"Anyuta" and other Chekhov stories

(actualisé le ) by Anton Chekhov

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. A DEAD BODY (1885) A corpse wrapped in linen is lying under a tree in the middle of a misty August night, dutifully watched over by two peasants who are keeping a fire alive. They listen to the sounds of the forest and talk to fight off their feelings of eeriness when a pilgrim comes along attracted by the fire, who is afraid to continue on his way alone after seeing the corpse. (1,900 words)

2. THE REQUIEM (1886) Andrey Andryitch is in church for the memorial service for his dead daughter, an actress, and is severely reprimanded by the priest for having written the word harlot­ in his memorial message about her. For him, her profession was a shameful one, assimilable with the world’s oldest. (2,000 words)

3. ANYUTA (1886) Anyuta is the pale, fragile mistress of a medical student who takes her for granted and has no intention whatsoever of continuing their relationship after his studies. (1,650 words)

4. THE DEPENDENTS (1885) The elderly artisan Zotov discovers that he has no tea left whatsoever. Furious, he gets angry with his dog and horse who are starving and need to be fed, and decides to abandon his home and to take the bothersome animals to the slaughter-house. (2,450 words)

5. THE JEUNE PREMIER (1886) An actor impresses his audience in a reception in a provincial town with his boastful tales of his theatrical and female successes, but oversteps the mark by telling how he had had an affair with a young woman in the town of one of the guests, the young woman’s own uncle. (1,900 words)

6. DIFFICULT PEOPLE (1886) Pyotr is about to leave for his university studies in Moscow but his father, a very tight-fisted and almost-prosperous small farmer, just cannot bear the thought of giving him the money he needs for his trip and expenses. (3,050 words)

7. IN THE COURT (1886) In the local courthouse a trial is underway and the judge, the prosecutor and the defence attorney are all as bored by the proceedings as usual. Their lethargy is not troubled in the least when a middle-aged peasant is brought in on the charge of murdering his wife with an axe. (2,700 words)

8. A FATHER (1887) Musatovis a very dissolute old man who has come to his son’s lodgings to borrow ten roubles, and when the son dutifully obliges he confesses that he was lying about repaying the money, but the son nevertheless accompanies him home and has tea at his father’s shabby home. (3,000 words)

9. A PROBLEM (1887) The three uncles of Sasha are holding a family council to decide what to do about a major family crisis: the twenty-five-year-old wastrel had forged a false promissory note for a considerable sum of money. Now that it is due, the family’s reputation will be ruined if the case goes to court unless the family pays the debt. (2,700 words)

10. SLEEPY (1888) Varka, a thirteen-year-old nurse, is trying to rock a little baby to sleep but falls asleep and is woken up by a blow on the head from the master of the house. All night she tries to stay awake while rocking the baby, and in the early morning after an extensive series of household duties she is again charged with rocking the screaming child to sleep. The story does not end well. (2,300 words)

11. THIEVES (1890) Yergunov is returning one evening from an errand when he is caught in a snow-storm and loses his way. He finally comes upon an inn that he recognizes as being frequented by horse-thieves, but has no alternative but to take shelter there, where there are in fact two known horse-thieves as well as the attractive daughter of the house. The story ends rather badly for all concerned except the horse-thieves. (6,700 words)

12. PEASANT WIVES (1891) A travelling merchant comes into an inn with a little boy, an orphan he had adopted, and recounts to the innkeeper the dramatic tale of the little boy’s parents. (5,700 words)

13. THE TEACHER OF LITERATURE (1894) We follow the young teacher Nikitin as he courts Masha, as he works up the courage to propose to her, as he gets married, as he contemplates his happiness and new-found material ease thanks to her dowry, and as he finally comes to grips with his mediocrity and his mediocre fate. (9,100 words)

14. THE HELPMATE (1895) Nikolay, a surgeon with failing health, discovers a telegram in his wife’s room from her lover in Nice and confronts her with it when she finally arrives home at five in the morning after yet another night out. (2,550 words)

15. THE PETCHENYEG (1897) A gentleman on a train in the Ukraine accepts the offer of a fellow traveller to stay the night at his home before continuing on his journey. After a long evening discussing life and values, he learns why his host had been called a Petchenyeg – savage – by a land surveyor who had spent a night there previously. (4,250 words)


e-books of these stories [1] can be downloaded below.


1. A DEAD BODY

A STILL August night. A mist is rising slowly from the fields and casting an opaque veil over everything within eyesight. Lighted up by the moon, the mist gives the impression at one moment of a calm, boundless sea, at the next of an immense white wall. The air is damp and chilly. Morning is still far off. A step from the bye-road which runs along the edge of the forest a little fire is gleaming. A dead body, covered from head to foot with new white linen, is lying under a young oak-tree. A wooden ikon is lying on its breast. Beside the corpse almost on the road sits the “watch”—two peasants performing one of the most disagreeable and uninviting of peasants’ duties. One, a tall young fellow with a scarcely perceptible moustache and thick black eyebrows, in a tattered sheepskin and bark shoes, is sitting on the wet grass, his feet stuck out straight in front of him, and is trying to while away the time with work. He bends his long neck, and breathing loudly through his nose, makes a spoon out of a big crooked bit of wood; the other—a little scraggy, pock-marked peasant with an aged face, a scanty moustache, and a little goat’s beard—sits with his hands dangling loose on his knees, and without moving gazes listlessly at the light. A small camp-fire is lazily burning down between them, throwing a red glow on their faces. There is perfect stillness. The only sounds are the scrape of the knife on the wood and the crackling of damp sticks in the fire.
“Don’t you go to sleep, Syoma...” says the young man.
“I ... I am not asleep...” stammers the goat-beard.
“That’s all right... . It would be dreadful to sit here alone, one would be frightened. You might tell me something, Syoma.”
“You are a queer fellow, Syomushka! Other people will laugh and tell a story and sing a song, but you—there is no making you out. You sit like a scarecrow in the garden and roll your eyes at the fire. You can’t say anything properly ... when you speak you seem frightened. I dare say you are fifty, but you have less sense than a child. Aren’t you sorry that you are a simpleton?”
“I am sorry,” the goat-beard answers gloomily.
“And we are sorry to see your foolishness, you may be sure. You are a good-natured, sober peasant, and the only trouble is that you have no sense in your head. You should have picked up some sense for yourself if the Lord has afflicted you and given you no understanding. You must make an effort, Syoma.... You should listen hard when anything good’s being said, note it well, and keep thinking and thinking.... If there is any word you don’t understand, you should make an effort and think over in your head in what meaning the word is used. Do you see? Make an effort! If you don’t gain some sense for yourself you’ll be a simpleton and of no account at all to your dying day.”
All at once a long drawn-out, moaning sound is heard in the forest. Something rustles in the leaves as though torn from the very top of the tree and falls to the ground. All this is faintly repeated by the echo. The young man shudders and looks enquiringly at his companion.
“It’s an owl at the little birds,” says Syoma, gloomily.
“Why, Syoma, it’s time for the birds to fly to the warm countries!”
“To be sure, it is time.”
“It is chilly at dawn now. It is co-old. The crane is a chilly creature, it is tender. Such cold is death to it. I am not a crane, but I am frozen.... Put some more wood on!”
Syoma gets up and disappears in the dark undergrowth. While he is busy among the bushes, breaking dry twigs, his companion puts his hand over his eyes and starts at every sound. Syoma brings an armful of wood and lays it on the fire. The flame irresolutely licks the black twigs with its little tongues, then suddenly, as though at the word of command, catches them and throws a crimson light on the faces, the road, the white linen with its prominences where the hands and feet of the corpse raise it, the ikon. The “watch” is silent. The young man bends his neck still lower and sets to work with still more nervous haste. The goat-beard sits motionless as before and keeps his eyes fixed on the fireGreat Novels
“Ye that love not Zion... shall be put to shame by the Lord.” A falsetto voice is suddenly heard singing in the stillness of the night, then slow footsteps are audible, and the dark figure of a man in a short monkish cassock and a broad-brimmed hat, with a wallet on his shoulders, comes into sight on the road in the crimson firelight.
“Thy will be done, O Lord! Holy Mother!” the figure says in a husky falsetto. “I saw the fire in the outer darkness and my soul leapt for joy.... At first I thought it was men grazing a drove of horses, then I thought it can’t be that, since no horses were to be seen. ‘Aren’t they thieves,’ I wondered, ‘aren’t they robbers lying in wait for a rich Lazarus? Aren’t they the gypsy people offering sacrifices to idols? And my soul leapt for joy. ‘Go, Feodosy, servant of God,’ I said to myself, ‘and win a martyr’s crown!’ And I flew to the fire like a light-winged moth. Now I stand before you, and from your outer aspect I judge of your souls: you are not thieves and you are not heathens. Peace be to you!”
“Good-evening.”
“Good orthodox people, do you know how to reach the Makuhinsky Brickyards from here?”
“It’s close here. You go straight along the road; when you have gone a mile and a half there will be Ananova, our village. From the village, father, you turn to the right by the river-bank, and so you will get to the brickyards. It’s two miles from Ananova.”
“God give you health. And why are you sitting here?”
“We are sitting here watching. You see, there is a dead bodyGreat Novels”
“What? what body? Holy Mother!”
The pilgrim sees the white linen with the ikon on it, and starts so violently that his legs give a little skip. This unexpected sight has an overpowering effect upon him. He huddles together and stands as though rooted to the spot, with wide-open mouth and staring eyes. For three minutes he is silent as though he could not believe his eyes, then begins muttering:
“O Lord! Holy Mother! I was going along not meddling with anyone, and all at once such an affliction.”
“What may you be?” enquires the young man. “Of the clergy?”
“No ... no.... I go from one monastery to another.... Do you know Mi ... Mihail Polikarpitch, the foreman of the brickyard? Well, I am his nephew.... Thy will be done, O Lord! Why are you here?”
“We are watching ... we are told to.”
“Yes, yes ...” mutters the man in the cassock, passing his hand over his eyes. “And where did the deceased come from?”
“He was a stranger.”
“Such is life! But I’ll ... er ... be getting on, brothers.... I feel flustered. I am more afraid of the dead than of anything, my dear souls! And only fancy! while this man was alive he wasn’t noticed, while now when he is dead and given over to corruption we tremble before him as before some famous general or a bishop.... Such is life; was he murdered, or what?”
“The Lord knows! Maybe he was murdered, or maybe he died of himself.”
“Yes, yes.... Who knows, brothers? Maybe his soul is now tasting the joys of Paradise.”
“His soul is still hovering here, near his body,” says the young man. “It does not depart from the body for three days.”
“H’m, yes! ... How chilly the nights are now! It sets one’s teeth chattering.... So then I am to go straight on and on? ...”
“Till you get to the village, and then you turn to the right by the river-bank.”
“By the river-bank.... To be sure.... Why am I standing still? I must go on. Farewell, brothers.”
The man in the cassock takes five steps along the road and stops.
“I’ve forgotten to put a kopeck for the burying,” he says. “Good orthodox friends, can I give the money?”
“You ought to know best, you go the round of the monasteries. If he died a natural death it would go for the good of his soul; if it’s a suicide it’s a sin.”
“That’s true.... And maybe it really was a suicide! So I had better keep my money. Oh, sins, sins! Give me a thousand roubles and I would not consent to sit here.... Farewell, brothers.”
The cassock slowly moves away and stops again.
“I can’t make up my mind what I am to do,” he mutters. “To stay here by the fire and wait till daybreak.... I am frightened; to go on is dreadful, too. The dead man will haunt me all the way in the darkness.... The Lord has chastised me indeed! Over three hundred miles I have come on foot and nothing happened, and now I am near home and there’s trouble. I can’t go onGreat Novels”
“It is dreadful, that is true.”
“I am not afraid of wolves, of thieves, or of darkness, but I am afraid of the dead. I am afraid of them, and that is all about it. Good orthodox brothers, I entreat you on my knees, see me to the village.”
“We’ve been told not to go away from the body.”
“No one will see, brothers. Upon my soul, no one will see! The Lord will reward you a hundredfold! Old man, come with me, I beg! Old man! Why are you silent?”
“He is a bit simple,” says the young man.
“You come with me, friend; I will give you five kopecks.”
“For five kopecks I might,” says the young man, scratching his head, “but I was told not to. If Syoma here, our simpleton, will stay alone, I will take you. Syoma, will you stay here alone?”
“I’ll stay,” the simpleton consents.
“Well, that’s all right, then. Come along!” The young man gets up, and goes with the cassock. A minute later the sound of their steps and their talk dies away. Syoma shuts his eyes and gently dozes. The fire begins to grow dim, and a big black shadow falls on the dead body.


2. THE REQUIEM

IN the village church of Verhny Zaprudy mass was just over. The people had begun moving and were trooping out of church. The only one who did not move was Andrey Andreyitch, a shopkeeper and old inhabitant of Verhny Zaprudy. He stood waiting, with his elbows on the railing of the right choir. His fat and shaven face, covered with indentations left by pimples, expressed on this occasion two contradictory feelings: resignation in the face of inevitable destiny, and stupid, unbounded disdain for the smocks and striped kerchiefs passing by him. As it was Sunday, he was dressed like a dandy. He wore a long cloth overcoat with yellow bone buttons, blue trousers not thrust into his boots, and sturdy goloshes—the huge clumsy goloshes only seen on the feet of practical and prudent persons of firm religious convictions.
His torpid eyes, sunk in fat, were fixed upon the ikon stand. He saw the long familiar figures of the saints, the verger Matvey puffing out his cheeks and blowing out the candles, the darkened candle stands, the threadbare carpet, the sacristan Lopuhov running impulsively from the altar and carrying the holy bread to the churchwarden.... All these things he had seen for years, and seen over and over again like the five fingers of his hand.... There was only one thing, however, that was somewhat strange and unusual. Father Grigory, still in his vestments, was standing at the north door, twitching his thick eyebrows angrily.
“Who is it he is winking at? God bless him!” thought the shopkeeper. “And he is beckoning with his finger! And he stamped his foot! What next! What’s the matter, Holy Queen and Mother! Whom does he mean it for?”
Andrey Andreyitch looked round and saw the church completely deserted. There were some ten people standing at the door, but they had their backs to the altar.
“Do come when you are called! Why do you stand like a graven image?” he heard Father Grigory’s angry voice. “I am calling you.”
The shopkeeper looked at Father Grigory’s red and wrathful face, and only then realized that the twitching eyebrows and beckoning finger might refer to him. He started, left the railing, and hesitatingly walked towards the altar, tramping with his heavy goloshes.
“Andrey Andreyitch, was it you asked for prayers for the rest of Mariya’s soul?” asked the priest, his eyes angrily transfixing the shopkeeper’s fat, perspiring face.
“Yes, Father.”
“Then it was you wrote this? You?” And Father Grigory angrily thrust before his eyes the little note.
And on this little note, handed in by Andrey Andreyitch before mass, was written in big, as it were staggering, letters:
“For the rest of the soul of the servant of God, the harlot Marya.”
“Yes, certainly I wrote it,...” answered the shopkeeper.
“How dared you write it?” whispered the priest, and in his husky whisper there was a note of wrath and alarm.
The shopkeeper looked at him in blank amazement; he was perplexed, and he, too, was alarmed. Father Grigory had never in his life spoken in such a tone to a leading resident of Verhny Zaprudy. Both were silent for a minute, staring into each other’s face. The shopkeeper’s amazement was so great that his fat face spread in all directions like spilt dough.
“How dared you?” repeated the priest.
“Wha... what?” asked Andrey Andreyitch in bewilderment.
“You don’t understand?” whispered Father Grigory, stepping back in astonishment and clasping his hands. “What have you got on your shoulders, a head or some other object? You send a note up to the altar, and write a word in it which it would be unseemly even to utter in the street! Why are you rolling your eyes? Surely you know the meaning of the word?”
“Are you referring to the word harlot?” muttered the shopkeeper, flushing crimson and blinking. “But you know, the Lord in His mercy... forgave this very thing,... forgave a harlot.... He has prepared a place for her, and indeed from the life of the holy saint, Mariya of Egypt, one may see in what sense the word is used—excuse me...”
The shopkeeper wanted to bring forward some other argument in his justification, but took fright and wiped his lips with his sleeve.
“So that’s what you make of it!” cried Father Grigory, clasping his hands. “But you see God has forgiven her—do you understand? He has forgiven, but you judge her, you slander her, call her by an unseemly name, and whom! Your own deceased daughter! Not only in Holy Scripture, but even in worldly literature you won’t read of such a sin! I tell you again, Andrey, you mustn’t be over-subtle! No, no, you mustn’t be over-subtle, brother! If God has given you an inquiring mind, and if you cannot direct it, better not go into things.... Don’t go into things, and hold your peace!”
“But you know, she,... excuse my mentioning it, was an actress!” articulated Andrey Andreyitch, overwhelmed.
“An actress! But whatever she was, you ought to forget it all now she is dead, instead of writing it on the note.”
“Just so,...” the shopkeeper assented.
“You ought to do penance,” boomed the deacon from the depths of the altar, looking contemptuously at Andrey Andreyitch’s embarrassed face, “that would teach you to leave off being so clever! Your daughter was a well-known actress. There were even notices of her death in the newspapers.... Philosopher!”
“To be sure,... certainly,” muttered the shopkeeper, “the word is not a seemly one; but I did not say it to judge her, Father Grigory, I only meant to speak spiritually,... that it might be clearer to you for whom you were praying. They write in the memorial notes the various callings, such as the infant John, the drowned woman Pelagea, the warrior Yegor, the murdered Pavel, and so on.... I meant to do the same.”
“It was foolish, Andrey! God will forgive you, but beware another time. Above all, don’t be subtle, but think like other people. Make ten bows and go your way.”
“I obey,” said the shopkeeper, relieved that the lecture was over, and allowing his face to resume its expression of importance and dignity. “Ten bows? Very good, I understand. But now, Father, allow me to ask you a favor.... Seeing that I am, anyway, her father,... you know yourself, whatever she was, she was still my daughter, so I was,... excuse me, meaning to ask you to sing the requiem today. And allow me to ask you, Father Deacon!”
“Well, that’s good,” said Father Grigory, taking off his vestments. “That I commend. I can approve of that! Well, go your way. We will come out immediately.”
Andrey Andreyitch walked with dignity from the altar, and with a solemn, requiem-like expression on his red face took his stand in the middle of the church. The verger Matvey set before him a little table with the memorial food upon it, and a little later the requiem service began.
There was perfect stillness in the church. Nothing could be heard but the metallic click of the censer and slow singing.... Near Andrey Andreyitch stood the verger Matvey, the midwife Makaryevna, and her one-armed son Mitka. There was no one else. The sacristan sang badly in an unpleasant, hollow bass, but the tune and the words were so mournful that the shopkeeper little by little lost the expression of dignity and was plunged in sadness. He thought of his Mashutka,... he remembered she had been born when he was still a lackey in the service of the owner of Verhny Zaprudy. In his busy life as a lackey he had not noticed how his girl had grown up. That long period during which she was being shaped into a graceful creature, with a little flaxen head and dreamy eyes as big as kopeck-pieces passed unnoticed by him. She had been brought up like all the children of favourite lackeys, in ease and comfort in the company of the young ladies. The gentry, to fill up their idle time, had taught her to read, to write, to dance; he had had no hand in her bringing up. Only from time to time casually meeting her at the gate or on the landing of the stairs, he would remember that she was his daughter, and would, so far as he had leisure for it, begin teaching her the prayers and the scripture. Oh, even then he had the reputation of an authority on the church rules and the holy scriptures! Forbidding and stolid as her father’s face was, yet the girl listened readily. She repeated the prayers after him yawning, but on the other hand, when he, hesitating and trying to express himself elaborately, began telling her stories, she was all attention. Esau’s pottage, the punishment of Sodom, and the troubles of the boy Joseph made her turn pale and open her blue eyes wide.
Afterwards when he gave up being a lackey, and with the money he had saved opened a shop in the village, Mashutka had gone away to Moscow with his master’s family....
Three years before her death she had come to see her father. He had scarcely recognized her. She was a graceful young woman with the manners of a young lady, and dressed like one. She talked cleverly, as though from a book, smoked, and slept till midday. When Andrey Andreyitch asked her what she was doing, she had announced, looking him boldly straight in the face: “I am an actress.” Such frankness struck the former flunkey as the acme of cynicism. Mashutka had begun boasting of her successes and her stage life; but seeing that her father only turned crimson and threw up his hands, she ceased. And they spent a fortnight together without speaking or looking at one another till the day she went away. Before she went away she asked her father to come for a walk on the bank of the river. Painful as it was for him to walk in the light of day, in the sight of all honest people, with a daughter who was an actress, he yielded to her request.
“What a lovely place you live in!” she said enthusiastically. “What ravines and marshes! Good heavens, how lovely my native place is!”
And she had burst into tears.
“The place is simply taking up room,...” Andrey Andreyvitch had thought, looking blankly at the ravines, not understanding his daughter’s enthusiasm. “There is no more profit from them than milk from a billy-goat.”
And she had cried and cried, drawing her breath greedily with her whole chest, as though she felt she had not a long time left to breathe.
Andrey Andreyitch shook his head like a horse that has been bitten, and to stifle painful memories began rapidly crossing himself....
“Be mindful, O Lord,” he muttered, “of Thy departed servant, the harlot Mariya, and forgive her sins, voluntary or involuntary....”
The unseemly word dropped from his lips again, but he did not notice it: what is firmly imbedded in the consciousness cannot be driven out by Father Grigory’s exhortations or even knocked out by a nail. Makaryevna sighed and whispered something, drawing in a deep breath, while one-armed Mitka was brooding over something....
“Where there is no sickness, nor grief, nor sighing,” droned the sacristan, covering his right cheek with his hand.
Bluish smoke coiled up from the censer and bathed in the broad, slanting patch of sunshine which cut across the gloomy, lifeless emptiness of the church. And it seemed as though the soul of the dead woman were soaring into the sunlight together with the smoke. The coils of smoke like a child’s curls eddied round and round, floating upwards to the window and, as it were, holding aloof from the woes and tribulations of which that poor soul was full.


3. ANYUTA

IN the cheapest room of a big block of furnished apartments Stepan Klotchkov, a medical student in his third year, was walking to and fro, zealously conning his anatomy. His mouth was dry and his forehead perspiring from the unceasing effort to learn it by heart.
In the window, covered by patterns of frost, sat on a stool the girl who shared his room—Anyuta, a thin little brunette of five-and-twenty, very pale with mild grey eyes. Sitting with bent back she was busy embroidering with red thread the collar of a man’s shirt. She was working against time. . . . The clock in the passage struck two drowsily, yet the little room had not been put to rights for the morning. Crumpled bed-clothes, pillows thrown about, books, clothes, a big filthy slop-pail filled with soap-suds in which cigarette ends were swimming, and the litter on the floor—all seemed as though purposely jumbled together in one confusion. . . .
"The right lung consists of three parts . . ." Klotchkov repeated. "Boundaries! Upper part on anterior wall of thorax reaches the fourth or fifth rib, on the lateral surface, the fourth rib . . . behind to the _spina scapulæ_. . ."
Klotchkov raised his eyes to the ceiling, striving to visualise what he had just read. Unable to form a clear picture of it, he began feeling his upper ribs through his waistcoat.
"These ribs are like the keys of a piano," he said. "One must familiarise oneself with them somehow, if one is not to get muddled over them. One must study them in the skeleton and the living body . . . . I say, Anyuta, let me pick them out."
Anyuta put down her sewing, took off her blouse, and straightened herself up. Klotchkov sat down facing her, frowned, and began counting her ribs.
"H’m! . . . One can’t feel the first rib; it’s behind the shoulder-blade . . . . This must be the second rib. . . . Yes . . . this is the third . . . this is the fourth. . . . H’m! . . . yes. . . . Why are you wriggling?"
"Your fingers are cold!"
"Come, come . . . it won’t kill you. Don’t twist about. That must be the third rib, then . . . this is the fourth. . . . You look such a skinny thing, and yet one can hardly feel your ribs. That’s the second . . . that’s the third. . . . Oh, this is muddling, and one can’t see it clearly. . . . I must draw it. . . . Where’s my crayon?"
Klotchkov took his crayon and drew on Anyuta’s chest several parallel lines corresponding with the ribs.
"First-rate. That’s all straightforward. . . . Well, now I can sound you. Stand up!"
Anyuta stood up and raised her chin. Klotchkov began sounding her, and was so absorbed in this occupation that he did not notice how Anyuta’s lips, nose, and fingers turned blue with cold. Anyuta shivered, and was afraid the student, noticing it, would leave off drawing and sounding her, and then, perhaps, might fail in his exam.
"Now it’s all clear," said Klotchkov when he had finished. "You sit like that and don’t rub off the crayon, and meanwhile I’ll learn up a little more."
And the student again began walking to and fro, repeating to himself. Anyuta, with black stripes across her chest, looking as though she had been tattooed, sat thinking, huddled up and shivering with cold. She said very little as a rule; she was always silent, thinking and thinking. . . .
In the six or seven years of her wanderings from one furnished room to another, she had known five students like Klotchkov. Now they had all finished their studies, had gone out into the world, and, of course, like respectable people, had long ago forgotten her. One of them was living in Paris, two were doctors, the fourth was an artist, and the fifth was said to be already a professor. Klotchkov was the sixth. . . . Soon he, too, would finish his studies and go out into the world. There was a fine future before him, no doubt, and Klotchkov probably would become a great man, but the present was anything but bright; Klotchkov had no tobacco and no tea, and there were only four lumps of sugar left. She must make haste and finish her embroidery, take it to the woman who had ordered it, and with the quarter rouble she would get for it, buy tea and tobacco.
"Can I come in?" asked a voice at the door.
Anyuta quickly threw a woollen shawl over her shoulders. Fetisov, the artist, walked in.
"I have come to ask you a favour," he began, addressing Klotchkov, and glaring like a wild beast from under the long locks that hung over his brow. "Do me a favour; lend me your young lady just for a couple of hours! I’m painting a picture, you see, and I can’t get on without a model."
"Oh, with pleasure," Klotchkov agreed. "Go along, Anyuta."
"The things I’ve had to put up with there," Anyuta murmured softly.
"Rubbish! The man’s asking you for the sake of art, and not for any sort of nonsense. Why not help him if you can?"
Anyuta began dressing.
"And what are you painting?" asked Klotchkov.
"Psyche; it’s a fine subject. But it won’t go, somehow. I have to keep painting from different models. Yesterday I was painting one with blue legs. ’Why are your legs blue?’ I asked her. ’It’s my stockings stain them,’ she said. And you’re still grinding! Lucky fellow! You have patience."
"Medicine’s a job one can’t get on with without grinding."
"H’m! . . . Excuse me, Klotchkov, but you do live like a pig! It’s awful the way you live!"
"How do you mean? I can’t help it. . . . I only get twelve roubles a month from my father, and it’s hard to live decently on that."
"Yes . . . yes . . ." said the artist, frowning with an air of disgust; "but, still, you might live better. . . . An educated man is in duty bound to have taste, isn’t he? And goodness knows what it’s like here! The bed not made, the slops, the dirt . . . yesterday’s porridge in the plates. . . Tfoo!"
"That’s true," said the student in confusion; "but Anyuta has had no time to-day to tidy up; she’s been busy all the while."
When Anyuta and the artist had gone out Klotchkov lay down on the sofa and began learning, lying down; then he accidentally dropped asleep, and waking up an hour later, propped his head on his fists and sank into gloomy reflection. He recalled the artist’s words that an educated man was in duty bound to have taste, and his surroundings actually struck him now as loathsome and revolting. He saw, as it were in his mind’s eye, his own future, when he would see his patients in his consulting-room, drink tea in a large dining-room in the company of his wife, a real lady. And now that slop-pail in which the cigarette ends were swimming looked incredibly disgusting. Anyuta, too, rose before his imagination—a plain, slovenly, pitiful figure . . . and he made up his mind to part with her at once, at all costs.
When, on coming back from the artist’s, she took off her coat, he got up and said to her seriously:
"Look here, my good girl . . . sit down and listen. We must part! The fact is, I don’t want to live with you any longer."
Anyuta had come back from the artist’s worn out and exhausted. Standing so long as a model had made her face look thin and sunken, and her chin sharper than ever. She said nothing in answer to the student’s words, only her lips began to tremble.
"You know we should have to part sooner or later, anyway," said the student. "You’re a nice, good girl, and not a fool; you’ll understand. . . ."
Anyuta put on her coat again, in silence wrapped up her embroidery in paper, gathered together her needles and thread: she found the screw of paper with the four lumps of sugar in the window, and laid it on the table by the books.
"That’s . . . your sugar . . ." she said softly, and turned away to conceal her tears.
"Why are you crying?" asked Klotchkov.
He walked about the room in confusion, and said:
"You are a strange girl, really. . . . Why, you know we shall have to part. We can’t stay together for ever."
She had gathered together all her belongings, and turned to say good-bye to him, and he felt sorry for her.
"Shall I let her stay on here another week?" he thought. "She really may as well stay, and I’ll tell her to go in a week;" and vexed at his own weakness, he shouted to her roughly:
"Come, why are you standing there? If you are going, go; and if you don’t want to, take off your coat and stay! You can stay!"
Anyuta took off her coat, silently, stealthily, then blew her nose also stealthily, sighed, and noiselessly returned to her invariable position on her stool by the window.
The student drew his textbook to him and began again pacing from corner to corner. "The right lung consists of three parts," he repeated; "the upper part, on anterior wall of thorax, reaches the fourth or fifth rib . . . ."
In the passage some one shouted at the top of his voice: "Grigory! The samovar!"


