. The
youth smiles like one who has authority,—confidently and lazily; a
sumptuous garland of flowers rests lightly on his shining hair, almost
touching his velvet eyebrows. The spotted skin of a leopard, pinned with
a golden dart, hangs lightly from his plump shoulders down upon his
curving hips. The feathers of his wings gleam with changeable tints of
rose-colour; their tips are of a brilliant red, just as though they had
been dipped in fresh, crimson blood. From time to time they palpitate
swiftly, with a pleasant silvery sound, the sound of rain in springtime.
The other is gaunt and yellow of body. His ribs are faintly discernible
at every breath. His hair is fair, thin, straight; his eyes are huge,
round, pale grey in colour … his gaze is uneasy and strangely bright.
All his features are sharp-cut: his mouth is small, half open, with
fish-like teeth; his nose is solid, aquiline; his chin projecting,
covered with a whitish down. Those thin lips have never once smiled.
It is a regular, terrible, pitiless face! Moreover, the face of the
first youth,—of the beauty,—although it is sweet and charming, does
not express any compassion either. Around the head of the second are
fastened a few empty, broken ears of grain intertwined with withered
blades of grass. A coarse grey fabric encircles his loins; the wings at
his back, of a dull, dark-blue colour, wave softly and menacingly.
Both youths appeared to be inseparable companions.
Each leaned on the other's shoulder. The soft little hand of the first
rested like a cluster of grapes on the harsh collar-bone of the second;
the slender, bony hand of the second, with its long, thin fingers, lay
outspread, like a serpent, on the womanish breast of the first.
And I heard a voice. This is what it uttered:
"Before thee stand Love and Hunger—-own brothers, the two fundamental
bases of everything living.
"Everything which lives moves, for the purpose of obtaining food; and
eats, for the purpose of reproducing itself.
"Love and Hunger have one and the same object; it is necessary that life
should not cease,—one's own life and the life of others are the same
thing, the universal life."
He possessed everything which was requisite to make him the scourge of
He had been born healthy, he had been born rich—and during the whole
course of his long life he had remained rich and healthy; he had never
committed a single crime; he had never stumbled into any blunder; he had
not made a single slip of the tongue or mistake.
He was irreproachably honest!… And proud in the consciousness of his
honesty, he crushed every one with it: relatives, friends, and
His honesty was his capital … and he exacted usurious interest from
Honesty gave him the right to be pitiless and not to do any good deed
which was not prescribed;—and he was pitiless, and he did no good …
because good except by decree is not good.
He never troubled himself about any one, except his own very exemplary
self, and he was genuinely indignant if others did not take equally
assiduous care of it!
And, at the same time, he did not consider himself an egoist, and
upbraided and persecuted egoists and egoism more than anything
else!—Of course! Egoism in other people interfered with his own.
Not being conscious of a single failing, he did not understand, he did
not permit, a weakness in any one else. Altogether, he did not
understand anybody or anything, for he was completely surrounded by
himself on all sides, above and below, behind and before.
He did not even understand the meaning of forgiveness. He never had had
occasion to forgive himself…. Then how was he to forgive others?
Before the bar of his own conscience, before the face of his own God,
he, that marvel, that monster of virtue, rolled up his eyes, and in a
firm, clear voice uttered: "Yes; I am a worthy, a moral man!"
He repeated these words on his death-bed, and nothing quivered even then
in his stony heart,—in that heart devoid of a fleck or a crack.
O monstrosity of self-satisfied, inflexible, cheaply-acquired
virtue—thou art almost more repulsive than the undisguised monstrosity
THE SUPREME BEING'S FEAST
One day the Supreme Being took it into his head to give a great feast in
his azure palace.
He invited all the virtues as guests. Only the virtues … he invited no
men … only ladies.
Very many of them assembled, great and small. The petty virtues were
more agreeable and courteous than the great ones; but all seemed well
pleased, and chatted politely among themselves, as befits near relatives
But lo! the Supreme Being noticed two very beautiful ladies who,
apparently, were entirely unacquainted with each other.
The host took one of these ladies by the hand and led her to the other.
"Beneficence!" said he, pointing to the first.
"Gratitude!" he added, pointing to the second.
The two virtues were unspeakably astonished; ever since the world has
existed—and it has existed a long time—they had never met before.
Yellowish-grey, friable at the top, firm below, creaking sand … sand
without end, no matter in which direction one gazes!
And above this sand, above this sea of dead dust, the huge head of the
Egyptian Sphinx rears itself aloft.
What is it that those vast, protruding lips, those impassively-dilated,
up-turned nostrils, and those eyes, those long, half-sleepy,
half-watchful eyes, beneath the double arch of the lofty brows, are
trying to say?
For they are trying to say something! They even speak—but only
[Oe]dipus can solve the riddle and understand their mute speech.