4. THE DEPENDENTS

MIHAIL PETROVITCH ZOTOV, a decrepit and solitary old man of seventy, belonging to the artisan class, was awakened by the cold and the aching in his old limbs. It was dark in his room, but the little lamp before the ikon was no longer burning. Zotov raised the curtain and looked out of the window. The clouds that shrouded the sky were beginning to show white here and there, and the air was becoming transparent, so it must have been nearly five, not more.
Zotov cleared his throat, coughed, and shrinking from the cold, got out of bed. In accordance with years of habit, he stood for a long time before the ikon, saying his prayers. He repeated “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” the Creed, and mentioned a long string of names. To whom those names belonged he had forgotten years ago, and he only repeated them from habit. From habit, too, he swept his room and entry, and set his fat little four-legged copper samovar. If Zotov had not had these habits he would not have known how to occupy his old age.
The little samovar slowly began to get hot, and all at once, unexpectedly, broke into a tremulous bass hum.
“Oh, you’ve started humming!” grumbled Zotov. “Hum away then, and bad luck to you!”
At that point the old man appropriately recalled that, in the preceding night, he had dreamed of a stove, and to dream of a stove is a sign of sorrow.
Dreams and omens were the only things left that could rouse him to reflection; and on this occasion he plunged with a special zest into the considerations of the questions: What the samovar was humming for? and what sorrow was foretold by the stove? The dream seemed to come true from the first. Zotov rinsed out his teapot and was about to make his tea, when he found there was not one teaspoonful left in the box.
“What an existence!” he grumbled, rolling crumbs of black bread round in his mouth. “It’s a dog’s life. No tea! And it isn’t as though I were a simple peasant: I’m an artisan and a house-owner. The disgrace!”
Grumbling and talking to himself, Zotov put on his overcoat, which was like a crinoline, and, thrusting his feet into huge clumsy golosh-boots (made in the year 1867 by a bootmaker called Prohoritch), went out into the yard. The air was grey, cold, and sullenly still. The big yard, full of tufts of burdock and strewn with yellow leaves, was faintly silvered with autumn frost. Not a breath of wind nor a sound. The old man sat down on the steps of his slanting porch, and at once there happened what happened regularly every morning: his dog Lyska, a big, mangy, decrepit-looking, white yard-dog, with black patches, came up to him with its right eye shut. Lyska came up timidly, wriggling in a frightened way, as though her paws were not touching the earth but a hot stove, and the whole of her wretched figure was expressive of abjectness. Zotov pretended not to notice her, but when she faintly wagged her tail, and, wriggling as before, licked his golosh, he stamped his foot angrily.
“Be off! The plague take you!” he cried. “Con-found-ed bea-east!”
Lyska moved aside, sat down, and fixed her solitary eye upon her master.
“You devils!” he went on. “You are the last straw on my back, you Herods.”
And he looked with hatred at his shed with its crooked, overgrown roof; there from the door of the shed a big horse’s head was looking out at him. Probably flattered by its master’s attention, the head moved, pushed forward, and there emerged from the shed the whole horse, as decrepit as Lyska, as timid and as crushed, with spindly legs, grey hair, a pinched stomach, and a bony spine. He came out of the shed and stood still, hesitating as though overcome with embarrassment.
“Plague take you,” Zotov went on. “Shall I ever see the last of you, you jail-bird Pharaohs! . . . I wager you want your breakfast!” he jeered, twisting his angry face into a contemptuous smile. “By all means, this minute! A priceless steed like you must have your fill of the best oats! Pray begin! This minute! And I have something to give to the magnificent, valuable dog! If a precious dog like you does not care for bread, you can have meat.”
Zotov grumbled for half an hour, growing more and more irritated. In the end, unable to control the anger that boiled up in him, he jumped up, stamped with his goloshes, and growled out to be heard all over the yard:
“I am not obliged to feed you, you loafers! I am not some millionaire for you to eat me out of house and home! I have nothing to eat myself, you cursed carcasses, the cholera take you! I get no pleasure or profit out of you; nothing but trouble and ruin, Why don’t you give up the ghost? Are you such personages that even death won’t take you? You can live, damn you! but I don’t want to feed you! I have had enough of you! I don’t want to!”
Zotov grew wrathful and indignant, and the horse and the dog listened. Whether these two dependents understood that they were being reproached for living at his expense, I don’t know, but their stomachs looked more pinched than ever, and their whole figures shrivelled up, grew gloomier and more abject than before. . . . Their submissive air exasperated Zotov more than ever.
“Get away!” he shouted, overcome by a sort of inspiration. “Out of my house! Don’t let me set eyes on you again! I am not obliged to keep all sorts of rubbish in my yard! Get away!”
The old man moved with little hurried steps to the gate, opened it, and picking up a stick from the ground, began driving out his dependents. The horse shook its head, moved its shoulder-blades, and limped to the gate; the dog followed him. Both of them went out into the street, and, after walking some twenty paces, stopped at the fence.
“I’ll give it you!” Zotov threatened them.
When he had driven out his dependents he felt calmer, and began sweeping the yard. From time to time he peeped out into the street: the horse and the dog were standing like posts by the fence, looking dejectedly towards the gate.
“Try how you can do without me,” muttered the old man, feeling as though a weight of anger were being lifted from his heart. “Let somebody else look after you now! I am stingy and ill-tempered. . . . It’s nasty living with me, so you try living with other people . . . . Yes. . . .”
After enjoying the crushed expression of his dependents, and grumbling to his heart’s content, Zotov went out of the yard, and, assuming a ferocious air, shouted:
“Well, why are you standing there? Whom are you waiting for? Standing right across the middle of the road and preventing the public from passing! Go into the yard!”
The horse and the dog with drooping heads and a guilty air turned towards the gate. Lyska, probably feeling she did not deserve forgiveness, whined piteously.
“Stay you can, but as for food, you’ll get nothing from me! You may die, for all I care!”
Meanwhile the sun began to break through the morning mist; its slanting rays gilded over the autumn frost. There was a sound of steps and voices. Zotov put back the broom in its place, and went out of the yard to see his crony and neighbour, Mark Ivanitch, who kept a little general shop. On reaching his friend’s shop, he sat down on a folding-stool, sighed sedately, stroked his beard, and began about the weather. From the weather the friends passed to the new deacon, from the deacon to the choristers; and the conversation lengthened out. They did not notice as they talked how time was passing, and when the shop-boy brought in a big teapot of boiling water, and the friends proceeded to drink tea, the time flew as quickly as a bird. Zotov got warm and felt more cheerful.
“I have a favour to ask of you, Mark Ivanitch,” he began, after the sixth glass, drumming on the counter with his fingers. “If you would just be so kind as to give me a gallon of oats again to-day. . . .”
From behind the big tea-chest behind which Mark Ivanitch was sitting came the sound of a deep sigh.
“Do be so good,” Zotov went on; “never mind tea—don’t give it me to-day, but let me have some oats. . . . I am ashamed to ask you, I have wearied you with my poverty, but the horse is hungry.”
“I can give it you,” sighed the friend—“why not? But why the devil do you keep those carcasses?—tfoo!—Tell me that, please. It would be all right if it were a useful horse, but—tfoo!— one is ashamed to look at it. . . . And the dog’s nothing but a skeleton! Why the devil do you keep them?”
“What am I to do with them?”
“You know. Take them to Ignat the slaughterer—that is all there is to do. They ought to have been there long ago. It’s the proper place for them.”
“To be sure, that is so! . . . I dare say! . . .”
“You live like a beggar and keep animals,” the friend went on. “I don’t grudge the oats. . . . God bless you. But as to the future, brother . . . I can’t afford to give regularly every day! There is no end to your poverty! One gives and gives, and one doesn’t know when there will be an end to it all.”
The friend sighed and stroked his red face.
“If you were dead that would settle it,” he said. “You go on living, and you don’t know what for. . . . Yes, indeed! But if it is not the Lord’s will for you to die, you had better go somewhere into an almshouse or a refuge.”
“What for? I have relations. I have a great-niece. . . .”
And Zotov began telling at great length of his great-niece Glasha, daughter of his niece Katerina, who lived somewhere on a farm.
“She is bound to keep me!” he said. “My house will be left to her, so let her keep me; I’ll go to her. It’s Glasha, you know . . . Katya’s daughter; and Katya, you know, was my brother Panteley’s stepdaughter. . . . You understand? The house will come to her . . . . Let her keep me!”
“To be sure; rather than live, as you do, a beggar, I should have gone to her long ago.”
“I will go! As God’s above, I will go. It’s her duty.”
When an hour later the old friends were drinking a glass of vodka, Zotov stood in the middle of the shop and said with enthusiasm:
“I have been meaning to go to her for a long time; I will go this very day.”
“To be sure; rather than hanging about and dying of hunger, you ought to have gone to the farm long ago.”
“I’ll go at once! When I get there, I shall say: Take my house, but keep me and treat me with respect. It’s your duty! If you don’t care to, then there is neither my house, nor my blessing for you! Good-bye, Ivanitch!”
Zotov drank another glass, and, inspired by the new idea, hurried home. The vodka had upset him and his head was reeling, but instead of lying down, he put all his clothes together in a bundle, said a prayer, took his stick, and went out. Muttering and tapping on the stones with his stick, he walked the whole length of the street without looking back, and found himself in the open country. It was eight or nine miles to the farm. He walked along the dry road, looked at the town herd lazily munching the yellow grass, and pondered on the abrupt change in his life which he had only just brought about so resolutely. He thought, too, about his dependents. When he went out of the house, he had not locked the gate, and so had left them free to go whither they would.
He had not gone a mile into the country when he heard steps behind him. He looked round and angrily clasped his hands. The horse and Lyska, with their heads drooping and their tails between their legs, were quietly walking after him.
“Go back!” he waved to them.
They stopped, looked at one another, looked at him. He went on, they followed him. Then he stopped and began ruminating. It was impossible to go to his great-niece Glasha, whom he hardly knew, with these creatures; he did not want to go back and shut them up, and, indeed, he could not shut them up, because the gate was no use.
“To die of hunger in the shed,” thought Zotov. “Hadn’t I really better take them to Ignat?”
Ignat’s hut stood on the town pasture-ground, a hundred paces from the flagstaff. Though he had not quite made up his mind, and did not know what to do, he turned towards it. His head was giddy and there was a darkness before his eyes. . . .
He remembers little of what happened in the slaughterer’s yard. He has a memory of a sickening, heavy smell of hides and the savoury steam of the cabbage-soup Ignat was sipping when he went in to him. As in a dream he saw Ignat, who made him wait two hours, slowly preparing something, changing his clothes, talking to some women about corrosive sublimate; he remembered the horse was put into a stand, after which there was the sound of two dull thuds, one of a blow on the skull, the other of the fall of a heavy body. When Lyska, seeing the death of her friend, flew at Ignat, barking shrilly, there was the sound of a third blow that cut short the bark abruptly. Further, Zotov remembers that in his drunken foolishness, seeing the two corpses, he went up to the stand, and put his own forehead ready for a blow.
And all that day his eyes were dimmed by a haze, and he could not even see his own fingers.


6. THE JEUNE PREMIER

YEVGENY ALEXEYITCH PODZHAROV, the jeune premier, a graceful, elegant young man with an oval face and little bags under his eyes, had come for the season to one of the southern towns of Russia, and tried at once to make the acquaintance of a few of the leading families of the place. “Yes, signor,” he would often say, gracefully swinging his foot and displaying his red socks, “an artist ought to act upon the masses, both directly and indirectly; the first aim is attained by his work on the stage, the second by an acquaintance with the local inhabitants. On my honour, parole d’honneur, I don’t understand why it is we actors avoid making acquaintance with local families. Why is it? To say nothing of dinners, name-day parties, feasts, soirées fixes, to say nothing of these entertainments, think of the moral influence we may have on society! Is it not agreeable to feel one has dropped a spark in some thick skull? The types one meets! The women! Mon Dieu, what women! they turn one’s head! One penetrates into some huge merchant’s house, into the sacred retreats, and picks out some fresh and rosy little peach—it’s heaven, parole d’honneur!
In the southern town, among other estimable families he made the acquaintance of that of a manufacturer called Zybaev. Whenever he remembers that acquaintance now he frowns contemptuously, screws up his eyes, and nervously plays with his watch-chain.
One day—it was at a name-day party at Zybaev’s—the actor was sitting in his new friends’ drawing-room and holding forth as usual. Around him “types” were sitting in armchairs and on the sofa, listening affably; from the next room came feminine laughter and the sounds of evening tea. . . . Crossing his legs, after each phrase sipping tea with rum in it, and trying to assume an expression of careless boredom, he talked of his stage triumphs.
“I am a provincial actor principally,” he said, smiling condescendingly, “but I have played in Petersburg and Moscow too. . . . By the way, I will describe an incident which illustrates pretty well the state of mind of to-day. At my benefit in Moscow the young people brought me such a mass of laurel wreaths that I swear by all I hold sacred I did not know where to put them! Parole d’honneur! Later on, at a moment when funds were short, I took the laurel wreaths to the shop, and . . . guess what they weighed. Eighty pounds altogether. Ha, ha! you can’t think how useful the money was. Artists, indeed, are often hard up. To-day I have hundreds, thousands, tomorrow nothing. . . . To-day I haven’t a crust of bread, to-morrow I have oysters and anchovies, hang it all!”
The local inhabitants sipped their glasses decorously and listened. The well-pleased host, not knowing how to make enough of his cultured and interesting visitor, presented to him a distant relative who had just arrived, one Pavel Ignatyevitch Klimov, a bulky gentleman about forty, wearing a long frock-coat and very full trousers.
“You ought to know each other,” said Zybaev as he presented Klimov; “he loves theatres, and at one time used to act himself. He has an estate in the Tula province.”
Podzharov and Klimov got into conversation. It appeared, to the great satisfaction of both, that the Tula landowner lived in the very town in which the jeune premier had acted for two seasons in succession. Enquiries followed about the town, about common acquaintances, and about the theatre. . . .
“Do you know, I like that town awfully,” said the jeune premier, displaying his red socks. “What streets, what a charming park, and what society! Delightful society!”
“Yes, delightful society,” the landowner assented.
“A commercial town, but extremely cultured. . . . For instance, er-er-er . . . the head master of the high school, the public prosecutor . . . the officers. . . . The police captain, too, was not bad, a man, as the French say, enchanté, and the women, Allah, what women!”
“Yes, the women . . . certainly. . . .”
“Perhaps I am partial; the fact is that in your town, I don’t know why, I was devilishly lucky with the fair sex! I could write a dozen novels. To take this episode, for instance. . . . I was staying in Yegoryevsky Street, in the very house where the Treasury is. . . .”
“The red house without stucco?”
“Yes, yes . . . without stucco. . . . Close by, as I remember now, lived a local beauty, Varenka. . . .”
“Not Varvara Nikolayevna?” asked Klimov, and he beamed with satisfaction. “She really is a beauty . . . the most beautiful girl in the town.”
“The most beautiful girl in the town! A classic profile, great black eyes . . . . and hair to her waist! She saw me in ‘Hamlet,’ she wrote me a letter à la Pushkin’s ‘Tatyana.’ . . . I answered, as you may guess. . . .”
Podzharov looked round, and having satisfied himself that there were no ladies in the room, rolled his eyes, smiled mournfully, and heaved a sigh.
“I came home one evening after a performance,” he whispered, “and there she was, sitting on my sofa. There followed tears, protestations of love, kisses. . . . Oh, that was a marvellous, that was a divine night! Our romance lasted two months, but that night was never repeated. It was a night, parole d’honneur!”
“Excuse me, what’s that?” muttered Klimov, turning crimson and gazing open-eyed at the actor. “I know Varvara Nikolayevna well: she’s my niece.”
Podzharov was embarrassed, and he, too, opened his eyes wide.
“How’s this?” Klimov went on, throwing up his hands. “I know the girl, and . . . and . . . I am surprised. . . .”
“I am very sorry this has come up,” muttered the actor, getting up and rubbing something out of his left eye with his little finger. “Though, of course . . . of course, you as her uncle . . .”
The other guests, who had hitherto been listening to the actor with pleasure and rewarding him with smiles, were embarrassed and dropped their eyes.
“Please, do be so good . . . take your words back . . .” said Klimov in extreme embarrassment. “I beg you to do so!”
“If . . . er-er-er . . . it offends you, certainly,” answered the actor, with an undefined movement of his hand.
“And confess you have told a falsehood.”
“I, no . . . er-er-er. . . . It was not a lie, but I greatly regret having spoken too freely. . . . And, in fact . . . I don’t understand your tone!”
Klimov walked up and down the room in silence, as though in uncertainty and hesitation. His fleshy face grew more and more crimson, and the veins in his neck swelled up. After walking up and down for about two minutes he went up to the actor and said in a tearful voice:
“No, do be so good as to confess that you told a lie about Varenka! Have the goodness to do so!”
“It’s queer,” said the actor, with a strained smile, shrugging his shoulders and swinging his leg. “This is positively insulting!”
“So you will not confess it?”
“I do-on’t understand!”
“You will not? In that case, excuse me . . . I shall have to resort to unpleasant measures. Either, sir, I shall insult you at once on the spot, or . . . if you are an honourable man, you will kindly accept my challenge to a duel. . . . We will fight!”
“Certainly!” rapped out the jeune premier, with a contemptuous gesture. “Certainly.”
Extremely perturbed, the guests and the host, not knowing what to do, drew Klimov aside and began begging him not to get up a scandal. Astonished feminine countenances appeared in the doorway. . . . The jeune premier turned round, said a few words, and with an air of being unable to remain in a house where he was insulted, took his cap and made off without saying good-bye.
On his way home the jeune premier smiled contemptuously and shrugged his shoulders, but when he reached his hotel room and stretched himself on his sofa he felt exceedingly uneasy.
“The devil take him!” he thought. “A duel does not matter, he won’t kill me, but the trouble is the other fellows will hear of it, and they know perfectly well it was a yarn. It’s abominable! I shall be disgraced all over Russia. . . .”
Podzharov thought a little, smoked, and to calm himself went out into the street.
“I ought to talk to this bully, ram into his stupid noddle that he is a blockhead and a fool, and that I am not in the least afraid of him. . . .”
The jeune premier stopped before Zybaev’s house and looked at the windows. Lights were still burning behind the muslin curtains and figures were moving about.
“I’ll wait for him!” the actor decided.
It was dark and cold. A hateful autumn rain was drizzling as though through a sieve. Podzharov leaned his elbow on a lamp-post and abandoned himself to a feeling of uneasiness.
He was wet through and exhausted.
At two o’clock in the night the guests began coming out of Zybaev’s house. The landowner from Tula was the last to make his appearance. He heaved a sigh that could be heard by the whole street and scraped the pavement with his heavy overboots.
“Excuse me!” said the jeune premier, overtaking him. “One minute.”
Klimov stopped. The actor gave a smile, hesitated, and began, stammering: “I . . . I confess . . . I told a lie.”
“No, sir, you will please confess that publicly,” said Klimov, and he turned crimson again. “I can’t leave it like that. . . .”
“But you see I am apologising! I beg you . . . don’t you understand? I beg you because you will admit a duel will make talk, and I am in a position. . . . My fellow-actors . . . goodness knows what they may think. . . .”
The jeune premier tried to appear unconcerned, to smile, to stand erect, but his body would not obey him, his voice trembled, his eyes blinked guiltily, and his head drooped. For a good while he went on muttering something. Klimov listened to him, thought a little, and heaved a sigh.
“Well, so be it,” he said. “May God forgive you. Only don’t lie in future, young man. Nothing degrades a man like lying . . . yes, indeed! You are a young man, you have had a good education. . . .”
The landowner from Tula, in a benignant, fatherly way, gave him a lecture, while the jeune premier listened and smiled meekly. . . . When it was over he smirked, bowed, and with a guilty step and a crestfallen air set off for his hotel.
As he went to bed half an hour later he felt that he was out of danger and was already in excellent spirits. Serene and satisfied that the misunderstanding had ended so satisfactorily, he wrapped himself in the bedclothes, soon fell asleep, and slept soundly till ten o’clock next morning.


6. DIFFICULT PEOPLE

YEVGRAF IVANOVITCH SHIRYAEV, a small farmer, whose father, a parish priest, now deceased, had received a gift of three hundred acres of land from Madame Kuvshinnikov, a general’s widow, was standing in a corner before a copper washing-stand, washing his hands. As usual, his face looked anxious and ill-humoured, and his beard was uncombed.
“What weather!” he said. “It’s not weather, but a curse laid upon us. It’s raining again!”
He grumbled on, while his family sat waiting at table for him to have finished washing his hands before beginning dinner. Fedosya Semyonovna, his wife, his son Pyotr, a student, his eldest daughter Varvara, and three small boys, had been sitting waiting a long time. The boys—Kolka, Vanka, and Arhipka—grubby, snub-nosed little fellows with chubby faces and tousled hair that wanted cutting, moved their chairs impatiently, while their elders sat without stirring, and apparently did not care whether they ate their dinner or waited....
As though trying their patience, Shiryaev deliberately dried his hands, deliberately said his prayer, and sat down to the table without hurrying himself. Cabbage-soup was served immediately. The sound of carpenters’ axes (Shiryaev was having a new barn built) and the laughter of Fomka, their labourer, teasing the turkey, floated in from the courtyard.
Big, sparse drops of rain pattered on the window.
Pyotr, a round-shouldered student in spectacles, kept exchanging glances with his mother as he ate his dinner. Several times he laid down his spoon and cleared his throat, meaning to begin to speak, but after an intent look at his father he fell to eating again. At last, when the porridge had been served, he cleared his throat resolutely and said:
“I ought to go tonight by the evening train. I ought to have gone before; I have missed a fortnight as it is. The lectures begin on the first of September.”
“Well, go,” Shiryaev assented; “why are you lingering on here? Pack up and go, and good luck to you.”
A minute passed in silence.
“He must have money for the journey, Yevgraf Ivanovitch,” the mother observed in a low voice.
“Money? To be sure, you can’t go without money. Take it at once, since you need it. You could have had it long ago!”
The student heaved a faint sigh and looked with relief at his mother. Deliberately Shiryaev took a pocket-book out of his coat-pocket and put on his spectacles.
“How much do you want?” he asked.
“The fare to Moscow is eleven roubles forty-two kopecks....”
“Ah, money, money!” sighed the father. (He always sighed when he saw money, even when he was receiving it.) “Here are twelve roubles for you. You will have change out of that which will be of use to you on the journey.”
“Thank you.”
After waiting a little, the student said:
“I did not get lessons quite at first last year. I don’t know how it will be this year; most likely it will take me a little time to find work. I ought to ask you for fifteen roubles for my lodging and dinner.”
Shiryaev thought a little and heaved a sigh.
“You will have to make ten do,” he said. “Here, take it.”
The student thanked him. He ought to have asked him for something more, for clothes, for lecture fees, for books, but after an intent look at his father he decided not to pester him further.
The mother, lacking in diplomacy and prudence, like all mothers, could not restrain herself, and said:
“You ought to give him another six roubles, Yevgraf Ivanovitch, for a pair of boots. Why, just see, how can he go to Moscow in such wrecks?”
“Let him take my old ones; they are still quite good.”
“He must have trousers, anyway; he is a disgrace to look at.”
And immediately after that a storm-signal showed itself, at the sight of which all the family trembled.
Shiryaev’s short, fat neck turned suddenly red as a beetroot. The colour mounted slowly to his ears, from his ears to his temples, and by degrees suffused his whole face. Yevgraf Ivanovitch shifted in his chair and unbuttoned his shirt-collar to save himself from choking. He was evidently struggling with the feeling that was mastering him. A deathlike silence followed. The children held their breath. Fedosya Semyonovna, as though she did not grasp what was happening to her husband, went on:
“He is not a little boy now, you know; he is ashamed to go about without clothes.”
Shiryaev suddenly jumped up, and with all his might flung down his fat pocket-book in the middle of the table, so that a hunk of bread flew off a plate. A revolting expression of anger, resentment, avarice—all mixed together—flamed on his face.
“Take everything!” he shouted in an unnatural voice; “plunder me! Take it all! Strangle me!”
He jumped up from the table, clutched at his head, and ran staggering about the room.
“Strip me to the last thread!” he shouted in a shrill voice. “Squeeze out the last drop! Rob me! Wring my neck!”
The student flushed and dropped his eyes. He could not go on eating. Fedosya Semyonovna, who had not after twenty-five years grown used to her husband’s difficult character, shrank into herself and muttered something in self-defence. An expression of amazement and dull terror came into her wasted and birdlike face, which at all times looked dull and scared. The little boys and the elder daughter Varvara, a girl in her teens, with a pale ugly face, laid down their spoons and sat mute.
Shiryaev, growing more and more ferocious, uttering words each more terrible than the one before, dashed up to the table and began shaking the notes out of his pocket-book.
“Take them!” he muttered, shaking all over. “You’ve eaten and drunk your fill, so here’s money for you too! I need nothing! Order yourself new boots and uniforms!”
The student turned pale and got up.
“Listen, papa,” he began, gasping for breath. “I... I beg you to end this, for...”
“Hold your tongue!” the father shouted at him, and so loudly that the spectacles fell off his nose; “hold your tongue!”
“I used... I used to be able to put up with such scenes, but... but now I have got out of the way of it. Do you understand? I have got out of the way of it!”
“Hold your tongue!” cried the father, and he stamped with his feet. “You must listen to what I say! I shall say what I like, and you hold your tongue. At your age I was earning my living, while you... Do you know what you cost me, you scoundrel? I’ll turn you out! Wastrel!”
“Yevgraf Ivanovitch,” muttered Fedosya Semyonovna, moving her fingers nervously; “you know he... you know Petya...!”
“Hold your tongue!” Shiryaev shouted out to her, and tears actually came into his eyes from anger. “It is you who have spoilt them—you! It’s all your fault! He has no respect for us, does not say his prayers, and earns nothing! I am only one against the ten of you! I’ll turn you out of the house!”
The daughter Varvara gazed fixedly at her mother with her mouth open, moved her vacant-looking eyes to the window, turned pale, and, uttering a loud shriek, fell back in her chair. The father, with a curse and a wave of the hand, ran out into the yard.
This was how domestic scenes usually ended at the Shiryaevs’. But on this occasion, unfortunately, Pyotr the student was carried away by overmastering anger. He was just as hasty and ill-tempered as his father and his grandfather the priest, who used to beat his parishioners about the head with a stick. Pale and clenching his fists, he went up to his mother and shouted in the very highest tenor note his voice could reach:
“These reproaches are loathsome! sickening to me! I want nothing from you! Nothing! I would rather die of hunger than eat another mouthful at your expense! Take your nasty money back! take it!”
The mother huddled against the wall and waved her hands, as though it were not her son, but some phantom before her. “What have I done?” she wailed. “What?”
Like his father, the boy waved his hands and ran into the yard. Shiryaev’s house stood alone on a ravine which ran like a furrow for four miles along the steppe. Its sides were overgrown with oak saplings and alders, and a stream ran at the bottom. On one side the house looked towards the ravine, on the other towards the open country, there were no fences nor hurdles. Instead there were farm-buildings of all sorts close to one another, shutting in a small space in front of the house which was regarded as the yard, and in which hens, ducks, and pigs ran about.
Going out of the house, the student walked along the muddy road towards the open country. The air was full of a penetrating autumn dampness. The road was muddy, puddles gleamed here and there, and in the yellow fields autumn itself seemed looking out from the grass, dismal, decaying, dark. On the right-hand side of the road was a vegetable-garden cleared of its crops and gloomy-looking, with here and there sunflowers standing up in it with hanging heads already black.
Pyotr thought it would not be a bad thing to walk to Moscow on foot; to walk just as he was, with holes in his boots, without a cap, and without a farthing of money. When he had gone eighty miles his father, frightened and aghast, would overtake him, would begin begging him to turn back or take the money, but he would not even look at him, but would go on and on.... Bare forests would be followed by desolate fields, fields by forests again; soon the earth would be white with the first snow, and the streams would be coated with ice.... Somewhere near Kursk or near Serpuhovo, exhausted and dying of hunger, he would sink down and die. His corpse would be found, and there would be a paragraph in all the papers saying that a student called Shiryaev had died of hunger....
A white dog with a muddy tail who was wandering about the vegetable-garden looking for something gazed at him and sauntered after him.
He walked along the road and thought of death, of the grief of his family, of the moral sufferings of his father, and then pictured all sorts of adventures on the road, each more marvellous than the one before—picturesque places, terrible nights, chance encounters. He imagined a string of pilgrims, a hut in the forest with one little window shining in the darkness; he stands before the window, begs for a night’s lodging.... They let him in, and suddenly he sees that they are robbers. Or, better still, he is taken into a big manor-house, where, learning who he is, they give him food and drink, play to him on the piano, listen to his complaints, and the daughter of the house, a beauty, falls in love with him.
Absorbed in his bitterness and such thoughts, young Shiryaev walked on and on. Far, far ahead he saw the inn, a dark patch against the grey background of cloud. Beyond the inn, on the very horizon, he could see a little hillock; this was the railway-station. That hillock reminded him of the connection existing between the place where he was now standing and Moscow, where street-lamps were burning and carriages were rattling in the streets, where lectures were being given. And he almost wept with depression and impatience. The solemn landscape, with its order and beauty, the deathlike stillness all around, revolted him and moved him to despair and hatred!
“Look out!” He heard behind him a loud voice.
An old lady of his acquaintance, a landowner of the neighbourhood, drove past him in a light, elegant landau. He bowed to her, and smiled all over his face. And at once he caught himself in that smile, which was so out of keeping with his gloomy mood. Where did it come from if his whole heart was full of vexation and misery? And he thought nature itself had given man this capacity for lying, that even in difficult moments of spiritual strain he might be able to hide the secrets of his nest as the fox and the wild duck do. Every family has its joys and its horrors, but however great they may be, it’s hard for an outsider’s eye to see them; they are a secret. The father of the old lady who had just driven by, for instance, had for some offence lain for half his lifetime under the ban of the wrath of Tsar Nicolas I.; her husband had been a gambler; of her four sons, not one had turned out well. One could imagine how many terrible scenes there must have been in her life, how many tears must have been shed. And yet the old lady seemed happy and satisfied, and she had answered his smile by smiling too. The student thought of his comrades, who did not like talking about their families; he thought of his mother, who almost always lied when she had to speak of her husband and children....
Pyotr walked about the roads far from home till dusk, abandoning himself to dreary thoughts. When it began to drizzle with rain he turned homewards. As he walked back he made up his mind at all costs to talk to his father, to explain to him, once and for all, that it was dreadful and oppressive to live with him.
He found perfect stillness in the house. His sister Varvara was lying behind a screen with a headache, moaning faintly. His mother, with a look of amazement and guilt upon her face, was sitting beside her on a box, mending Arhipka’s trousers. Yevgraf Ivanovitch was pacing from one window to another, scowling at the weather. From his walk, from the way he cleared his throat, and even from the back of his head, it was evident he felt himself to blame.
“I suppose you have changed your mind about going today?” he asked.
The student felt sorry for him, but immediately suppressing that feeling, he said:
“Listen... I must speak to you seriously... yes, seriously. I have always respected you, and... and have never brought myself to speak to you in such a tone, but your behaviour... your last action...”
The father looked out of the window and did not speak. The student, as though considering his words, rubbed his forehead and went on in great excitement:
“Not a dinner or tea passes without your making an uproar. Your bread sticks in our throat... nothing is more bitter, more humiliating, than bread that sticks in one’s throat.... Though you are my father, no one, neither God nor nature, has given you the right to insult and humiliate us so horribly, to vent your ill-humour on the weak. You have worn my mother out and made a slave of her, my sister is hopelessly crushed, while I...”
“It’s not your business to teach me,” said his father.
“Yes, it is my business! You can quarrel with me as much as you like, but leave my mother in peace! I will not allow you to torment my mother!” the student went on, with flashing eyes. “You are spoilt because no one has yet dared to oppose you. They tremble and are mute towards you, but now that is over! Coarse, ill-bred man! You are coarse... do you understand? You are coarse, ill-humoured, unfeeling. And the peasants can’t endure you!”
The student had by now lost his thread, and was not so much speaking as firing off detached words. Yevgraf Ivanovitch listened in silence, as though stunned; but suddenly his neck turned crimson, the colour crept up his face, and he made a movement.
“Hold your tongue!” he shouted.
“That’s right!” the son persisted; “you don’t like to hear the truth! Excellent! Very good! begin shouting! Excellent!”
“Hold your tongue, I tell you!” roared Yevgraf Ivanovitch.
Fedosya Semyonovna appeared in the doorway, very pale, with an astonished face; she tried to say something, but she could not, and could only move her fingers.
“It’s all your fault!” Shiryaev shouted at her. “You have brought him up like this!”
“I don’t want to go on living in this house!” shouted the student, crying, and looking angrily at his mother. “I don’t want to live with you!”
Varvara uttered a shriek behind the screen and broke into loud sobs. With a wave of his hand, Shiryaev ran out of the house.
The student went to his own room and quietly lay down. He lay till midnight without moving or opening his eyes. He felt neither anger nor shame, but a vague ache in his soul. He neither blamed his father nor pitied his mother, nor was he tormented by stings of conscience; he realized that every one in the house was feeling the same ache, and God only knew which was most to blame, which was suffering most....
At midnight he woke the labourer, and told him to have the horse ready at five o’clock in the morning for him to drive to the station; he undressed and got into bed, but could not get to sleep. He heard how his father, still awake, paced slowly from window to window, sighing, till early morning. No one was asleep; they spoke rarely, and only in whispers. Twice his mother came to him behind the screen. Always with the same look of vacant wonder, she slowly made the cross over him, shaking nervously.
At five o’clock in the morning he said good-bye to them all affectionately, and even shed tears. As he passed his father’s room, he glanced in at the door. Yevgraf Ivanovitch, who had not taken off his clothes or gone to bed, was standing by the window, drumming on the panes.
“Good-bye; I am going,” said his son.
“Good-bye... the money is on the round table...” his father answered, without turning round.
A cold, hateful rain was falling as the labourer drove him to the station. The sunflowers were drooping their heads still lower, and the grass seemed darker than ever.


7. IN THE COURT

AT the district town of N. in the cinnamon-coloured government house in which the Zemstvo, the sessional meetings of the justices of the peace, the Rural Board, the Liquor Board, the Military Board, and many others sit by turns, the Circuit Court was in session on one of the dull days of autumn. Of the above-mentioned cinnamon-coloured house a local official had wittily observed:
“Here is Justitia, here is Policia, here is Militia—a regular boarding school of high-born young ladies.”
But, as the saying is, “Too many cooks spoil the broth,” and probably that is why the house strikes, oppresses, and overwhelms a fresh unofficial visitor with its dismal barrack-like appearance, its decrepit condition, and the complete absence of any kind of comfort, external or internal. Even on the brightest spring days it seems wrapped in a dense shade, and on clear moonlight nights, when the trees and the little dwelling-houses merged in one blur of shadow seem plunged in quiet slumber, it alone absurdly and inappropriately towers, an oppressive mass of stone, above the modest landscape, spoils the general harmony, and keeps sleepless vigil as though it could not escape from burdensome memories of past unforgiven sins. Inside it is like a barn and extremely unattractive. It is strange to see how readily these elegant lawyers, members of committees, and marshals of nobility, who in their own homes will make a scene over the slightest fume from the stove, or stain on the floor, resign themselves here to whirring ventilation wheels, the disgusting smell of fumigating candles, and the filthy, forever perspiring walls.
The sitting of the circuit court began between nine and ten. The programme of the day was promptly entered upon, with noticeable haste. The cases came on one after another and ended quickly, like a church service without a choir, so that no mind could form a complete picture of all this parti-coloured mass of faces, movements, words, misfortunes, true sayings and lies, all racing by like a river in flood. . . . By two o’clock a great deal had been done: two prisoners had been sentenced to service in convict battalions, one of the privileged class had been sentenced to deprivation of rights and imprisonment, one had been acquitted, one case had been adjourned.
At precisely two o’clock the presiding judge announced that the case “of the peasant Nikolay Harlamov, charged with the murder of his wife,” would next be heard. The composition of the court remained the same as it had been for the preceding case, except that the place of the defending counsel was filled by a new personage, a beardless young graduate in a coat with bright buttons. The president gave the order—“Bring in the prisoner!”
But the prisoner, who had been got ready beforehand, was already walking to his bench. He was a tall, thick-set peasant of about fifty-five, completely bald, with an apathetic, hairy face and a big red beard. He was followed by a frail-looking little soldier with a gun.
Just as he was reaching the bench the escort had a trifling mishap. He stumbled and dropped the gun out of his hands, but caught it at once before it touched the ground, knocking his knee violently against the butt end as he did so. A faint laugh was audible in the audience. Either from the pain or perhaps from shame at his awkwardness the soldier flushed a dark red.
After the customary questions to the prisoner, the shuffling of the jury, the calling over and swearing in of the witnesses, the reading of the charge began. The narrow-chested, pale-faced secretary, far too thin for his uniform, and with sticking plaster on his check, read it in a low, thick bass, rapidly like a sacristan, without raising or dropping his voice, as though afraid of exerting his lungs; he was seconded by the ventilation wheel whirring indefatigably behind the judge’s table, and the result was a sound that gave a drowsy, narcotic character to the stillness of the hall.
The president, a short-sighted man, not old but with an extremely exhausted face, sat in his armchair without stirring and held his open hand near his brow as though screening his eyes from the sun. To the droning of the ventilation wheel and the secretary he meditated. When the secretary paused for an instant to take breath on beginning a new page, he suddenly started and looked round at the court with lustreless eyes, then bent down to the ear of the judge next to him and asked with a sigh:
“Are you putting up at Demyanov’s, Matvey Petrovitch?”
“Yes, at Demyanov’s,” answered the other, starting too.
“Next time I shall probably put up there too. It’s really impossible to put up at Tipyakov’s! There’s noise and uproar all night! Knocking, coughing, children crying. . . . It’s impossible!”
The assistant prosecutor, a fat, well-nourished, dark man with gold spectacles, with a handsome, well-groomed beard, sat motionless as a statue, with his cheek propped on his fist, reading Byron’s “Cain.” His eyes were full of eager attention and his eyebrows rose higher and higher with wonder. . . . From time to time he dropped back in his chair, gazed without interest straight before him for a minute, and then buried himself in his reading again. The council for the defence moved the blunt end of his pencil about the table and mused with his head on one side. . . . His youthful face expressed nothing but the frigid, immovable boredom which is commonly seen on the face of schoolboys and men on duty who are forced from day to day to sit in the same place, to see the same faces, the same walls. He felt no excitement about the speech he was to make, and indeed what did that speech amount to? On instructions from his superiors in accordance with long-established routine he would fire it off before the jurymen, without passion or ardour, feeling that it was colourless and boring, and then—gallop through the mud and the rain to the station, thence to the town, shortly to receive instructions to go off again to some district to deliver another speech. . . . It was a bore!
At first the prisoner turned pale and coughed nervously into his sleeve, but soon the stillness, the general monotony and boredom infected him too. He looked with dull-witted respectfulness at the judges’ uniforms, at the weary faces of the jurymen, and blinked calmly. The surroundings and procedure of the court, the expectation of which had so weighed on his soul while he was awaiting them in prison, now had the most soothing effect on him. What he met here was not at all what he could have expected. The charge of murder hung over him, and yet here he met with neither threatening faces nor indignant looks nor loud phrases about retribution nor sympathy for his extraordinary fate; not one of those who were judging him looked at him with interest or for long. . . . The dingy windows and walls, the voice of the secretary, the attitude of the prosecutor were all saturated with official indifference and produced an atmosphere of frigidity, as though the murderer were simply an official property, or as though he were not being judged by living men, but by some unseen machine, set going, goodness knows how or by whom. . . .
The peasant, reassured, did not understand that the men here were as accustomed to the dramas and tragedies of life and were as blunted by the sight of them as hospital attendants are at the sight of death, and that the whole horror and hopelessness of his position lay just in this mechanical indifference. It seemed that if he were not to sit quietly but to get up and begin beseeching, appealing with tears for their mercy, bitterly repenting, that if he were to die of despair—it would all be shattered against blunted nerves and the callousness of custom, like waves against a rock.
When the secretary finished, the president for some reason passed his hands over the table before him, looked for some time with his eyes screwed up towards the prisoner, and then asked, speaking languidly:
“Prisoner at the bar, do you plead guilty to having murdered your wife on the evening of the ninth of June?”
“No, sir,” answered the prisoner, getting up and holding his gown over his chest.
After this the court proceeded hurriedly to the examination of witnesses. Two peasant women and five men and the village policeman who had made the enquiry were questioned. All of them, mud-bespattered, exhausted with their long walk and waiting in the witnesses’ room, gloomy and dispirited, gave the same evidence. They testified that Harlamov lived “well” with his old woman, like anyone else; that he never beat her except when he had had a drop; that on the ninth of June when the sun was setting the old woman had been found in the porch with her skull broken; that beside her in a pool of blood lay an axe. When they looked for Nikolay to tell him of the calamity he was not in his hut or in the streets. They ran all over the village, looking for him. They went to all the pothouses and huts, but could not find him. He had disappeared, and two days later came of his own accord to the police office, pale, with his clothes torn, trembling all over. He was bound and put in the lock-up.
“Prisoner,” said the president, addressing Harlamov, “cannot you explain to the court where you were during the three days following the murder?”
“I was wandering about the fields. . . . Neither eating nor drinking . . . .”
“Why did you hide yourself, if it was not you that committed the murder?”
“I was frightened. . . . I was afraid I might be judged guilty. . . .”
“Aha! . . . Good, sit down!”
The last to be examined was the district doctor who had made a post-mortem on the old woman. He told the court all that he remembered of his report at the post-mortem and all that he had succeeded in thinking of on his way to the court that morning. The president screwed up his eyes at his new glossy black suit, at his foppish cravat, at his moving lips; he listened and in his mind the languid thought seemed to spring up of itself:
“Everyone wears a short jacket nowadays, why has he had his made long? Why long and not short?”
The circumspect creak of boots was audible behind the president’s back. It was the assistant prosecutor going up to the table to take some papers.
“Mihail Vladimirovitch,” said the assistant prosecutor, bending down to the president’s ear, “amazingly slovenly the way that Koreisky conducted the investigation. The prisoner’s brother was not examined, the village elder was not examined, there’s no making anything out of his description of the hut. . . .”
“It can’t be helped, it can’t be helped,” said the president, sinking back in his chair. “He’s a wreck . . . dropping to bits!”
“By the way,” whispered the assistant prosecutor, “look at the audience, in the front row, the third from the right . . . a face like an actor’s . . . that’s the local Croesus. He has a fortune of something like fifty thousand.”
“Really? You wouldn’t guess it from his appearance. . . . Well, dear boy, shouldn’t we have a break?”
“We will finish the case for the prosecution, and then. . . .”
“As you think best. . . . Well?” the president raised his eyes to the doctor. “So you consider that death was instantaneous?”
“Yes, in consequence of the extent of the injury to the brain substance. . . .”
When the doctor had finished, the president gazed into the space between the prosecutor and the counsel for the defence and suggested:
“Have you any questions to ask?”
The assistant prosecutor shook his head negatively, without lifting his eyes from “Cain”; the counsel for the defence unexpectedly stirred and, clearing his throat, asked:
“Tell me, doctor, can you from the dimensions of the wound form any theory as to . . . as to the mental condition of the criminal? That is, I mean, does the extent of the injury justify the supposition that the accused was suffering from temporary aberration?”
The president raised his drowsy indifferent eyes to the counsel for the defence. The assistant prosecutor tore himself from “Cain,” and looked at the president. They merely looked, but there was no smile, no surprise, no perplexity—their faces expressed nothing.
“Perhaps,” the doctor hesitated, “if one considers the force with which . . . er—er—er . . . the criminal strikes the blow. . . . However, excuse me, I don’t quite understand your question. . . .”
The counsel for the defence did not get an answer to his question, and indeed he did not feel the necessity of one. It was clear even to himself that that question had strayed into his mind and found utterance simply through the effect of the stillness, the boredom, the whirring ventilator wheels.
When they had got rid of the doctor the court rose to examine the “material evidences.” The first thing examined was the full-skirted coat, upon the sleeve of which there was a dark brownish stain of blood. Harlamov on being questioned as to the origin of the stain stated:
“Three days before my old woman’s death Penkov bled his horse. I was there; I was helping to be sure, and . . . and got smeared with it. . . .”
“But Penkov has just given evidence that he does not remember that you were present at the bleeding. . . .”
“I can’t tell about that.”
“Sit down.”
They proceeded to examine the axe with which the old woman had been murdered.
“That’s not my axe,” the prisoner declared.
“Whose is it, then?”
“I can’t tell . . . I hadn’t an axe. . . .”
“A peasant can’t get on for a day without an axe. And your neighbour Ivan Timofeyitch, with whom you mended a sledge, has given evidence that it is your axe. . . .”
“I can’t say about that, but I swear before God (Harlamov held out his hand before him and spread out the fingers), before the living God. And I don’t remember how long it is since I did have an axe of my own. I did have one like that only a bit smaller, but my son Prohor lost it. Two years before he went into the army, he drove off to fetch wood, got drinking with the fellows, and lost it. . . .”
“Good, sit down.”
This systematic distrust and disinclination to hear him probably irritated and offended Harlamov. He blinked and red patches came out on his cheekbones.
“I swear in the sight of God,” he went on, craning his neck forward. “If you don’t believe me, be pleased to ask my son Prohor. Proshka, what did you do with the axe?” he suddenly asked in a rough voice, turning abruptly to the soldier escorting him. “Where is it?”
It was a painful moment! Everyone seemed to wince and as it were shrink together. The same fearful, incredible thought flashed like lightning through every head in the court, the thought of possibly fatal coincidence, and not one person in the court dared to look at the soldier’s face. Everyone refused to trust his thought and believed that he had heard wrong.
“Prisoner, conversation with the guards is forbidden . . .” the president made haste to say.
No one saw the escort’s face, and horror passed over the hall unseen as in a mask. The usher of the court got up quietly from his place and tiptoeing with his hand held out to balance himself went out of the court. Half a minute later there came the muffled sounds and footsteps that accompany the change of guard.
All raised their heads and, trying to look as though nothing had happened, went on with their work. . . .


8. A FATHER

"I ADMIT I have had a drop. . . . You must excuse me. I went into a beer shop on the way here, and as it was so hot had a couple of bottles. It’s hot, my boy."
Old Musatov took a nondescript rag out of his pocket and wiped his shaven, battered face with it.
"I have come only for a minute, Borenka, my angel," he went on, not looking at his son, "about something very important. Excuse me, perhaps I am hindering you. Haven’t you ten roubles, my dear, you could let me have till Tuesday? You see, I ought to have paid for my lodging yesterday, and money, you see! . . . None! Not to save my life!"
Young Musatov went out without a word, and began whispering the other side of the door with the landlady of the summer villa and his colleagues who had taken the villa with him. Three minutes later he came back, and without a word gave his father a ten-rouble note. The latter thrust it carelessly into his pocket without looking at it, and said:
"Merci. Well, how are you getting on? It’s a long time since we met."
"Yes, a long time, not since Easter."
"Half a dozen times I have been meaning to come to you, but I’ve never had time. First one thing, then another. . . . It’s simply awful! I am talking nonsense though. . . . All that’s nonsense. Don’t you believe me, Borenka. I said I would pay you back the ten roubles on Tuesday, don’t believe that either. Don’t believe a word I say. I have nothing to do at all, it’s simply laziness, drunkenness, and I am ashamed to be seen in such clothes in the street. You must excuse me, Borenka. Here I have sent the girl to you three times for money and written you piteous letters. Thanks for the money, but don’t believe the letters; I was telling fibs. I am ashamed to rob you, my angel; I know that you can scarcely make both ends meet yourself, and feed on locusts, but my impudence is too much for me. I am such a specimen of impudence-fit for a show! . . . You must excuse me, Borenka. I tell you the truth, because I can’t see your angel face without emotion."
A minute passed in silence. The old man heaved a deep sigh and said:
"You might treat me to a glass of beer perhaps."
His son went out without a word, and again there was a sound of whispering the other side of the door. When a little later the beer was brought in, the old man seemed to revive at the sight of the bottles and abruptly changed his tone.
"I was at the races the other day, my boy," he began telling him, assuming a scared expression. "We were a party of three, and we pooled three roubles on Frisky. And, thanks to that Frisky, we got thirty-two roubles each for our rouble. I can’t get on without the races, my boy. It’s a gentlemanly diversion. My virago always gives me a dressing over the races, but I go. I love it, and that’s all about it."
Boris, a fair-haired young man with a melancholy immobile face, was walking slowly up and down, listening in silence. When the old man stopped to clear his throat, he went up to him and said:
"I bought myself a pair of boots the other day, father, which turn out to be too tight for me. Won’t you take them? I’ll let you have them cheap."
"If you like," said the old man with a grimace, "only for the price you gave for them, without any cheapening."
"Very well, I’ll let you have them on credit."
The son groped under the bed and produced the new boots. The father took off his clumsy, rusty, evidently second-hand boots and began trying on the new ones.
"A perfect fit," he said. "Right, let me keep them. And on Tuesday, when I get my pension, I’ll send you the money for them. That’s not true, though," he went on, suddenly falling into the same tearful tone again. "And it was a lie about the races, too, and a lie about the pension. And you are deceiving me, Borenka. . . . I feel your generous tactfulness. I see through you! Your boots were too small, because your heart is too big. Ah, Borenka, Borenka! I understand it all and feel it!"
"Have you moved into new lodgings?" his son interrupted, to change the conversation.
"Yes, my boy. I move every month. My virago can’t stay long in the same place with her temper."
"I went to your lodgings, I meant to ask you to stay here with me. In your state of health it would do you good to be in the fresh air."
"No," said the old man, with a wave of his hand, "the woman wouldn’t let me, and I shouldn’t care to myself. A hundred times you have tried to drag me out of the pit, and I have tried myself, but nothing came of it. Give it up. I must stick in my filthy hole. This minute, here I am sitting, looking at your angel face, yet something is drawing me home to my hole. Such is my fate. You can’t draw a dung-beetle to a rose. But it’s time I was going, my boy. It’s getting dark."
"Wait a minute then, I’ll come with you. I have to go to town to-day myself."
Both put on their overcoats and went out. When a little while afterwards they were driving in a cab, it was already dark, and lights began to gleam in the windows.
"I’ve robbed you, Borenka!" the father muttered. "Poor children, poor children! It must be a dreadful trouble to have such a father! Borenka, my angel, I cannot lie when I see your face. You must excuse me. . . . What my depravity has come to, my God. Here I have just been robbing you, and put you to shame with my drunken state; I am robbing your brothers, too, and put them to shame, and you should have seen me yesterday! I won’t conceal it, Borenka. Some neighbours, a wretched crew, came to see my virago; I got drunk, too, with them, and I blackguarded you poor children for all I was worth. I abused you, and complained that you had abandoned me. I wanted, you see, to touch the drunken hussies’ hearts, and pose as an unhappy father. It’s my way, you know, when I want to screen my vices I throw all the blame on my innocent children. I can’t tell lies and hide things from you, Borenka. I came to see you as proud as a peacock, but when I saw your gentleness and kind heart, my tongue clave to the roof of my mouth, and it upset my conscience completely."
"Hush, father, let’s talk of something else."
"Mother of God, what children I have," the old man went on, not heeding his son. "What wealth God has bestowed on me. Such children ought not to have had a black sheep like me for a father, but a real man with soul and feeling! I am not worthy of you!"
The old man took off his cap with a button at the top and crossed himself several times.
"Thanks be to Thee, O Lord!" he said with a sigh, looking from side to side as though seeking for an ikon. "Remarkable, exceptional children! I have three sons, and they are all like one. Sober, steady, hard-working, and what brains! Cabman, what brains! Grigory alone has brains enough for ten. He speaks French, he speaks German, and talks better than any of your lawyers-one is never tired of listening. My children, my children, I can’t believe that you are mine! I can’t believe it! You are a martyr, my Borenka, I am ruining you, and I shall go on ruining you. . . . You give to me endlessly, though you know your money is thrown away. The other day I sent you a pitiful letter, I described how ill I was, but you know I was lying, I wanted the money for rum. And you give to me because you are afraid to wound me by refusing. I know all that, and feel it. Grisha’s a martyr, too. On Thursday I went to his office, drunk, filthy, ragged, reeking of vodka like a cellar . . . I went straight up, such a figure, I pestered him with nasty talk, while his colleagues and superiors and petitioners were standing round. I have disgraced him for life. And he wasn’t the least confused, only turned a bit pale, but smiled and came up to me as though there were nothing the matter, even introduced me to his colleagues. Then he took me all the way home, and not a word of reproach. I rob him worse than you. Take your brother Sasha now, he’s a martyr too! He married, as you know, a colonel’s daughter of an aristocratic circle, and got a dowry with her. . . . You would think he would have nothing to do with me. No, brother, after his wedding he came with his young wife and paid me the first visit . . . in my hole. . . . Upon my soul!"
The old man gave a sob and then began laughing.
"And at that moment, as luck would have it, we were eating grated radish with kvass and frying fish, and there was a stink enough in the flat to make the devil sick. I was lying down-I’d had a drop-my virago bounced out at the young people with her face crimson. . . . It was a disgrace in fact. But Sasha rose superior to it all."
"Yes, our Sasha is a good fellow," said Boris.
"The most splendid fellow! You are all pure gold, you and Grisha and Sasha and Sonya. I worry you, torment you, disgrace you, rob you, and all my life I have not heard one word of reproach from you, you have never given me one cross look. It would be all very well if I had been a decent father to you-but as it is! You have had nothing from me but harm. I am a bad, dissipated man. . . . Now, thank God, I am quieter and I have no strength of will, but in old days when you were little I had determination, will. Whatever I said or did I always thought it was right. Sometimes I’d come home from the club at night, drunk and ill-humoured, and scold at your poor mother for spending money. The whole night I would be railing at her, and think it the right thing too; you would get up in the morning and go to school, while I’d still be venting my temper upon her. Heavens! I did torture her, poor martyr! When you came back from school and I was asleep you didn’t dare to have dinner till I got up. At dinner again there would be a flare up. I daresay you remember. I wish no one such a father; God sent me to you for a trial. Yes, for a trial! Hold out, children, to the end! Honour thy father and thy days shall be long. Perhaps for your noble conduct God will grant you long life. Cabman, stop!"
The old man jumped out of the cab and ran into a tavern. Half an hour later he came back, cleared his throat in a drunken way, and sat down beside his son.
"Where’s Sonya now?" he asked. "Still at boarding-school?"
"No, she left in May, and is living now with Sasha’s mother-in-law."
"There!" said the old man in surprise. "She is a jolly good girl! So she is following her brother’s example. . . . Ah, Borenka, she has no mother, no one to rejoice over her! I say, Borenka, does she . . . does she know how I am living? Eh?"
Boris made no answer. Five minutes passed in profound silence. The old man gave a sob, wiped his face with a rag and said:
"I love her, Borenka! She is my only daughter, you know, and in one’s old age there is no comfort like a daughter. Could I see her, Borenka?"
"Of course, when you like."
"Really? And she won’t mind?"
"Of course not, she has been trying to find you so as to see you."
"Upon my soul! What children! Cabman, eh? Arrange it, Borenka darling! She is a young lady now, délicatesse, consommé, and all the rest of it in a refined way, and I don’t want to show myself to her in such an abject state. I’ll tell you how we’ll contrive to work it. For three days I will keep away from spirits, to get my filthy, drunken phiz into better order. Then I’ll come to you, and you shall lend me for the time some suit of yours; I’ll shave and have my hair cut, then you go and bring her to your flat. Will you?"
"Very well."
"Cabman, stop!"
The old man sprang out of the cab again and ran into a tavern. While Boris was driving with him to his lodging he jumped out twice again, while his son sat silent and waited patiently for him. When, after dismissing the cab, they made their way across a long, filthy yard to the "virago’s" lodging, the old man put on an utterly shamefaced and guilty air, and began timidly clearing his throat and clicking with his lips.
"Borenka," he said in an ingratiating voice, "if my virago begins saying anything, don’t take any notice . . . and behave to her, you know, affably. She is ignorant and impudent, but she’s a good baggage. There is a good, warm heart beating in her bosom!"
The long yard ended, and Boris found himself in a dark entry. The swing door creaked, there was a smell of cooking and a smoking samovar. There was a sound of harsh voices. Passing through the passage into the kitchen Boris could see nothing but thick smoke, a line with washing on it, and the chimney of the samovar through a crack of which golden sparks were dropping.
"And here is my cell," said the old man, stooping down and going into a little room with a low-pitched ceiling, and an atmosphere unbearably stifling from the proximity of the kitchen.
Here three women were sitting at the table regaling themselves. Seeing the visitors, they exchanged glances and left off eating.
"Well, did you get it?" one of them, apparently the "virago" herself, asked abruptly.
"Yes, yes," muttered the old man. "Well, Boris, pray sit down. Everything is plain here, young man . . . we live in a simple way."
He bustled about in an aimless way. He felt ashamed before his son, and at the same time apparently he wanted to keep up before the women his dignity as cock of the walk, and as a forsaken, unhappy father.
"Yes, young man, we live simply with no nonsense," he went on muttering. "We are simple people, young man. . . . We are not like you, we don’t want to keep up a show before people. No! . . . Shall we have a drink of vodka?"
One of the women (she was ashamed to drink before a stranger) heaved a sigh and said:
"Well, I’ll have another drink on account of the mushrooms. . . . They are such mushrooms, they make you drink even if you don’t want to. Ivan Gerasimitch, offer the young gentleman, perhaps he will have a drink!"
The last word she pronounced in a mincing drawl.
"Have a drink, young man!" said the father, not looking at his son. "We have no wine or liqueurs, my boy, we live in a plain way."
"He doesn’t like our ways," sighed the "virago." "Never mind, never mind, he’ll have a drink."
Not to offend his father by refusing, Boris took a wineglass and drank in silence. When they brought in the samovar, to satisfy the old man, he drank two cups of disgusting tea in silence, with a melancholy face. Without a word he listened to the virago dropping hints about there being in this world cruel, heartless children who abandon their parents.
"I know what you are thinking now!" said the old man, after drinking more and passing into his habitual state of drunken excitement. "You think I have let myself sink into the mire, that I am to be pitied, but to my thinking, this simple life is much more normal than your life, . . . I don’t need anybody, and . . . and I don’t intend to eat humble pie. . . . I can’t endure a wretched boy’s looking at me with compassion."
After tea he cleaned a herring and sprinkled it with onion, with such feeling, that tears of emotion stood in his eyes. He began talking again about the races and his winnings, about some Panama hat for which he had paid sixteen roubles the day before. He told lies with the same relish with which he ate herring and drank. His son sat on in silence for an hour, and began to say good-bye.
"I don’t venture to keep you," the old man said, haughtily. "You must excuse me, young man, for not living as you would like!"
He ruffled up his feathers, snorted with dignity, and winked at the women.
"Good-bye, young man," he said, seeing his son into the entry. "Attendez."
In the entry, where it was dark, he suddenly pressed his face against the young man’s sleeve and gave a sob.
"I should like to have a look at Sonitchka," he whispered. "Arrange it, Borenka, my angel. I’ll shave, I’ll put on your suit . . . I’ll put on a straight face . . . I’ll hold my tongue while she is there. Yes, yes, I will hold my tongue!"
He looked round timidly towards the door, through which the women’s voices were heard, checked his sobs, and said aloud:
"Good-bye, young man! Attendez."