Bah! Yes, I recognise those features … there is nothing Egyptian about
the low white forehead, the prominent cheek-bones, the short, straight
nose, the fine mouth with its white teeth, the soft moustache and
curling beard,—and those small eyes set far apart … and on the head
the cap of hair furrowed with a parting…. Why, it is thou, Karp,
Sídor, Semyón, thou petty peasant of Yaroslávl, or of Ryazán, my
fellow-countryman, the kernel of Russia! Is it long since thou didst
become the Sphinx?
Or dost thou also wish to say something? Yes; and thou also art a
And thy eyes—those colourless but profound eyes—speak also…. And
their speeches are equally dumb and enigmatic.
Only where is thine [Oe]dipus?
Alas! 'Tis not sufficient to don a cap to become thine [Oe]dipus, O
Sphinx of All the Russias!
I was standing in front of a chain of beautiful mountains spread out in
a semi-circle; the young, verdant forest clothed them from summit to
base. The southern sky hung transparently blue above us; on high the sun
beamed radiantly; below, half hidden in the grass, nimble brooks were
And there recurred to my mind an ancient legend about how, in the first
century after the birth of Christ, a Grecian ship was sailing over the
It was midday…. The weather was calm. And suddenly, high up, over the
head of the helmsman, some one uttered distinctly: "When thou shalt sail
past the islands, cry in a loud voice, 'Great Pan is dead!'"
The helmsman was amazed … and frightened. But when the ship ran past
the islands he called out: "Great Pan is dead!"
And thereupon, immediately, in answer to his shout, along the whole
length of the shore (for the island was uninhabited), there resounded
loud sobbing groans, prolonged wailing cries: "He is dead! Great Pan is
This legend recurred to my mind … and a strange thought flashed across
my brain.—"What if I were to shout that call?"
But in view of the exultation which surrounded me I could not think of
death, and with all the force at my command I shouted: "He is risen!
Great Pan is risen!"
And instantly,—oh, marvel!—in reply to my exclamation, along the whole
wide semi-circle of verdant mountains there rolled a vigorous laughter,
there arose a joyous chattering and splashing. "He is risen! Pan is
risen!" rustled youthful voices.—Everything there in front of me
suddenly broke into laughter more brilliant than the sun on high, more
sportive than the brooks which were babbling beneath the grass. The
hurried tramp of light footsteps became audible; athwart the green grove
flitted the marble whiteness of waving tunics, the vivid scarlet of
naked bodies…. It was nymphs, nymphs, dryads, bacchantes, running down
from the heights into the plain….
They made their appearance simultaneously along all the borders of the
forest. Curls fluttered on divine heads, graceful arms uplifted garlands
and cymbals, and laughter, sparkling, Olympian laughter, rippled and
rolled among them….
In front floats a goddess. She is taller and handsomer than all the
rest;—on her shoulders is a quiver; in her hands is a bow; upon her
curls, caught high, is the silvery sickle of the moon….
Diana, is it thou?
But suddenly the goddess halted … and immediately, following her
example, all the nymphs came to a halt also. The ringing laughter died
away. I saw how the face of the goddess, suddenly rendered dumb, became
covered with a deathly pallor; I saw how her feet grew petrified, how
inexpressible terror parted her lips, strained wide her eyes, which were
fixed on the remote distance…. What had she descried? Where was she
I turned in the direction in which she was gazing….
At the very edge of the sky, beyond the low line of the fields, a golden
cross was blazing like a spark of fire on the white belfry of a
Christian church…. The goddess had caught sight of that cross.
I heard behind me a long, uneven sigh, like the throbbing of a broken
harp-string,—and when I turned round again, no trace of the nymphs
remained…. The broad forest gleamed green as before, and only in
spots, athwart the close network of the branches, could tufts of
something white be seen melting away. Whether these were the tunics of
the nymphs, or a vapour was rising up from the bottom of the valley, I
But how I regretted the vanished goddesses!
ENEMY AND FRIEND
A captive condemned to perpetual incarceration broke out of prison and
started to run at a headlong pace…. After him, on his very heels,
darted the pursuit.
He ran with all his might…. His pursuers began to fall behind.
But lo! in front of him was a river with steep banks,—a narrow, but
deep river…. And he did not know how to swim!
From one shore to the other a thin, rotten board had been thrown. The
fugitive had already set foot upon it…. But it so happened that just
at this point, beside the river, his best friend and his most cruel
enemy were standing.
The enemy said nothing and merely folded his arms; on the other hand,
the friend shouted at the top of his voice:—"Good heavens! What art
thou doing? Come to thy senses, thou madman! Dost thou not see that
the board is completely rotten?—It will break beneath thy weight, and
thou wilt infallibly perish!"
"But there is no other way of crossing … and hearest thou the
pursuit?" groaned in desperation the unhappy wight, as he stepped upon
"I will not permit it!… No, I will not permit thee to perish!"—roared
his zealous friend, snatching the plank from beneath the feet of the
fugitive.—The latter instantly tumbled headlong into the tumultuous
waters—and was drowned.
The enemy smiled with satisfaction, and went his way; but the friend sat
down on the shore and began to weep bitterly over his poor … poor
"He would not heed me! He would not heed me!" he whispered dejectedly.