10. A PROBLEM

THE strictest measures were taken that the Uskovs’ family secret might not leak out and become generally known. Half of the servants were sent off to the theatre or the circus; the other half were sitting in the kitchen and not allowed to leave it. Orders were given that no one was to be admitted. The wife of the Colonel, her sister, and the governess, though they had been initiated into the secret, kept up a pretence of knowing nothing; they sat in the dining-room and did not show themselves in the drawing-room or the hall.
Sasha Uskov, the young man of twenty-five who was the cause of all the commotion, had arrived some time before, and by the advice of kind-hearted Ivan Markovitch, his uncle, who was taking his part, he sat meekly in the hall by the door leading to the study, and prepared himself to make an open, candid explanation.
The other side of the door, in the study, a family council was being held. The subject under discussion was an exceedingly disagreeable and delicate one. Sasha Uskov had cashed at one of the banks a false promissory note, and it had become due for payment three days before, and now his two paternal uncles and Ivan Markovitch, the brother of his dead mother, were deciding the question whether they should pay the money and save the family honour, or wash their hands of it and leave the case to go for trial.
To outsiders who have no personal interest in the matter such questions seem simple; for those who are so unfortunate as to have to decide them in earnest they are extremely difficult. The uncles had been talking for a long time, but the problem seemed no nearer decision.
“My friends!” said the uncle who was a colonel, and there was a note of exhaustion and bitterness in his voice. “Who says that family honour is a mere convention? I don’t say that at all. I am only warning you against a false view; I am pointing out the possibility of an unpardonable mistake. How can you fail to see it? I am not speaking Chinese; I am speaking Russian!”
“My dear fellow, we do understand,” Ivan Markovitch protested mildly.
“How can you understand if you say that I don’t believe in family honour? I repeat once more: fa-mil-y ho-nour fal-sely un-der-stood is a prejudice! Falsely understood! That’s what I say: whatever may be the motives for screening a scoundrel, whoever he may be, and helping him to escape punishment, it is contrary to law and unworthy of a gentleman. It’s not saving the family honour; it’s civic cowardice! Take the army, for instance. . . . The honour of the army is more precious to us than any other honour, yet we don’t screen our guilty members, but condemn them. And does the honour of the army suffer in consequence? Quite the opposite!”
The other paternal uncle, an official in the Treasury, a taciturn, dull-witted, and rheumatic man, sat silent, or spoke only of the fact that the Uskovs’ name would get into the newspapers if the case went for trial. His opinion was that the case ought to be hushed up from the first and not become public property; but, apart from publicity in the newspapers, he advanced no other argument in support of this opinion.
The maternal uncle, kind-hearted Ivan Markovitch, spoke smoothly, softly, and with a tremor in his voice. He began with saying that youth has its rights and its peculiar temptations. Which of us has not been young, and who has not been led astray? To say nothing of ordinary mortals, even great men have not escaped errors and mistakes in their youth. Take, for instance, the biography of great writers. Did not every one of them gamble, drink, and draw down upon himself the anger of right-thinking people in his young days? If Sasha’s error bordered upon crime, they must remember that Sasha had received practically no education; he had been expelled from the high school in the fifth class; he had lost his parents in early childhood, and so had been left at the tenderest age without guidance and good, benevolent influences. He was nervous, excitable, had no firm ground under his feet, and, above all, he had been unlucky. Even if he were guilty, anyway he deserved indulgence and the sympathy of all compassionate souls. He ought, of course, to be punished, but he was punished as it was by his conscience and the agonies he was enduring now while awaiting the sentence of his relations. The comparison with the army made by the Colonel was delightful, and did credit to his lofty intelligence; his appeal to their feeling of public duty spoke for the chivalry of his soul, but they must not forget that in each individual the citizen is closely Clinked with the Christian. . . .
“Shall we be false to civic duty,” Ivan Markovitch exclaimed passionately, “if instead of punishing an erring boy we hold out to him a helping hand?”
Ivan Markovitch talked further of family honour. He had not the honour to belong to the Uskov family himself, but he knew their distinguished family went back to the thirteenth century; he did not forget for a minute, either, that his precious, beloved sister had been the wife of one of the representatives of that name. In short, the family was dear to him for many reasons, and he refused to admit the idea that, for the sake of a paltry fifteen hundred roubles, a blot should be cast on the escutcheon that was beyond all price. If all the motives he had brought forward were not sufficiently convincing, he, Ivan Markovitch, in conclusion, begged his listeners to ask themselves what was meant by crime? Crime is an immoral act founded upon ill-will. But is the will of man free? Philosophy has not yet given a positive answer to that question. Different views were held by the learned. The latest school of Lombroso, for instance, denies the freedom of the will, and considers every crime as the product of the purely anatomical peculiarities of the individual.
“Ivan Markovitch,” said the Colonel, in a voice of entreaty, “we are talking seriously about an important matter, and you bring in Lombroso, you clever fellow. Think a little, what are you saying all this for? Can you imagine that all your thunderings and rhetoric will furnish an answer to the question?”
Sasha Uskov sat at the door and listened. He felt neither terror, shame, nor depression, but only weariness and inward emptiness. It seemed to him that it made absolutely no difference to him whether they forgave him or not; he had come here to hear his sentence and to explain himself simply because kind-hearted Ivan Markovitch had begged him to do so. He was not afraid of the future. It made no difference to him where he was: here in the hall, in prison, or in Siberia.
“If Siberia, then let it be Siberia, damn it all!”
He was sick of life and found it insufferably hard. He was inextricably involved in debt; he had not a farthing in his pocket; his family had become detestable to him; he would have to part from his friends and his women sooner or later, as they had begun to be too contemptuous of his sponging on them. The future looked black.
Sasha was indifferent, and was only disturbed by one circumstance; the other side of the door they were calling him a scoundrel and a criminal. Every minute he was on the point of jumping up, bursting into the study and shouting in answer to the detestable metallic voice of the Colonel:
“You are lying!”
“Criminal” is a dreadful word—that is what murderers, thieves, robbers are; in fact, wicked and morally hopeless people. And Sasha was very far from being all that. . . . It was true he owed a great deal and did not pay his debts. But debt is not a crime, and it is unusual for a man not to be in debt. The Colonel and Ivan Markovitch were both in debt. . . .
“What have I done wrong besides?” Sasha wondered.
He had discounted a forged note. But all the young men he knew did the same. Handrikov and Von Burst always forged IOU’s from their parents or friends when their allowances were not paid at the regular time, and then when they got their money from home they redeemed them before they became due. Sasha had done the same, but had not redeemed the IOU because he had not got the money which Handrikov had promised to lend him. He was not to blame; it was the fault of circumstances. It was true that the use of another person’s signature was considered reprehensible; but, still, it was not a crime but a generally accepted dodge, an ugly formality which injured no one and was quite harmless, for in forging the Colonel’s signature Sasha had had no intention of causing anybody damage or loss.
“No, it doesn’t mean that I am a criminal . . .” thought Sasha. “And it’s not in my character to bring myself to commit a crime. I am soft, emotional. . . . When I have the money I help the poor. . . .”
Sasha was musing after this fashion while they went on talking the other side of the door.
“But, my friends, this is endless,” the Colonel declared, getting excited. “Suppose we were to forgive him and pay the money. You know he would not give up leading a dissipated life, squandering money, making debts, going to our tailors and ordering suits in our names! Can you guarantee that this will be his last prank? As far as I am concerned, I have no faith whatever in his reforming!”
The official of the Treasury muttered something in reply; after him Ivan Markovitch began talking blandly and suavely again. The Colonel moved his chair impatiently and drowned the other’s words with his detestable metallic voice. At last the door opened and Ivan Markovitch came out of the study; there were patches of red on his lean shaven face.
“Come along,” he said, taking Sasha by the hand. “Come and speak frankly from your heart. Without pride, my dear boy, humbly and from your heart.”
Sasha went into the study. The official of the Treasury was sitting down; the Colonel was standing before the table with one hand in his pocket and one knee on a chair. It was smoky and stifling in the study. Sasha did not look at the official or the Colonel; he felt suddenly ashamed and uncomfortable. He looked uneasily at Ivan Markovitch and muttered:
“I’ll pay it . . . I’ll give it back. . . .”
“What did you expect when you discounted the IOU?” he heard a metallic voice.
“I . . . Handrikov promised to lend me the money before now.”
Sasha could say no more. He went out of the study and sat down again on the chair near the door.
He would have been glad to go away altogether at once, but he was choking with hatred and he awfully wanted to remain, to tear the Colonel to pieces, to say something rude to him. He sat trying to think of something violent and effective to say to his hated uncle, and at that moment a woman’s figure, shrouded in the twilight, appeared at the drawing-room door. It was the Colonel’s wife. She beckoned Sasha to her, and, wringing her hands, said, weeping:
“Alexandre, I know you don’t like me, but . . . listen to me; listen, I beg you. . . . But, my dear, how can this have happened? Why, it’s awful, awful! For goodness’ sake, beg them, defend yourself, entreat them.”
Sasha looked at her quivering shoulders, at the big tears that were rolling down her cheeks, heard behind his back the hollow, nervous voices of worried and exhausted people, and shrugged his shoulders. He had not in the least expected that his aristocratic relations would raise such a tempest over a paltry fifteen hundred roubles! He could not understand her tears nor the quiver of their voices.
An hour later he heard that the Colonel was getting the best of it; the uncles were finally inclining to let the case go for trial.
“The matter’s settled,” said the Colonel, sighing. “Enough.”
After this decision all the uncles, even the emphatic Colonel, became noticeably depressed. A silence followed.
“Merciful Heavens!” sighed Ivan Markovitch. “My poor sister!”
And he began saying in a subdued voice that most likely his sister, Sasha’s mother, was present unseen in the study at that moment. He felt in his soul how the unhappy, saintly woman was weeping, grieving, and begging for her boy. For the sake of her peace beyond the grave, they ought to spare Sasha.
The sound of a muffled sob was heard. Ivan Markovitch was weeping and muttering something which it was impossible to catch through the door. The Colonel got up and paced from corner to corner. The long conversation began over again.
But then the clock in the drawing-room struck two. The family council was over. To avoid seeing the person who had moved him to such wrath, the Colonel went from the study, not into the hall, but into the vestibule. . . . Ivan Markovitch came out into the hall. . . . He was agitated and rubbing his hands joyfully. His tear-stained eyes looked good-humoured and his mouth was twisted into a smile.
“Capital,” he said to Sasha. “Thank God! You can go home, my dear, and sleep tranquilly. We have decided to pay the sum, but on condition that you repent and come with me tomorrow into the country and set to work.”
A minute later Ivan Markovitch and Sasha in their great-coats and caps were going down the stairs. The uncle was muttering something edifying. Sasha did not listen, but felt as though some uneasy weight were gradually slipping off his shoulders. They had forgiven him; he was free! A gust of joy sprang up within him and sent a sweet chill to his heart. He longed to breathe, to move swiftly, to live! Glancing at the street lamps and the black sky, he remembered that Von Burst was celebrating his name-day that evening at the “Bear,” and again a rush of joy flooded his soul. . . .
“I am going!” he decided.
But then he remembered he had not a farthing, that the companions he was going to would despise him at once for his empty pockets. He must get hold of some money, come what may!
“Uncle, lend me a hundred roubles,” he said to Ivan Markovitch.
His uncle, surprised, looked into his face and backed against a lamp-post.
“Give it to me,” said Sasha, shifting impatiently from one foot to the other and beginning to pant. “Uncle, I entreat you, give me a hundred roubles.”
His face worked; he trembled, and seemed on the point of attacking his uncle. . . .
“Won’t you?” he kept asking, seeing that his uncle was still amazed and did not understand. “Listen. If you don’t, I’ll give myself up tomorrow! I won’t let you pay the IOU! I’ll present another false note tomorrow!”
Petrified, muttering something incoherent in his horror, Ivan Markovitch took a hundred-rouble note out of his pocket-book and gave it to Sasha. The young man took it and walked rapidly away from him. . . .
Taking a sledge, Sasha grew calmer, and felt a rush of joy within him again. The “rights of youth” of which kind-hearted Ivan Markovitch had spoken at the family council woke up and asserted themselves. Sasha pictured the drinking-party before him, and, among the bottles, the women, and his friends, the thought flashed through his mind:
“Now I see that I am a criminal; yes, I am a criminal.”


10. SLEEPY

Night. Varka, the little nurse, a girl of thirteen, is rocking the cradle in which the baby is lying, and humming hardly audibly:

“Hush-a-bye, my baby wee,
While I sing a song for thee.”

A little green lamp is burning before the ikon; there is a string stretched from one end of the room to the other, on which baby-clothes and a pair of big black trousers are hanging. There is a big patch of green on the ceiling from the ikon lamp, and the baby-clothes and the trousers throw long shadows on the stove, on the cradle, and on Varka. . . . When the lamp begins to flicker, the green patch and the shadows come to life, and are set in motion, as though by the wind. It is stuffy. There is a smell of cabbage soup, and of the inside of a boot-shop.
The baby’s crying. For a long while he has been hoarse and exhausted with crying; but he still goes on screaming, and there is no knowing when he will stop. And Varka is sleepy. Her eyes are glued together, her head droops, her neck aches. She cannot move her eyelids or her lips, and she feels as though her face is dried and wooden, as though her head has become as small as the head of a pin.
“Hush-a-bye, my baby wee,” she hums, “while I cook the groats for thee. . . .”
A cricket is churring in the stove. Through the door in the next room the master and the apprentice Afanasy are snoring. . . . The cradle creaks plaintively, Varka murmurs—and it all blends into that soothing music of the night to which it is so sweet to listen, when one is lying in bed. Now that music is merely irritating and oppressive, because it goads her to sleep, and she must not sleep; if Varka—God forbid!—should fall asleep, her master and mistress would beat her.
The lamp flickers. The patch of green and the shadows are set in motion, forcing themselves on Varka’s fixed, half-open eyes, and in her half slumbering brain are fashioned into misty visions. She sees dark clouds chasing one another over the sky, and screaming like the baby. But then the wind blows, the clouds are gone, and Varka sees a broad high road covered with liquid mud; along the high road stretch files of wagons, while people with wallets on their backs are trudging along and shadows flit backwards and forwards; on both sides she can see forests through the cold harsh mist. All at once the people with their wallets and their shadows fall on the ground in the liquid mud. “What is that for?” Varka asks. “To sleep, to sleep!” they answer her. And they fall sound asleep, and sleep sweetly, while crows and magpies sit on the telegraph wires, scream like the baby, and try to wake them.
“Hush-a-bye, my baby wee, and I will sing a song to thee,” murmurs Varka, and now she sees herself in a dark stuffy hut.
Her dead father, Yefim Stepanov, is tossing from side to side on the floor. She does not see him, but she hears him moaning and rolling on the floor from pain. “His guts have burst,” as he says; the pain is so violent that he cannot utter a single word, and can only draw in his breath and clack his teeth like the rattling of a drum:
“Boo—boo—boo—boo. . . .”
Her mother, Pelageya, has run to the master’s house to say that Yefim is dying. She has been gone a long time, and ought to be back. Varka lies awake on the stove, and hears her father’s “boo—boo—boo.” And then she hears someone has driven up to the hut. It is a young doctor from the town, who has been sent from the big house where he is staying on a visit. The doctor comes into the hut; he cannot be seen in the darkness, but he can be heard coughing and rattling the door.
“Light a candle,” he says.
“Boo—boo—boo,” answers Yefim.
Pelageya rushes to the stove and begins looking for the broken pot with the matches. A minute passes in silence. The doctor, feeling in his pocket, lights a match.
“In a minute, sir, in a minute,” says Pelageya. She rushes out of the hut, and soon afterwards comes back with a bit of candle.
Yefim’s cheeks are rosy and his eyes are shining, and there is a peculiar keenness in his glance, as though he were seeing right through the hut and the doctor.
“Come, what is it? What are you thinking about?” says the doctor, bending down to him. “Aha! have you had this long?”
“What? Dying, your honour, my hour has come. . . . I am not to stay among the living.”
“Don’t talk nonsense! We will cure you!”
“That’s as you please, your honour, we humbly thank you, only we understand. . . . Since death has come, there it is.”
The doctor spends a quarter of an hour over Yefim, then he gets up and says:
“I can do nothing. You must go into the hospital, there they will operate on you. Go at once . . . You must go! It’s rather late, they will all be asleep in the hospital, but that doesn’t matter, I will give you a note. Do you hear?”
“Kind sir, but what can he go in?” says Pelageya. “We have no horse.”
“Never mind. I’ll ask your master, he’ll let you have a horse.”
The doctor goes away, the candle goes out, and again there is the sound of “boo—boo—boo.” Half an hour later someone drives up to the hut. A cart has been sent to take Yefim to the hospital. He gets ready and goes. . . .
But now it is a clear bright morning. Pelageya is not at home; she has gone to the hospital to find what is being done to Yefim. Somewhere there is a baby crying, and Varka hears someone singing with her own voice:
“Hush-a-bye, my baby wee, I will sing a song to thee.”
Pelageya comes back; she crosses herself and whispers:
“They put him to rights in the night, but towards morning he gave up his soul to God. . . . The Kingdom of Heaven be his and peace everlasting. . . . They say he was taken too late. . . . He ought to have gone sooner. . . .”
Varka goes out into the road and cries there, but all at once someone hits her on the back of her head so hard that her forehead knocks against a birch tree. She raises her eyes, and sees facing her, her master, the shoemaker.
“What are you about, you scabby slut?” he says. “The child is crying, and you are asleep!”
He gives her a sharp slap behind the ear, and she shakes her head, rocks the cradle, and murmurs her song. The green patch and the shadows from the trousers and the baby-clothes move up and down, nod to her, and soon take possession of her brain again. Again she sees the high road covered with liquid mud. The people with wallets on their backs and the shadows have lain down and are fast asleep. Looking at them, Varka has a passionate longing for sleep; she would lie down with enjoyment, but her mother Pelageya is walking beside her, hurrying her on. They are hastening together to the town to find situations.
“Give alms, for Christ’s sake!” her mother begs of the people they meet. “Show us the Divine Mercy, kind-hearted gentlefolk!”
“Give the baby here!” a familiar voice answers. “Give the baby here!” the same voice repeats, this time harshly and angrily. “Are you asleep, you wretched girl?”
Varka jumps up, and looking round grasps what is the matter: there is no high road, no Pelageya, no people meeting them, there is only her mistress, who has come to feed the baby, and is standing in the middle of the room. While the stout, broad-shouldered woman nurses the child and soothes it, Varka stands looking at her and waiting till she has done. And outside the windows the air is already turning blue, the shadows and the green patch on the ceiling are visibly growing pale, it will soon be morning.
“Take him,” says her mistress, buttoning up her chemise over her bosom; “he is crying. He must be bewitched.”
Varka takes the baby, puts him in the cradle and begins rocking it again. The green patch and the shadows gradually disappear, and now there is nothing to force itself on her eyes and cloud her brain. But she is as sleepy as before, fearfully sleepy! Varka lays her head on the edge of the cradle, and rocks her whole body to overcome her sleepiness, but yet her eyes are glued together, and her head is heavy.
“Varka, heat the stove!” she hears the master’s voice through the door.
So it is time to get up and set to work. Varka leaves the cradle, and runs to the shed for firewood. She is glad. When one moves and runs about, one is not so sleepy as when one is sitting down. She brings the wood, heats the stove, and feels that her wooden face is getting supple again, and that her thoughts are growing clearer.
“Varka, set the samovar!” shouts her mistress.
Varka splits a piece of wood, but has scarcely time to light the splinters and put them in the samovar, when she hears a fresh order:
“Varka, clean the master’s goloshes!”
She sits down on the floor, cleans the goloshes, and thinks how nice it would be to put her head into a big deep golosh, and have a little nap in it. . . . And all at once the golosh grows, swells, fills up the whole room. Varka drops the brush, but at once shakes her head, opens her eyes wide, and tries to look at things so that they may not grow big and move before her eyes.
“Varka, wash the steps outside; I am ashamed for the customers to see them!”
Varka washes the steps, sweeps and dusts the rooms, then heats another stove and runs to the shop. There is a great deal of work: she hasn’t one minute free.
But nothing is so hard as standing in the same place at the kitchen table peeling potatoes. Her head droops over the table, the potatoes dance before her eyes, the knife tumbles out of her hand while her fat, angry mistress is moving about near her with her sleeves tucked up, talking so loud that it makes a ringing in Varka’s ears. It is agonising, too, to wait at dinner, to wash, to sew, there are minutes when she longs to flop on to the floor regardless of everything, and to sleep.
The day passes. Seeing the windows getting dark, Varka presses her temples that feel as though they were made of wood, and smiles, though she does not know why. The dusk of evening caresses her eyes that will hardly keep open, and promises her sound sleep soon. In the evening visitors come.
“Varka, set the samovar!” shouts her mistress. The samovar is a little one, and before the visitors have drunk all the tea they want, she has to heat it five times. After tea Varka stands for a whole hour on the same spot, looking at the visitors, and waiting for orders.
“Varka, run and buy three bottles of beer!”
She starts off, and tries to run as quickly as she can, to drive away sleep.
“Varka, fetch some vodka! Varka, where’s the corkscrew? Varka, clean a herring!”
But now, at last, the visitors have gone; the lights are put out, the master and mistress go to bed.
“Varka, rock the baby!” she hears the last order.
The cricket churrs in the stove; the green patch on the ceiling and the shadows from the trousers and the baby-clothes force themselves on Varka’s half-opened eyes again, wink at her and cloud her mind.
“Hush-a-bye, my baby wee,” she murmurs, “and I will sing a song to thee.”
And the baby screams, and is worn out with screaming. Again Varka sees the muddy high road, the people with wallets, her mother Pelageya, her father Yefim. She understands everything, she recognises everyone, but through her half sleep she cannot understand the force which binds her, hand and foot, weighs upon her, and prevents her from living. She looks round, searches for that force that she may escape from it, but she cannot find it. At last, tired to death, she does her very utmost, strains her eyes, looks up at the flickering green patch, and listening to the screaming, finds the foe who will not let her live.
That foe is the baby.
She laughs. It seems strange to her that she has failed to grasp such a simple thing before. The green patch, the shadows, and the cricket seem to laugh and wonder too.
The hallucination takes possession of Varka. She gets up from her stool, and with a broad smile on her face and wide unblinking eyes, she walks up and down the room. She feels pleased and tickled at the thought that she will be rid directly of the baby that binds her hand and foot. . . . Kill the baby and then sleep, sleep, sleep. . . .
Laughing and winking and shaking her fingers at the green patch, Varka steals up to the cradle and bends over the baby. When she has strangled him, she quickly lies down on the floor, laughs with delight that she can sleep, and in a minute is sleeping as sound as the dead.


11. THIEVES

A HOSPITAL assistant, called Yergunov, an empty-headed fellow, known throughout the district as a great braggart and drunkard, was returning one evening in Christmas week from the hamlet of Ryepino, where he had been to make some purchases for the hospital. That he might get home in good time and not be late, the doctor had lent him his very best horse.
At first it had been a still day, but at eight o’clock a violent snow-storm came on, and when he was only about four miles from home Yergunov completely lost his way.
He did not know how to drive, he did not know the road, and he drove on at random, hoping that the horse would find the way of itself. Two hours passed; the horse was exhausted, he himself was chilled, and already began to fancy that he was not going home, but back towards Ryepino. But at last above the uproar of the storm he heard the far-away barking of a dog, and a murky red blur came into sight ahead of him: little by little, the outlines of a high gate could be discerned, then a long fence on which there were nails with their points uppermost, and beyond the fence there stood the slanting crane of a well. The wind drove away the mist of snow from before the eyes, and where there had been a red blur, there sprang up a small, squat little house with a steep thatched roof. Of the three little windows one, covered on the inside with something red, was lighted up.
What sort of place was it? Yergunov remembered that to the right of the road, three and a half or four miles from the hospital, there was Andrey Tchirikov’s tavern. He remembered, too, that this Tchirikov, who had been lately killed by some sledge-drivers, had left a wife and a daughter called Lyubka, who had come to the hospital two years before as a patient. The inn had a bad reputation, and to visit it late in the evening, and especially with someone else’s horse, was not free from risk. But there was no help for it. Yergunov fumbled in his knapsack for his revolver, and, coughing sternly, tapped at the window-frame with his whip.
“Hey! who is within?” he cried. “Hey, granny! let me come in and get warm!”
With a hoarse bark a black dog rolled like a ball under the horse’s feet, then another white one, then another black one—there must have been a dozen of them. Yergunov looked to see which was the biggest, swung his whip and lashed at it with all his might. A small, long-legged puppy turned its sharp muzzle upwards and set up a shrill, piercing howl.
Yergunov stood for a long while at the window, tapping. But at last the hoar-frost on the trees near the house glowed red, and a muffled female figure appeared with a lantern in her hands.
“Let me in to get warm, granny,” said Yergunov. “I was driving to the hospital, and I have lost my way. It’s such weather, God preserve us. Don’t be afraid; we are your own people, granny.”
“All my own people are at home, and we didn’t invite strangers,” said the figure grimly. “And what are you knocking for? The gate is not locked.”
Yergunov drove into the yard and stopped at the steps.
“Bid your labourer take my horse out, granny,” said he.
“I am not granny.”
And indeed she was not a granny. While she was putting out the lantern the light fell on her face, and Yergunov saw black eyebrows, and recognized Lyubka.
“There are no labourers about now,” she said as she went into the house. “Some are drunk and asleep, and some have been gone to Ryepino since the morning. It’s a holiday. . . .”
As he fastened his horse up in the shed, Yergunov heard a neigh, and distinguished in the darkness another horse, and felt on it a Cossack saddle. So there must be someone else in the house besides the woman and her daughter. For greater security Yergunov unsaddled his horse, and when he went into the house, took with him both his purchases and his saddle.
The first room into which he went was large and very hot, and smelt of freshly washed floors. A short, lean peasant of about forty, with a small, fair beard, wearing a dark blue shirt, was sitting at the table under the holy images. It was Kalashnikov, an arrant scoundrel and horse-stealer, whose father and uncle kept a tavern in Bogalyovka, and disposed of the stolen horses where they could. He too had been to the hospital more than once, not for medical treatment, but to see the doctor about horses—to ask whether he had not one for sale, and whether his honour would not like to swop his bay mare for a dun-coloured gelding. Now his head was pomaded and a silver ear-ring glittered in his ear, and altogether he had a holiday air. Frowning and dropping his lower lip, he was looking intently at a big dog’s-eared picture-book. Another peasant lay stretched on the floor near the stove; his head, his shoulders, and his chest were covered with a sheepskin—he was probably asleep; beside his new boots, with shining bits of metal on the heels, there were two dark pools of melted snow.
Seeing the hospital assistant, Kalashnikov greeted him.
“Yes, it is weather,” said Yergunov, rubbing his chilled knees with his open hands. “The snow is up to one’s neck; I am soaked to the skin, I can tell you. And I believe my revolver is, too. . . .”
He took out his revolver, looked it all over, and put it back in his knapsack. But the revolver made no impression at all; the peasant went on looking at the book.
“Yes, it is weather. . . . I lost my way, and if it had not been for the dogs here, I do believe it would have been my death. There would have been a nice to-do. And where are the women?”
“The old woman has gone to Ryepino, and the girl is getting supper ready . . .” answered Kalashnikov.
Silence followed. Yergunov, shivering and gasping, breathed on his hands, huddled up, and made a show of being very cold and exhausted. The still angry dogs could be heard howling outside. It was dreary.
“You come from Bogalyovka, don’t you?” he asked the peasant sternly.
“Yes, from Bogalyovka.”
And to while away the time Yergunov began to think about Bogalyovka. It was a big village and it lay in a deep ravine, so that when one drove along the highroad on a moonlight night, and looked down into the dark ravine and then up at the sky, it seemed as though the moon were hanging over a bottomless abyss and it were the end of the world. The path going down was steep, winding, and so narrow that when one drove down to Bogalyovka on account of some epidemic or to vaccinate the people, one had to shout at the top of one’s voice, or whistle all the way, for if one met a cart coming up one could not pass. The peasants of Bogalyovka had the reputation of being good gardeners and horse-stealers. They had well-stocked gardens. In spring the whole village was buried in white cherry-blossom, and in the summer they sold cherries at three kopecks a pail. One could pay three kopecks and pick as one liked. Their women were handsome and looked well fed, they were fond of finery, and never did anything even on working-days, but spent all their time sitting on the ledge in front of their houses and searching in each other’s heads.
But at last there was the sound of footsteps. Lyubka, a girl of twenty, with bare feet and a red dress, came into the room. . . . She looked sideways at Yergunov and walked twice from one end of the room to the other. She did not move simply, but with tiny steps, thrusting forward her bosom; evidently she enjoyed padding about with her bare feet on the freshly washed floor, and had taken off her shoes on purpose.
Kalashnikov laughed at something and beckoned her with his finger. She went up to the table, and he showed her a picture of the Prophet Elijah, who, driving three horses abreast, was dashing up to the sky. Lyubka put her elbow on the table; her plait fell across her shoulder—a long chestnut plait tied with red ribbon at the end—and it almost touched the floor. She, too, smiled.
“A splendid, wonderful picture,” said Kalashnikov. “Wonderful,” he repeated, and motioned with his hand as though he wanted to take the reins instead of Elijah.
The wind howled in the stove; something growled and squeaked as though a big dog had strangled a rat.
“Ugh! the unclean spirits are abroad!” said Lyubka.
“That’s the wind,” said Kalashnikov; and after a pause he raised his eyes to Yergunov and asked:
“And what is your learned opinion, Osip Vassilyitch—are there devils in this world or not?”
“What’s one to say, brother?” said Yergunov, and he shrugged one shoulder. “If one reasons from science, of course there are no devils, for it’s a superstition; but if one looks at it simply, as you and I do now, there are devils, to put it shortly. . . . I have seen a great deal in my life. . . . When I finished my studies I served as medical assistant in the army in a regiment of the dragoons, and I have been in the war, of course. I have a medal and a decoration from the Red Cross, but after the treaty of San Stefano I returned to Russia and went into the service of the Zemstvo. And in consequence of my enormous circulation about the world, I may say I have seen more than many another has dreamed of. It has happened to me to see devils, too; that is, not devils with horns and a tail—that is all nonsense—but just, to speak precisely, something of the sort.”
“Where?” asked Kalashnikov.
“In various places. There is no need to go far. Last year I met him here—speak of him not at night—near this very inn. I was driving, I remember, to Golyshino; I was going there to vaccinate. Of course, as usual, I had the racing droshky and a horse, and all the necessary paraphernalia, and, what’s more, I had a watch and all the rest of it, so I was on my guard as I drove along, for fear of some mischance. There are lots of tramps of all sorts. I came up to the Zmeinoy Ravine—damnation take it—and was just going down it, when all at once somebody comes up to me—such a fellow! Black hair, black eyes, and his whole face looked smutted with soot . . . . He comes straight up to the horse and takes hold of the left rein: ‘Stop!’ He looked at the horse, then at me, then dropped the reins, and without saying a bad word, ‘Where are you going?’ says he. And he showed his teeth in a grin, and his eyes were spiteful-looking.
“‘Ah,’ thought I, ‘you are a queer customer!’ ‘I am going to vaccinate for the smallpox,’ said I. ‘And what is that to you?’ ‘Well, if that’s so,’ says he, ‘vaccinate me. He bared his arm and thrust it under my nose. Of course, I did not bandy words with him; I just vaccinated him to get rid of him. Afterwards I looked at my lancet and it had gone rusty.”
The peasant who was asleep near the stove suddenly turned over and flung off the sheepskin; to his great surprise, Yergunov recognized the stranger he had met that day at Zmeinoy Ravine. This peasant’s hair, beard, and eyes were black as soot; his face was swarthy; and, to add to the effect, there was a black spot the size of a lentil on his right cheek. He looked mockingly at the hospital assistant and said:
“I did take hold of the left rein—that was so; but about the smallpox you are lying, sir. And there was not a word said about the smallpox between us.”
Yergunov was disconcerted.
“I’m not talking about you,” he said. “Lie down, since you are lying down.”
The dark-skinned peasant had never been to the hospital, and Yergunov did not know who he was or where he came from; and now, looking at him, he made up his mind that the man must be a gypsy. The peasant got up and, stretching and yawning loudly, went up to Lyubka and Kalashnikov, and sat down beside them, and he, too, began looking at the book. His sleepy face softened and a look of envy came into it.
“Look, Merik,” Lyubka said to him; “get me such horses and I will drive to heaven.”
“Sinners can’t drive to heaven,” said Kalashnikov. “That’s for holiness.”
Then Lyubka laid the table and brought in a big piece of fat bacon, salted cucumbers, a wooden platter of boiled meat cut up into little pieces, then a frying-pan, in which there were sausages and cabbage spluttering. A cut-glass decanter of vodka, which diffused a smell of orange-peel all over the room when it was poured out, was put on the table also.
Yergunov was annoyed that Kalashnikov and the dark fellow Merik talked together and took no notice of him at all, behaving exactly as though he were not in the room. And he wanted to talk to them, to brag, to drink, to have a good meal, and if possible to have a little fun with Lyubka, who sat down near him half a dozen times while they were at supper, and, as though by accident, brushed against him with her handsome shoulders and passed her hands over her broad hips. She was a healthy, active girl, always laughing and never still: she would sit down, then get up, and when she was sitting down she would keep turning first her face and then her back to her neighbour, like a fidgety child, and never failed to brush against him with her elbows or her knees.
And he was displeased, too, that the peasants drank only a glass each and no more, and it was awkward for him to drink alone. But he could not refrain from taking a second glass, all the same, then a third, and he ate all the sausage. He brought himself to flatter the peasants, that they might accept him as one of the party instead of holding him at arm’s length.
“You are a fine set of fellows in Bogalyovka!” he said, and wagged his head.
“In what way fine fellows?” enquired Kalashnikov.
“Why, about horses, for instance. Fine fellows at stealing!”
“H’m! fine fellows, you call them. Nothing but thieves and drunkards.”
“They have had their day, but it is over,” said Merik, after a pause. “But now they have only Filya left, and he is blind.”
“Yes, there is no one but Filya,” said Kalashnikov, with a sigh. “Reckon it up, he must be seventy; the German settlers knocked out one of his eyes, and he does not see well with the other. It is cataract. In old days the police officer would shout as soon as he saw him: ‘Hey, you Shamil!’ and all the peasants called him that—he was Shamil all over the place; and now his only name is One-eyed Filya. But he was a fine fellow! Lyuba’s father, Andrey Grigoritch, and he stole one night into Rozhnovo—there were cavalry regiments stationed there—and carried off nine of the soldiers’ horses, the very best of them. They weren’t frightened of the sentry, and in the morning they sold all the horses for twenty roubles to the gypsy Afonka. Yes! But nowadays a man contrives to carry off a horse whose rider is drunk or asleep, and has no fear of God, but will take the very boots from a drunkard, and then slinks off and goes away a hundred and fifty miles with a horse, and haggles at the market, haggles like a Jew, till the policeman catches him, the fool. There is no fun in it; it is simply a disgrace! A paltry set of people, I must say.”
“What about Merik?” asked Lyubka.
“Merik is not one of us,” said Kalashnikov. “He is a Harkov man from Mizhiritch. But that he is a bold fellow, that’s the truth; there’s no gainsaying that he is a fine fellow.”
Lyubka looked slyly and gleefully at Merik, and said:
“It wasn’t for nothing they dipped him in a hole in the ice.”
“How was that?” asked Yergunov.
“It was like this . . .” said Merik, and he laughed. “Filya carried off three horses from the Samoylenka tenants, and they pitched upon me. There were ten of the tenants at Samoylenka, and with their labourers there were thirty altogether, and all of them Molokans . . . . So one of them says to me at the market: ‘Come and have a look, Merik; we have brought some new horses from the fair.’ I was interested, of course. I went up to them, and the whole lot of them, thirty men, tied my hands behind me and led me to the river. ‘We’ll show you fine horses,’ they said. One hole in the ice was there already; they cut another beside it seven feet away. Then, to be sure, they took a cord and put a noose under my armpits, and tied a crooked stick to the other end, long enough to reach both holes. They thrust the stick in and dragged it through. I went plop into the ice-hole just as I was, in my fur coat and my high boots, while they stood and shoved me, one with his foot and one with his stick, then dragged me under the ice and pulled me out of the other hole.”
Lyubka shuddered and shrugged.
“At first I was in a fever from the cold,” Merik went on, “but when they pulled me out I was helpless, and lay in the snow, and the Molokans stood round and hit me with sticks on my knees and my elbows. It hurt fearfully. They beat me and they went away . . . and everything on me was frozen, my clothes were covered with ice. I got up, but I couldn’t move. Thank God, a woman drove by and gave me a lift.”
Meanwhile Yergunov had drunk five or six glasses of vodka; his heart felt lighter, and he longed to tell some extraordinary, wonderful story too, and to show that he, too, was a bold fellow and not afraid of anything.
“I’ll tell you what happened to us in Penza Province . . .” he began.
Either because he had drunk a great deal and was a little tipsy, or perhaps because he had twice been detected in a lie, the peasants took not the slightest notice of him, and even left off answering his questions. What was worse, they permitted themselves a frankness in his presence that made him feel uncomfortable and cold all over, and that meant that they took no notice of him.
Kalashnikov had the dignified manners of a sedate and sensible man; he spoke weightily, and made the sign of the cross over his mouth every time he yawned, and no one could have supposed that this was a thief, a heartless thief who had stripped poor creatures, who had already been twice in prison, and who had been sentenced by the commune to exile in Siberia, and had been bought off by his father and uncle, who were as great thieves and rogues as he was. Merik gave himself the airs of a bravo. He saw that Lyubka and Kalashnikov were admiring him, and looked upon himself as a very fine fellow, and put his arms akimbo, squared his chest, or stretched so that the bench creaked under him. . . .
After supper Kalashnikov prayed to the holy image without getting up from his seat, and shook hands with Merik; the latter prayed too, and shook Kalashnikov’s hand. Lyubka cleared away the supper, shook out on the table some peppermint biscuits, dried nuts, and pumpkin seeds, and placed two bottles of sweet wine.
“The kingdom of heaven and peace everlasting to Andrey Grigoritch,” said Kalashnikov, clinking glasses with Merik. “When he was alive we used to gather together here or at his brother Martin’s, and—my word! my word! what men, what talks! Remarkable conversations! Martin used to be here, and Filya, and Fyodor Stukotey. . . . It was all done in style, it was all in keeping. . . . And what fun we had! We did have fun, we did have fun!”
Lyubka went out and soon afterwards came back wearing a green kerchief and beads.
“Look, Merik, what Kalashnikov brought me to-day,” she said.
She looked at herself in the looking-glass, and tossed her head several times to make the beads jingle. And then she opened a chest and began taking out, first, a cotton dress with red and blue flowers on it, and then a red one with flounces which rustled and crackled like paper, then a new kerchief, dark blue, shot with many colours—and all these things she showed and flung up her hands, laughing as though astonished that she had such treasures.
Kalashnikov tuned the balalaika and began playing it, but Yergunov could not make out what sort of song he was singing, and whether it was gay or melancholy, because at one moment it was so mournful he wanted to cry, and at the next it would be merry. Merik suddenly jumped up and began tapping with his heels on the same spot, then, brandishing his arms, he moved on his heels from the table to the stove, from the stove to the chest, then he bounded up as though he had been stung, clicked the heels of his boots together in the air, and began going round and round in a crouching position. Lyubka waved both her arms, uttered a desperate shriek, and followed him. At first she moved sideways, like a snake, as though she wanted to steal up to someone and strike him from behind. She tapped rapidly with her bare heels as Merik had done with the heels of his boots, then she turned round and round like a top and crouched down, and her red dress was blown out like a bell. Merik, looking angrily at her, and showing his teeth in a grin, flew towards her in the same crouching posture as though he wanted to crush her with his terrible legs, while she jumped up, flung back her head, and waving her arms as a big bird does its wings, floated across the room scarcely touching the floor. . . .
“What a flame of a girl!” thought Yergunov, sitting on the chest, and from there watching the dance. “What fire! Give up everything for her, and it would be too little . . . .”
And he regretted that he was a hospital assistant, and not a simple peasant, that he wore a reefer coat and a chain with a gilt key on it instead of a blue shirt with a cord tied round the waist. Then he could boldly have sung, danced, flung both arms round Lyubka as Merik did. . . .
The sharp tapping, shouts, and whoops set the crockery ringing in the cupboard and the flame of the candle dancing.
The thread broke and the beads were scattered all over the floor, the green kerchief slipped off, and Lyubka was transformed into a red cloud flitting by and flashing black eyes, and it seemed as though in another second Merik’s arms and legs would drop off.
But finally Merik stamped for the last time, and stood still as though turned to stone. Exhausted and almost breathless, Lyubka sank on to his bosom and leaned against him as against a post, and he put his arms round her, and looking into her eyes, said tenderly and caressingly, as though in jest:
“I’ll find out where your old mother’s money is hidden, I’ll murder her and cut your little throat for you, and after that I will set fire to the inn. . . . People will think you have perished in the fire, and with your money I shall go to Kuban. I’ll keep droves of horses and flocks of sheep. . . .”
Lyubka made no answer, but only looked at him with a guilty air, and asked:
“And is it nice in Kuban, Merik?”
He said nothing, but went to the chest, sat down, and sank into thought; most likely he was dreaming of Kuban.
“It’s time for me to be going,” said Kalashnikov, getting up. “Filya must be waiting for me. Goodbye, Lyuba.”
Yergunov went out into the yard to see that Kalashnikov did not go off with his horse. The snowstorm still persisted. White clouds were floating about the yard, their long tails clinging to the rough grass and the bushes, while on the other side of the fence in the open country huge giants in white robes with wide sleeves were whirling round and falling to the ground, and getting up again to wave their arms and fight. And the wind, the wind! The bare birches and cherry-trees, unable to endure its rude caresses, bowed low down to the ground and wailed: “God, for what sin hast Thou bound us to the earth and will not let us go free?”
“Wo!” said Kalashnikov sternly, and he got on his horse; one half of the gate was opened, and by it lay a high snowdrift. “Well, get on!” shouted Kalashnikov. His little short-legged nag set off, and sank up to its stomach in the drift at once. Kalashnikov was white all over with the snow, and soon vanished from sight with his horse.
When Yergunov went back into the room, Lyubka was creeping about the floor picking up her beads; Merik was not there.
“A splendid girl!” thought Yergunov, as he lay down on the bench and put his coat under his head. “Oh, if only Merik were not here.” Lyubka excited him as she crept about the floor by the bench, and he thought that if Merik had not been there he would certainly have got up and embraced her, and then one would see what would happen. It was true she was only a girl, but not likely to be chaste; and even if she were—need one stand on ceremony in a den of thieves? Lyubka collected her beads and went out. The candle burnt down and the flame caught the paper in the candlestick. Yergunov laid his revolver and matches beside him, and put out the candle. The light before the holy images flickered so much that it hurt his eyes, and patches of light danced on the ceiling, on the floor, and on the cupboard, and among them he had visions of Lyubka, buxom, full-bosomed: now she was turning round like a top, now she was exhausted and breathless. . . .
“Oh, if the devils would carry off that Merik,” he thought.
The little lamp gave a last flicker, spluttered, and went out. Someone, it must have been Merik, came into the room and sat down on the bench. He puffed at his pipe, and for an instant lighted up a dark cheek with a patch on it. Yergunov’s throat was irritated by the horrible fumes of the tobacco smoke.
“What filthy tobacco you have got—damnation take it!” said Yergunov. “It makes me positively sick.”
“I mix my tobacco with the flowers of the oats,” answered Merik after a pause. “It is better for the chest.”
He smoked, spat, and went out again. Half an hour passed, and all at once there was the gleam of a light in the passage. Merik appeared in a coat and cap, then Lyubka with a candle in her hand.
“Do stay, Merik,” said Lyubka in an imploring voice.
“No, Lyuba, don’t keep me.”
“Listen, Merik,” said Lyubka, and her voice grew soft and tender. “I know you will find mother’s money, and will do for her and for me, and will go to Kuban and love other girls; but God be with you. I only ask you one thing, sweetheart: do stay!”
“No, I want some fun . . .” said Merik, fastening his belt.
“But you have nothing to go on. . . . You came on foot; what are you going on?”
Merik bent down to Lyubka and whispered something in her ear; she looked towards the door and laughed through her tears.
“He is asleep, the puffed-up devil . . .” she said.
Merik embraced her, kissed her vigorously, and went out. Yergunov thrust his revolver into his pocket, jumped up, and ran after him.
“Get out of the way!” he said to Lyubka, who hurriedly bolted the door of the entry and stood across the threshold. “Let me pass! Why are you standing here?”
“What do you want to go out for?”
“To have a look at my horse.”
Lyubka gazed up at him with a sly and caressing look.
“Why look at it? You had better look at me . . . .” she said, then she bent down and touched with her finger the gilt watch-key that hung on his chain.
“Let me pass, or he will go off on my horse,” said Yergunov. “Let me go, you devil!” he shouted, and giving her an angry blow on the shoulder, he pressed his chest against her with all his might to push her away from the door, but she kept tight hold of the bolt, and was like iron.
“Let me go!” he shouted, exhausted; “he will go off with it, I tell you.”
“Why should he? He won’t.” Breathing hard and rubbing her shoulder, which hurt, she looked up at him again, flushed a little and laughed. “Don’t go away, dear heart,” she said; “I am dull alone.”
Yergunov looked into her eyes, hesitated, and put his arms round her; she did not resist.
“Come, no nonsense; let me go,” he begged her. She did not speak.
“I heard you just now,” he said, “telling Merik that you love him.”
“I dare say. . . . My heart knows who it is I love.”
She put her finger on the key again, and said softly: “Give me that.”
Yergunov unfastened the key and gave it to her. She suddenly craned her neck and listened with a grave face, and her expression struck Yergunov as cold and cunning; he thought of his horse, and now easily pushed her aside and ran out into the yard. In the shed a sleepy pig was grunting with lazy regularity and a cow was knocking her horn. Yergunov lighted a match and saw the pig, and the cow, and the dogs, which rushed at him on all sides at seeing the light, but there was no trace of the horse. Shouting and waving his arms at the dogs, stumbling over the drifts and sticking in the snow, he ran out at the gate and fell to gazing into the darkness. He strained his eyes to the utmost, and saw only the snow flying and the snowflakes distinctly forming into all sorts of shapes; at one moment the white, laughing face of a corpse would peep out of the darkness, at the next a white horse would gallop by with an Amazon in a muslin dress upon it, at the next a string of white swans would fly overhead. . . . Shaking with anger and cold, and not knowing what to do, Yergunov fired his revolver at the dogs, and did not hit one of them; then he rushed back to the house.
When he went into the entry he distinctly heard someone scurry out of the room and bang the door. It was dark in the room. Yergunov pushed against the door; it was locked. Then, lighting match after match, he rushed back into the entry, from there into the kitchen, and from the kitchen into a little room where all the walls were hung with petticoats and dresses, where there was a smell of cornflowers and fennel, and a bedstead with a perfect mountain of pillows, standing in the corner by the stove; this must have been the old mother’s room. From there he passed into another little room, and here he saw Lyubka. She was lying on a chest, covered with a gay-coloured patchwork cotton quilt, pretending to be asleep. A little ikon-lamp was burning in the corner above the pillow.
“Where is my horse?” Yergunov asked.
Lyubka did not stir.
“Where is my horse, I am asking you?” Yergunov repeated still more sternly, and he tore the quilt off her. “I am asking you, she-devil!” he shouted.
She jumped up on her knees, and with one hand holding her shift and with the other trying to clutch the quilt, huddled against the wall . . . . She looked at Yergunov with repulsion and terror in her eyes, and, like a wild beast in a trap, kept cunning watch on his faintest movement.
“Tell me where my horse is, or I’ll knock the life out of you,” shouted Yergunov.
“Get away, dirty brute!” she said in a hoarse voice.
Yergunov seized her by the shift near the neck and tore it. And then he could not restrain himself, and with all his might embraced the girl. But hissing with fury, she slipped out of his arms, and freeing one hand—the other was tangled in the torn shift—hit him a blow with her fist on the skull.
His head was dizzy with the pain, there was a ringing and rattling in his ears, he staggered back, and at that moment received another blow—this time on the temple. Reeling and clutching at the doorposts, that he might not fall, he made his way to the room where his things were, and lay down on the bench; then after lying for a little time, took the matchbox out of his pocket and began lighting match after match for no object: he lit it, blew it out, and threw it under the table, and went on till all the matches were gone.
Meanwhile the air began to turn blue outside, the cocks began to crow, but his head still ached, and there was an uproar in his ears as though he were sitting under a railway bridge and hearing the trains passing over his head. He got, somehow, into his coat and cap; the saddle and the bundle of his purchases he could not find, his knapsack was empty: it was not for nothing that someone had scurried out of the room when he came in from the yard.
He took a poker from the kitchen to keep off the dogs, and went out into the yard, leaving the door open. The snow-storm had subsided and it was calm outside. . . . When he went out at the gate, the white plain looked dead, and there was not a single bird in the morning sky. On both sides of the road and in the distance there were bluish patches of young copse.
Yergunov began thinking how he would be greeted at the hospital and what the doctor would say to him; it was absolutely necessary to think of that, and to prepare beforehand to answer questions he would be asked, but this thought grew blurred and slipped away. He walked along thinking of nothing but Lyubka, of the peasants with whom he had passed the night; he remembered how, after Lyubka struck him the second time, she had bent down to the floor for the quilt, and how her loose hair had fallen on the floor. His mind was in a maze, and he wondered why there were in the world doctors, hospital assistants, merchants, clerks, and peasants instead of simple free men? There are, to be sure, free birds, free beasts, a free Merik, and they are not afraid of anyone, and don’t need anyone! And whose idea was it, who had decreed that one must get up in the morning, dine at midday, go to bed in the evening; that a doctor takes precedence of a hospital assistant; that one must live in rooms and love only one’s wife? And why not the contrary—dine at night and sleep in the day? Ah, to jump on a horse without enquiring whose it is, to ride races with the wind like a devil, over fields and forests and ravines, to make love to girls, to mock at everyone . . . .
Yergunov thrust the poker into the snow, pressed his forehead to the cold white trunk of a birch-tree, and sank into thought; and his grey, monotonous life, his wages, his subordinate position, the dispensary, the everlasting to-do with the bottles and blisters, struck him as contemptible, sickening.
“Who says it’s a sin to enjoy oneself?” he asked himself with vexation. “Those who say that have never lived in freedom like Merik and Kalashnikov, and have never loved Lyubka; they have been beggars all their lives, have lived without any pleasure, and have only loved their wives, who are like frogs.”
And he thought about himself that he had not hitherto been a thief, a swindler, or even a brigand, simply because he could not, or had not yet met with a suitable opportunity.

——

A year and a half passed. In spring, after Easter, Yergunov, who had long before been dismissed from the hospital and was hanging about without a job, came out of the tavern in Ryepino and sauntered aimlessly along the street.
He went out into the open country. Here there was the scent of spring, and a warm caressing wind was blowing. The calm, starry night looked down from the sky on the earth. My God, how infinite the depth of the sky, and with what fathomless immensity it stretched over the world! The world is created well enough, only why and with what right do people, thought Yergunov, divide their fellows into the sober and the drunken, the employed and the dismissed, and so on. Why do the sober and well fed sleep comfortably in their homes while the drunken and the hungry must wander about the country without a refuge? Why was it that if anyone had not a job and did not get a salary he had to go hungry, without clothes and boots? Whose idea was it? Why was it the birds and the wild beasts in the woods did not have jobs and get salaries, but lived as they pleased?
Far away in the sky a beautiful crimson glow lay quivering, stretched wide over the horizon. Yergunov stopped, and for a long time he gazed at it, and kept wondering why was it that if he had carried off someone else’s samovar the day before and sold it for drink in the taverns it would be a sin? Why was it?
Two carts drove by on the road; in one of them there was a woman asleep, in the other sat an old man without a cap on.
“Grandfather, where is that fire?” asked Yergunov.
“Andrey Tchirikov’s inn,” answered the old man.
And Yergunov recalled what had happened to him eighteen months before in the winter, in that very inn, and how Merik had boasted; and he imagined the old woman and Lyubka, with their throats cut, burning, and he envied Merik. And when he walked back to the tavern, looking at the houses of the rich publicans, cattle-dealers, and blacksmiths, he reflected how nice it would be to steal by night into some rich man’s house!