"However!" he said at last. "He would have been obliged to languish all
his life in that frightful prison! At all events, he is not suffering
now! Now he is better off! Evidently, so had his Fate decreed!
"And yet, it is a pity, from a human point of view!"
And the good soul continued to sob inconsolably over his unlucky friend.
I saw myself as a youth, almost a little boy, in a low-ceiled country
church.—Slender wax tapers burned like red spots in front of the
ancient holy pictures.
An aureole of rainbow hues encircled each tiny flame.—It was dark and
dim in the church…. But a mass of people stood in front of me.
All reddish, peasant heads. From time to time they would begin to surge,
to fall, to rise again, like ripe ears of grain when the summer breeze
flits across them in a slow wave.
Suddenly some man or other stepped from behind and took up his stand
I did not turn toward him, but I immediately felt that that man
Emotion, curiosity, awe took possession of me simultaneously. I forced
myself to look at my neighbour.
He had a face like that of everybody else,—a face similar to all human
faces. His eyes gazed slightly upward, attentively and gently. His lips
were closed, but not compressed; the upper lip seemed to rest upon the
lower; his small beard was parted in the middle. His hands were clasped,
and did not move. And his garments were like those of every one else.
"Christ, forsooth!" I thought to myself. "Such a simple, simple man! It
I turned away.—But before I had time to turn my eyes from that simple
man it again seemed to me that it was Christ in person who was standing
Again I exerted an effort over myself…. And again I beheld the same
face, resembling all human faces, the same ordinary, although
And suddenly dread fell upon me, and I came to myself. Only then did I
understand that precisely such a face—a face like all human faces—is
the face of Christ.
Have you seen an old, old stone on the seashore, when the brisk waves
are beating upon it from all sides, at high tide, on a sunny spring
day—beating and sparkling and caressing it, and drenching its mossy
head with crumbling pearls of glittering foam?
The stone remains the same stone, but brilliant colours start forth upon
its surly exterior.
They bear witness to that distant time when the molten granite was only
just beginning to harden and was all glowing with fiery hues.
Thus also did young feminine souls recently attack my old heart from all
quarters,—and beneath their caressing touch it glowed once more with
colours which faded long ago,—with traces of its pristine fire!
The waves have retreated … but the colours have not yet grown dim,
although a keen breeze is drying them.
I was standing on the crest of a sloping hill; in front of me lay
outspread, and motley of hue, the ripe rye, now like a golden, again
like a silvery sea.
But no surge was coursing across this sea; no sultry breeze was blowing;
a great thunder-storm was brewing.
Round about me the sun was still shining hotly and dimly; but in the
distance, beyond the rye, not too far away, a dark-blue thunder-cloud
lay in a heavy mass over one half of the horizon.
Everything was holding its breath … everything was languishing beneath
the ominous gleam of the sun's last rays. Not a single bird was to be
seen or heard; even the sparrows had hidden themselves. Only somewhere,
close at hand, a solitary huge leaf of burdock was whispering and
How strongly the wormwood on the border-strips smells! I glanced at
the blue mass … and confusion ensued in my soul. "Well, be quick,
then, be quick!" I thought. "Flash out, ye golden serpent! Rumble, ye
thunder! Move on, advance, discharge thy water, thou evil thunder-cloud;
put an end to this painful torment!"
But the storm-cloud did not stir. As before, it continued to crush the
dumb earth … and seemed merely to wax larger and darker.
And lo! through its bluish monotony there flashed something smooth and
even; precisely like a white handkerchief, or a snowball. It was a white
dove flying from the direction of the village.
It flew, and flew onward, always straight onward … and vanished behind
Several moments passed—the same cruel silence still reigned…. But
behold! Now two handkerchiefs are fluttering, two snowballs are
floating back; it is two white doves wending their way homeward in
And now, at last, the storm has broken loose—and the fun begins!
I could hardly reach home.—The wind shrieked and darted about like a
mad thing; low-hanging rusty-hued clouds swirled onward, as though rent
in bits; everything whirled, got mixed up, lashed and rocked with the
slanting columns of the furious downpour; the lightning flashes blinded
with their fiery green hue; abrupt claps of thunder were discharged like
cannon; there was a smell of sulphur….
But under the eaves, on the very edge of a garret window, side by side
sit the two white doves,—the one which flew after its companion, and
the one which it brought and, perhaps, saved.
Both have ruffled up their plumage, and each feels with its wing the
wing of its neighbour….
It is well with them! And it is well with me as I gaze at them….
Although I am alone … alone, as always.
How empty, and insipid, and insignificant is almost every day which we
have lived through! How few traces it leaves behind it! In what a
thoughtlessly-stupid manner have those hours flown past, one after
And, nevertheless, man desires to exist; he prizes life, he hopes in it,
in himself, in the future…. Oh, what blessings he expects from the
And why does he imagine that other future days will not resemble the one
which has just passed?
But he does not imagine this. On the whole, he is not fond of
thinking—and it is well that he does not.
"There, now, to-morrow, to-morrow!" he comforts himself—until that
"to-morrow" over-throws him into the grave.