12. PEASANT WIVES

IN the village of Reybuzh, just facing the church, stands a two-storeyed house with a stone foundation and an iron roof. In the lower storey the owner himself, Filip Ivanov Kashin, nicknamed Dyudya, lives with his family, and on the upper floor, where it is apt to be very hot in summer and very cold in winter, they put up government officials, merchants, or landowners, who chance to be travelling that way. Dyudya rents some bits of land, keeps a tavern on the highroad, does a trade in tar, honey, cattle, and jackdaws, and has already something like eight thousand roubles put by in the bank in the town.
His elder son, Fyodor, is head engineer in the factory, and, as the peasants say of him, he has risen so high in the world that he is quite out of reach now. Fyodor’s wife, Sofya, a plain, ailing woman, lives at home at her father-in-law’s. She is for ever crying, and every Sunday she goes over to the hospital for medicine. Dyudya’s second son, the hunchback Alyoshka, is living at home at his father’s. He has only lately been married to Varvara, whom they singled out for him from a poor family. She is a handsome young woman, smart and buxom. When officials or merchants put up at the house, they always insist on having Varvara to bring in the samovar and make their beds.
One June evening when the sun was setting and the air was full of the smell of hay, of steaming dung-heaps and new milk, a plain-looking cart drove into Dyudya’s yard with three people in it: a man of about thirty in a canvas suit, beside him a little boy of seven or eight in a long black coat with big bone buttons, and on the driver’s seat a young fellow in a red shirt.
The young fellow took out the horses and led them out into the street to walk them up and down a bit, while the traveller washed, said a prayer, turning towards the church, then spread a rug near the cart and sat down with the boy to supper. He ate without haste, sedately, and Dyudya, who had seen a good many travellers in his time, knew him from his manners for a businesslike man, serious and aware of his own value.
Dyudya was sitting on the step in his waistcoat without a cap on, waiting for the visitor to speak first. He was used to hearing all kinds of stories from the travellers in the evening, and he liked listening to them before going to bed. His old wife, Afanasyevna, and his daughter-in-law Sofya, were milking in the cowshed. The other daughter-in-law, Varvara, was sitting at the open window of the upper storey, eating sunflower seeds.
“The little chap will be your son, I’m thinking?” Dyudya asked the traveller.
“No; adopted. An orphan. I took him for my soul’s salvation.”
They got into conversation. The stranger seemed to be a man fond of talking and ready of speech, and Dyudya learned from him that he was from the town, was of the tradesman class, and had a house of his own, that his name was Matvey Savitch, that he was on his way now to look at some gardens that he was renting from some German colonists, and that the boy’s name was Kuzka. The evening was hot and close, no one felt inclined for sleep. When it was getting dark and pale stars began to twinkle here and there in the sky, Matvey Savitch began to tell how he had come by Kuzka. Afanasyevna and Sofya stood a little way off, listening. Kuzka had gone to the gate.
“It’s a complicated story, old man,” began Matvey Savitch, “and if I were to tell you all just as it happened, it would take all night and more. Ten years ago in a little house in our street, next door to me, where now there’s a tallow and oil factory, there was living an old widow, Marfa Semyonovna Kapluntsev, and she had two sons: one was a guard on the railway, but the other, Vasya, who was just my own age, lived at home with his mother. Old Kapluntsev had kept five pair of horses and sent carriers all over the town; his widow had not given up the business, but managed the carriers as well as her husband had done, so that some days they would bring in as much as five roubles from their rounds.
“The young fellow, too, made a trifle on his own account. He used to breed fancy pigeons and sell them to fanciers; at times he would stand for hours on the roof, waving a broom in the air and whistling; his pigeons were right up in the clouds, but it wasn’t enough for him, and he’d want them to go higher yet. Siskins and starlings, too, he used to catch, and he made cages for sale. All trifles, but, mind you, he’d pick up some ten roubles a month over such trifles. Well, as time went on, the old lady lost the use of her legs and took to her bed. In consequence of which event the house was left without a woman to look after it, and that’s for all the world like a man without an eye. The old lady bestirred herself and made up her mind to marry Vasya. They called in a matchmaker at once, the women got to talking of one thing and another, and Vasya went off to have a look at the girls. He picked out Mashenka, a widow’s daughter. They made up their minds without loss of time and in a week it was all settled. The girl was a little slip of a thing, seventeen, but fair-skinned and pretty-looking, and like a lady in all her ways; and a decent dowry with her, five hundred roubles, a cow, a bed.... Well, the old lady—it seemed as though she had known it was coming—three days after the wedding, departed to the Heavenly Jerusalem where is neither sickness nor sighing. The young people gave her a good funeral and began their life together. For just six months they got on splendidly, and then all of a sudden another misfortune. It never rains but it pours: Vasya was summoned to the recruiting office to draw lots for the service. He was taken, poor chap, for a soldier, and not even granted exemption. They shaved his head and packed him off to Poland. It was God’s will; there was nothing to be done. When he said good-bye to his wife in the yard, he bore it all right; but as he glanced up at the hay-loft and his pigeons for the last time, he burst out crying. It was pitiful to see him.
“At first Mashenka got her mother to stay with her, that she mightn’t be dull all alone; she stayed till the baby—this very Kuzka here—was born, and then she went off to Oboyan to another married daughter’s and left Mashenka alone with the baby. There were five peasants—the carriers—a drunken saucy lot; horses, too, and dray-carts to see to, and then the fence would be broken or the soot afire in the chimney—jobs beyond a woman, and through our being neighbours, she got into the way of turning to me for every little thing.... Well, I’d go over, set things to rights, and give advice.... Naturally, not without going indoors, drinking a cup of tea and having a little chat with her. I was a young fellow, intellectual, and fond of talking on all sorts of subjects; she, too, was well-bred and educated. She was always neatly dressed, and in summer she walked out with a sunshade. Sometimes I would begin upon religion or politics with her, and she was flattered and would entertain me with tea and jam.... In a word, not to make a long story of it, I must tell you, old man, a year had not passed before the Evil One, the enemy of all mankind, confounded me. I began to notice that any day I didn’t go to see her, I seemed out of sorts and dull. And I’d be continually making up something that I must see her about: ‘It’s high time,’ I’d say to myself, ‘to put the double windows in for the winter,’ and the whole day I’d idle away over at her place putting in the windows and take good care to leave a couple of them over for the next day too.
“‘I ought to count over Vasya’s pigeons, to see none of them have strayed,’ and so on. I used always to be talking to her across the fence, and in the end I made a little gate in the fence so as not to have to go so far round. From womankind comes much evil into the world and every kind of abomination. Not we sinners only; even the saints themselves have been led astray by them. Mashenka did not try to keep me at a distance. Instead of thinking of her husband and being on her guard, she fell in love with me. I began to notice that she was dull without me, and was always walking to and fro by the fence looking into my yard through the cracks.
“My brains were going round in my head in a sort of frenzy. On Thursday in Holy Week I was going early in the morning—it was scarcely light—to market. I passed close by her gate, and the Evil One was by me—at my elbow. I looked—she had a gate with open trellis work at the top—and there she was, up already, standing in the middle of the yard, feeding the ducks. I could not restrain myself, and I called her name. She came up and looked at me through the trellis.... Her little face was white, her eyes soft and sleepy-looking.... I liked her looks immensely, and I began paying her compliments, as though we were not at the gate, but just as one does on namedays, while she blushed, and laughed, and kept looking straight into my eyes without winking.... I lost all sense and began to declare my love to her.... She opened the gate, and from that morning we began to live as man and wife....”
The hunchback Alyoshka came into the yard from the street and ran out of breath into the house, not looking at any one. A minute later he ran out of the house with a concertina. Jingling some coppers in his pocket, and cracking sunflower seeds as he ran, he went out at the gate.
“And who’s that, pray?” asked Matvey Savitch.
“My son Alexey,” answered Dyudya. “He’s off on a spree, the rascal. God has afflicted him with a hump, so we are not very hard on him.”
“And he’s always drinking with the other fellows, always drinking,” sighed Afanasyevna. “Before Carnival we married him, thinking he’d be steadier, but there! he’s worse than ever.”
“It’s been no use. Simply keeping another man’s daughter for nothing,” said Dyudya.
Somewhere behind the church they began to sing a glorious, mournful song. The words they could not catch and only the voices could be heard—two tenors and a bass. All were listening; there was complete stillness in the yard.... Two voices suddenly broke off with a loud roar of laughter, but the third, a tenor, still sang on, and took so high a note that every one instinctively looked upwards, as though the voice had soared to heaven itself.
Varvara came out of the house, and screening her eyes with her hand, as though from the sun, she looked towards the church.
“It’s the priest’s sons with the schoolmaster,” she said.
Again all the three voices began to sing together. Matvey Savitch sighed and went on:
“Well, that’s how it was, old man. Two years later we got a letter from Vasya from Warsaw. He wrote that he was being sent home sick. He was ill. By that time I had put all that foolishness out of my head, and I had a fine match picked out all ready for me, only I didn’t know how to break it off with my sweetheart. Every day I’d make up my mind to have it out with Mashenka, but I didn’t know how to approach her so as not to have a woman’s screeching about my ears. The letter freed my hands. I read it through with Mashenka; she turned white as a sheet, while I said to her: ‘Thank God; now,’ says I, ‘you’ll be a married woman again.’ But says she: ‘I’m not going to live with him.’ ‘Why, isn’t he your husband?’ said I. ‘Is it an easy thing?... I never loved him and I married him not of my own free will. My mother made me.’ ‘Don’t try to get out of it, silly,’ said I, ‘but tell me this: were you married to him in church or not?’ ‘I was married,’ she said, ‘but it’s you that I love, and I will stay with you to the day of my death. Folks may jeer. I don’t care....’ ‘You’re a Christian woman,’ said I, ‘and have read the Scriptures; what is written there?’
“Once married, with her husband she must live,” said Dyudya.
“‘Man and wife are one flesh. We have sinned,’ I said, ‘you and I, and it is enough; we must repent and fear God. We must confess it all to Vasya,’ said I; ‘he’s a quiet fellow and soft—he won’t kill you. And indeed,’ said I, ‘better to suffer torments in this world at the hands of your lawful master than to gnash your teeth at the dread Seat of Judgment.’ The wench wouldn’t listen; she stuck to her silly, ‘It’s you I love!’ and nothing more could I get out of her.
“Vasya came back on the Saturday before Trinity, early in the morning. From my fence I could see everything; he ran into the house, and came back a minute later with Kuzka in his arms, and he was laughing and crying all at once; he was kissing Kuzka and looking up at the hay-loft, and hadn’t the heart to put the child down, and yet he was longing to go to his pigeons. He was always a soft sort of chap—sentimental. That day passed off very well, all quiet and proper. They had begun ringing the church bells for the evening service, when the thought struck me: ‘To-morrow’s Trinity Sunday; how is it they are not decking the gates and the fence with green? Something’s wrong,’ I thought. I went over to them. I peeped in, and there he was, sitting on the floor in the middle of the room, his eyes staring like a drunken man’s, the tears streaming down his cheeks and his hands shaking; he was pulling cracknels, necklaces, gingerbread nuts, and all sorts of little presents out of his bundle and flinging them on the floor. Kuzka—he was three years old—was crawling on the floor, munching the gingerbreads, while Mashenka stood by the stove, white and shivering all over, muttering: ‘I’m not your wife; I can’t live with you,’ and all sorts of foolishness. I bowed down at Vasya’s feet, and said: ‘We have sinned against you, Vassily Maximitch; forgive us, for Christ’s sake!’ Then I got up and spoke to Mashenka: ‘You, Marya Semyonovna, ought now to wash Vassily Maximitch’s feet and drink the water. Do you be an obedient wife to him, and pray to God for me, that He in His mercy may forgive my transgression.’ It came to me like an inspiration from an angel of Heaven; I gave her solemn counsel and spoke with such feeling that my own tears flowed too. And so two days later Vasya comes to me: ‘Matyusha,’ says he, ‘I forgive you and my wife; God have mercy on you! She was a soldier’s wife, a young thing all alone; it was hard for her to be on her guard. She’s not the first, nor will she be the last. Only,’ he says, ‘I beg you to behave as though there had never been anything between you, and to make no sign, while I,’ says he, ‘will do my best to please her in every way, so that she may come to love me again.’ He gave me his hand on it, drank a cup of tea, and went away more cheerful.
“‘Well,’ thought I, ‘thank God!’ and I did feel glad that everything had gone off so well. But no sooner had Vasya gone out of the yard, when in came Mashenka. Ah! What I had to suffer! She hung on my neck, weeping and praying: ‘For God’s sake, don’t cast me off; I can’t live without you!’”
“The vile hussy!” sighed Dyudya.
“I swore at her, stamped my foot, and dragging her into the passage, I fastened the door with the hook. ‘Go to your husband,’ I cried. ‘Don’t shame me before folks. Fear God!’ And every day there was a scene of that sort.
“One morning I was standing in my yard near the stable cleaning a bridle. All at once I saw her running through the little gate into my yard, with bare feet, in her petticoat, and straight towards me; she clutched at the bridle, getting all smeared with the pitch, and shaking and weeping, she cried: ‘I can’t stand him; I loathe him; I can’t bear it! If you don’t love me, better kill me!’ I was angry, and I struck her twice with the bridle, but at that instant Vasya ran in at the gate, and in a despairing voice he shouted: ‘Don’t beat her! Don’t beat her!’ But he ran up himself, and waving his arms, as though he were mad, he let fly with his fists at her with all his might, then flung her on the ground and kicked her. I tried to defend her, but he snatched up the reins and thrashed her with them, and all the while, like a colt’s whinny, he went: ‘He—he—he!’”
“I’d take the reins and let you feel them,” muttered Varvara, moving away; “murdering our sister, the damned brutes!...”
“Hold your tongue, you jade!” Dyudya shouted at her.
“‘He—he—he!’” Matvey Savitch went on. “A carrier ran out of his yard; I called to my workman, and the three of us got Mashenka away from him and carried her home in our arms. The disgrace of it! The same day I went over in the evening to see how things were. She was lying in bed, all wrapped up in bandages, nothing but her eyes and nose to be seen; she was looking at the ceiling. I said: ‘Good-evening, Marya Semyonovna!’ She did not speak. And Vasya was sitting in the next room, his head in his hands, crying and saying: ‘Brute that I am! I’ve ruined my life! O God, let me die!’ I sat for half an hour by Mashenka and gave her a good talking-to. I tried to frighten her a bit. ‘The righteous,’ said I, ‘after this life go to Paradise, but you will go to a Gehenna of fire, like all adulteresses. Don’t strive against your husband, go and lay yourself at his feet.’ But never a word from her; she didn’t so much as bJlink an eyelid, for all the world as though I were talking to a post. The next day Vasya fell ill with something like cholera, and in the evening I heard that he was dead. Well, so they buried him, and Mashenka did not go to the funeral; she didn’t care to show her shameless face and her bruises. And soon there began to be talk all over the district that Vasya had not died a natural death, that Mashenka had made away with him. It got to the ears of the police; they had Vasya dug up and cut open, and in his stomach they found arsenic. It was clear he had been poisoned; the police came and took Mashenka away, and with her the innocent Kuzka. They were put in prison.... The woman had gone too far—God punished her.... Eight months later they tried her. She sat, I remember, on a low stool, with a little white kerchief on her head, wearing a grey gown, and she was so thin, so pale, so sharp-eyed it made one sad to look at her. Behind her stood a soldier with a gun. She would not confess her guilt. Some in the court said she had poisoned her husband and others declared he had poisoned himself for grief. I was one of the witnesses. When they questioned me, I told the whole truth according to my oath. ‘Hers,’ said I, ‘is the guilt. It’s no good to conceal it; she did not love her husband, and she had a will of her own....’ The trial began in the morning and towards night they passed this sentence: to send her to hard labour in Siberia for thirteen years. After that sentence Mashenka remained three months longer in prison. I went to see her, and from Christian charity I took her a little tea and sugar. But as soon as she set eyes on me she began to shake all over, wringing her hands and muttering: ‘Go away! go away!’ And Kuzka she clasped to her as though she were afraid I would take him away. ‘See,’ said I, ‘what you have come to! Ah, Masha, Masha! you would not listen to me when I gave you good advice, and now you must repent it. You are yourself to blame,’ said I; ‘blame yourself!’ I was giving her good counsel, but she: ‘Go away, go away!’ huddling herself and Kuzka against the wall, and trembling all over.
“When they were taking her away to the chief town of our province, I walked by the escort as far as the station and slipped a rouble into her bundle for my soul’s salvation. But she did not get as far as Siberia.... She fell sick of fever and died in prison.”
“Live like a dog and you must die a dog’s death,” said Dyudya.
“Kuzka was sent back home.... I thought it over and took him to bring up. After all—though a convict’s child—still he was a living soul, a Christian.... I was sorry for him. I shall make him my clerk, and if I have no children of my own, I’ll make a merchant of him. Wherever I go now, I take him with me; let him learn his work.”
All the while Matvey Savitch had been telling his story, Kuzka had sat on a little stone near the gate. His head propped in both hands, he gazed at the sky, and in the distance he looked in the dark like a stump of wood.
“Kuzka, come to bed,” Matvey Savitch bawled to him.
“Yes, it’s time,” said Dyudya, getting up; he yawned loudly and added:
“Folks will go their own way, and that’s what comes of it.”
Over the yard the moon was floating now in the heavens; she was moving one way, while the clouds beneath moved the other way; the clouds were disappearing into the darkness, but still the moon could be seen high above the yard.
Matvey Savitch said a prayer, facing the church, and saying good-night, he lay down on the ground near his cart. Kuzka, too, said a prayer, lay down in the cart, and covered himself with his little overcoat; he made himself a little hole in the hay so as to be more comfortable, and curled up so that his elbows looked like knees. From the yard Dyudya could be seen lighting a candle in his room below, putting on his spectacles and standing in the corner with a book. He was a long while reading and crossing himself.
The travellers fell asleep. Afanasyevna and Sofya came up to the cart and began looking at Kuzka.
“The little orphan’s asleep,” said the old woman. “He’s thin and frail, nothing but bones. No mother and no one to care for him properly.”
“My Grishutka must be two years older,” said Sofya. “Up at the factory he lives like a slave without his mother. The foreman beats him, I dare say. When I looked at this poor mite just now, I thought of my own Grishutka, and my heart went cold within me.”
A minute passed in silence.
“Doesn’t remember his mother, I suppose,” said the old woman.
“How could he remember?”
And big tears began dropping from Sofya’s eyes.
“He’s curled himself up like a cat,” she said, sobbing and laughing with tenderness and sorrow.... “Poor motherless mite!”
Kuzka started and opened his eyes. He saw before him an ugly, wrinkled, tear-stained face, and beside it another, aged and toothless, with a sharp chin and hooked nose, and high above them the infinite sky with the flying clouds and the moon. He cried out in fright, and Sofya, too, uttered a cry; both were answered by the echo, and a faint stir passed over the stifling air; a watchman tapped somewhere near, a dog barked. Matvey Savitch muttered something in his sleep and turned over on the other side.
Late at night when Dyudya and the old woman and the neighbouring watchman were all asleep, Sofya went out to the gate and sat down on the bench. She felt stifled and her head ached from weeping. The street was a wide and long one; it stretched for nearly two miles to the right and as far to the left, and the end of it was out of sight. The moon was now not over the yard, but behind the church. One side of the street was flooded with moonlight, while the other side lay in black shadow. The long shadows of the poplars and the starling-cotes stretched right across the street, while the church cast a broad shadow, black and terrible that enfolded Dyudya’s gates and half his house. The street was still and deserted. From time to time the strains of music floated faintly from the end of the street—Alyoshka, most likely, playing his concertina.
Someone moved in the shadow near the church enclosure, and Sofya could not make out whether it were a man or a cow, or perhaps merely a big bird rustling in the trees. But then a figure stepped out of the shadow, halted, and said something in a man’s voice, then vanished down the turning by the church. A little later, not three yards from the gate, another figure came into sight; it walked straight from the church to the gate and stopped short, seeing Sofya on the bench.
“Varvara, is that you?” said Sofya.
“And if it were?”
It was Varvara. She stood still a minute, then came up to the bench and sat down.
“Where have you been?” asked Sofya.
Varvara made no answer.
“You’d better mind you don’t get into trouble with such goings-on, my girl,” said Sofya. “Did you hear how Mashenka was kicked and lashed with the reins? You’d better look out, or they’ll treat you the same.”
“Well, let them!”
Varvara laughed into her kerchief and whispered:
“I have just been with the priest’s son.”
“Nonsense!”
“I have!”
“It’s a sin!” whispered Sofya.
“Well, let it be.... What do I care? If it’s a sin, then it is a sin, but better be struck dead by thunder than live like this. I’m young and strong, and I’ve a filthy crooked hunchback for a husband, worse than Dyudya himself, curse him! When I was a girl, I hadn’t bread to eat, or a shoe to my foot, and to get away from that wretchedness I was tempted by Alyoshka’s money, and got caught like a fish in a net, and I’d rather have a viper for my bedfellow than that scurvy Alyoshka. And what’s your life? It makes me sick to look at it. Your Fyodor sent you packing from the factory and he’s taken up with another woman. They have robbed you of your boy and made a slave of him. You work like a horse, and never hear a kind word. I’d rather pine all my days an old maid, I’d rather get half a rouble from the priest’s son, I’d rather beg my bread, or throw myself into the well...
“It’s a sin!” whispered Sofya again.
“Well, let it be.”
Somewhere behind the church the same three voices, two tenors and a bass, began singing again a mournful song. And again the words could not be distinguished.
“They are not early to bed,” Varvara said, laughing.
And she began telling in a whisper of her midnight walks with the priest’s son, and of the stories he had told her, and of his comrades, and of the fun she had with the travellers who stayed in the house. The mournful song stirred a longing for life and freedom. Sofya began to laugh; she thought it sinful and terrible and sweet to hear about, and she felt envious and sorry that she, too, had not been a sinner when she was young and pretty.
In the churchyard they heard twelve strokes beaten on the watchman’s board.
“It’s time we were asleep,” said Sofya, getting up, “or, maybe, we shall catch it from Dyudya.”
They both went softly into the yard.
“I went away without hearing what he was telling about Mashenka,” said Varvara, making herself a bed under the window.
“She died in prison, he said. She poisoned her husband.”
Varvara lay down beside Sofya a while, and said softly:
“I’d make away with my Alyoshka and never regret it.”
“You talk nonsense; God forgive you.”
When Sofya was just dropping asleep, Varvara, coming close, whispered in her ear:
“Let us get rid of Dyudya and Alyoshka!”
Sofya started and said nothing. Then she opened her eyes and gazed a long while steadily at the sky.
“People would find out,” she said.
“No, they wouldn’t. Dyudya’s an old man, it’s time he did die; and they’d say Alyoshka died of drink.”
“I’m afraid... God would chastise us.”
“Well, let Him....”
Both lay awake thinking in silence.
“It’s cold,” said Sofya, beginning to shiver all over. “It will soon be morning.... Are you asleep?”
“No.... Don’t you mind what I say, dear,” whispered Varvara; “I get so mad with the damned brutes, I don’t know what I do say. Go to sleep, or it will be daylight directly.... Go to sleep.”
Both were quiet and soon they fell asleep.
Earlier than all woke the old woman. She waked up Sofya and they went together into the cowshed to milk the cows. The hunchback Alyoshka came in hopelessly drunk without his concertina; his breast and knees had been in the dust and straw—he must have fallen down in the road. Staggering, he went into the cowshed, and without undressing he rolled into a sledge and began to snore at once. When first the crosses on the church and then the windows were flashing in the light of the rising sun, and shadows stretched across the yard over the dewy grass from the trees and the top of the well, Matvey Savitch jumped up and began hurrying about:
“Kuzka! get up!” he shouted. “It’s time to put in the horses! Look sharp!”
The bustle of morning was beginning. A young Jewess in a brown gown with flounces led a horse into the yard to drink. The pulley of the well creaked plaintively, the bucket knocked as it went down....
Kuzka, sleepy, tired, covered with dew, sat up in the cart, lazily putting on his little overcoat, and listening to the drip of the water from the bucket into the well as he shivered with the cold.
“Auntie!” shouted Matvey Savitch to Sofya, “tell my lad to hurry up and to harness the horses!”
And Dyudya at the same instant shouted from the window:
“Sofya, take a farthing from the Jewess for the horse’s drink! They’re always in here, the mangy creatures!”
In the street sheep were running up and down, baaing; the peasant women were shouting at the shepherd, while he played his pipes, cracked his whip, or answered them in a thick sleepy bass. Three sheep strayed into the yard, and not finding the gate again, pushed at the fence.
Varvara was waked by the noise, and bundling her bedding up in her arms, she went into the house.
“You might at least drive the sheep out!” the old woman bawled after her, “my lady!”
“I dare say! As if I were going to slave for you Herods!” muttered Varvara, going into the house.
Dyudya came out of the house with his accounts in his hands, sat down on the step, and began reckoning how much the traveller owed him for the night’s lodging, oats, and watering his horses.
“You charge pretty heavily for the oats, my good man,” said Matvey Savitch.
“If it’s too much, don’t take them. There’s no compulsion, merchant.”
When the travellers were ready to start, they were detained for a minute. Kuzka had lost his cap.
“Little swine, where did you put it?” Matvey Savitch roared angrily. “Where is it?”
Kuzka’s face was working with terror; he ran up and down near the cart, and not finding it there, ran to the gate and then to the shed. The old woman and Sofya helped him look.
“I’ll pull your ears off!” yelled Matvey Savitch. “Dirty brat!”
The cap was found at the bottom of the cart.
Kuzka brushed the hay off it with his sleeve, put it on, and timidly he crawled into the cart, still with an expression of terror on his face as though he were afraid of a blow from behind.
Matvey Savitch crossed himself. The driver gave a tug at the reins and the cart rolled out of the yard.