Well—and once in the grave,—one ceases, willy-nilly, to think.
I dreamed that I had entered a vast subterranean chamber with a lofty,
arched roof. It was completely filled by some sort of even light, also
In the very centre of the chamber sat a majestic woman in a flowing robe
green in hue. With her head bowed on her hand, she seemed to be immersed
in profound meditation.
I immediately understood that this woman was Nature itself,—and
reverent awe pierced my soul with an instantaneous chill.
I approached the seated woman, and making a respectful obeisance, "O our
common mother," I exclaimed, "what is the subject of thy meditation? Art
thou pondering the future destinies of mankind? As to how it is to
attain the utmost possible perfection and bliss?"
The woman slowly turned her dark, lowering eyes upon me. Her lips moved,
and a stentorian voice, like unto the clanging of iron, rang out:
"I am thinking how I may impart more power to the muscles in the legs of
a flea, so that it may more readily escape from its enemies. The
equilibrium of attack and defence has been destroyed…. It must be
"What!" I stammered, in reply.—"So that is what thou art thinking
about? But are not we men thy favourite children?"
The woman knit her brows almost imperceptibly.—"All creatures are my
children," she said, "and I look after all of them alike,—and I
annihilate them in identically the same way."
"But good … reason … justice…." I stammered again.
"Those are the words of men," rang out the iron voice. "I know neither
good nor evil…. Reason is no law to me—and what is justice?—I have
given thee life,—I take it away and give it to others; whether worms or
men … it makes no difference to me…. But in the meantime, do thou
defend thyself, and hinder me not!"
I was about to answer … but the earth round about me uttered a dull
groan and trembled—and I awoke.
"It happened in the year 1803," began my old friend, "not long before
Austerlitz. The regiment of which I was an officer was quartered in
"We were strictly forbidden to harry and oppress the inhabitants; and
they looked askance on us as it was, although we were regarded as
"I had an orderly, a former serf of my mother's, Egór by name. He was an
honest and peaceable fellow; I had known him from his childhood and
treated him like a friend.
"One day, in the house where I dwelt, abusive shrieks and howls arose:
the housewife had been robbed of two hens, and she accused my orderly of
the theft. He denied it, and called upon me to bear witness whether 'he,
Egór Avtamónoff, would steal!' I assured the housewife of Egór's
honesty, but she would listen to nothing.
"Suddenly the energetic trampling of horses' hoofs resounded along the
street: it was the Commander-in-Chief himself riding by with his staff.
He was proceeding at a foot-pace,—a fat, pot-bellied man, with drooping
head and epaulets dangling on his breast.
"The housewife caught sight of him, and flinging herself across his
horse's path, she fell on her knees and, all distraught, with head
uncovered, began loudly to complain of my orderly, pointing to him with
"'Sir General!' she shrieked. 'Your Radiance! Judge! Help! Save! This
soldier has robbed me!'
"Egór was standing on the threshold of the house, drawn up in military
salute, with his cap in his hand,—and had even protruded his breast and
turned out his feet, like a sentry,—and not a word did he utter!
Whether he was daunted by all that mass of generals halting there in the
middle of the street, or whether he was petrified in the presence of the
calamity which had overtaken him,—at any rate, there stood my Egór
blinking his eyes, and white as clay!
"The Commander-in-Chief cast an abstracted and surly glance at him,
bellowing wrathfully: 'Well, what hast thou to say?'…. Egór stood like
a statue and showed his teeth! If looked at in profile, it was exactly
as though the man were laughing.
"Then the Commander-in-Chief said abruptly: 'Hang him!'—gave his horse
a dig in the ribs and rode on, first at a foot-pace, as before, then at
a brisk trot. The whole staff dashed after him; only one adjutant,
turning round in his saddle, took a close look at Egór.
"It was impossible to disobey…. Egór was instantly seized and led to
"Thereupon he turned deadly pale, and only exclaimed a couple of times,
with difficulty, 'Good heavens! Good heavens!'—and then, in a low
voice—'God sees it was not I!'
"He wept bitterly, very bitterly, as he bade me farewell. I was in
despair.—'Egór! Egór!' I cried, 'why didst thou say nothing to the
"'God sees it was not I,' repeated the poor fellow, sobbing.—The
housewife herself was horrified. She had not in the least expected such
a dreadful verdict, and fell to shrieking in her turn. She began to
entreat each and all to spare him, she declared that her hens had been
found, that she was prepared to explain everything herself….
"Of course, this was of no use whatsoever. Military regulations, sir!
Discipline!—The housewife sobbed more and more loudly.
"Egór, whom the priest had already confessed and communicated, turned to
"'Tell her, Your Well-Born, that she must not do herself an injury….
For I have already forgiven her.'"
As my friend repeated these last words of his servant, he whispered:
"Egórushka darling, just man!"—and the tears dripped down his aged
WHAT SHALL I THINK?…
What shall I think when I come to die,—if I am then in a condition to
Shall I think what a bad use I have made of my life, how I have dozed
it through, how I have not known how to relish its gifts?
"What? Is this death already? So soon? Impossible! Why, I have not
succeeded in accomplishing anything yet…. I have only been preparing
Shall I recall the past, pause over the thought of the few bright
moments I have lived through, over beloved images and faces?
Will my evil deeds present themselves before my memory, and will the
corrosive grief of a belated repentance descend upon my soul?
Shall I think of what awaits me beyond the grave … yes, and whether
anything at all awaits me there?
No … it seems to me that I shall try not to think, and shall compel my
mind to busy itself with some nonsense or other, if only to divert my
own attention from the menacing darkness which looms up black ahead.
In my presence one dying person kept complaining that they would not
give him red-hot nuts to gnaw … and only in the depths of his dimming
eyes was there throbbing and palpitating something, like the wing of a
bird wounded unto death….
"HOW FAIR, HOW FRESH WERE THE ROSES"
Somewhere, some time, long, long ago, I read a poem. I speedily forgot
it … but its first line lingered in my memory:
"How fair, how fresh were the roses…."
It is winter now; the window-panes are coated with ice; in the warm
chamber a single candle is burning. I am sitting curled up in one
corner; and in my brain there rings and rings:
"How fair, how fresh were the roses…."
And I behold myself in front of the low window of a Russian house in the
suburbs. The summer evening is melting and merging into night, there is
a scent of mignonette and linden-blossoms abroad in the warm air;—and
in the window, propped on a stiffened arm, and with her head bent on her
shoulder, sits a young girl, gazing mutely and intently at the sky, as
though watching for the appearance of the first stars. How ingenuously
inspired are the thoughtful eyes; how touchingly innocent are the
parted, questioning lips; how evenly breathes her bosom, not yet fully
developed and still unagitated by anything; how pure and tender are the
lines of the young face! I do not dare to address her, but how dear she
is to me, how violently my heart beats!
"How fair, how fresh were the roses…."
And in the room everything grows darker and darker…. The candle which
has burned low begins to flicker; white shadows waver across the low
ceiling; the frost creaks and snarls beyond the wall—and I seem to hear
a tedious, senile whisper:
"How fair, how fresh were the roses…."
Other images rise up before me…. I hear the merry murmur of family, of
country life. Two red-gold little heads, leaning against each other,
gaze bravely at me with their bright eyes; the red cheeks quiver with
suppressed laughter; their hands are affectionately intertwined; their
young, kind voices ring out, vying with each other; and a little further
away, in the depths of a snug room, other hands, also young, are flying
about, with fingers entangled, over the keys of a poor little old piano,
and the Lanner waltz cannot drown the grumbling of the patriarchal
"How fair, how fresh were the roses…."
The candle flares up and dies out…. Who is that coughing yonder so
hoarsely and dully? Curled up in a ring, my aged dog, my sole companion,
is nestling and quivering at my feet…. I feel cold…. I am shivering
… and they are all dead … all dead….
"How fair, how fresh were the roses."
A SEA VOYAGE
I sailed from Hamburg to London on a small steamer. There were two of us
passengers: I and a tiny monkey, a female of the ouistiti breed, which a
Hamburg merchant was sending as a gift to his English partner.
She was attached by a slender chain to one of the benches on the deck,
and threw herself about and squeaked plaintively, like a bird.
Every time I walked past she stretched out to me her black, cold little
hand, and gazed at me with her mournful, almost human little eyes.—I
took her hand, and she ceased to squeak and fling herself about.
There was a dead calm. The sea spread out around us in a motionless
mirror of leaden hue. It seemed small; a dense fog lay over it,
shrouding even the tips of the masts, and blinding and wearying the eyes
with its soft gloom. The sun hung like a dim red spot in this gloom; but
just before evening it became all aflame and glowed mysteriously and
Long, straight folds, like the folds of heavy silken fabrics, flowed
away from the bow of the steamer, one after another, growing ever wider,
wrinkling and broadening, becoming smoother at last, swaying and
vanishing. The churned foam swirled under the monotonous beat of the
paddle-wheels; gleaming white like milk, and hissing faintly, it was
broken up into serpent-like ripples, and then flowed together at a
distance, and vanished likewise, swallowed up in the gloom.
A small bell at the stern jingled as incessantly and plaintively as the
squeaking cry of the monkey.
Now and then a seal came to the surface, and turning an abrupt
somersault, darted off beneath the barely-disturbed surface.
And the captain, a taciturn man with a surly, sunburned face, smoked a
short pipe and spat angrily into the sea, congealed in impassivity.
To all my questions he replied with an abrupt growl. I was compelled,
willy-nilly, to have recourse to my solitary fellow-traveller—the
I sat down beside her; she ceased to whine, and again stretched out her
hand to me.
The motionless fog enveloped us both with a soporific humidity; and
equally immersed in one unconscious thought, we remained there side by
side, like blood-relatives.
I smile now … but then another feeling reigned in me.
We are all children of one mother—and it pleased me that the poor
little beastie should quiet down so confidingly and nestle up to me, as
though to a relative.