13. THE TEACHER OF LITERATURE

I

THERE was the thud of horses’ hoofs on the wooden floor; they brought out of the stable the black horse, Count Nulin; then the white, Giant; then his sister Maika. They were all magnificent, expensive horses. Old Shelestov saddled Giant and said, addressing his daughter Masha:
“Well, Marie Godefroi, come, get on! Hopla!”
Masha Shelestov was the youngest of the family; she was eighteen, but her family could not get used to thinking that she was not a little girl, and so they still called her Manya and Manyusa; and after there had been a circus in the town which she had eagerly visited, every one began to call her Marie Godefroi.
“Hop-la!” she cried, mounting Giant. Her sister Varya got on Maika, Nikitin on Count Nulin, the officers on their horses, and the long picturesque cavalcade, with the officers in white tunics and the ladies in their riding habits, moved at a walking pace out of the yard.
Nikitin noticed that when they were mounting the horses and afterwards riding out into the street, Masha for some reason paid attention to no one but himself. She looked anxiously at him and at Count Nulin and said:
“You must hold him all the time on the curb, Sergey Vassilitch. Don’t let him shy. He’s pretending.”
And either because her Giant was very friendly with Count Nulin, or perhaps by chance, she rode all the time beside Nikitin, as she had done the day before, and the day before that. And he looked at her graceful little figure sitting on the proud white beast, at her delicate profile, at the chimney-pot hat, which did not suit her at all and made her look older than her age—looked at her with joy, with tenderness, with rapture; listened to her, taking in little of what she said, and thought:
“I promise on my honour, I swear to God, I won’t be afraid and I’ll speak to her today.”
It was seven o’clock in the evening—the time when the scent of white acacia and lilac is so strong that the air and the very trees seem heavy with the fragrance. The band was already playing in the town gardens. The horses made a resounding thud on the pavement, on all sides there were sounds of laughter, talk, and the banging of gates. The soldiers they met saluted the officers, the schoolboys bowed to Nikitin, and all the people who were hurrying to the gardens to hear the band were pleased at the sight of the party. And how warm it was! How soft-looking were the clouds scattered carelessly about the sky, how kindly and comforting the shadows of the poplars and the acacias, which stretched across the street and reached as far as the balconies and second stories of the houses on the other side.
They rode on out of the town and set off at a trot along the highroad. Here there was no scent of lilac and acacia, no music of the band, but there was the fragrance of the fields, there was the green of young rye and wheat, the marmots were squeaking, the rooks were cawing. Wherever one looked it was green, with only here and there black patches of bare ground, and far away to the left in the cemetery a white streak of apple-blossom.
They passed the slaughter-houses, then the brewery, and overtook a military band hastening to the suburban gardens.
“Polyansky has a very fine horse, I don’t deny that,” Masha said to Nikitin, with a glance towards the officer who was riding beside Varya. “But it has blemishes. That white patch on its left leg ought not to be there, and, look, it tosses its head. You can’t train it not to now; it will toss its head till the end of its days.”
Masha was as passionate a lover of horses as her father. She felt a pang when she saw other people with fine horses, and was pleased when she saw defects in them. Nikitin knew nothing about horses; it made absolutely no difference to him whether he held his horse on the bridle or on the curb, whether he trotted or galloped; he only felt that his position was strained and unnatural, and that consequently the officers who knew how to sit in their saddles must please Masha more than he could. And he was jealous of the officers.
As they rode by the suburban gardens some one suggested their going in and getting some seltzer-water. They went in. There were no trees but oaks in the gardens; they had only just come into leaf, so that through the young foliage the whole garden could still be seen with its platform, little tables, and swings, and the crows’ nests were visible, looking like big hats. The party dismounted near a table and asked for seltzer-water. People they knew, walking about the garden, came up to them. Among them the army doctor in high boots, and the conductor of the band, waiting for the musicians. The doctor must have taken Nikitin for a student, for he asked: “Have you come for the summer holidays?”
“No, I am here permanently,” answered Nikitin. “I am a teacher at the school.”
“You don’t say so?” said the doctor, with surprise. “So young and already a teacher?”
“Young, indeed! My goodness, I’m twenty-six!
“You have a beard and moustache, but yet one would never guess you were more than twenty-two or twenty-three. How young-looking you are!”
“What a beast!” thought Nikitin. “He, too, takes me for a whipper-snapper!”
He disliked it extremely when people referred to his youth, especially in the presence of women or the schoolboys. Ever since he had come to the town as a master in the school he had detested his own youthful appearance. The schoolboys were not afraid of him, old people called him “young man,” ladies preferred dancing with him to listening to his long arguments, and he would have given a great deal to be ten years older.
From the garden they went on to the Shelestovs’ farm. There they stopped at the gate and asked the bailiff’s wife, Praskovya, to bring some new milk. Nobody drank the milk; they all looked at one another, laughed, and galloped back. As they rode back the band was playing in the suburban garden; the sun was setting behind the cemetery, and half the sky was crimson from the sunset.
Masha again rode beside Nikitin. He wanted to tell her how passionately he loved her, but he was afraid he would be overheard by the officers and Varya, and he was silent. Masha was silent, too, and he felt why she was silent and why she was riding beside him, and was so happy that the earth, the sky, the lights of the town, the black outline of the brewery—all blended for him into something very pleasant and comforting, and it seemed to him as though Count Nulin were stepping on air and would climb up into the crimson sky.
They arrived home. The samovar was already boiling on the table, old Shelestov was sitting with his friends, officials in the Circuit Court, and as usual he was criticizing something.
“It’s loutishness!” he said. “Loutishness and nothing more. Yes!”
Since Nikitin had been in love with Masha, everything at the Shelestovs’ pleased him: the house, the garden, and the evening tea, and the wickerwork chairs, and the old nurse, and even the word “loutishness,” which the old man was fond of using. The only thing he did not like was the number of cats and dogs and the Egyptian pigeons, who moaned disconsolately in a big cage in the verandah. There were so many house-dogs and yard-dogs that he had only learnt to recognize two of them in the course of his acquaintance with the Shelestovs: Mushka and Som. Mushka was a little mangy dog with a shaggy face, spiteful and spoiled. She hated Nikitin: when she saw him she put her head on one side, showed her teeth, and began: “Rrr . . . nga-nga-nga . . . rrr . . . !” Then she would get under his chair, and when he would try to drive her away she would go off into piercing yaps, and the family would say: “Don’t be frightened. She doesn’t bite. She is a good dog.”
Som was a tall black dog with long legs and a tail as hard as a stick. At dinner and tea he usually moved about under the table, and thumped on people’s boots and on the legs of the table with his tail. He was a good-natured, stupid dog, but Nikitin could not endure him because he had the habit of putting his head on people’s knees at dinner and messing their trousers with saliva. Nikitin had more than once tried to hit him on his head with a knife-handle, to flip him on the nose, had abused him, had complained of him, but nothing saved his trousers.
After their ride the tea, jam, rusks, and butter seemed very nice. They all drank their first glass in silence and with great relish; over the second they began an argument. It was always Varya who started the arguments at tea; she was good-looking, handsomer than Masha, and was considered the cleverest and most cultured person in the house, and she behaved with dignity and severity, as an eldest daughter should who has taken the place of her dead mother in the house. As the mistress of the house, she felt herself entitled to wear a dressing-gown in the presence of her guests, and to call the officers by their surnames; she looked on Masha as a little girl, and talked to her as though she were a schoolmistress. She used to speak of herself as an old maid—so she was certain she would marry.
Every conversation, even about the weather, she invariably turned into an argument. She had a passion for catching at words, pouncing on contradictions, quibbling over phrases. You would begin talking to her, and she would stare at you and suddenly interrupt: “Excuse me, excuse me, Petrov, the other day you said the very opposite!”
Or she would smile ironically and say: “I notice, though, you begin to advocate the principles of the secret police. I congratulate you.”
If you jested or made a pun, you would hear her voice at once: “That’s stale,” “That’s pointless.” If an officer ventured on a joke, she would make a contemptuous grimace and say, “An army joke!”
And she rolled the r so impressively that Mushka invariably answered from under a chair, “Rrr . . . nga-nga-nga . . . !”
On this occasion at tea the argument began with Nikitin’s mentioning the school examinations.
“Excuse me, Sergey Vassilitch,” Varya interrupted him. “You say it’s difficult for the boys. And whose fault is that, let me ask you? For instance, you set the boys in the eighth class an essay on ‘Pushkin as a Psychologist.’ To begin with, you shouldn’t set such a difficult subject; and, secondly, Pushkin was not a psychologist. Shtchedrin now, or Dostoevsky let us say, is a different matter, but Pushkin is a great poet and nothing more.”
“Shtchedrin is one thing, and Pushkin is another,” Nikitin answered sulkily.
“I know you don’t think much of Shtchedrin at the high school, but that’s not the point. Tell me, in what sense is Pushkin a psychologist?”
“Why, do you mean to say he was not a psychologist? If you like, I’ll give you examples.”
And Nikitin recited several passages from “Onyegin” and then from “Boris Godunov.”
“I see no psychology in that.” Varya sighed. “The psychologist is the man who describes the recesses of the human soul, and that’s fine poetry and nothing more.”
“I know the sort of psychology you want,” said Nikitin, offended. “You want some one to saw my finger with a blunt saw while I howl at the top of my voice—that’s what you mean by psychology.”
“That’s poor! But still you haven’t shown me in what sense Pushkin is a psychologist?”
When Nikitin had to argue against anything that seemed to him narrow, conventional, or something of that kind, he usually leaped up from his seat, clutched at his head with both hands, and began with a moan, running from one end of the room to another. And it was the same now: he jumped up, clutched his head in his hands, and with a moan walked round the table, then he sat down a little way off.
The officers took his part. Captain Polyansky began assuring Varya that Pushkin really was a psychologist, and to prove it quoted two lines from Lermontov; Lieutenant Gernet said that if Pushkin had not been a psychologist they would not have erected a monument to him in Moscow.
“That’s loutishness!” was heard from the other end of the table. “I said as much to the governor: ‘It’s loutishness, your Excellency,’ I said.”
“I won’t argue any more,” cried Nikitin. “It’s unending. . . . Enough! Ach, get away, you nasty dog!” he cried to Som, who laid his head and paw on his knee.
“Rrr . . . nga-nga-nga!” came from under the table.
“Admit that you are wrong!” cried Varya. “Own up!”
But some young ladies came in, and the argument dropped of itself. They all went into the drawing-room. Varya sat down at the piano and began playing dances. They danced first a waltz, then a polka, then a quadrille with a grand chain which Captain Polyansky led through all the rooms, then a waltz again.
During the dancing the old men sat in the drawing-room, smoking and looking at the young people. Among them was Shebaldin, the director of the municipal bank, who was famed for his love of literature and dramatic art. He had founded the local Musical and Dramatic Society, and took part in the performances himself, confining himself, for some reason, to playing comic footmen or to reading in a sing-song voice “The Woman who was a Sinner.” His nickname in the town was “the Mummy,” as he was tall, very lean and scraggy, and always had a solemn air and a fixed, lustreless eye. He was so devoted to the dramatic art that he even shaved his moustache and beard, and this made him still more like a mummy.
After the grand chain, he shuffled up to Nikitin sideways, coughed, and said:
“I had the pleasure of being present during the argument at tea. I fully share your opinion. We are of one mind, and it would be a great pleasure to me to talk to you. Have you read Lessing on the dramatic art of Hamburg?”
“No, I haven’t.”
Shebaldin was horrified, and waved his hands as though he had burnt his fingers, and saying nothing more, staggered back from Nikitin. Shebaldin’s appearance, his question, and his surprise, struck Nikitin as funny, but he thought none the less:
“It really is awkward. I am a teacher of literature, and to this day I’ve not read Lessing. I must read him.”
Before supper the whole company, old and young, sat down to play “fate.” They took two packs of cards: one pack was dealt round to the company, the other was laid on the table face downwards.
“The one who has this card in his hand,” old Shelestov began solemnly, lifting the top card of the second pack, “is fated to go into the nursery and kiss nurse.”
The pleasure of kissing the nurse fell to the lot of Shebaldin. They all crowded round him, took him to the nursery, and laughing and clapping their hands, made him kiss the nurse. There was a great uproar and shouting.
“Not so ardently!” cried Shelestov with tears of laughter. “Not so ardently!”
It was Nikitin’s “fate” to hear the confessions of all. He sat on a chair in the middle of the drawing-room. A shawl was brought and put over his head. The first who came to confess to him was Varya.
“I know your sins,” Nikitin began, looking in the darkness at her stern profile. “Tell me, madam, how do you explain your walking with Polyansky every day? Oh, it’s not for nothing she walks with an hussar!”
“That’s poor,” said Varya, and walked away.
Then under the shawl he saw the shine of big motionless eyes, caught the lines of a dear profile in the dark, together with a familiar, precious fragrance which reminded Nikitin of Masha’s room.
“Marie Godefroi,” he said, and did not know his own voice, it was so soft and tender, “what are your sins?”
Masha screwed up her eyes and put out the tip of her tongue at him, then she laughed and went away. And a minute later she was standing in the middle of the room, clapping her hands and crying:
“Supper, supper, supper!”
And they all streamed into the dining-room. At supper Varya had another argument, and this time with her father. Polyansky ate stolidly, drank red wine, and described to Nikitin how once in a winter campaign he had stood all night up to his knees in a bog; the enemy was so near that they were not allowed to speak or smoke, the night was cold and dark, a piercing wind was blowing. Nikitin listened and stole side-glances at Masha. She was gazing at him immovably, without bClinking, as though she was pondering something or was lost in a reverie. . . . It was pleasure and agony to him both at once.
“Why does she look at me like that?” was the question that fretted him. “It’s awkward. People may notice it. Oh, how young, how naïve she is!”
The party broke up at midnight. When Nikitin went out at the gate, a window opened on the first-floor, and Masha showed herself at it.
“Sergey Vassilitch!” she called.
“What is it?”
“I tell you what . . .” said Masha, evidently thinking of something to say. “I tell you what. . . Polyansky said he would come in a day or two with his camera and take us all. We must meet here.”
“Very well.”
Masha vanished, the window was slammed, and some one immediately began playing the piano in the house.
“Well, it is a house!” thought Nikitin while he crossed the street. “A house in which there is no moaning except from Egyptian pigeons, and they only do it because they have no other means of expressing their joy!”
But the Shelestovs were not the only festive household. Nikitin had not gone two hundred paces before he heard the strains of a piano from another house. A little further he met a peasant playing the balalaika at the gate. In the gardens the band struck up a potpourri of Russian songs.
Nikitin lived nearly half a mile from the Shelestoys’ in a flat of eight rooms at the rent of three hundred roubles a year, which he shared with his colleague Ippolit Ippolititch, a teacher of geography and history. When Nikitin went in this Ippolit Ippolititch, a snub-nosed, middle-aged man with a reddish beard, with a coarse, good-natured, unintellectual face like a workman’s, was sitting at the table correcting his pupils’ maps. He considered that the most important and necessary part of the study of geography was the drawing of maps, and of the study of history the learning of dates: he would sit for nights together correcting in blue pencil the maps drawn by the boys and girls he taught, or making chronological tables.
“What a lovely day it has been!” said Nikitin, going in to him. “I wonder at you—how can you sit indoors?”
Ippolit Ippolititch was not a talkative person; he either remained silent or talked of things which everybody knew already. Now what he answered was:
“Yes, very fine weather. It’s May now; we soon shall have real summer. And summer’s a very different thing from winter. In the winter you have to heat the stoves, but in summer you can keep warm without. In summer you have your window open at night and still are warm, and in winter you are cold even with the double frames in.”
Nikitin had not sat at the table for more than one minute before he was bored.
“Good-night!” he said, getting up and yawning. “I wanted to tell you something romantic concerning myself, but you are—geography! If one talks to you of love, you will ask one at once, ‘What was the date of the Battle of Kalka?’ Confound you, with your battles and your capes in Siberia!”
“What are you cross about?”
“Why, it is vexatious!”
And vexed that he had not spoken to Masha, and that he had no one to talk to of his love, he went to his study and lay down upon the sofa. It was dark and still in the study. Lying gazing into the darkness, Nikitin for some reason began thinking how in two or three years he would go to Petersburg, how Masha would see him off at the station and would cry; in Petersburg he would get a long letter from her in which she would entreat him to come home as quickly as possible. And he would write to her. . . . He would begin his letter like that: “My dear little rat!”
“Yes, my dear little rat!” he said, and he laughed.
He was lying in an uncomfortable position. He put his arms under his head and put his left leg over the back of the sofa. He felt more comfortable. Meanwhile a pale light was more and more perceptible at the windows, sleepy cocks crowed in the yard. Nikitin went on thinking how he would come back from Petersburg, how Masha would meet him at the station, and with a shriek of delight would fling herself on his neck; or, better still, he would cheat her and come home by stealth late at night: the cook would open the door, then he would go on tiptoe to the bedroom, undress noiselessly, and jump into bed! And she would wake up and be overjoyed.
It was beginning to get quite light. By now there were no windows, no study. On the steps of the brewery by which they had ridden that day Masha was sitting, saying something. Then she took Nikitin by the arm and went with him to the suburban garden. There he saw the oaks and, the crows’ nests like hats. One of the nests rocked; out of it peeped Shebaldin, shouting loudly: “You have not read Lessing!”
Nikitin shuddered all over and opened his eyes. Ippolit Ippolititch was standing before the sofa, and throwing back his head, was putting on his cravat.
“Get up; it’s time for school,” he said. “You shouldn’t sleep in your clothes; it spoils your clothes. You should sleep in your bed, undressed.”
And as usual he began slowly and emphatically saying what everybody knew.
Nikitin’s first lesson was on Russian language in the second class. When at nine o’clock punctually he went into the classroom, he saw written on the blackboard two large letters—M. S. That, no doubt, meant Masha Shelestov.
“They’ve scented it out already, the rascals . . .” thought Nikitin. “How is it they know everything?”
The second lesson was in the fifth class. And there two letters, M. S., were written on the blackboard; and when he went out of the classroom at the end of the lesson, he heard the shout behind him as though from a theatre gallery:
“Hurrah for Masha Shelestov!”
His head was heavy from sleeping in his clothes, his limbs were weighted down with inertia. The boys, who were expecting every day to break up before the examinations, did nothing, were restless, and so bored that they got into mischief. Nikitin, too, was restless, did not notice their pranks, and was continually going to the window. He could see the street brilliantly lighted up with the sun; above the houses the blue limpid sky, the birds, and far, far away, beyond the gardens and the houses, vast indefinite distance, the forests in the blue haze, the smoke from a passing train. . . .
Here two officers in white tunics, playing with their whips, passed in the street in the shade of the acacias. Here a lot of Jews, with grey beards, and caps on, drove past in a waggonette. . . . The governess walked by with the director’s granddaughter. Som ran by in the company of two other dogs. . . . And then Varya, wearing a simple grey dress and red stockings, carrying the “Vyestnik Evropi” in her hand, passed by. She must have been to the town library. . . .
And it would be a long time before lessons were over at three o’clock! And after school he could not go home nor to the Shelestovs’, but must go to give a lesson at Wolf’s. This Wolf, a wealthy Jew who had turned Lutheran, did not send his children to the high school, but had them taught at home by the high-school masters, and paid five roubles a lesson.
He was bored, bored, bored.
At three o’clock he went to Wolf’s and spent there, as it seemed to him, an eternity. He left there at five o’clock, and before seven he had to be at the high school again to a meeting of the masters —to draw up the plan for the viva voce examination of the fourth and sixth classes.
When late in the evening he left the high school and went to the Shelestovs’, his heart was beating and his face was flushed. A month before, even a week before, he had, every time that he made up his mind to speak to her, prepared a whole speech, with an introduction and a conclusion. Now he had not one word ready; everything was in a muddle in his head, and all he knew was that today he would certainly declare himself, and that it was utterly impossible to wait any longer.
“I will ask her to come to the garden,” he thought; “we’ll walk about a little and I’ll speak.”
There was not a soul in the hall; he went into the dining-room and then into the drawing-room. . . . There was no one there either. He could hear Varya arguing with some one upstairs and the cClink of the dressmaker’s scissors in the nursery.
There was a little room in the house which had three names: the little room, the passage room, and the dark room. There was a big cupboard in it where they kept medicines, gunpowder, and their hunting gear. Leading from this room to the first floor was a narrow wooden staircase where cats were always asleep. There were two doors in it—one leading to the nursery, one to the drawing-room. When Nikitin went into this room to go upstairs, the door from the nursery opened and shut with such a bang that it made the stairs and the cupboard tremble; Masha, in a dark dress, ran in with a piece of blue material in her hand, and, not noticing Nikitin, darted towards the stairs.
“Stay . . .” said Nikitin, stopping her. “Good-evening, Godefroi . . . . Allow me. . . .”
He gasped, he did not know what to say; with one hand he held her hand and with the other the blue material. And she was half frightened, half surprised, and looked at him with big eyes.
“Allow me . . .” Nikitin went on, afraid she would go away. “There’s something I must say to you. . . . Only . . . it’s inconvenient here. I cannot, I am incapable. . . . Understand, Godefroi, I can’t —that’s all . . . .”
The blue material slipped on to the floor, and Nikitin took Masha by the other hand. She turned pale, moved her lips, then stepped back from Nikitin and found herself in the corner between the wall and the cupboard.
“On my honour, I assure you . . .” he said softly. “Masha, on my honour. . . .”
She threw back her head and he kissed her lips, and that the kiss might last longer he put his fingers to her cheeks; and it somehow happened that he found himself in the corner between the cupboard and the wall, and she put her arms round his neck and pressed her head against his chin.
Then they both ran into the garden. The Shelestoys had a garden of nine acres. There were about twenty old maples and lime-trees in it; there was one fir-tree, and all the rest were fruit-trees: cherries, apples, pears, horse-chestnuts, silvery olive-trees. . . . There were heaps of flowers, too.
Nikitin and Masha ran along the avenues in silence, laughed, asked each other from time to time disconnected questions which they did not answer. A crescent moon was shining over the garden, and drowsy tulips and irises were stretching up from the dark grass in its faint light, as though entreating for words of love for them, too.
When Nikitin and Masha went back to the house, the officers and the young ladies were already assembled and dancing the mazurka. Again Polyansky led the grand chain through all the rooms, again after dancing they played “fate.” Before supper, when the visitors had gone into the dining-room, Masha, left alone with Nikitin, pressed close to him and said:
“You must speak to papa and Varya yourself; I am ashamed.”
After supper he talked to the old father. After listening to him, Shelestov thought a little and said:
“I am very grateful for the honour you do me and my daughter, but let me speak to you as a friend. I will speak to you, not as a father, but as one gentleman to another. Tell me, why do you want to be married so young? Only peasants are married so young, and that, of course, is loutishness. But why should you? Where’s the satisfaction of putting on the fetters at your age?”
“I am not young!” said Nikitin, offended. “I am in my twenty-seventh year.”
“Papa, the farrier has come!” cried Varya from the other room.
And the conversation broke off. Varya, Masha, and Polyansky saw Nikitin home. When they reached his gate, Varya said:
“Why is it your mysterious Metropolit Metropolititch never shows himself anywhere? He might come and see us.”
The mysterious Ippolit Ippolititch was sitting on his bed, taking off his trousers, when Nikitin went in to him.
“Don’t go to bed, my dear fellow,” said Nikitin breathlessly. “Stop a minute; don’t go to bed!”
Ippolit Ippolititch put on his trousers hurriedly and asked in a flutter:
“What is it?”
“I am going to be married.”
Nikitin sat down beside his companion, and looking at him wonderingly, as though surprised at himself, said:
“Only fancy, I am going to be married! To Masha Shelestov! I made an offer today.”
“Well? She seems a good sort of girl. Only she is very young.”
“Yes, she is young,” sighed Nikitin, and shrugged his shoulders with a careworn air. “Very, very young!”
“She was my pupil at the high school. I know her. She wasn’t bad at geography, but she was no good at history. And she was inattentive in class, too.”
Nikitin for some reason felt suddenly sorry for his companion, and longed to say something kind and comforting to him.
“My dear fellow, why don’t you get married?” he asked. “Why don’t you marry Varya, for instance? She is a splendid, first-rate girl! It’s true she is very fond of arguing, but a heart . . . what a heart! She was just asking about you. Marry her, my dear boy! Eh?”
He knew perfectly well that Varya would not marry this dull, snub-nosed man, but still persuaded him to marry her—why?
“Marriage is a serious step,” said Ippolit Ippolititch after a moment’s thought. “One has to look at it all round and weigh things thoroughly; it’s not to be done rashly. Prudence is always a good thing, and especially in marriage, when a man, ceasing to be a bachelor, begins a new life.”
And he talked of what every one has known for ages. Nikitin did not stay to listen, said goodnight, and went to his own room. He undressed quickly and quickly got into bed, in order to be able to think the sooner of his happiness, of Masha, of the future; he smiled, then suddenly recalled that he had not read Lessing.
“I must read him,” he thought. “Though, after all, why should I? Bother him!”
And exhausted by his happiness, he fell asleep at once and went on smiling till the morning.
He dreamed of the thud of horses’ hoofs on a wooden floor; he dreamed of the black horse Count Nulin, then of the white Giant and its sister Maika, being led out of the stable.

II

“It was very crowded and noisy in the church, and once some one cried out, and the head priest, who was marrying Masha and me, looked through his spectacles at the crowd, and said severely: ‘Don’t move about the church, and don’t make a noise, but stand quietly and pray. You should have the fear of God in your hearts.’
“My best men were two of my colleagues, and Masha’s best men were Captain Polyansky and Lieutenant Gernet. The bishop’s choir sang superbly. The sputtering of the candles, the brilliant light, the gorgeous dresses, the officers, the numbers of gay, happy faces, and a special ethereal look in Masha, everything together—the surroundings and the words of the wedding prayers—moved me to tears and filled me with triumph. I thought how my life had blossomed, how poetically it was shaping itself! Two years ago I was still a student, I was living in cheap furnished rooms, without money, without relations, and, as I fancied then, with nothing to look forward to. Now I am a teacher in the high school in one of the best provincial towns, with a secure income, loved, spoiled. It is for my sake, I thought, this crowd is collected, for my sake three candelabra have been lighted, the deacon is booming, the choir is doing its best; and it’s for my sake that this young creature, whom I soon shall call my wife, is so young, so elegant, and so joyful. I recalled our first meetings, our rides into the country, my declaration of love and the weather, which, as though expressly, was so exquisitely fine all the summer; and the happiness which at one time in my old rooms seemed to me possible only in novels and stories, I was now experiencing in reality—I was now, as it were, holding it in my hands.
“After the ceremony they all crowded in disorder round Masha and me, expressed their genuine pleasure, congratulated us and wished us joy. The brigadier-general, an old man of seventy, confined himself to congratulating Masha, and said to her in a squeaky, aged voice, so loud that it could be heard all over the church:
“‘I hope that even after you are married you may remain the rose you are now, my dear.’
“The officers, the director, and all the teachers smiled from politeness, and I was conscious of an agreeable artificial smile on my face, too. Dear Ippolit Ippolititch, the teacher of history and geography, who always says what every one has heard before, pressed my hand warmly and said with feeling:
“‘Hitherto you have been unmarried and have lived alone, and now you are married and no longer single.’
“From the church we went to a two-storied house which I am receiving as part of the dowry. Besides that house Masha is bringing me twenty thousand roubles, as well as a piece of waste land with a shanty on it, where I am told there are numbers of hens and ducks which are not looked after and are turning wild. When I got home from the church, I stretched myself at full length on the low sofa in my new study and began to smoke; I felt snug, cosy, and comfortable, as I never had in my life before. And meanwhile the wedding party were shouting ‘Hurrah!’ while a wretched band in the hall played flourishes and all sorts of trash. Varya, Masha’s sister, ran into the study with a wineglass in her hand, and with a queer, strained expression, as though her mouth were full of water; apparently she had meant to go on further, but she suddenly burst out laughing and sobbing, and the wineglass crashed on the floor. We took her by the arms and led her away.
“‘Nobody can understand!’ she muttered afterwards, lying on the old nurse’s bed in a back room. ‘Nobody, nobody! My God, nobody can understand!’
“But every one understood very well that she was four years older than her sister Masha, and still unmarried, and that she was crying, not from envy, but from the melancholy consciousness that her time was passing, and perhaps had passed. When they danced the quadrille, she was back in the drawing-room with a tear-stained and heavily powdered face, and I saw Captain Polyansky holding a plate of ice before her while she ate it with a spoon.
“It is past five o’clock in the morning. I took up my diary to describe my complete and perfect happiness, and thought I would write a good six pages, and read it tomorrow to Masha; but, strange to say, everything is muddled in my head and as misty as a dream, and I can remember vividly nothing but that episode with Varya, and I want to write, ‘Poor Varya!’ I could go on sitting here and writing ‘Poor Varya!’ By the way, the trees have begun rustling; it will rain. The crows are cawing, and my Masha, who has just gone to sleep, has for some reason a sorrowful face.”
For a long while afterwards Nikitin did not write his diary. At the beginning of August he had the school examinations, and after the fifteenth the classes began. As a rule he set off for school before nine in the morning, and before ten o’clock he was looking at his watch and pining for his Masha and his new house. In the lower forms he would set some boy to dictate, and while the boys were writing, would sit in the window with his eyes shut, dreaming; whether he dreamed of the future or recalled the past, everything seemed to him equally delightful, like a fairy tale. In the senior classes they were reading aloud Gogol or Pushkin’s prose works, and that made him sleepy; people, trees, fields, horses, rose before his imagination, and he would say with a sigh, as though fascinated by the author:
“How lovely!”
At the midday recess Masha used to send him lunch in a snow-white napkin, and he would eat it slowly, with pauses, to prolong the enjoyment of it; and Ippolit Ippolititch, whose lunch as a rule consisted of nothing but bread, looked at him with respect and envy, and gave expression to some familiar fact, such as:
“Men cannot live without food.”
After school Nikitin went straight to give his private lessons, and when at last by six o’clock he got home, he felt excited and anxious, as though he had been away for a year. He would run upstairs breathless, find Masha, throw his arms round her, and kiss her and swear that he loved her, that he could not live without her, declare that he had missed her fearfully, and ask her in trepidation how she was and why she looked so depressed. Then they would dine together. After dinner he would lie on the sofa in his study and smoke, while she sat beside him and talked in a low voice.
His happiest days now were Sundays and holidays, when he was at home from morning till evening. On those days he took part in the naïve but extraordinarily pleasant life which reminded him of a pastoral idyl. He was never weary of watching how his sensible and practical Masha was arranging her nest, and anxious to show that he was of some use in the house, he would do something useless— for instance, bring the chaise out of the stable and look at it from every side. Masha had installed a regular dairy with three cows, and in her cellar she had many jugs of milk and pots of sour cream, and she kept it all for butter. Sometimes, by way of a joke, Nikitin would ask her for a glass of milk, and she would be quite upset because it was against her rules; but he would laugh and throw his arms round her, saying:
“There, there; I was joking, my darling! I was joking!”
Or he would laugh at her strictness when, finding in the cupboard some stale bit of cheese or sausage as hard as a stone, she would say seriously:
“They will eat that in the kitchen.”
He would observe that such a scrap was only fit for a mousetrap, and she would reply warmly that men knew nothing about housekeeping, and that it was just the same to the servants if you were to send down a hundredweight of savouries to the kitchen. He would agree, and embrace her enthusiastically. Everything that was just in what she said seemed to him extraordinary and amazing; and what did not fit in with his convictions seemed to him naïve and touching.
Sometimes he was in a philosophical mood, and he would begin to discuss some abstract subject while she listened and looked at his face with curiosity.
“I am immensely happy with you, my joy,” he used to say, playing with her fingers or plaiting and unplaiting her hair. “But I don’t look upon this happiness of mine as something that has come to me by chance, as though it had dropped from heaven. This happiness is a perfectly natural, consistent, logical consequence. I believe that man is the creator of his own happiness, and now I am enjoying just what I have myself created. Yes, I speak without false modesty: I have created this happiness myself and I have a right to it. You know my past. My unhappy childhood, without father or mother; my depressing youth, poverty—all this was a struggle, all this was the path by which I made my way to happiness. . . .”
In October the school sustained a heavy loss: Ippolit Ippolititch was taken ill with erysipelas on the head and died. For two days before his death he was unconscious and delirious, but even in his delirium he said nothing that was not perfectly well known to every one.
“The Volga flows into the Caspian Sea. . . . Horses eat oats and hay. . . .”
There were no lessons at the high school on the day of his funeral. His colleagues and pupils were the coffin-bearers, and the school choir sang all the way to the grave the anthem “Holy God.” Three priests, two deacons, all his pupils and the staff of the boys’ high school, and the bishop’s choir in their best kaftans, took part in the procession. And passers-by who met the solemn procession, crossed themselves and said:
“God grant us all such a death.”
Returning home from the cemetery much moved, Nikitin got out his diary from the table and wrote:
“We have just consigned to the tomb Ippolit Ippolititch Ryzhitsky. Peace to your ashes, modest worker! Masha, Varya, and all the women at the funeral, wept from genuine feeling, perhaps because they knew this uninteresting, humble man had never been loved by a woman. I wanted to say a warm word at my colleague’s grave, but I was warned that this might displease the director, as he did not like our poor friend. I believe that this is the first day since my marriage that my heart has been heavy.”
There was no other event of note in the scholastic year.
The winter was mild, with wet snow and no frost; on Epiphany Eve, for instance, the wind howled all night as though it were autumn, and water trickled off the roofs; and in the morning, at the ceremony of the blessing of the water, the police allowed no one to go on the river, because they said the ice was swelling up and looked dark. But in spite of bad weather Nikitin’s life was as happy as in summer. And, indeed, he acquired another source of pleasure; he learned to play vint. Only one thing troubled him, moved him to anger, and seemed to prevent him from being perfectly happy: the cats and dogs which formed part of his wife’s dowry. The rooms, especially in the morning, always smelt like a menagerie, and nothing could destroy the odour; the cats frequently fought with the dogs. The spiteful beast Mushka was fed a dozen times a day; she still refused to recognize Nikitin and growled at him: “Rrr . . . nga-nga-nga!”
One night in Lent he was returning home from the club where he had been playing cards. It was dark, raining, and muddy. Nikitin had an unpleasant feeling at the bottom of his heart and could not account for it. He did not know whether it was because he had lost twelve roubles at cards, or whether because one of the players, when they were settling up, had said that of course Nikitin had pots of money, with obvious reference to his wife’s portion. He did not regret the twelve roubles, and there was nothing offensive in what had been said; but, still, there was the unpleasant feeling. He did not even feel a desire to go home.
“Foo, how horrid!” he said, standing still at a lamp-post.
It occurred to him that he did not regret the twelve roubles because he got them for nothing. If he had been a working man he would have known the value of every farthing, and would not have been so careless whether he lost or won. And his good-fortune had all, he reflected, come to him by chance, for nothing, and really was as superfluous for him as medicine for the healthy. If, like the vast majority of people, he had been harassed by anxiety for his daily bread, had been struggling for existence, if his back and chest had ached from work, then supper, a warm snug home, and domestic happiness, would have been the necessity, the compensation, the crown of his life; as it was, all this had a strange, indefinite significance for him.
“Foo, how horrid!” he repeated, knowing perfectly well that these reflections were in themselves a bad sign.
When he got home Masha was in bed: she was breathing evenly and smiling, and was evidently sleeping with great enjoyment. Near her the white cat lay curled up, purring. While Nikitin lit the candle and lighted his cigarette, Masha woke up and greedily drank a glass of water.
“I ate too many sweets,” she said, and laughed. “Have you been home?” she asked after a pause.
“No.”
Nikitin knew already that Captain Polyansky, on whom Varya had been building great hopes of late, was being transferred to one of the western provinces, and was already making his farewell visits in the town, and so it was depressing at his father-in-law’s.
“Varya looked in this evening,” said Masha, sitting up. “She did not say anything, but one could see from her face how wretched she is, poor darling! I can’t bear Polyansky. He is fat and bloated, and when he walks or dances his cheeks shake. . . . He is not a man I would choose. But, still, I did think he was a decent person.”
“I think he is a decent person now,” said Nikitin.
“Then why has he treated Varya so badly?”
“Why badly?” asked Nikitin, beginning to feel irritation against the white cat, who was stretching and arching its back. “As far as I know, he has made no proposal and has given her no promises.”
“Then why was he so often at the house? If he didn’t mean to marry her, he oughtn’t to have come.”
Nikitin put out the candle and got into bed. But he felt disinclined to lie down and to sleep. He felt as though his head were immense and empty as a barn, and that new, peculiar thoughts were wandering about in it like tall shadows. He thought that, apart from the soft light of the ikon lamp, that beamed upon their quiet domestic happiness, that apart from this little world in which he and this cat lived so peacefully and happily, there was another world. . . . And he had a passionate, poignant longing to be in that other world, to work himself at some factory or big workshop, to address big audiences, to write, to publish, to raise a stir, to exhaust himself, to suffer. . . . He wanted something that would engross him till he forgot himself, ceased to care for the personal happiness which yielded him only sensations so monotonous. And suddenly there rose vividly before his imagination the figure of Shebaldin with his clean-shaven face, saying to him with horror: “You haven’t even read Lessing! You are quite behind the times! How you have gone to seed!”
Masha woke up and again drank some water. He glanced at her neck, at her plump shoulders and throat, and remembered the word the brigadier-general had used in church—“rose.”
“Rose,” he muttered, and laughed.
His laugh was answered by a sleepy growl from Mushka under the bed: “Rrr . . . nga-nga-nga . . . !”
A heavy anger sank like a cold weight on his heart, and he felt tempted to say something rude to Masha, and even to jump up and hit her; his heart began throbbing.
“So then,” he asked, restraining himself, “since I went to your house, I was bound in duty to marry you?”
“Of course. You know that very well.”
“That’s nice.” And a minute later he repeated: “That’s nice.”
To relieve the throbbing of his heart, and to avoid saying too much, Nikitin went to his study and lay down on the sofa, without a pillow; then he lay on the floor on the carpet.
“What nonsense it is!” he said to reassure himself. “You are a teacher, you are working in the noblest of callings. . . . What need have you of any other world? What rubbish!”
But almost immediately he told himself with conviction that he was not a real teacher, but simply a government employé, as commonplace and mediocre as the Czech who taught Greek. He had never had a vocation for teaching, he knew nothing of the theory of teaching, and never had been interested in the subject; he did not know how to treat children; he did not understand the significance of what he taught, and perhaps did not teach the right things. Poor Ippolit Ippolititch had been frankly stupid, and all the boys, as well as his colleagues, knew what he was and what to expect from him; but he, Nikitin, like the Czech, knew how to conceal his stupidity and cleverly deceived every one by pretending that, thank God, his teaching was a success. These new ideas frightened Nikitin; he rejected them, called them stupid, and believed that all this was due to his nerves, that he would laugh at himself.
And he did, in fact, by the morning laugh at himself and call himself an old woman; but it was clear to him that his peace of mind was lost, perhaps, for ever, and that in that little two-story house happiness was henceforth impossible for him. He realized that the illusion had evaporated, and that a new life of unrest and clear sight was beginning which was incompatible with peace and personal happiness.
Next day, which was Sunday, he was at the school chapel, and there met his colleagues and the director. It seemed to him that they were entirely preoccupied with concealing their ignorance and discontent with life, and he, too, to conceal his uneasiness, smiled affably and talked of trivialities. Then he went to the station and saw the mail train come in and go out, and it was agreeable to him to be alone and not to have to talk to any one.
At home he found Varya and his father-in-law, who had come to dinner. Varya’s eyes were red with crying, and she complained of a headache, while Shelestov ate a great deal, saying that young men nowadays were unreliable, and that there was very little gentlemanly feeling among them.
“It’s loutishness!” he said. “I shall tell him so to his face: ‘It’s loutishness, sir,’ I shall say.”
Nikitin smiled affably and helped Masha to look after their guests, but after dinner he went to his study and shut the door.
The March sun was shining brightly in at the windows and shedding its warm rays on the table. It was only the twentieth of the month, but already the cabmen were driving with wheels, and the starlings were noisy in the garden. It was just the weather in which Masha would come in, put one arm round his neck, tell him the horses were saddled or the chaise was at the door, and ask him what she should put on to keep warm. Spring was beginning as exquisitely as last spring, and it promised the same joys. . . . But Nikitin was thinking that it would be nice to take a holiday and go to Moscow, and stay at his old lodgings there. In the next room they were drinking coffee and talking of Captain Polyansky, while he tried not to listen and wrote in his diary: “Where am I, my God? I am surrounded by vulgarity and vulgarity. Wearisome, insignificant people, pots of sour cream, jugs of milk, cockroaches, stupid women. . . . There is nothing more terrible, mortifying, and distressing than vulgarity. I must escape from here, I must escape today, or I shall go out of my mind!”


14. THE HELPMATE

"I’VE asked you not to tidy my table," said Nikolay Yevgrafitch. "There’s no finding anything when you’ve tidied up. Where’s the telegram? Where have you thrown it? Be so good as to look for it. It’s from Kazan, dated yesterday."
The maid—a pale, very slim girl with an indifferent expression —found several telegrams in the basket under the table, and handed them to the doctor without a word; but all these were telegrams from patients. Then they looked in the drawing-room, and in Olga Dmitrievna’s room.
It was past midnight. Nikolay Yevgrafitch knew his wife would not be home very soon, not till five o’clock at least. He did not trust her, and when she was long away he could not sleep, was worried, and at the same time he despised his wife, and her bed, and her looking-glass, and her boxes of sweets, and the hyacinths, and the lilies of the valley which were sent her every day by some one or other, and which diffused the sickly fragrance of a florist’s shop all over the house. On such nights he became petty, ill-humoured, irritable, and he fancied now that it was very necessary for him to have the telegram he had received the day before from his brother, though it contained nothing but Christmas greetings.
On the table of his wife’s room under the box of stationery he found a telegram, and glanced at it casually. It was addressed to his wife, care of his mother-in-law, from Monte Carlo, and signed Michel . . . . The doctor did not understand one word of it, as it was in some foreign language, apparently English.
"Who is this Michel? Why Monte Carlo? Why directed care of her mother?"
During the seven years of his married life he had grown used to being suspicious, guessing, catching at clues, and it had several times occurred to him, that his exercise at home had qualified him to become an excellent detective. Going into his study and beginning to reflect, he recalled at once how he had been with his wife in Petersburg a year and a half ago, and had lunched with an old school-fellow, a civil engineer, and how that engineer had introduced to him and his wife a young man of two or three and twenty, called Mihail Ivanovitch, with rather a curious short surname—Riss. Two months later the doctor had seen the young man’s photograph in his wife’s album, with an inscription in French: "In remembrance of the present and in hope of the future." Later on he had met the young man himself at his mother-in-law’s. And that was at the time when his wife had taken to being very often absent and coming home at four or five o’clock in the morning, and was constantly asking him to get her a passport for abroad, which he kept refusing to do; and a continual feud went on in the house which made him feel ashamed to face the servants.
Six months before, his colleagues had decided that he was going into consumption, and advised him to throw up everything and go to the Crimea. When she heard of this, Olga Dmitrievna affected to be very much alarmed; she began to be affectionate to her husband, and kept assuring him that it would be cold and dull in the Crimea, and that he had much better go to Nice, and that she would go with him, and there would nurse him, look after him, take care of him.
Now, he understood why his wife was so particularly anxious to go to Nice: her Michel lived at Monte Carlo.
He took an English dictionary, and translating the words, and guessing their meaning, by degrees he put together the following sentence: "I drink to the health of my beloved darling, and kiss her little foot a thousand times, and am impatiently expecting her arrival." He pictured the pitiable, ludicrous part he would play if he had agreed to go to Nice with his wife. He felt so mortified that he almost shed tears and began pacing to and fro through all the rooms of the flat in great agitation. His pride, his plebeian fastidiousness, was revolted. Clenching his fists and scowling with disgust, he wondered how he, the son of a village priest, brought up in a clerical school, a plain, straightforward man, a surgeon by profession—how could he have let himself be enslaved, have sunk into such shameful bondage to this weak, worthless, mercenary, low creature.
"’Little foot’!" he muttered to himself, crumpling up the telegram; "’little foot’!"
Of the time when he fell in love and proposed to her, and the seven years that he had been living with her, all that remained in his memory was her long, fragrant hair, a mass of soft lace, and her little feet, which certainly were very small, beautiful feet; and even now it seemed as though he still had from those old embraces the feeling of lace and silk upon his hands and face—and nothing more. Nothing more—that is, not counting hysterics, shrieks, reproaches, threats, and lies—brazen, treacherous lies. He remembered how in his father’s house in the village a bird would sometimes chance to fly in from the open air into the house and would struggle desperately against the window-panes and upset things; so this woman from a class utterly alien to him had flown into his life and made complete havoc of it. The best years of his life had been spent as though in hell, his hopes for happiness shattered and turned into a mockery, his health gone, his rooms as vulgar in their atmosphere as a cocotte’s, and of the ten thousand he earned every year he could never save ten roubles to send his old mother in the village, and his debts were already about fifteen thousand. It seemed that if a band of brigands had been living in his rooms his life would not have been so hopelessly, so irremediably ruined as by the presence of this woman.
He began coughing and gasping for breath. He ought to have gone to bed and got warm, but he could not. He kept walking about the rooms, or sat down to the table, nervously fidgeting with a pencil and scribbling mechanically on a paper.
"Trying a pen. . . . A little foot."
By five o’clock he grew weaker and threw all the blame on himself. It seemed to him now that if Olga Dmitrievna had married some one else who might have had a good influence over her—who knows?— she might after all have become a good, straightforward woman. He was a poor psychologist, and knew nothing of the female heart; besides, he was churlish, uninteresting. . . .
"I haven’t long to live now," he thought. "I am a dead man, and ought not to stand in the way of the living. It would be strange and stupid to insist upon one’s rights now. I’ll have it out with her; let her go to the man she loves. . . . I’ll give her a divorce. I’ll take the blame on myself."
Olga Dmitrievna came in at last, and she walked into the study and sank into a chair just as she was in her white cloak, hat, and overboots.
"The nasty, fat boy," she said with a sob, breathing hard. "It’s really dishonest; it’s disgusting." She stamped. "I can’t put up with it; I can’t, I can’t!"
"What’s the matter?" asked Nikolay Yevgrafitch, going up to her.
"That student, Azarbekov, was seeing me home, and he lost my bag, and there was fifteen roubles in it. I borrowed it from mamma."
She was crying in a most genuine way, like a little girl, and not only her handkerchief, but even her gloves, were wet with tears.
"It can’t be helped!" said the doctor. "If he’s lost it, he’s lost it, and it’s no good worrying over it. Calm yourself; I want to talk to you."
"I am not a millionaire to lose money like that. He says he’ll pay it back, but I don’t believe him; he’s poor . . ."
Her husband begged her to calm herself and to listen to him, but she kept on talking of the student and of the fifteen roubles she had lost.
"Ach! I’ll give you twenty-five roubles to-morrow if you’ll only hold your tongue!" he said irritably.
"I must take off my things!" she said, crying. "I can’t talk seriously in my fur coat! How strange you are!"
He helped her off with her coat and overboots, detecting as he did so the smell of the white wine she liked to drink with oysters (in spite of her etherealness she ate and drank a great deal). She went into her room and came back soon after, having changed her things and powdered her face, though her eyes still showed traces of tears. She sat down, retreating into her light, lacy dressing-gown, and in the mass of billowy pink her husband could see nothing but her hair, which she had let down, and her little foot wearing a slipper.
"What do you want to talk about?" she asked, swinging herself in a rocking-chair.
"I happened to see this;" and he handed her the telegram.
She read it and shrugged her shoulders.
"Well?" she said, rocking herself faster. "That’s the usual New Year’s greeting and nothing else. There are no secrets in it."
"You are reckoning on my not knowing English. No, I don’t know it; but I have a dictionary. That telegram is from Riss; he drinks to the health of his beloved and sends you a thousand kisses. But let us leave that," the doctor went on hurriedly. "I don’t in the least want to reproach you or make a scene. We’ve had scenes and reproaches enough; it’s time to make an end of them. . . . This is what I want to say to you: you are free, and can live as you like."
There was a silence. She began crying quietly.
"I set you free from the necessity of lying and keeping up pretences," Nikolay Yevgrafitch continued. "If you love that young man, love him; if you want to go abroad to him, go. You are young, healthy, and I am a wreck, and haven’t long to live. In short . . . you understand me."
He was agitated and could not go on. Olga Dmitrievna, crying and speaking in a voice of self-pity, acknowledged that she loved Riss, and used to drive out of town with him and see him in his rooms, and now she really did long to go abroad.
"You see, I hide nothing from you," she added, with a sigh. "My whole soul lies open before you. And I beg you again, be generous, get me a passport."
"I repeat, you are free."
She moved to another seat nearer him to look at the expression of his face. She did not believe him and wanted now to understand his secret meaning. She never did believe any one, and however generous were their intentions, she always suspected some petty or ignoble motive or selfish object in them. And when she looked searchingly into his face, it seemed to him that there was a gleam of green light in her eyes as in a cat’s.
"When shall I get the passport?" she asked softly.
He suddenly had an impulse to say "Never"; but he restrained himself and said:
"When you like."
"I shall only go for a month."
"You’ll go to Riss for good. I’ll get you a divorce, take the blame on myself, and Riss can marry you."
"But I don’t want a divorce!" Olga Dmitrievna retorted quickly, with an astonished face. "I am not asking you for a divorce! Get me a passport, that’s all."
"But why don’t you want the divorce?" asked the doctor, beginning to feel irritated. "You are a strange woman. How strange you are! If you are fond of him in earnest and he loves you too, in your position you can do nothing better than get married. Can you really hesitate between marriage and adultery?"
"I understand you," she said, walking away from him, and a spiteful, vindictive expression came into her face. "I understand you perfectly. You are sick of me, and you simply want to get rid of me, to force this divorce on me. Thank you very much; I am not such a fool as you think. I won’t accept the divorce and I won’t leave you—I won’t, I won’t! To begin with, I don’t want to lose my position in society," she continued quickly, as though afraid of being prevented from speaking. "Secondly, I am twenty-seven and Riss is only twenty-three; he’ll be tired of me in a year and throw me over. And what’s more, if you care to know, I’m not certain that my feeling will last long . . . so there! I’m not going to leave you."
"Then I’ll turn you out of the house!" shouted Nikolay Yevgrafitch, stamping. "I shall turn you out, you vile, loathsome woman!"
"We shall see!" she said, and went out.
It was broad daylight outside, but the doctor still sat at the table moving the pencil over the paper and writing mechanically.
"My dear Sir. . . . Little foot."
Or he walked about and stopped in the drawing-room before a photograph taken seven years ago, soon after his marriage, and looked at it for a long time. It was a family group: his father-in-law, his mother-in-law, his wife Olga Dmitrievna when she was twenty, and himself in the rôle of a happy young husband. His father-in-law, a clean-shaven, dropsical privy councillor, crafty and avaricious; his mother-in-law, a stout lady with small predatory features like a weasel, who loved her daughter to distraction and helped her in everything; if her daughter were strangling some one, the mother would not have protested, but would only have screened her with her skirts. Olga Dmitrievna, too, had small predatory-looking features, but more expressive and bolder than her mother’s; she was not a weasel, but a beast on a bigger scale! And Nikolay Yevgrafitch himself in the photograph looked such a guileless soul, such a kindly, good fellow, so open and simple-hearted; his whole face was relaxed in the naïve, good-natured smile of a divinity student, and he had had the simplicity to believe that that company of beasts of prey into which destiny had chanced to thrust him would give him romance and happiness and all he had dreamed of when as a student he used to sing the song "Youth is wasted, life is nought, when the heart is cold and loveless."
And once more he asked himself in perplexity how he, the son of a village priest, with his democratic bringing up—a plain, blunt, straightforward man—could have so helplessly surrendered to the power of this worthless, false, vulgar, petty creature, whose nature was so utterly alien to him.
When at eleven o’clock he put on his coat to go to the hospital the servant came into his study.
"What is it?" he asked.
"The mistress has got up and asks you for the twenty-five roubles you promised her yesterday."


15. THE PETCHENYEG

IVAN ABRAMITCH ZHMUHIN, a retired Cossack officer, who had once served in the Caucasus, but now lived on his own farm, and who had once been young, strong, and vigorous, but now was old, dried up, and bent, with shaggy eyebrows and a greenish-grey moustache, was returning from the town to his farm one hot summer’s day. In the town he had confessed and received absolution, and had made his will at the notary’s (a fortnight before he had had a slight stroke), and now all the while he was in the railway carriage he was haunted by melancholy, serious thoughts of approaching death, of the vanity of vanities, of the transitoriness of all things earthly. At the station of Provalye—there is such a one on the Donetz line—a fair-haired, plump, middle-aged gentleman with a shabby portfolio stepped into the carriage and sat down opposite. They got into conversation.
“Yes,” said Ivan Abramitch, looking pensively out of window, “it is never too late to marry. I myself married when I was forty-eight; I was told it was late, but it has turned out that it was not late or early, but simply that it would have been better not to marry at all. Everyone is soon tired of his wife, but not everyone tells the truth, because, you know, people are ashamed of an unhappy home life and conceal it. It’s ‘Manya this’ and ‘Manya that’ with many a man by his wife’s side, but if he had his way he’d put that Manya in a sack and drop her in the water. It’s dull with one’s wife, it’s mere foolishness. And it’s no better with one’s children, I make bold to assure you. I have two of them, the rascals. There’s nowhere for them to be taught out here in the steppe; I haven’t the money to send them to school in Novo Tcherkask, and they live here like young wolves. Next thing they will be murdering someone on the highroad.”
The fair-haired gentleman listened attentively, answered questions briefly in a low voice, and was apparently a gentleman of gentle and modest disposition. He mentioned that he was a lawyer, and that he was going to the village Dyuevka on business.
“Why, merciful heavens, that is six miles from me!” said Zhmuhin in a tone of voice as though someone were disputing with him. “But excuse me, you won’t find horses at the station now. To my mind, the very best thing you can do, you know, is to come straight to me, stay the night, you know, and in the morning drive over with my horses.”
The lawyer thought a moment and accepted the invitation.
When they reached the station the sun was already low over the steppe. They said nothing all the way from the station to the farm: the jolting prevented conversation. The trap bounded up and down, squeaked, and seemed to be sobbing, and the lawyer, who was sitting very uncomfortably, stared before him, miserably hoping to see the farm. After they had driven five or six miles there came into view in the distance a low-pitched house and a yard enclosed by a fence made of dark, flat stones standing on end; the roof was green, the stucco was peeling off, and the windows were little narrow slits like screwed-up eyes. The farm stood in the full sunshine, and there was no sign either of water or trees anywhere round. Among the neighbouring landowners and the peasants it was known as the Petchenyegs’ farm. Many years before, a land surveyor, who was passing through the neighbourhood and put up at the farm, spent the whole night talking to Ivan Abramitch, was not favourably impressed, and as he was driving away in the morning said to him grimly:
“You are a Petchenyeg [2], my good sir!”
*
From this came the nickname, the Petchenyegs’ farm, which stuck to the place even more when Zhmuhin’s boys grew up and began to make raids on the orchards and kitchen-gardens. Ivan Abramitch was called “You Know,” as he usually talked a very great deal and frequently made use of that expression.
In the yard near a barn Zhmuhin’s sons were standing, one a young man of nineteen, the other a younger lad, both barefoot and bareheaded. Just at the moment when the trap drove into the yard the younger one flung high up a hen which, cackling, described an arc in the air; the elder shot at it with a gun and the hen fell dead on the earth.
“Those are my boys learning to shoot birds flying,” said Zhmuhin.
In the entry the travellers were met by a little thin woman with a pale face, still young and beautiful; from her dress she might have been taken for a servant.
“And this, allow me to introduce her,” said Zhmuhin, “is the mother of my young cubs. Come, Lyubov Osipovna,” he said, addressing her, “you must be spry, mother, and get something for our guest. Let us have supper. Look sharp!”
The house consisted of two parts: in one was the parlour and beside it old Zhmuhin’s bedroom, both stuffy rooms with low ceilings and multitudes of flies and wasps, and in the other was the kitchen in which the cooking and washing was done and the labourers had their meals; here geese and turkey-hens were sitting on their eggs under the benches, and here were the beds of Lyubov Osipovna and her two sons. The furniture in the parlour was unpainted and evidently roughly made by a carpenter; guns, game-bags, and whips were hanging on the walls, and all this old rubbish was covered with the rust of years and looked grey with dust. There was not one picture; in the corner was a dingy board which had at one time been an ikon.
A young Little Russian woman laid the table and handed ham, then beetroot soup. The visitor refused vodka and ate only bread and cucumbers.
“How about ham?” asked Zhmuhin.
“Thank you, I don’t eat it,” answered the visitor, “I don’t eat meat at all.”
“Why is that?”
“I am a vegetarian. Killing animals is against my principles.”
Zhmuhin thought a minute and then said slowly with a sigh:
“Yes . . . to be sure. . . . I saw a man who did not eat meat in town, too. It’s a new religion they’ve got now. Well, it’s good. We can’t go on always shooting and slaughtering, you know; we must give it up some day and leave even the beasts in peace. It’s a sin to kill, it’s a sin, there is no denying it. Sometimes one kills a hare and wounds him in the leg, and he cries like a child. . . . So it must hurt him!”
“Of course it hurts him; animals suffer just like human beings.”
“That’s true,” Zhmuhin assented. “I understand that very well,” he went on, musing, “only there is this one thing I don’t understand: suppose, you know, everyone gave up eating meat, what would become of the domestic animals—fowls and geese, for instance?”
“Fowls and geese would live in freedom like wild birds.”
“Now I understand. To be sure, crows and jackdaws get on all right without us. Yes. . . . Fowls and geese and hares and sheep, all will live in freedom, rejoicing, you know, and praising God; and they will not fear us, peace and concord will come. Only there is one thing, you know, I can’t understand,” Zhmuhin went on, glancing at the ham. “How will it be with the pigs? What is to be done with them?”
“They will be like all the rest—that is, they will live in freedom.”
“Ah! Yes. But allow me to say, if they were not slaughtered they would multiply, you know, and then good-bye to the kitchen-gardens and the meadows. Why, a pig, if you let it free and don’t look after it, will ruin everything in a day. A pig is a pig, and it is not for nothing it is called a pig. . . .”
They finished supper. Zhmuhin got up from the table and for a long while walked up and down the room, talking and talking. . . . He was fond of talking of something important or serious and was fond of meditating, and in his old age he had a longing to reach some haven, to be reassured, that he might not be so frightened of dying. He had a longing for meekness, spiritual calm, and confidence in himself, such as this guest of theirs had, who had satisfied his hunger on cucumbers and bread, and believed that doing so made him more perfect; he was sitting on a chest, plump and healthy, keeping silent and patiently enduring his boredom, and in the dusk when one glanced at him from the entry he looked like a big round stone which one could not move from its place. If a man has something to lay hold of in life he is all right.
Zhmuhin went through the entry to the porch, and then he could be heard sighing and saying reflectively to himself: “Yes. . . . To be sure. . . . “ By now it was dark, and here and there stars could be seen in the sky. They had not yet lighted up indoors. Someone came into the parlour as noiselessly as a shadow and stood still near the door. It was Lyubov Osipovna, Zhmuhin’s wife.
“Are you from the town?” she asked timidly, not looking at her visitor.
“Yes, I live in the town.”
“Perhaps you are something in the learned way, sir; be so kind as to advise us. We ought to send in a petition.”
“To whom?” asked the visitor.
“We have two sons, kind gentleman, and they ought to have been sent to school long ago, but we never see anyone and have no one to advise us. And I know nothing. For if they are not taught they will have to serve in the army as common Cossacks. It’s not right, sir! They can’t read and write, they are worse than peasants, and Ivan Abramitch himself can’t stand them and won’t let them indoors. But they are not to blame. The younger one, at any rate, ought to be sent to school, it is such a pity!” she said slowly, and there was a quiver in her voice; and it seemed incredible that a woman so small and so youthful could have grown-up children. “Oh, it’s such a pity!”
“You don’t know anything about it, mother, and it is not your affair,” said Zhmuhin, appearing in the doorway. “Don’t pester our guest with your wild talk. Go away, mother!”
Lyubov Osipovna went out, and in the entry repeated once more in a thin little voice: “Oh, it’s such a pity!”
A bed was made up for the visitor on the sofa in the parlour, and that it might not be dark for him they lighted the lamp before the ikon. Zhmuhin went to bed in his own room. And as he lay there he thought of his soul, of his age, of his recent stroke which had so frightened him and made him think of death. He was fond of philosophizing when he was in quietness by himself, and then he fancied that he was a very earnest, deep thinker, and that nothing in this world interested him but serious questions. And now he kept thinking and he longed to pitch upon some one significant thought unlike others, which would be a guide to him in life, and he wanted to think out principles of some sort for himself so as to make his life as deep and earnest as he imagined that he felt himself to be. It would be a good thing for an old man like him to abstain altogether from meat, from superfluities of all sorts. The time when men give up killing each other and animals would come sooner or later, it could not but be so, and he imagined that time to himself and clearly pictured himself living in peace with all the animals, and suddenly he thought again of the pigs, and everything was in a tangle in his brain.
“It’s a queer business, Lord have mercy upon us,” he muttered, sighing heavily. “Are you asleep?” he asked.
“No.”
Zhmuhin got out of bed and stopped in the doorway with nothing but his shirt on, displaying to his guest his sinewy legs, that looked as dry as sticks.
“Nowadays, you know,” he began, “all sorts of telegraphs, telephones, and marvels of all kinds, in fact, have come in, but people are no better than they were. They say that in our day, thirty or forty years ago, men were coarse and cruel; but isn’t it just the same now? We certainly did not stand on ceremony in our day. I remember in the Caucasus when we were stationed by a little river with nothing to do for four whole months—I was an under-officer at that time—something queer happened, quite in the style of a novel. Just on the banks of that river, you know, where our division was encamped, a wretched prince whom we had killed not long before was buried. And at night, you know, the princess used to come to his grave and weep. She would wail and wail, and moan and moan, and make us so depressed we couldn’t sleep, and that’s the fact. We couldn’t sleep one night, we couldn’t sleep a second; well, we got sick of it. And from a common-sense point of view you really can’t go without your sleep for the devil knows what (excuse the expression). We took that princess and gave her a good thrashing, and she gave up coming. There’s an instance for you. Nowadays, of course, there is not the same class of people, and they are not given to thrashing and they live in cleaner style, and there is more learning, but, you know, the soul is just the same: there is no change. Now, look here, there’s a landowner living here among us; he has mines, you know; all sorts of tramps without passports who don’t know where to go work for him. On Saturdays he has to settle up with the workmen, but he doesn’t care to pay them, you know, he grudges the money. So he’s got hold of a foreman who is a tramp too, though he does wear a hat. ‘Don’t you pay them anything,’ he says, ‘not a kopeck; they’ll beat you, and let them beat you,’ says he, ‘but you put up with it, and I’ll pay you ten roubles every Saturday for it.’ So on the Saturday evening the workmen come to settle up in the usual way; the foreman says to them: ‘Nothing!’ Well, word for word, as the master said, they begin swearing and using their fists. . . . They beat him and they kick him . . . you know, they are a set of men brutalized by hunger—they beat him till he is senseless, and then they go each on his way. The master gives orders for cold water to be poured on the foreman, then flings ten roubles in his face. And he takes it and is pleased too, for indeed he’d be ready to be hanged for three roubles, let alone ten. Yes . . . and on Monday a new gang of workmen arrive; they work, for they have nowhere to go . . . . On Saturday it is the same story over again.”
The visitor turned over on the other side with his face to the back of the sofa and muttered something.
“And here’s another instance,” Zhmuhin went on. “We had the Siberian plague here, you know—the cattle die off like flies, I can tell you—and the veterinary surgeons came here, and strict orders were given that the dead cattle were to be buried at a distance deep in the earth, that lime was to be thrown over them, and so on, you know, on scientific principles. My horse died too. I buried it with every precaution, and threw over three hundredweight of lime over it. And what do you think? My fine fellows—my precious sons, I mean—dug it up, skinned it, and sold the hide for three roubles; there’s an instance for you. So people have grown no better, and however you feed a wolf he will always look towards the forest; there it is. It gives one something to think about, eh? How do you look at it?”
On one side a flash of lightning gleamed through a chink in the window-blinds. There was the stifling feeling of a storm coming, the gnats were biting, and Zhmuhin, as he lay in his bedroom meditating, sighed and groaned and said to himself: “Yes, to be sure ——” and there was no possibility of getting to sleep. Somewhere far, far away there was a growl of thunder.
“Are you asleep?”
“No,” answered the visitor.
Zhmuhin got up, and thudding with his heels walked through the parlour and the entry to the kitchen to get a drink of water.
“The worst thing in the world, you know, is stupidity,” he said a little later, coming back with a dipper. “My Lyubov Osipovna is on her knees saying her prayers. She prays every night, you know, and bows down to the ground, first that her children may be sent to school; she is afraid her boys will go into the army as simple Cossacks, and that they will be whacked across their backs with sabres. But for teaching one must have money, and where is one to get it? You may break the floor beating your head against it, but if you haven’t got it you haven’t. And the other reason she prays is because, you know, every woman imagines there is no one in the world as unhappy as she is. I am a plain-spoken man, and I don’t want to conceal anything from you. She comes of a poor family, a village priest’s daughter. I married her when she was seventeen, and they accepted my offer chiefly because they hadn’t enough to eat; it was nothing but poverty and misery, while I have anyway land, you see—a farm—and after all I am an officer; it was a step up for her to marry me, you know. On the very first day when she was married she cried, and she has been crying ever since, all these twenty years; she has got a watery eye. And she’s always sitting and thinking, and what do you suppose she is thinking about? What can a woman think about? Why, nothing. I must own I don’t consider a woman a human being.”
The visitor got up abruptly and sat on the bed.
“Excuse me, I feel stifled,” he said; “I will go outside.”
Zhmuhin, still talking about women, drew the bolt in the entry and they both went out. A full moon was floating in the sky just over the yard, and in the moonlight the house and barn looked whiter than by day; and on the grass brilliant streaks of moonlight, white too, stretched between the black shadows. Far away on the right could be seen the steppe, above it the stars were softly glowing—and it was all mysterious, infinitely far away, as though one were gazing into a deep abyss; while on the left heavy storm-clouds, black as soot, were piling up one upon another above the steppe; their edges were lighted up by the moon, and it looked as though there were mountains there with white snow on their peaks, dark forests, the sea. There was a flash of lightning, a faint rumble of thunder, and it seemed as though a battle were being fought in the mountains.
Quite close to the house a little night-owl screeched monotonously:
“Asleep! asleep!”
“What time is it now?” asked the visitor.
“Just after one.”
“How long it is still to dawn!”
They went back to the house and lay down again. It was time to sleep, and one can usually sleep so splendidly before rain; but the old man had a hankering after serious, weighty thoughts; he wanted not simply to think but to meditate, and he meditated how good it would be, as death was near at hand, for the sake of his soul to give up the idleness which so imperceptibly swallowed up day after day, year after year, leaving no trace; to think out for himself some great exploit—for instance, to walk on foot far, far away, or to give up meat like this young man. And again he pictured to himself the time when animals would not be killed, pictured it clearly and distinctly as though he were living through that time himself; but suddenly it was all in a tangle again in his head and all was muddled.
The thunderstorm had passed over, but from the edges of the storm-clouds came rain softly pattering on the roof. Zhmuhin got up, stretching and groaning with old age, and looked into the parlour. Noticing that his visitor was not asleep, he said:
“When we were in the Caucasus, you know, there was a colonel there who was a vegetarian, too; he didn’t eat meat, never went shooting, and would not let his servants catch fish. Of course, I understand that every animal ought to live in freedom and enjoy its life; only I don’t understand how a pig can go about where it likes without being looked after. . . .”
The visitor got up and sat down. His pale, haggard face expressed weariness and vexation; it was evident that he was exhausted, and only his gentleness and the delicacy of his soul prevented him from expressing his vexation in words.
“It’s getting light,” he said mildly. “Please have the horse brought round for me.”
“Why so? Wait a little and the rain will be over.”
“No, I entreat you,” said the visitor in horror, with a supplicating voice; “it is essential for me to go at once.”
And he began hurriedly dressing.
By the time the horse was harnessed the sun was rising. It had just left off raining, the clouds were racing swiftly by, and the patches of blue were growing bigger and bigger in the sky. The first rays of the sun were timidly reflected below in the big puddles. The visitor walked through the entry with his portfolio to get into the trap, and at that moment Zhmuhin’s wife, pale, and it seemed paler than the day before, with tear-stained eyes, looked at him intently without bAlinking, with the naïve expression of a little girl, and it was evident from her dejected face that she was envying him his freedom—oh, with what joy she would have gone away from there!—and she wanted to say something to him, most likely to ask advice about her children. And what a pitiable figure she was! This was not a wife, not the head of a house, not even a servant, but more like a dependent, a poor relation not wanted by anyone, a nonentity . . . . Her husband, fussing about, talking unceasingly, was seeing his visitor off, continually running in front of him, while she huddled up to the wall with a timid, guilty air, waiting for a convenient minute to speak.
“Please come again another time,” the old man kept repeating incessantly; “what we have we are glad to offer, you know.”
The visitor hurriedly got into the trap, evidently with relief, as though he were afraid every minute that they would detain him. The trap lurched about as it had the day before, squeaked, and furiously rattled the pail that was tied on at the back. He glanced round at Zhmuhin with a peculiar expression; it looked as though he wanted to call him a Petchenyeg, as the surveyor had once done, or some such name, but his gentleness got the upper hand. He controlled himself and said nothing. But in the gateway he suddenly could not restrain himself; he got up and shouted loudly and angrily:
“You have bored me to death.”
And he disappeared through the gate.
Near the barn Zhmuhin’s sons were standing; the elder held a gun, while the younger had in his hands a grey cockerel with a bright red comb. The younger flung up the cockerel with all his might; the bird flew upwards higher than the house and turned over in the air like a pigeon. The elder boy fired and the cockerel fell like a stone.
The old man, overcome with confusion, not knowing how to explain the visitor’s strange, unexpected shout, went slowly back into the house. And sitting down at the table he spent a long while meditating on the intellectual tendencies of the day, on the universal immorality, on the telegraph, on the telephone, on velocipedes, on how unnecessary it all was; little by little he regained his composure, then slowly had a meal, drank five glasses of tea, and lay down for a nap.


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Footnotes

[1all of these stories were translated into English by Constance Garnett in various editions between 1886 and 1922.

[2The Petchenyegs were a tribe of wild Mongolian nomads who made frequent inroads upon the Russians in the tenth and eleventh centuries.—Translator’s Note.