Gracefully and quietly dost thou walk along the path of life, without
tears and without smiles, barely animated by an indifferent attention.
Thou art kind and clever … and everything is alien to thee—and no one
is necessary to thee.
Thou art very beautiful—and no one can tell whether thou prizest thy
beauty or not.—Thou art devoid of sympathy thyself and demandest no
Thy gaze is profound, and not thoughtful; emptiness lies in that bright
Thus do the stately shades pass by without grief and without joy in the
Elysian Fields, to the dignified sounds of Gluck's melodies.
Stay! As I now behold thee remain thou evermore in my memory!
From thy lips the last inspired sound hath burst forth—thine eyes do
not gleam and flash, they are dusky, weighted with happiness, with the
blissful consciousness of that beauty to which thou hast succeeded in
giving expression,—of that beauty in quest of which thou stretchest
forth, as it were, thy triumphant, thine exhausted hands!
What light, more delicate and pure than the sunlight, hath been diffused
over all thy limbs, over the tiniest folds of thy garments?
What god, with his caressing inflatus, hath tossed back thy dishevelled
His kiss burneth on thy brow, grown pale as marble!
Here it is—the open secret, the secret of poetry, of life, of love!
Here it is, here it is—immortality! There is no other immortality—and
no other is needed.—At this moment thou art deathless.
I will pass,—and again thou art a pinch of dust, a woman, a child….
But what is that to thee!—At this moment thou hast become loftier than
all transitory, temporal things, thou hast stepped out of their
sphere.—This thy moment will never end.
Stay! And let me be the sharer of thy immortality, drop into my soul the
reflection of thine eternity!
I used to know a monk, a hermit, a saint. He lived on the sweetness of
prayer alone,—and as he quaffed it, he knelt so long on the cold floor
of the church that his legs below the knee swelled and became like
posts. He had no sensation in them, he knelt—and prayed.
I understood him—and, perhaps, I envied him; but let him also
understand me and not condemn me—me, to whom his joys are inaccessible.
He strove to annihilate himself, his hated ego; but the fact that I do
not pray does not arise from self-conceit.
My ego is, perchance, even more burdensome and repulsive to me than his
is to him.
He found a means of forgetting himself … and I find a means to do the
same, but not so constantly.
He does not lie … and neither do I lie.
WE SHALL STILL FIGHT ON!
What an insignificant trifle can sometimes put the whole man back in
Full of thought, I was walking one day along the highway.
Heavy forebodings oppressed my breast; melancholy seized hold upon me.
I raised my head…. Before me, between two rows of lofty poplars, the
road stretched out into the distance.
Across it, across that same road, a whole little family of sparrows was
hopping, hopping boldly, amusingly, confidently!
One of them in particular fairly set his wings akimbo, thrusting out his
crop, and twittering audaciously, as though the very devil was no match
for him! A conqueror—and that is all there is to be said.
But in the meantime, high up in the sky, was soaring a hawk who,
possibly, was fated to devour precisely that same conqueror.
I looked, laughed, shook myself—and the melancholy thoughts instantly
fled. I felt daring, courage, a desire for life.
And let my hawk soar over me if he will….
"We will still fight on, devil take it!"
No matter what a man may pray for he is praying for a miracle.—Every
prayer amounts to the following: "Great God, cause that two and two may
not make four."
Only such a prayer is a genuine prayer from a person to a person. To
pray to the Universal Spirit, to the Supreme Being of Kant, of Hegel—to
a purified, amorphous God, is impossible and unthinkable.
But can even a personal, living God with a form cause that two and two
shall not make four?
Every believer is bound to reply, "He can," and is bound to convince
himself of this.
But what if his reason revolts against such an absurdity?
In that case Shakspeare will come to his assistance: "There are many
things in the world, friend Horatio…." and so forth.
And if people retort in the name of truth,—all he has to do is to
repeat the famous question: "What is truth?"
And therefore, let us drink and be merry—and pray.
THE RUSSIAN LANGUAGE
In days of doubt, in days of painful meditations concerning the
destinies of my fatherland, thou alone art my prop and my support, O
great, mighty, just and free Russian language!—Were it not for thee,
how could one fail to fall into despair at the sight of all that goes on
at home?—But it is impossible to believe that such a language was not
bestowed upon a great people!
 See endnote to "Old Portraits," in this volume.—TRANSLATOR.
 The Vigil-service (consisting of Vespers and Matins, or Compline and
Matins) may be celebrated in unconsecrated buildings, and the devout not
infrequently have it, as well as prayer-services, at home.—TRANSLATOR.
 Meaning the odour of the oil which must be used in preparing food,
instead of butter, during the numerous fasts.—TRANSLATOR.
 The custom of thus dressing up as bears, clowns, and so forth, and
visiting all the houses in the neighbourhood, is still kept up in rustic
localities. St. Vasíly's (Basil's) day falls on January 1.—TRANSLATOR.
 An arshín is twenty-eight inches.—TRANSLATOR
 A park for popular resort in the suburbs of Moscow.—TRANSLATOR
 Incorrectly written for Poltáva.—TRANSLATOR
 The fatter the coachman, the more stylish he is. If he is not fat
naturally, he adds cushions under his coat.—TRANSLATOR.
 That is, to the Trinity monastery of the first class founded by St.
Sergius in 1340. It is situated about forty miles from Moscow, and is
the most famous monastery in the country next to the Catacombs Monastery
 Pronounced Aryól.—TRANSLATOR.
 Such a sledge, drawn by the national team of three horses, will
hold five or six persons closely packed.—TRANSLATOR.
 The word he used, mytárstvo, has a peculiar meaning. It refers
specifically to the experiences of the soul when it leaves the body.
According to the teaching of divers ancient fathers of the church, the
soul, as soon as it leaves the body, is confronted by accusing demons,
who arraign it with all the sins, great and small, which it has
committed during its earthly career. If its good deeds, alms, prayers,
and so forth (added to the grace of God), offset the evil, the demons
are forced to renounce their claims. These demons assault the soul in
relays, each "trial," "suffering," or "tribulation" being a mytárstvo.
One ancient authority enumerates twenty such trials. The soul is
accompanied and defended in its trials by angels, who plead its cause.
Eventually, they conduct it into the presence of God, who then assigns
to it a temporary abode of bliss or woe until the day of judgment. The
derivation of this curious and utterly untranslatable word is as
follows: Mytár means a publican or tax-gatherer. As the publicans,
under the Roman sway over the Jews, indulged in various sorts of
violence, abuses, and inhuman conduct, calling every one to strict
account, and even stationing themselves at the city gates to intercept
all who came and went, mytárstvo represents, in general, the taxing or
testing of the soul, which must pay a ransom before it is released from
its trials and preliminary tribulations.—TRANSLATOR.
 A folk-tale narrates how the Tzar Arkhídei obtained his beauteous
bride by the aid of seven brothers called "The Seven Semyóns," who were
his peasants. The bride was distant a ten years' journey; but each of
the brothers had a different "trade," by the combined means of which
they were enabled to overcome time and space and get the bride for their
 The word used in Russian indicates not only that he was a
hereditary noble, but that his nobility was ancient—a matter of some
moment in a country where nobility, both personal and hereditary, can be
won in the service of the state.—TRANSLATOR.
 The change to thou is made to express disrespect.—TRANSLATOR.
 A simple card-game.—TRANSLATOR.
 The word used is popadyá, the feminine form of pop(e), or
priest. Svyashtchénnik is, however, more commonly used for priest.
 June 29 (O. S.), July 12 (N. S.).—TRANSLATOR.
 In former days the sons of priests generally became priests. It is
still so, in a measure.—TRANSLATOR.
 Therefore, there would be no one to maintain his widow and
daughters, unless some young man could be found to marry one of the
daughters, be ordained, take the parish, and assume the support of the
 Parish priests (the White Clergy) must marry before they are
ordained sub-deacon, and are not allowed to remarry in the Holy Catholic
Church of the East.—TRANSLATOR.
 A sourish, non-intoxicating beverage, prepared by putting water on
rye meal or the crusts of sour black rye bread and allowing it to
 One of the ancient religious ballads sung by the "wandering
cripples." Joseph (son of Jacob) is called by this appellation, and also
a "tzarévitch," or king's son. For a brief account of these ballads see:
"The Epic Songs of Russia" (Introduction), and Chapter I in "A Survey of
Russian Literature" (I. F. Hapgood). This particular ballad is mentioned
on page 22 of the last-named book.—TRANSLATOR.
(N.B. This note is placed here because there is no other book in English
where any information whatever can be had concerning these ballads or
 Ecclesiastics are regarded as plebeians by the gentry or nobles in
 In the Catholic Church of the East the communion is received
fasting. A little to one side of the priest stands a cleric holding a
platter of blessed bread, cut in small bits, and a porringer of warm
water and wine, which (besides their symbolical significance) are taken
by each communicant after the Holy Elements, in order that there may be
something interposed between the sacrament and ordinary
 That is, the particle of bread dipped in the wine, which is
placed in the mouth by the priest with the sacramental spoon.
 Turgénieff labelled this story and "A Reckless Character,"
"Fragments from My Own Memoirs and Those of Other People." In a
foot-note he begs the reader not to mistake the "I" for the author's own
personality, as it was adopted merely for convenience of
 The Russian expression is: "A black cat had run between
 In Russia a partial second story, over the centre, or the centre
and ends of the main story, is called thus.—TRANSLATOR.
 In Russian houses the "hall" is a combined ball-room, music-room,
play-room, and exercising-ground; not the entrance hall.—TRANSLATOR.
 We should call such a watch a "turnip."—TRANSLATOR.
 The author is slightly sarcastic in the name he has chosen for this
family, which is derived from telyéga, a peasant-cart.—TRANSLATOR.
 St. Petersburg.—TRANSLATOR.
 Both these are bad omens, according to superstitious
 Priests and monks in Russia wear their hair and beards long to
resemble the pictures of Christ. Missionaries in foreign lands are
permitted to conform to the custom of the country and cut it
 "Had been educated on copper coins" is the Russian expression. That
is, had received a cheap education.—TRANSLATOR.
 The nickname generally applied by the Little Russians to the Great
 The racing-drozhky is frequently used in the country. It consists
of a plank, without springs, mounted on four small wheels of equal size.
The driver sits flat on the plank, which may or may not be
 The baptismal cross.—TRANSLATOR.
 The bath-besom is made of birch-twigs with the leaves attached, and
is soaked in hot water (or in beer) to keep it soft. The massage
administered with the besom is delightful. The peasants often use besoms
of nettles, as a luxury. The shredded linden bark is used as a
 The great manoeuvre plain, near which the Moscow garrison is
lodged, in the vicinity of Petróvsky Park and Palace. Here the disaster
took place during the coronation festivities of the present
 It is very rarely that a bishop performs the marriage ceremony. All
bishops are monks; and monks are not supposed to perform ceremonies
connected with the things which they have renounced. The exceptions are
when monks are appointed parish priests (as in some of the American
parishes, for instance), and, therefore, must fulfil the obligations of
a married parish priest; or when the chaplain-monk on war-ships is
called upon, at times, to minister to scattered Orthodox, in a port
which has no settled priest.—TRANSLATOR.
 The Order of St. George, with its black and orange ribbon, must be
won by great personal bravery—like the Victoria Cross.—TRANSLATOR.
 Head of the Secret Service under Alexander I.—TRANSLATOR.
 That is, living too long.—TRANSLATOR.
 Sukhóy, dry; Sukhíkh, genitive plural (proper names are
declinable), meaning, "one of the Sukhóys."—TRANSLATOR.
 The third from the top in the Table of Ranks instituted by Peter
 Corresponding, in a measure, to an American State.—TRANSLATOR.
 The Great Russians' scornful nickname for a Little
 Each coachman has his own pair or tróika of horses to attend to,
and has nothing to do with any other horses which may be in the
 Yákoff (James) Daniel Bruce, a Russian engineer, of Scottish
extraction, born in Moscow, 1670, became Grand Master of the Artillery
in 1711, and died in 1735.—TRANSLATOR.
 The great cathedral in commemoration of the Russian triumph in
the war of 1812, which was begun in 1837, and completed in 1883.
 Nyémetz, "the dumb one," meaning any one unable to speak Russian
(hence, any foreigner), is the specific word for a German.—TRANSLATOR.
 Short for Nízhni Nóvgorod.—TRANSLATOR.
 The famous letter from the heroine, Tatyána, to the hero, Evgény
Onyégin, in Pushkin's celebrated poem. The music to the opera of the
same name, which has this poem for its basis, is by Tchaikóvsky.
 Advertisements of theatres, concerts, and amusements in general,
are not published in the daily papers, but in an affiche, printed
every morning, for which a separate subscription is necessary.
 M. E. Saltikóff wrote his famous satires under the name of
 The Little Russians (among other peculiarities of pronunciation
attached to their dialect) use the guttural instead of the clear
 A bishop or priest in the Russian Church is not supposed to speak
loudly, no matter how fine a voice he may possess. The deacon, on the
contrary, or the proto-deacon (attached to a cathedral) is supposed to
have a huge voice, and, especially at certain points, to roar at the top
of his lungs. He sometimes cracks his voice—which is what the
sympathetic neighbour was hinting at here.—TRANSLATOR.
 An image, or holy picture, is óbraz; the adjective "cultured" is
derived from the same word in its sense of pattern, model—obrazóvanny.
 Ostróvsky's comedies of life in the merchant class are irresistibly
amusing, talented, and true to nature.—TRANSLATOR.
 Turgénieff probably means Grúsha (another form for the diminutive
of Agrippína, in Russian Agrafénya). The play is "Live as You
 A full gown gathered into a narrow band just under the armpits and
suspended over the shoulders by straps of the same.—TRANSLATOR.
 The eighth from the top in the Table of Ranks won by service to the
state, which Peter the Great instituted. A sufficiently high grade in
that table confers hereditary nobility; the lower grades carry only
 The long Tatár coat, with large sleeves, and flaring, bias
 See note on page 24.—TRANSLATOR.
 Diminutives of Yákoff, implying great affection.—TRANSLATOR.
 Mikhaíl Stasiulévitch.—TRANSLATOR.
 The favourite decoration in rustic architecture.—TRANSLATOR.
 These lines do not rhyme in the original.—TRANSLATOR.
 "The white-handed man" would be the literal
 The pretty name for what we call mullein.—TRANSLATOR.
 That is, made without meat.—TRANSLATOR.
 The ideal bearing in church is described as standing "like a
candle"; that is, very straight and motionless.—TRANSLATOR.
 Strips of grass left as boundaries between the tilled fields
allotted to different peasants.—TRANSLATOR.
 The affectionate diminutive.—TRANSLATOR.